“Don’t say, ‘I’ll do to him what he did to me; I’ll repay the man for what he has done.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I have three young boys. They’re all boys. Our household is generally in a constant state of noisy chaos. And they are brothers through and through. If you have boys you know what that means. While they will get each other’s backs, they fight like cats and dogs much of the time. But more than that, they’re kids. Their brains run on kid logic. That can be enormously frustrating as parents sometimes, but it is to be expected. They’re kids. What is disturbing is when adults operate on kid logic.
One of the elements of kid logic that I hear frequently is contained almost word for word in Proverbs 24:29 here. On occasion we’ll intervene in a particularly aggressive dispute where one has done something to the other (often involving fists or feet connecting with other body parts), and we’ll ask the age-old question: Why did you do that? And on occasion the response we’ll get is this: Because he did it to me!
As frustrating as that is, it’s honest. You know this feeling too. I know you do because you’re like me and I do. I don’t care where you’re from, this instinct toward like-kind vengeance is natural. When someone has done something to us that was mean-spirited or hurtful or violent or just downright evil, our natural instinct is to do the same thing back to them.
But if you’ve been through parenting young kids, though, you know that’s not where things end. According to the dictates of kid logic, things don’t stop there. We’re not actually satisfied with simply doing to them the same thing they’ve done to us. We want to do it to them plus one (or two, or three…). We add the plus one so we have an up on them. We’ve now “shown” them. We’ve shown them what? That we’re stronger than they are. We’re tougher than they are. We’re meaner than they are. We are not to be trifled with. If they do it again, they can expect even worse. This is Self-Preservation 101.
Let loose, this is how wars have been started. It has broken families and whole communities. This line of thinking leaves a wide wake of destruction wherever it goes. It is why God, through Moses, gave the people of Israel the famous (or perhaps infamous) lex tallionis, or Law of the Tooth. When the people were told they could only take an eye for and eye, it was to prevent them from thinking they could continue taking a head for an eye.
But it was only a stop along the way to God’s vision of justice. Things like this proverb helped to continue to point the people forward down the path to where Jesus would ultimately take them; to where He would take us. Our standard is not personal vengeance. It is kindness and love. It is to love one another as Jesus loved us. Anything short of that will only lead to more trouble and heartache no matter what our situation may be.
So, don’t say, “I will do to him what he did to me.” Instead say, “I will love him as Jesus has loved me.” That’s where life is to be found.