In today's study from Matthew 5:33-45, we discuss our Lord's instructions in regards to oaths, retribution, and compassion.
Additional Areas of the Law
In the last part of Matthew 5, Jesus enhances three additional areas of the law: oaths; retribution; and neighborly love.
vv.33-37 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: (34) But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: (35) Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. (36) Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. (37) But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. According to the law, they were not to forswear themselves. To forswear means to swear falsely to perjure. Lev 19:12 “And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.” As a matter of fact, James’ instruction was to swear not at all. Jas 5:12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.
He goes on in this text in Matthew to say that specifically we are not to swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or even our own heads.
Why not by Heaven? It’s God’s throne!
I often hear people slip up and say things like, “For Heaven’s sake!” and “Thank heavens!” That’s swearing by Heaven; God’s throne! The dictionary says that it is a euphemism that expresses frustration. Leave God’s Heaven out of it!
Why not by earth? It’s God’s footstool! I often hear people say, “my lands!” or “land’s sakes!” That’s swearing by Earth; God’s footstool!
Why not by Jerusalem? It’s the city of the Great King! Psa 48:1-2 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. 2 Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.
Why not by your own head? God made it, not you! Ps 139:15-16 “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. (16) Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” I often hear people say, “As sure as I live”; “As sure as I’m breathing.” Then they’ll even swear and say, “I’ll be damned!”
Conclusion of the Admonition
The bottom line is that swearing shouldn’t be necessary if your “yea” is “yea” and your “nay” is “nay.” No expletives or oaths should be necessary to confirm or strengthen what you say. Just be a person of your word and you will not have to swear!
vv.38-42 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: (39) But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (40) And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. (41) And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. (42) Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. These verses speak of retribution. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was a judicial retribution against harmful actions. Ex 21:24-25 “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Deut 19:21 “Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” So, the Lord told his disciples to go beyond just the judicial demands of the law. He told them to give more than what the law demanded:
Clarification: It is wrong to think Jesus means evil should never be resisted. Jesus demonstrated with His life that evil should and must be resisted, such as when He turned tables in the temple. It is wrong to think that Jesus means a physical attack cannot be resisted or defended against. When Jesus speaks of a slap on your right cheek: that was culturally understood as a deep insult, not a physical attack. Jesus does not mean that if someone hits across the right side of our head with a baseball bat, we should allow them to then hit the left side as well!
Further Clarification: It is also wrong to think Jesus means that there is no place for punishment or retribution in society. Jesus here speaks to personal relationships, and not to the proper functions of government in restraining evil. I must turn my cheek when I am personally insulted, but the government has a responsibility to restrain evil.
vv.43-44Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. (44) But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; This was not a command for them or us to become passive doormats to be abused by others. Instead, it was a command to view their enemies with the same compassion that Jesus had for them. Yes, Jesus loved even his and our enemies so much that he died for them. Jesus said in Luke 23:34 “…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Stephen said in Acts 7:60 “…Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Paul told us in Rom 12:14, 20 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. 20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.