Exodus 21:24
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
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Exodus 21:24-25. Eye for eye, &c. — This is termed the law of retaliation; and from hence heathen lawgivers took it, and put it among their other laws. It seems probable, that it was not necessary always to take it strictly and literally, but that it might in some cases be satisfied with pecuniary mulcts, or with such satisfaction as the injuring party would give, and the injured accept. Indeed, the injustice of the literal execution of it, in many cases, is apparent; as, when a man that had but one eye or hand, would be thereby condemned to lose it, which to him would be a far greater calamity than he had brought upon his neighbour, by depriving him of one of his eyes or hands. It is especially to be observed, that the execution of these laws was not put into the hands of private persons, and that they were not allowances for private revenge, but rules to regulate the magistrate’s decision, who might go thus far, if he judged the heinousness of the offence required it, but no further; and, no doubt, might abate of this rigour when alleviating circumstances appeared to render it proper so to do.21:22-36 The cases here mentioned give rules of justice then, and still in use, for deciding similar matters. We are taught by these laws, that we must be very careful to do no wrong, either directly or indirectly. If we have done wrong, we must be very willing to make it good, and be desirous that nobody may lose by us.The rule would seem to refer to a case in which the wife of a man interfered in a quarrel. This law, "the jus talionis," is elsewhere repeated in substance, compare the marginal references. and Genesis 9:6. It has its root in a simple conception of justice, and is found in the laws of many ancient nations. It serves in this place as a maxim for the magistrate in awarding the amount of compensation to be paid for the infliction of personal injury. The sum was to be as nearly as possible the worth in money of the power lost by the injured person. Our Lord quotes Exodus 21:24 as representing the form of the law, in order to illustrate the distinction between the letter and the spirit Matthew 5:38. The tendency of the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees was to confound the obligations of the conscience with the external requirements of the law. The law, in its place, was still to be "holy and just and good," Romans 7:12, but its direct purpose was to protect the community, not to guide the heart of the believer, who was not to exact eye for eye, tooth for tooth, but to love his enemies, and to forgive all injuries. 23-25. eye for eye—The law which authorized retaliation (a principle acted upon by all primitive people) was a civil one. It was given to regulate the procedure of the public magistrate in determining the amount of compensation in every case of injury, but did not encourage feelings of private revenge. The later Jews, however, mistook it for a moral precept, and were corrected by our Lord (Mt 5:38-42). This is called the law of retaliation, and from hence the heathen lawgivers took it and put it into their laws. But though this might sometimes be practised in the letter, yet it was not necessarily to be understood and executed so; as may appear,

1. By the impossibility of the just execution of it in many cases, as when a man that had but one eye or hand was to lose the other, which to him was a far greater mischief than what he did to his neighbour, whom he deprived but of one of his eyes or hands. And this is a sure and righteous rule, Punishments may be less, but never should be greater than the fault. And how could a wound be made neither bigger nor less than that which he inflicted?

2. By comparing this with other laws, wherein a compensation is allowed in like cases, as Exodus 21:18,30. And when it is enjoined that no satisfaction shall be taken for the life of a wilful murderer, Numbers 35:31, it seems therein implied that satisfaction may be taken for lesser injuries. And indeed the payment of such a price as the loss of an eye, or hand, or foot required, though it might not so much satisfy the revenge of the party so injured, yet it was really more to his benefit. This law therefore was only minatory, but so as it was literally to be inflicted, except the injuring party would give such satisfaction as the injured person accepted, or the judges determined. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. This is "lex talionis", the law of retaliation, and from whence the Heathens had theirs; but whether this is to be taken strictly and literally, or only for pecuniary mulcts, is a question; Josephus (d) understands it in the former sense, the Jewish writers generally in the latter; and so the Targum of Jonathan paraphrases it;"the price of an eye for an eye, &c.''Jarchi on the place observes, that,"he that puts out his neighbour's eye must pay him the price of his eye, according to the price of a servant sold in the market, and so of all the rest; for not taking away of members strictly is meant, as our doctors here interpret it;''in a place he refers to, and to which Aben Ezra agrees; and of the difference and dispute between the Jews concerning this matter; see Gill on Matthew 5:38 and indeed, though these laws of retaliation should, according to the letter of them, be attended to as far as they can; yet, in some cases, it seems necessary that they should not be strictly attended to, but some recompence made in another way, and nothing seems more agreeable than a pecuniary one: thus, for instance, this law cannot be literally executed, when one that has never an eye puts out the eye of another, as it is possible that a blind man may; or one that has no teeth may strike out the tooth of another; in such cases eye cannot be given for eye, nor tooth for tooth; and, as Saadiah Gaon (e) observes, if a man should smite the eye of his neighbour, and the third part of the sight of his eye should depart, how will he order it to strike such a stroke as that, without adding or lessening? and if a man that has but one eye, or one hand, or one foot, should damage another man in those parts, and must lose his other eye, or hand, or foot, he would be in a worse case and condition than the man he injured; since he would still have one eye, or hand, or foot; wherefore a like law of Charondas among the Thurians is complained of, since it might be the case, that a man with one eye might have that struck out, and so be utterly deprived of sight; whereas the man that struck it out, though he loses one for it, yet has another, and so not deprived of sight utterly, and therefore thought not to be sufficiently punished; and that it was most correct that he should have both his eyes put out for it: and hence Diodorus Siculus (f) reports of a one-eyed man who lost his eye, that he complained of this law to the people, and advised to have it altered: this "lex talionis" was among the Roman laws of the "twelve tables" (g).

(d) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 33. 35. (e) Apud Aben Ezram in loc. (f) Bibliothec. l. 12. par. 2. p. 82, 83. (g) A. Gell. Noct. Attic. l. 20. c. 1.

{r} Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

(r) The execution of this law only belonged to the magistrate, Mt 5:38.

Fatal blows and the crimes placed on a par with them are now followed in simple order by the laws relating to bodily injuries.

Exodus 21:18-19

If in the course of a quarrel one man should hit another with a stone or with his fist, so that, although he did not die, he "lay upon his bed," i.e., became bedridden; if the person struck should get up again and walk out with his staff, the other would be innocent, he should "only give him his sitting and have him cured," i.e., compensate him for his loss of time and the cost of recovery. This certainly implies, on the one hand, that if the man died upon his bed, the injury was to be punished with death, according to Exodus 21:12; and on the other hand, that if he died after getting up and going out, no further punishment was to be inflicted for the injury done.

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