“Anyone who strikes an animal and kills it is to make restitution, life for life. If someone injures his neighbor, what he did is to be done to him — break for break, eye for eye, tooth for tooth — whatever injury he has caused the other person is to be rendered to him in return.”-Leviticus 24:18-20
In our current study of Leviticus chapter 24, we are introduced to a new topic from verse 17.
We are told that if someone strikes an animal and that animal dies, restitution is to be made.
Here again, the difference between God’s HOLY ways and those of the nations is demonstrated.
Did you know that it was the standard practice of some cultures in the Middle East of this era to take a human life in exchange for the life of a beast?
However, YHWH, the God of Israel, makes it clear that such nonsensical forms of justice were not to take place among His Chosen People!
Under no circumstances does the killing of someone’s animal warrant the death penalty being applied to the human criminal.
What these verses are talking about are what scholars call LEX TALIONIS or “The Law of Retaliation“.
This also happens to be one of those areas where the Rabbis and Jewish Sages are in sharp disagreement with Christian scholars.
In other words, there is a difference of opinion concerning the statements “an-eye-for-an-eye” and “a-tooth-for-a-tooth“.
Here’s the thing.
Pretty much from time immemorial, the Rabbis have insisted that these words are NOT to be taken literally.
If a man got his tooth knocked out, it did NOT give him the right to literally knock out the tooth of the other man.
Or if a man has his eye taken out, he does NOT have the right to literally take out the eye of the one who took his eye out.
In fact, there is an interesting case that appears in the Talmud where the point of discussion was whether a one-eyed criminal should have his eye plucked out for taking out the eye of another.
The conclusion reached was an unequivocal NO, because the criminal was already missing one eye, so to take out his other eye would render him completely blind and the resulting total blindness would have been a horribly unbalanced and unfair punishment for the crime committed.
And that’s really the whole point and meaning of the verses “eye-for-eye” and “tooth-for-tooth”.
These verses were idioms calling for proportional punishment, and NOT to be taken literally.
The idea is that the punishment should NOT be greater than the crime.
When Ghandi said “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind” he, of course, made the mistake of taking these Hebrew idioms rendered into English literally.
Historically speaking, this is that one area where the practices of Judaism differ from Islam.
Even if it had been God’s intention that the same physical damage done by the assailant be done back to him in identical fashion, historically, the Hebrews never interpreted nor practiced these verses that way.
Sure, there might have been some folks who in a fit of rage did pay back the offender vigilante style by literally taking out his eye or knocking out his tooth etcetera, but such acts were very isolated exceptions and not the rule.
In instances concerning harm to animals and in cases of harm to one’s fellow man, paying compensation was always the preferred method of “retaliation“.
Mutilation as a form of punishment was considered abnormal in the Hebrew justice system.
However, having said that, there is a rare case in the TORAH when it is allowed.
Check out these verses:
“If men are fighting with each other, and the wife of one comes up to help her husband get away from the man attacking him by grabbing the attacker’s private parts with her hand, you are to cut off her hand; show no pity.”-Deuteronomy 25:11-12
So here we have a specific instance where if a woman intervenes in a fight between two men by grabbing the genitalia of the man who was fighting with her husband, she is to literally have her hand cut off.
However, I must say, this was way more the exception than the rule.
Monetary compensation was always preferred over physical punishment.
Physical mutilation was looked down on with disgust.
In the final analysis, Rabbis and Christian scholars have come to agreement on one point concerning the interpretation of these verses.
They both agree that the principle being communicated here is the idea of EQUALITY.
These verses were not just about the severity of the crime versus the type of punishment to be administered.
They also address the issue of not leveling different punishments for the same crime based on for instance the nationality of the criminal.
Again, look at verse 22.
“You are to apply the same standard of judgment to the foreigner as to the citizen, because I am YHWH your God.”
Boy, I tell you, this verse shoots all kinds of holes in the common church doctrine that there is one set of rules for the Jews and another for the gentiles.
In closing, I would say one of the biggest takeaways here is the importance of recognizing when a certain phrase in the Bible is just a Hebrew idiom being used to expound on a principle and when that phrase is to be taken literally.
For example, when Yeshua said you should cut off your right hand if it causes you to sin, I don’t think he meant it literally.
The principle being brought forth here is that a FAIR PRICE IS TO BE PAID AS RETRIBUTION FOR CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.
Retribution outside of God’s justice system as defined in Torah is vigilantism.
And retribution inside of God’s justice system as defined by Torah is nothing less than equitable justice.
There is no place in the New Testament where it is said that a price is not to be paid for criminal acts.
Christian “love” does not supersede or have the right to overturn the laws and ordinances that have been established by YHWH in the TORAH.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“You have heard that our fathers were told,
‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you not to stand up against someone
who does you wrong.
On the contrary,
if someone hits you on the right cheek,
let him hit you on the left cheek too!
If someone wants to sue you for your shirt,
let him have your coat as well!
And if a soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile,
carry it for two!
When someone asks you for something,
give it to him;
when someone wants to borrow something from you,
lend it to him.”
“If your right eye makes you sin,
gouge it out and throw it away!
Better that you should lose one part of you
than have your whole body thrown into Gei-Hinnom.
And if your right hand makes you sin,
cut it off and throw it away!
Better that you should lose one part of you
than have your whole body thrown into Gei-Hinnom.”
NEXT TIME WE BEGIN LEVITICUS CHAPTER 25