Let me set the scene: a discussion on another site, with a person (A) who says that the Bible says s/he is justified to seek vengeance against another person (B), by cursing them .. literally using a spell. This person (B) had done the victim (A), and others s/he says, harm, and the curse had changed them (B) into a better, now God fearing, person. What do I believe? When I asked the caster (A) to remove the curse and forgive the person (B), s/he refused .. s/he said it had been God’s will that s/he had done it, and it would be God’s will when the curse came off, if it ever did. I suggested s/he removed it to see if it had been the curse that had forced the person (B) to change, or had the person simply chosen the happier path themselves? S/he (A) also refused to do this. S/he is still angry at the person for what they did to her/him. By her/his own admission s/he is unforgiving.
It got me thinking about the bible, and as usual, comparing the OT with the NT .. and so I dipped into both, via Strong’s Concordance .. and was flabbergasted at the amount of times the word revenge, avenge or vengeance was used by Strong’s, only to find them retranslated, occasionally, in my NOAB into retribution, or switched between avenged and revenged, or verses where it was removed completely and taken back to a better translation. What it showed to me was the mindset of the person who first did the translation of the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek that Strong bases his Concordance upon – Vengeance is mine! or is it? How do we justify vengeance when Jesus words ask us to choose another path?
Dictionary meanings –
Vengeance – Infliction of punishment in return for a wrong committed; retribution.
Idiom: with a vengeance
1. With great violence or force.
2. To an extreme degree.
Revenge – tr.v. re•venged, re•veng•ing, re•veng•es
1. To inflict punishment in return for (injury or insult).
2. To seek or take vengeance for (oneself or another person); avenge.
1. The act of taking vengeance for injuries or wrongs; retaliation.
2. Something done in vengeance; a retaliatory measure.
3. A desire for revenge; spite or vindictiveness.
4. An opportunity to retaliate, as by a return sports match after a defeat.
Avenge – tr.v. a•venged, a•veng•ing, a•veng•es
1. To inflict a punishment or penalty in return for; revenge: avenge a murder.
2. To take vengeance on behalf of: avenged their wronged parents.
There is a lot of vengeance (revenge/avenging) going on in the OT, and lots of folk asking God for it, and joyfully naming God ‘vengeful’, and glorying in what God might do to their enemies. Isaiah said there is even a Day of Vengeance (34:8, 61:2, 63:04) (later Luke calls it ‘days’ 21:22 – wasn’t one enough?) Jeremiah calls it a Day of Retribution (46:10), but the meaning is the same. A day when harming others will not anger God? Oh yes, doesn’t Psalms advise us that “the righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked ..”? But who decides who is wicked?
I guess if we all play ‘follow the leader’ seeking revenge/vengeance is not so surprising, given that Jehovah either did it, or threatened to, on a regular basis. Or, as one lady I know said, this is how the writers wanted believers to see Jehovah, as defending them when they were in strife, but .. what happened when they broke the rules .. the jealous God (Psalm 94:1, Proverbs 6:34) of Vengeance suddenly turned the tables and attacked them … look at Saul and his torment by an ‘evil angel from the Lord’ because he spared the life of one man. Was Moses being banned from the promised Land God’s revenge for disobedience, and then there is Jephthah having to sacrifice his daughter because of his promise to Jehovah, even though Abraham’s hand was stopped when he went to do the same to his son? Even Revelation demands it .. written after Jesus’ teachings – what was ‘John’ thinking? “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth”? This is the Jesus that taught ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love one another’, it’s a puzzle that John ignored him.
But there was a quiet, very quiet, voice of reason within the OT. Leviticus 19:17 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself ..”. And questions can be raised by Psalm 99:8 .. how a forgiving God can be an ‘avenger of their wrongdoings’? A person who forgives has no reason to seek vengeance; surely a God who forgives would be even less inclined to do so? After all, ‘he’ laid down the rules.
Jesus went up the mountain to speak to the people, to give them a new way of living, a new way of thinking about how they acted in their lives. He called us ‘the Light of the World’ (Matthew 5:14). He said our light should shine for others (5:16), but how can it when our hearts are filled with pain and darkness? 1 Sam 14:24 called casting a curse a ‘rash act’, and it is, for none of us can know the repercussions of our actions. Oh, we might see an immediate effect, and pat ourselves on the back for it, but what about the long term, and what about if we choose to continue to hate instead of loving, to glory in another’s pain, what then?
Jesus taught ‘if you are angry you are liable to judgment’ (Matt 5:22) and he disputed the old teachings of ‘an eye for an eye’ (Matt 5:38), which is what so many use as their excuse to do harm to others – ‘they did it first’ or ‘they hurt someone else’. He said “… do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also …” (Matt 5:39), and keeping turning, and walk away. He placed God’s love, and our place in heaven, far above any earthly concerns. He also said ‘be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:48).
Ok, now I go back to shaking my head in puzzlement. The God of Vengeance is perfect, but we are not allowed to act like him? Which God was Jesus talking about? Oh I know, the one he called out to from the Cross .. EL, not Jehovah.
Jesus taught ‘forgive and keep forgiving’ (Matt 18:22). He did not teach ‘punish first, and then stay angry’. Paul continued the theme with a few add-ins .. Romans 12:19-21 “Beloved, never avenge yourself, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In my opinion Paul needed to work on his ‘forgiving’ attitude, but I do understand what he meant. When you do good to others who would harm you, you can make them very angry. They want you to react from the same pain they are feeling; when you don’t, when you ‘love’ instead of hating .. you show them themselves in a very ugly mirror. If you will hold Love in your heart, instead of pain and fear, you become the Light Jesus wants us all to be, which he says we already are.
The bible is confusing people .. again. Who do we choose to follow when the OT teaches of a vengeful God, and the NT says “don’t be vengeful”, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31), “Love one another as I have loved you” (Luke 13:34), “turn the other cheek”? I suppose it depends on our mood at time .. given that the Bible isn’t consistent as well? But I would rather follow Jesus .. consistently. So Vengeance isn’t mine, and nor do I think it is Jesus’ God’s first thought either. How could ‘He’ have said “love one another as I have loved you” if he was planning on judging us all in the near future (his version anyway) and sending most of us to hell?
But that’s another story.
Love & Peace