Hammurabi, the sixth Babylonian king, ruled in Mesopotamia. Around 1754 BC he wrote what became known as the Code Hammurabi. It has been the philosophy of every society to emerge in that region ever since. Simply stated it is, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Cultures, such as Iranian, apply this to civil and personal conduct.

It was so well known and influential it is quoted, though by no means endorsed, in Scripture. Jesus repudiated it in Matthew 5:38-42: “You have heard that it has been said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you not to resist the evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him.”

The operative words are “person,” “whoever,” and “him.” Jesus’ teaching here is not related to civil government, but personal conduct.

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is such an instinctive action children often operate by it on a playground. You hit me and I am going to hit you back.

We can expect no different behavior by the rulers of Iran today. We just hit them by killing two of the primary leaders of their blood-thirsty regime today. Guess what is to come. Then what? It is like playing tennis, you hit the ball to me so I am going to hit it back to you.

We tried the olive branch approach under President Obama. We sent them pallets of raw cash in the millions. There was not even a thank you note in the mail.

When an aggressive mentality exists and you don’t hit back, it is not understood to be grace, but is interpreted as weakness, so they continue to hit even more dramatically.

After the Iranians were to have been allowed to engage in the hitting of recent weeks and we had not responded, President Trump would have been criticized for doing nothing in response. Be assured of that.

Our president having hit back is being criticized by the very people who would have criticized him if he had not hit back. Criticizing the president is just their game.

In the passage in Matthew, Jesus is speaking of personal conduct. He is quoting what Hammurabi had to say on the issue. It was later applied to civil governments.

The expression regarding turning the other cheek was a well-known expression of the day, not related to physical action, but personal insults. It is instruction requiring enduring insults and not responding in kind.

The passage in Matthew does not relate to civil government. Roman 13:4 speaks of governments as ministers who restraining: “...he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” That is what our government is doing in striking certain targets in Iran.

Today we have two opposing cultures. One is the Iranian culture inappropriately applying Hammurabi’s statement to civil government. The other basically teaching the principle stated in Matthew 5:38 referring to turning the other cheek to personal conduct. The Romans 13:4 passage related to civil government.

In dealing with this increasingly complex international situation, we should devote our personal attention to the teachings regarding our personal conduct.

Sometimes enduring insults and indignities is more difficult that a slap on the cheek would be.

I still carry in my wallet a little slip of paper with sage wisdom my mother wrote on it nearly 75 years ago: “A soft answer turns away wrath.”

The Rev. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.


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