Should We Go to War With Iraq?
Dr. Jim Denison
War clouds are gathering on the horizon. U.N. weapons inspectors continue their work in Iraq, while America and her allies continue preparations for military intervention if Saddam Hussein will not disarm. President Bush’s State of the Union address this Tuesday will attempt to prepare us for such a war.
Meanwhile negotiations continue in North Korea in attempts to persuade that Communist government to abandon its plans to develop nuclear weapons. And our war against terrorism continues abroad and at home with this week’s official creation of the Department of Homeland Defense.
In light of such developments, Jesus says: “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:9). What do his words mean for our nation in these conflicted days? How should they guide our future?
On a more individual level, what personal conflict is troubling you most this morning? Let’s seek God’s wisdom for our nation, and our personal lives as well.
Do not claim your rights
Jesus begins: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth'” (v. 38). And it was.
This statute, known to history as the Lex Talionis, is the oldest law in the world. It first appeared in the Code of Hammurabi, the man who ruled Babylon (ancient Iraq, ironically) from 2285 to 2242 B.C. Exodus 21:24-25 states it clearly: “…eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
Note that the law was intended not to justify conflict but to limit it. Without it, if you scraped my car I could wreck yours. If you injured my son, I could kill all your children. This law limited revenge.
It also took vengeance out of individual hands and put it into the courts. The judges of ancient Israel determined what constituted proper restitution for injury, and levied monetary fines as a result. They developed elaborate ways to ensure the rights of all citizens.
Now Jesus adds: “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person” (39b). Even though you have the right, don’t insist on your rights. Then he gives us four examples of this principle in action.
The first regards our honor: “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (39b).
“Strikes” in the original Greek means to “slap.” The right hand was almost always the one used in public. So to slap your right cheek with my right hand is an insult. This was not a threat to life and limb, but an insult to character and reputation. It was a sign of great contempt and abuse, so that the rabbinic fines for such an action were twice those of other physical injuries.
Jesus says: do not retaliate. Do not slap back, though this would be within your rights. Do not prosecute for financial gain, though this also would be within your rights. Turn the other cheek instead. Do not insist on your rights.
Next Jesus speaks to our possessions: “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (v. 40).The “tunic” was the inner garment, an undershirt with sleeves. It could be taken in a lawsuit. But the “cloak” could not—it was the outer garment, which protected a poor person from the elements and served as his bed at night. And so Exodus 22:26 forbids keeping the cloak.
But not Jesus: “let him have your cloak as well.” Even though it is your right to keep it, and he has no right to take it. Do not insist on your rights.
Now Jesus comes to an issue of great urgency for us today: our time. He says, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (v. 41).
Here Jesus refers to a custom known and despised by every person who heard his Sermon. A Roman soldier could require any Jew to carry his military pack for the distance of one mile. No matter where you were going or what you were doing, the soldier could “force” you to do this.
But none could force you to carry his pack for two miles. Jesus says to do it anyway. Sacrifice the time. Even though it is your right not to. Do not insist on your rights.
Finally he deals with our money: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (v. 42). Give when you are asked to give, and lend when you are asked to lend.
Not foolishly; God’s word counsels us to be wise in our use of money (Proverbs 11:15; 17:18; 22:26-27).
But Jesus does teach us to help when we can. As Augustine commented, we are not told to give everything that is asked for, but to give to every person who asks. Even though you don’t owe this person anything. Even though it is your right not to. Do not insist on your rights.
Instead, return hate with love, harm with kindness, evil with good. Do not lower yourself to the one who has taken from you. Simply refuse.
West Texans taught me a crude but appropriate statement: the dog looks at the skunk and says, “I can beat you, but it’s not worth it.”
You can choose not to insult those who insult you; not to hurt those who hurt you. When your honor or possessions or time or money are taken, do not take back. Take the high road. Show the high character. Be the presence of Christ.
You say, “I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it.” Of course you don’t. No human wants to be hurt, to give up his right to revenge or justice. But do it anyway. And as you act in love, your feelings will follow.