Every Thought Captive

Resisting Retaliation

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you."

Matthew 5:38-42

A competitor undermines your work, making you appear incompetent. A difficult neighbor constantly raises complaints and demands. The neighbor’s contractor then does damage to your property. Some kind of response seems obvious, to prevent more harm—and for the sake of justice! But what about Jesus’ words, ”do not resist the one who is evil”?

Isaac, the patriarch, was a successful farmer and rancher with high government connections in Gerar of the Philistines (Genesis 26). Isaac had entered Gerar during a famine in Canaan, heading for Egypt, just as his father Abraham had tragically done (Genesis 12:10-18). But God stopped Isaac. He confirmed to Isaac the covenant He had made with Abraham and commanded, “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands…I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven ... And in your offspring, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed….” (Genesis 26:2-4)

Isaac stayed but dishonored God with a lie about his wife being his sister, which was discovered by Abimelech, Gerar’s king. Still, God protected Isaac; and gave him tremendous productivity until Abimelech asked Isaac, because of his wealth and “might,” to move farther away. Isaac moved into a valley where his servants dug for water, but local herdsmen raised disputes over the water rights. Rather than fighting, Isaac chose to move again and dig another well, but the locals argued over that one too. Again, Isaac relocated rather than retaliating. Only in the third location was there no opposition. Isaac said, “Now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” (Genesis 26:32)

What about Isaac’s decisions here? Was he too passive? He was the same person who, as a young man, climbed onto an altar when God directed his father Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice, though God would provide a ram as a substitute (Genesis 22). That event pointed ahead to God’s gift of His own Son, who would die to atone for the sins of His people. Though Isaac was a sinner who failed God in many ways, perhaps again, here he is a forward look toward the Savior. Possibly he fleshes out here in the incident of the wells Jesus’ description of a spirit of non-retaliation. (Matthew 5: 39).

When someone wrongs us, it feels necessary to respond with at least a subtle form of retaliation. With a critical word, we could ignite distrust of the one who undermined us. We may pointedly distance ourselves from the person from whom we felt some slight. We might give just a hint of negative feedback toward a teacher or coach who unfairly did not advance our child. Yet Jesus said, “do not resist.” Why? How? Like Isaac, we must know and trust:

God guarantees our security and destiny through His Son.
God, through His Son and in His Spirit, guarantees His presence with us.
God’s presence guarantees full provision and certainty of justice.

Old Testament lives like Isaac’s articulate and illustrate God’s promise and purpose, which would culminate in Jesus the Redeemer. Isaac was a man of the covenant by God’s sovereign mercy and, though imperfect, a believer in the covenant-keeping God. Isaac’s final stop in this story was Beersheba, where God came to him and reconfirmed His covenant. The leaders of Gerar then came to Isaac requesting a “sworn pact,” saying, “We see plainly that the LORD has been with you.” (Genesis 26:23-31)

About the Author

Photograph of Neatice Warner

Neatice Warner

Neatice grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and graduated from the University of New Mexico. She is married to Terry and has 2 sons, 2 daughters-in-law, and 3 grandsons. Neatice is privileged to teach the PCPC Women's Early Morning Bible Study; her passion, along with her family, is God's Word and the joy of seeing God's people transformed by His Spirit through that Word.