"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
Have you ever been angry at someone? Has someone ever done something to you that made you want to get back at them? (I know, I am the only one who has ever experienced this, so I guess I am writing this article to myself.)
I remember when I was a teenager, I was playing a football game and let’s just say I got hit pretty good. It was at that point I made up my mind that before this game was over, I was going to get my revenge on the person who hit me. Unfortunately for the rest of the game I wasn’t able to do it.
It’s quite possible you have been in this scenario with something way more serious than a football game. Someone hurts you or angers you in some way and your response is that you want to get back at that person or group of people. Generally speaking, this is how the progression work. Your hurt leads to anger and anger leads to the desire for revenge. Ultimately if that desire remains, you may eventually act on it. While this may satisfy the fleshly or carnal side of our nature, there is a problem we face as Christians because of this verse found in Deuteronomy.
“Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly” (Deuteronomy 32:35).
Wait a minute, that doesn’t seem fair. Why is vengeance the Lord’s? Why can’t I exact the revenge? Aside from the fact that God is better at it, I want to give you three reasons why vengeance should be the Lord’s.
What Does It Mean That 'Vengeance is Mine' (the Lord's)?
"Vengeance is mine."
In the Hebrew, this word vengeance means to punish or inflict retribution. It can be used when the repayment for a harm was justified. It can also mean to repay harm with more harm where the vengeance is coming from a place of hostility. This is because the first harm was unnecessary. When you apply this meaning to the verse, we see that the right to repay is God’s. What you also see is that he will eventually repay - meaning no offense is ever left unpunished. I will show you how at the end of this article.
If we are honest, the problem we sometimes have is that the repayment doesn’t come swiftly enough, and sometimes not in the manner we want. In the Bible David had a similar thought. Look at the questions he asks in Psalm 13.
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2).
What he was really saying is, God you are moving too slow. Can you speed up and get to the place of vengeance on my enemies? If you have ever felt that way just know that God is not slow to respond. It’s just that his ways are not our ways.
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What Is the Context of Deuteronomy 32?
What is fascinating about this chapter is who Moses is speaking to. The Israelites are about to enter into the promised land and Moses is giving them a history lesson and a warning. The vengeance that God is referring to is not directed at the enemies of Israel, but towards the enemies within Israel. Those that would turn their hearts from the true and living God towards other gods or idols. By doing this, especially because they have the truth, they are provoking God to anger. Without repentance and because they know better, eventually God will bring about punishment or retribution.
This leads us to a unique contrast when we consider the vengeance of God. It’s easy to desire God’s vengeance to fall when someone else is the object of it. There is almost a self-righteous attitude about it. On the flip side, when we are the ones deserving of God’s vengeance, it’s amazing how we cry out for God’s mercy. This is simply the reality of how our natures are wired. Get the other one but have mercy on me. It is for reasons like this why vengeance is the Lord’s.
Why Should We Not Seek Revenge?
I want to give you three reasons why vengeance is the Lord’s and why we should not seek revenge.
1. We find it difficult to separate vengeance and anger
Quite often when we think about revenge, we don’t just want revenge. We want the other person to suffer. We want to inflict harm to satisfy our anger. When I got up after being hit in my football game, I wanted my opponent to feel pain. Because we are coming from this place, our vengeance is based in an anger that can lead us to sin. It moves from justice for the actions to inflicting pain on the one who caused it. This is not the spirit with which God pays out vengeance.
2. God’s vengeance is not reckless; it is often redemptive
One of the reasons God often brings vengeance is to repay sin. His desire many times is to hopefully lead a person to repentance. God’s discipline or vengeance is not reckless, it carries with it a redemptive value.
If we are going to be honest, sometimes we don’t always like this. We may even think it is unfair. That’s why vengeance really is the Lord’s because he always has the bigger picture in mind. God is the only one who can exact revenge and show mercy at the same time. Vengeance to repay coupled with mercy that is ready to redeem. That is not usually our goal and why vengeance belongs to the Lord.
3. God’s vengeance does not come from the seat of revenge, but the seat of justice
When God brings vengeance, his heart is not to just get back at people. He is executing justice. Because God is just, where there is wrong or sin committed, then justice must be served. Whenever God would bring judgment on a people it is because their sin had reached a point where he could no longer hold it back. This is not a byproduct of a need for revenge. It is a reality of a God who is just. His vengeance always flows from a place of justice, not a place of revenge.
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The Reason No Offense Ever Goes Unpunished and Why Vengeance Is Mine (the Lord's)
When it comes to vengeance, it may appear that some things may go unpunished. But this is not true. All sin gets punished and all vengeance is exacted. The question is who will God pour out his vengeance on. Remember his vengeance is a result of his just nature. Let me explain further because I know you might be confused.
For the person who sins and doesn’t repent, God will pour out his justice or vengeance on that person. This person will not escape. For the one who repents God will forgive and they will escape God’s vengeance. You are probably saying, well how is God’s vengeance or justice served in the person who repents? The difference is that in this second instance God pours his judgment out on Christ, satisfying his justice and vengeance. I told you before, his ways are not our ways. In the wonderful chapter of Isaiah 53 we see God pouring out on Jesus his vengeance and wrath for our sin. There is one verse I want you to notice.
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10).
One translation says it pleased the Lord to crush him. This is why vengeance is the Lord’s and it should always stay that way. In this case, God repaid Christ on our behalf. I am sure this would not have been the plan we would have come up with. However in doing so, this ensures that no offense ever goes unpunished. Either God’s vengeance will pour out on you or on Jesus. The reality is – you decide.
No Better Place for Vengeance
If I had to put a bow on this article it would simply be this. There is no better place for vengeance to be than with God. It is rightfully his and it should stay that way. Ultimately it will be what is most fair for everyone. God has proven himself to not only be a just God but also a fair God. You can be certain when God is exacting vengeance it is always right, always appropriate and always just.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.