Measure for Measure
Judeo-Christian Research


May 3, 2000

(Mat 7:1-2) Judge not, that ye be not judged. {2} For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

(Rom 2:6) Who will render to every man according to his deeds.

(2 Cor 9:6) But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.

(Rev 18:6) Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.


The rabbinic doctrine of punishment and reward, or "middah keneged middah" ("measure for measure") is a well-known theme throughout the Tenach (Old Testament) as well as the New Testament. The Talmud and various midrashic material are also full of examples of belief in this doctrine.

From the Encyclopedia Judaica, article "Reward and Punishment":

The doctrine of reward and punishment is central to Judaism throughout the ages; that man receives his just reward for his good deeds and just retribution for his transgressions is the very basis of the conception of both human and divine justice...

[The doctrine of reward and punishment]... is even given an almost mathematical exactitude with the often reiterated belief in 'measure for measure' (middah ke-neged middah): 'all the measures [of punishment and reward] taken by the Holy One, blessed be He, are in accordance with the principle of measure for measure' (Sanh. 90a; cf. Sot. 8b); and 'from the very creation of the world the Holy One, blessed be He, arranged that by the measure with which a man measures is he measured' (Gen. R. 9:11)."


(Judg 1:7) And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.

(Psa 137:7-8) Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof. {8} O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

(Oba 1:15) For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.

(Mal 2:9) Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law. [Here the Lord gives "measure for measure" based on Mal 1:7 -- Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.]


Quotes from the Talmud and Midrash are given to show that the Sages were familiar with the doctrine of middah keneged middah:

Talmud - Mas. Megilah 12b

[Regarding the story of Vashti and King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.]

Some said, The Median women are the most beautiful, and others said, The Persian women are the most beautiful. Said Ahasuerus to them, The vessel that I use is neither Median nor Persian, but Chaldean. Would you like to see her? They said, Yes, but it must be naked — (For man receives measure for measure. This [remark] teaches you that the wicked Vashti used to take the daughters of Israel and strip them naked and make them work on Sabbath. So it is written, After these things when the wrath of the king Ahasuerus abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what was decided against her. As she had done so it was decreed against her.)


[Note: "Midrash is a comprehensive term for the Jewish exegesis of Scripture and individually collected works of Scriptural interpretation... It also refers to a specific mode of interpretation, based primarily on 'verbal analogy' in which one Scriptural text is interpreted through a second text (cf. Paul's use of Ps. 32.1-2 in order to interpret Gen. 15.6...)" [1]]

Midrash Rabbah - The Song of Songs III:6

Therefore the prophet taunts Babylon saying, Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon (Isa. XLVII, 1). This is measure for measure. Just as elsewhere we are told, They sit upon the ground, and keep silence, the elders of the daughter of Zion (Lam. II, 10), so here, ´Come down, and sit in the dust.´ R. Hunia said: Thus said Jerusalem to the daughter of Babylon: ‘You old harlot, sit on the ground; you imagine that you are a young virgin, but you are really old: Sit on the ground without a throne (Isa. ib.).

Midrash Rabbah - Numbers XIV:6

One who has incurred the penalty of strangulation is either drowned in a river or dies by suffocation or is delivered into the hands of idolaters who strangle him. One who deserves death by stoning either falls from a roof or is trampled by a beast, or is stoned by idolaters. If one has incurred the penalty of slaying by the sword, robbers come upon him and kill him. One who has incurred the penalty of burning either falls into a furnace or is bitten by a serpent.* Thus you learn that no one can escape from the judgment of the Holy One, blessed be He, and avoid being punished measure for measure.

* whose poison burns him

Midrash Rabbah - Numbers IX:24

It was taught: R. Meir said: How can we infer that punishment is meted out to a man in the same measure with which he himself has measured? Because it says, Se'ah for se'ah (Measure for measure), when Thou sendest her away, Thou dost contend with her (Isa. XXVII, 8).

