“But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” Exodus 21:23-25
Then a rabbi from Nazareth—of all places—arrives and is teaching forgiveness, grace, and mercy.
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35
We might understand the Pharisees’ reaction—except Jesus consistently provided them with solid Truth. And even the ordinary people recognized the authority of Jesus teaching.
“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Matthew 7:28-29
So why did the Pharisees refuse to believe? Because they forgot some important lessons found in the Old Testament that mirrored the extreme mercy and grace that Jesus was speaking of.
While reading 2 Chronicles, I found an example of radical mercy by the army of Israel after they had carried out God’s vengeance (and a bit of their own) on King Ahaz of Judah.
Granted, King Ahaz was wicked and deserved God’s vengeance. He made idols, burned sacrifices and even sacrificed his own sons in fire. (2 Chronicles 28:2-3) For these things, God allowed the nations of Aram and Israel to join together and defeat Judah. Israelite troops captured and enslaved thousands of Judeans and justified it because Judah had turned their backs on the Lord.
As the army of Israel was returning to Samaria with the spoils of war, including their new slaves from Judah, they were met by the prophet, Oded. He confirmed that God had given Judah into their hands but then he hit them with the truth.
“But you have slaughtered them in a rage that reaches to heaven. And now you intend to make the men and women of Judah and Jerusalem your slaves. But aren’t you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God? Now listen to me! Send back your fellow countrymen you have taken as prisoners, for the Lord’s fierce anger rests on you.” 2 Chronicles 28:9-11
Israel had turned God’s vengeance into personal revenge, so in the verses that followed, God through Oded demanded two things:
- Israel must consider their own idolatry and sins.
- They must release the Judean prisoners
Oded’s confrontation bolstered the courage of Ephraim’s leaders to recognize their own guilt. They confronted the army and refused to allow them to bring the prisoners into the city.
The soldiers’ reaction was radical, especially for the Old Testament.
“So the soldiers gave up the prisoners and plunder in the presence of the officials and all the assembly. The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm. All those who were weak they put on donkeys. So they took them back to their fellow countrymen at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.” 2 Chronicles 28:14-21
The soldiers not only obeyed Oded and the city’s leaders, but they went the extra mile to feed, clothe, and heal the prisoners. The Scriptures don’t tell us that the soldiers did these things as a way to express their repentance but it seems reasonable, doesn’t it?
“In his time of trouble, King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 28:22
What?! Even after his people were returned from slavery in Samaria—because of radical repentance, King Ahaz remained unfaithful. Though the Pharisees witnessed proof of Jesus’ power and heard the authority of His teaching, they still refused to believe.
Like King Ahaz and the Pharisees, we have a choice when responding to difficulty and/or new ideas. Will we choose to be ungrateful and unfaithful like Ahaz or keep pushing forward in arrogance like the Pharisees without asking for God’s guidance?
Lord, let my life exhibit radical grace and repentance.
How about you?