When we suffer at the hands of another person, our natural inclination may be to seek revenge. But causing more harm likely isn’t the answer or our best way to respond. There are countless stories of revenge throughout the history of humankind and they also appear in the Bible. The definition of revenge is the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or a wrong suffered at their hands.
Revenge is a matter of the heart that we as Christians can come to better understand by looking to God’s Scripture for clarity and direction. When we’ve been aggrieved, we may wonder what the righteous and just course of action is and if revenge is permitted according to the Bible.
Where Is Revenge Mentioned in the Bible?
Revenge is mentioned in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. God warned His people to avoid seeking revenge and to let Him avenge them and bring about perfect justice how He saw fit. When we want to retaliate, we should keep in mind that causing another person harm will never undo the harm we have already endured. When we have been victimized, it is tempting to believe that revenge will make us feel better, but that isn’t the case. When we take the scope of Scripture into view, what we learn is that God knows the pain and hardship of injustice, and He promises that He will make things right for those who have been mistreated.
“It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them” (Deuteronomy 32:35).
“Do not say, ‘Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work’” (Proverbs 24:29).
“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).
We have comfort in God that when we have been hurt or betrayed by another person, we can trust that rather than taking on the burden to seek revenge, we can surrender to God and let Him handle the situation. Instead of remaining victims filled with anger or fear, unsure of what to do, we can trust that God knows the big picture of what happened and He will allow for the best course of justice. Followers of Christ are encouraged to wait on the Lord and trust Him when they have been hurt by another person.
What Does It Mean That "Revenge Belongs to the Lord?"
“Revenge belongs to the Lord” means that it is not our place as humans to retaliate and repay a wrongdoing with another wrongdoing. It is God’s place to make the situation right and it is Him who will bring justice to a hurtful circumstance.
“The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth. Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve” (Psalm 94:1-2).
God is the righteous judge. God decides the avenged outcome of every injustice. God, all-knowing and sovereign, is the only one who could bring about restoration and just vengeance when someone has been wronged.
There is a consistent message throughout Scripture to not seek revenge, rather to wait for the Lord avenge the wrongdoing that one has suffered. He is the judge who is perfect and loving. God loves His children and will take care of them in every way. Therefore, believers are instructed to submit to God when we’ve been harmed because He has the task of avenging injustices endured by His children.
Does the Verse "an Eye for an Eye" Contradict This?
"But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:23-25).
The passage in Exodus is part of the Mosaic Law that God established through Moses for the Israelites. This particular law addressed the judgment rendered when someone viciously hurt another human being. The law was put in place to guarantee that the punishment was not too lenient, nor too extreme, for the crime. By the time Jesus entered the world, this Mosaic law had been twisted and distorted by some Jewish people trying to justify seeking revenge.
During His earthly ministry, and in His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus quoted the passage found in the book of Exodus about revenge and preached a radical message that His followers should abandon that type of vengeful pseudo-justice.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38-39).
With these two passages next to each other, there may appear to be a contradiction. But when the context of both passages is taken into consideration, it becomes clear that Jesus got to the heart of the issue by instructing His followers to not seek revenge on those who harm them. Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law (see Romans 10:4) and taught the redemptive ways of forgiveness and love. Jesus doesn’t want Christians to get caught up in repaying evil with evil. Therefore, he preached and lived the message to love your enemies.
Is There Ever a Time When It's Right to Take Revenge?
There’s never a fitting time to seek revenge because God will always bring about justice for His people. We can trust that when we are wronged or hurt by others, God will avenge the situation. He knows all the details and will avenge us if we trust Him to do that instead of taking matters into our own hands, which will result in making matters worse. Jesus, and the apostles who preached the Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection, all taught and lived the same wisdom that instructed Christians to love their enemies and that vengeance was the Lord’s.
