The ancient practice of non-retaliation

If we recognize that only God is truly able to judge others, we relieve ourselves of that burden and responsibility.

Matthew 5:39 – “But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

While many people claim that Yeshua began a revolutionary concept of non-retaliation in his day, it was actually a godly principle from ancient times, evidenced by the narrative of Scripture.

1 Samuel 24:12-13 – “May Yahweh judge between me and you, and may Yahweh take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you. “As the old proverb says, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people.’ My hand will never be against you.

As David was confronted with the continuing persecution of Saul, he makes the commitment that he would never do Saul harm as Saul was attempting to do to him, since Saul is God’s anointed ruler. David fulfilled that commitment.

What I find fascinating from an historical perspective is that David quoted “an old proverb” regarding how wickedness in action stems from those who are wicked. As far as we know, this is not a quote from Moses or any biblical writer prior to David, but it was a quote that had become common enough to be routinely mentioned as proverbial within that culture. This idea of non-retaliation appears to be very ancient, indeed.

Ironically, or perhaps because of David’s parenting influence, his son Solomon would become associated with thousands of proverbs. Likely influenced by that same godly motivation of his father, Solomon would ultimately pen the following proverb:

Proverbs 24:29 – Don’t say, “I’ll do to him what he did to me; I’ll repay the man for what he has done.”

This is a line of thinking carried all the way down to New Testament writers. Even beyond the life and teaching of Yeshua, the apostle Paul expands on this perspective that was modeled by his Lord and Master and the ancient forefathers.

Romans 12:17-19 – Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says Yahweh.

That vengeance belongs to God is a statement that is an echo of David’s words to Saul. If we recognize that only God is truly able to judge others, we relieve ourselves of that burden and responsibility, and allow him to do whatever is appropriate in regard to our situation. This takes a strong measure of faith on our part, as we may have an opportunity to “right” a wrong, or provide a retaliatory measure of what we would consider justice.

By staying our hand and allowing God to work, we may endure injustice for the moment but in the process God can be glorified. When others see that we are willing to suffer an injustice at the hands of others and yet not retaliate, we provide a strong witness to our faith that God is in control and that only he is the true judge.

When we choose to forego those opportunities and instead trust God for ultimate judgment, we also demonstrate our like-minded discipleship and faithfulness to our Lord and Messiah and can rightfully assume our place in a long line of historical and spiritual ancestors before us.


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Non-reciprocation of evil shows us to be God’s children

Throughout the New Testament writings we are encouraged to treat all people well, regardless of how they treat us.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:44-45

In this pivotal teaching of Yeshua, some of the most ancient Greek manuscripts are missing the specific phrase, “bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you.” You will find in many modern versions of the Bible that those words are omitted from Matthew 5:44. However, they are found in the parallel passage in Luke.

Luke 6:27-28 “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

In fact, in Luke’s telling, Yeshua goes into even further detail of what this type of love looks like:

Luke 6:29-31 “If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. “Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. “

Some believe the words were added at a later date into the Matthew narrative to make the text agree with Luke. Regardless of scholarly opinions of the text, the fact remains that this principle of non-reciprocation of evil is abundant throughout the New Testament writings. This shows that the principle was understood and practiced by the disciples and early believers.

Romans 12:14, 17-21 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. … Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

1 Peter 3:8-9 Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 2:20-21, 23 For what credit is there if when you do wrong and are beaten, you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. … when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

Yeshua encourages us to this same practice, and the reasoning he provides is that in doing so we demonstrate that we are seeking to be like our heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:45 …that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

When we treat all people equally, regardless of how they treat us, we exhibit the characteristic of God himself. This is how believers are identified as God’s children; not by claiming we are his children, but by demonstrating we do the same things as he does. This is how we bring glory to his name in this world, and cause his kingdom to grow.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.