Turn the other cheek (Mt 5:39-5:39)

“But I say to you!

‘Do not resist

An evildoer!

But if anyone

Strikes you

On the right cheek,

Turn the other also.’”

 

ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ· ἀλλ’ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα σου, στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην·

 

Matthew is not alone in having Jesus solemnly speak (ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν) about turning the other cheek.  Luke, in chapter 6:29, around his blessings and curses, had the exact same saying, perhaps another example of the Q source.  Jesus told them not to resist the evildoer (μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ).  Is this evil one the devil, as implied earlier in this chapter?  Or is this just another evil person?  If they were struck on the right cheek (ἀλλ’ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα σου), they should turn the other cheek (στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην).  A slap on the right cheek was usually a back handed slap since most people were right handed.  Jesus himself would be struck on the cheek in the passion narrative.  They would be true followers of Jesus, if they did not resist, as in the passion story.  This is one of the strongest arguments for Christian pacifism.

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The fight over Palestine (Dan 11:15-11:17)

“Then the king of the north

Shall come.

He shall throw up

Siege works.

He shall take

A well-fortified city.

The forces of the south

Shall not stand.

Not even his picked troops

Shall stand.

There shall be

No strength to resist.

But he who comes

Against him

Shall take the actions

He pleases.

No one shall withstand him.

He shall take a position

In the beautiful land.

All of it shall be

In his power.

He shall set his mind

To come

With the strength

Of his whole kingdom.

He shall bring terms of peace.

He shall perform them.

In order to destroy the kingdom,

He shall give him

A woman in marriage.

But it shall not succeed.

It shall not be to his advantage.”

Then the king of the north, King Antiochus III (222-187 BCE), took possession of the beautiful land of Israel or Judah. He would set up a siege against the fortified city. The southern forces from Egypt would not be able to stand up against him, even their special troops were not good enough. No one had the strength to resist. He set his mind to it and he was able to do it. Then he arranged a peace treaty. King Antiochus gave his daughter Cleopatra to the young King Ptolemy V (204-181 BCE) in marriage in 194 BCE, but it did not work.

The futile activities of these temple priests (Bar 6:33-6:35)

“The priests

Take some

Of the clothing

Of their gods

To clothe

Their wives

Or their children.

Whether one does

Evil

To them

Or good,

They will not be able

To repay it.

They cannot

Set up a king.

They cannot

Depose a king.

Likewise

They are not able

To give

Either wealth

Or money.

If one makes a vow

To them,

Then does not

Keep it,

They will not

Require it.”

These priests of the temple take some of the clothing from their gods to give to their wives and children. Whether anyone does good or evil to them, they are not able to return the favor or resist. They are unable to set up or depose a king as the God of Israel can. They seem to have no control over wealth or money. If someone makes a vow, they do not require them to keep their vows.

You cannot question the judgment of God (Wis 12:12-12:14)

“Who will say?

‘What have you done?’

Who will resist your judgment?

Who will accuse you?

For the destruction of nations

That you made?

Who will come before you?

Who will plead as an advocate?

Who will plead for the unrighteous?

Neither is there any god besides you,

Whose care is for all people.

Who can prove

That you have not judged unjustly?

Nor can any king confront you.

A monarch cannot confront you

About those whom you have punished.”

Who can question God? Who could resist him? Who will accuse him? Who will plead for the unrighteous? Who can prove that he judged unjustly? Notice that there is a shift from wisdom to God, who is then compared to all the other gods. This God (Θεός), formerly Yahweh, cares for all (πάντων) the people, not just the Israelites. No one could confront him, not even a king or a monarch (βασιλεὺς ἢ τύραννος). No one could question him about his punishments.

Robbing the poor (Prov 22:22-22:23)

“Do not rob the poor!

Because they are poor.

Do not crush the afflicted

At the gate.

Yahweh pleads their cause.

He despoils of life

Those who despoil them.”

Simply put, do not rob poor people because they are poor. The point is that poor people have little chance to resist a robber. You were not to crush people at the gate because that is where the accusations and trials took place. Yahweh will plead the case of the poor. If you plunder or take advantage of the poor, Yahweh will take advantage of you.

Job responds that God is powerful (Job 9:1-9:12)

“Then Job answered.

‘Indeed I know that it is so.

But how can a man be just before God?

If one wished to contend with him,

One could not answer him once in a thousand times.

God has a wise heart.

He is mighty in strength.

Who has resisted God?

Who has succeeded?

He removes mountains.

They do not know it,

When he overturns them in his anger.

Who shakes the earth out of its place?

Who makes its pillars tremble?

Who commands the sun?

It does not rise without him.

Who seals up the stars?

Who alone stretched out the heavens?

Who trampled the waves of the sea?

Who made the Bear?

Who made the Orion?

Who made the Pleiades?

Who made the chambers of the south?

Who does great things beyond understanding?

Who does marvelous things without number?

Look!

He passes by me.

I do not see him.

He moves on.

But I do not perceive him.

He snatches away.

Who can stop him?

Who will say to him?

‘What are you doing?’”

Job posed the basic question of how could a mere moral become just before God? What is righteousness? In a sense he is answering Eliphaz rather than Bildad. God is a thousand times better than man. He is wise and strong. Who could resist God successfully? He moves mountains in his anger and they do not even know it. He commands the sun, the stars, and the waves of the sea.  He makes all the heavenly constellations of stars like the Bear, the Orion, and the Pleiades. In fact these clusters of stars were sometimes thought of as gods. God stretches out the heavens like a tent. He does great marvelous things that we sometimes do not understand. He passes by and we don’t see him. No one asks him what he is doing. He just does it. No one can stop him.

The mother appeals to her youngest son (2 Macc 7:24-7:29)

“King Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt. He was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, King Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his ancestors. He would take him for his friend and entrust him with public affairs. Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him. He urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant.

‘My son,

Have pity on me.

I carried you nine months in my womb.

I nursed you for three years.

I have reared you.

I have brought you up to this point in your life.

I have taken care of you.

I beg you,

My child,

To look at the heaven and the earth.

See everything that is in them!

Recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.

In the same way,

The human race came into being.

Do not fear this butcher!

Prove worthy of your brothers!

Accept death!

So that in God’s mercy

I may get you back again with your brothers.’”

King Antiochus IV was upset at the way things were going. As there was only 1 son left, he urged him to give up his traditional ways. He promised to make him rich and powerful in his kingdom. The son would not listen. Then the king urged the mother to try and convince her son to save his life. Instead she urged him on to resist the king. In a moving passage, she spoke about carrying him for 9 months, nursing him for 3 years, and then bringing him up. Now she wanted him to recognize the creator God in heaven who made the human race. She wanted him to be worthy of his brothers. She wanted him to accept death so that God’s mercy would bring him back to his brothers. These seven sons were like suicide bombers willing to die for the laws of their God. The theology of creation and the afterlife predominated in their views of the ancestral laws. Notice that she spoke in their native language.