Midrash Rabbah - Exodus I:9

[Here's an interesting midrash that shows that the Egyptians were apparently aware of the Jewish doctrine "measure for measure" and were going to try and use it to outwit God.]

AND HE SAID UNTO HIS PEOPLE (I, 9). He was the first to counsel thus, therefore was he smitten first. He was the first to counsel thus, as it says: AND HE SAID UNTO HIS PEOPLE; and he was smitten first, as it is written: And the frogs shall come up both upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants (ib. VII, 29). COME, LET US DEAL WISELY WITH HIM (1, 10). It does not say 'with them' (lahem), but 'with him' (lo). R. Hama, the son of R. Hanina, explained: he said, 'Let us deal wisely with their God. Shall we persecute them with the sword? Well, it is already written: And by His sword with all flesh (Isa. LXVI, I6).* No, we will persecute them by water: for so hath the Lord sworn that he would no longer bring a flood into the world, as it is said: For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth (ib. LIV, 9).' But they did not realise that over the whole world would he not bring a flood, but upon one nation he would; and even over them would he not bring it, for they themselves would come and fall into the sea--as it is said: They shall be hurled to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for foxes (Ps. LXIII, 11). [Thus it is written], For that they dealt proudly against them (Ex. XVIII, 11). They were boiled in the pot in which they themselves cooked.

* The verse begins: For by fire will the Lord contend. The Egyptians seemed to have known that God punishes 'measure for measure', and, accordingly, sought a punishment--here it was drowning--under the impression that He would no longer bring a flood into the world.


The "measure for measure" doctrine is said to be evident in the plagues of Egypt. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, the Midrash gives the following rationale for the plagues:

blood — because they kept Israel's women from their post-menstrual immersion, to stop their childbearing (another view—because they cast the male infants into the Nile)

frogs — because they made Israel clean and repair streets

lice — because they made them sweep homes and markets

mixture of beasts — because they made them catch wild beasts

pestilence — because they made them tend flocks

fever boils — because they made them tend baths

hail — because they made them tend fields

locusts — because they made them plant trees

darkness — so that they could not witness the burial of wicked Israelites

firstborn — because they enslaved Israel, whom God called "my firstborn son" [2]


The article "Reward and Punishment" from the Encyclopedia Judaica goes on to say that the doctrine of "measure for measure" was theologically challenged after the holocaust. Richard Rubenstein, author of After Auschwitz (1966), categorically stated "that he was no longer able to accept the credibility of the traditional belief in the existence of the biblical God Who elects Israel and acts decisively in history, because such a God would have to bear ultimate responsibility for Auschwitz." This was a theological point of no return for Rubenstein. He refused to believe that Hitler and the Nazis were "unwitting agents of the Lord of history" and a God "who was even remotely involved in Auschwitz was a deity unworthy of Jewish faith." The phrase "after Auschwitz" then became a "theological code word" that questioned the Jewish belief of Israel as God's chosen people. [3]

For more on this aspect of the Holocaust please see the following recommended reading where the author explains — "I had to consider the Holocaust as judgment; that it was not an aberration nor an historical accident; and that the magnitude of our suffering is directly proportional to the magnitude of our sin." (author's emphasis)

The Holocaust - Where was God?


Footnotes & References:

[1] Shulam, Joseph. A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Romans, Messianic Jewish Publishers, 1997; p. x.

[2] Encyclopedia Judaica, "Plagues of Egypt," (Ex. 4:22; Mid. Hag. to 10:2). CD-Rom edition.

[3] Encyclopedia Judaica, "Reward and Punishment," CD-Rom edition.

All Talmud quotations are from The Soncino Talmud, CDRom Edition. (c) 1991-1999 Institute for Computers in Jewish Life, Davka Corp, & Judaica Press, Inc.

All Midrash quotations are from The Soncino Midrash Rabbah, CDRom Edition. (c) 1991-1999 Institute for Computers in Jewish Life, Davka Corp, & Judaica Press, Inc.


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