What Is Vengeance?

Romans 12:19
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 32:35)

We are told to not take vengeance upon people. Revenge is wrong. Vengeance is God’s place. To avenge ourselves, according to Paul, is to put ourselves in the place of God. Our Lord is the one who brings wrath, it isn’t our place.

As I was studying 1 Samuel 25 with someone last week, we were reading out of two versions of the Bible. When David was seeking to kill Nabal, Abigail told him that would be taking vengeance. She encouraged him not to avenge himself but let God take care of Nabal His way.

But I was reading the English Standard Version, and where the other person was reading “avenging,” my version was saying “working salvation with my own hand.” (See 1 Samuel 25:26,31,33 and compare various versions).

This helped me to see the words avenge and vengeance in a clearer perspective. Vengeance is not just “getting back at someone.” It’s more than that. When we take matters into our own hand and go about solving problems our way, what are we doing? We are working salvation with our own hands. The deliverance is now being done our way instead of God’s way.

So, when we seek to resolve problems our way, we are taking salvation into our own hands. That’s what vengeance is…we are spiritual vigilantes going about trying to deal with problems according to human wisdom, not God’s wisdom.

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 5

We continue our consideration of whether Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was a “new” teaching. Were concepts like turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love your neighbor uniquely Christian concepts that were foreign to the Law of Moses? No.

Let’s look into this further.

In the Old Testament, was it okay for the Jew to repay eye for eye and tooth for tooth? (Matthew 5:38-42)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
(Matthew 5:38-42)

Remember first of all that Jesus is not fighting against or correcting the Law of Moses but correcting the hypocritical and carnal applications of the Law taught by the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-20). The Law would be fulfilled and nailed to the cross by Jesus, but He was not in this Sermon trying to correct or improve upon it.

In the Law of Moses, God made clear distinctions between murder, accidental death, self-defense, vengeance, capital punishment, etc. Not all killing was murder. But God did teach very plainly that the mindset that should guide His people is to love their neighbors and their enemies, and not to take vengeance for themselves.

The Law of Moses did say, “eye for and eye” and “tooth for tooth,” but in context God was teaching about how civil authorities were to administer punishment and fines for crimes. The Law of Moses in this case was not telling individuals that they could personally dole out retribution, but apparently that is how some, for carnal reasons, had applied it.

Notice the passage below. See the context of “eye for eye” was “as the judges determine.” It was the congregation as a community that administered punishment, not the individual (Leviticus 24:16-23).

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.
(Exodus 21:22-27)

This principle is very consistent with the New Testament. The Christian, just like the Jew,  is not allowed to take vengeance, because that is God’s realm. Sometimes, many times, that punishment comes through the hands of civil authorities.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
(Leviticus 19:18)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, Paul is quoting from I believe Deuteronomy 32:25).

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
(Romans 13:1-5)

You can see from these Scriptures, God (Jesus) expected the Jew to keep from retaliation. Vengeance was to be left up to God, and punishment was to be left up to the authorities. Jesus was not introducing a new standard of conduct that He did not always expect from His people.

More to come later..

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 1

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 2

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 3

Is This a Uniquely Christian Concept? Part 4


When the Wicked Attack the Innocent

I wanted to share a passage from Psalms today.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear. They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, “Who can see them?” They search out injustice, saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.” For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep. But God shoots his arrow at them; they are wounded suddenly. They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them; all who see them will wag their heads. Then all mankind fears; they tell what God has brought about and ponder what he has done. Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult!
(Psalm 64:1-10)

The wicked may delay or even escape justice here on earth, but no one can escape God. God is a merciful and gracious God, but He is also a holy and a just God. We are encouraged here by the Holy Spirit through David to take our refuge in God, with full assurance that He is a safe place and He will bring the wicked to justice.

It will not be well with the wicked

Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.
(Ecclesiastes 8:11-13)

It may seem that the wicked get away with their wickedness, but as Solomon reminded us here, it will not be “well” with them in the end.

Read it again, “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life…but it will not be well with the wicked.” There is no “getting away with it” when it comes to God. But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23).

Many times in the Scripture, we see God’s people groaning and lamenting over the wickedness done around them. They, like God’s people today, wonder why God lets it go on and when God’s going to do something about it. It is especially hard when the good people suffer so much at the hands of these wicked people. But remember that God is very aware both of the righteous and the wicked. He will eventually deliver those who fear Him, and He will bring swift justice on those who do not fear Him.

Here is a passage from 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 that once again brings comfort to the righteous that God will take care of them and He will punish those who do not fear God.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering–since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

Overcoming Evil

What About Justice?

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  Romans 12:17-19

What do you think about justice?  Is it important?  Let’s ask that a different way; how do you feel when someone cuts in line?  How about when your car gets broken into or your home is burglarized?  What if your wife or kids are disrespected and treated rudely?  How about when a known criminal gets off on a “technicality”, how does that sit with you?

Justice is essential and is one of the key attributes of God.  In fact, Psalm 89:14 tells us that, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You.”  Psalm 89:14  But Paul challenges us in Romans 12 to set justice aside.  He says “Never PAY BACK evil for evil”, implying that the wages earned for evil is evil.  As Christians, we are to pursue peace and leave room for God to administer justice.

How easy is this command?  The last time someone rudely cut you off in traffic how did you respond?  How did you want to respond?  What about when your co-worker lied about you or took advantage of your kindness or made that derogatory remark about your faith?  Most of the time it is a victory when we just ignore it or keep our mouths shut.  Sometimes I wish the text would end there but Paul’s challenge goes even further.

 The Higher Calling 

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:20-21

The call of Christ is not to simply ignore evil.  The call is not to hold in our desired response and keep our mouths shut.  The call of Christ is to do the unexpected…to actually do good to those who do evil.  I believe this command is one of the most challenging in the entire bible.  This concept goes against our inherent sense of right and wrong.  It turns our concept of justice upside down.

What’s the purpose?  Why would God ask us to do something so difficult?  In short, because He did it for us.  How did Jesus overcome evil?  In the book of Revelation, Satan and evil is personified as a great dragon and how is Jesus pictured?  He is a bloody and battered lamb…a sacrifice.  The entire story of the bible depicts how Jesus overcame evil with good.  As a result, when He was lifted up, He drew all men to Himself (John 12:32).  God has called us for the same purpose.

We are to be lights to the world and we’ve tried to accomplish that our own way.  We’ve tried to batter people with the truth.  We’ve tried to be louder than the opposition.  We’ve tried to stand up for ourselves and defend our rights.  We’ve even tried to take the “high road” and keep our mouths shut, but maybe, just maybe, we should try it God’s way.  When we do the unexpected and we love those who hate us and we show that love in action by doing good it will impact the world.  People will feel the God given shame of sin and be drawn to the sacrifice of Jesus.

The fact is that Paul starts his discussion in Romans 12 with urging us “by the mercies of God”.  Think of the life of rebellion you lived before Christ.  Think of the wages that you deserved.  Now consider how God looked at you and the price He paid for your redemption.  Let us meditate on that daily and strive to be a living sacrifice.