Even Jesus, as He was being nailed to the cross, forgave His perpetrators (See Luke 23:34). Though Jesus could have taken revenge, He chose the way of forgiveness and love. We can follow Jesus’ example when we have been mistreated.
Is It Wrong for Us to Pray for Revenge?
If you’ve read through the Book of Psalms, you’ll notice in some chapters, there are pleas for revenge and for the wicked to suffer.
“When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few, and let another take his office” (Psalm 109:7-8).
Most of us can relate to having similar thoughts and feelings that are found in the Psalms when we have been wronged. We want to see our perpetrator suffer just as we have. It would almost seem as though the Psalmists are praying for revenge. The Psalms shows us the natural inclination to seek revenge, but they go on to remind us of God’s truth and how to respond.
If you take a closer look, you’ll notice the Psalmists prayed for God’s vengeance. They were asking God to bring about justice because truly, their circumstances were out of their hands. The same is true for Christians today. Rather than praying specifically for revenge, we can pray and ask God to bring about justice according to His good and perfect will. When a situation is out of our hands, praying about it and asking God to intervene can be our first response to navigating difficult circumstances, so that we don’t fall into the temptation of repaying evil with evil.
5 Things to Do Instead of Seeking Revenge
The Bible provides insightful teaching on what to do when we are wronged by someone instead of taking revenge.
1. Love Your Neighbor
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:19).
When Christians have been harmed, the answer isn’t revenge, it is to love. Jesus echoes this same teaching in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:44). When we want to hold a grudge against the one who have betrayed us, Jesus invites us to let go of the hurt and instead to love our enemy. When you find yourself consumed with revenge, take steps to see the one who hurt you through God’s loving eyes and allow Jesus to empower you to love them.
2. Wait for God
“Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and He will avenge you” (Proverbs 20:22).
When we are wanting to seek revenge, we want it now, we want it quickly, and we want the other to suffer and hurt just as much as we do. But God’s word tells us to wait. Instead of seeking revenge, we can wait. Wait for God to make things right. Wait for God to show us a more righteous way to respond to someone who has hurt us. When you’ve been hurt, wait and pray to the Lord for guidance and trust that He will avenge you.
3. Forgive Them
While it is common to remain angry and bitter toward those who have hurt us, Jesus taught us to forgive. When you’ve been hurt, embarking on the journey of forgiveness will be part of the solution to letting go of the pain and finding peace. There is no limit to how often we should forgive our offenders. Forgiveness is incredibly significant because when we forgive others, God forgives us. When we forgive, revenge no longer seems important.
4. Pray for Them
“Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28).
This may seem difficult, but praying for your enemies is an incredible step of faith. If you desire to be more righteous and to live more like Jesus, praying for those who have hurt you is a powerful way to move away from revenge and closer to forgiveness. Praying for those who have wronged you will help you heal, let go and move on rather than staying angry and resentful.
5. Be Good to Your Enemies
“On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21).
The solution to overcoming evil is to do good. Ultimately, when we have been mistreated, God instructs us to do good to our enemies. This may seem impossible, but with Jesus’ help, anything is possible. God will empower you to live up to this instruction to overcome evil with good. You will feel much better about yourself and the situation if you respond to someone’s wrongdoing with love and goodness rather than revenge.
The Bible gives us wise guidance when it comes to being wronged and suffering because of malicious intent by another human being. God’s word equips us with a list of righteous ways to respond to such hurt. A consequence of this broken, fallen world is that humans hurt each other and do hideous things to one another. God doesn’t want His beloved children to be overcome with evil, or a revengeful heart, as a result of being hurt by someone else. The Bible is consistently clear that vengeance is the Lord’s task, not ours. We are human, but He is a God who is perfectly just in all things. We can trust God to make things right when we’ve been wronged. What we are responsible for is keeping pure and holy hearts by loving our enemies and praying for those who hurt us.
Pamela Palmer is a writer, chaplain, and the founder of upheldlife.com, the platform on which she produces weekly devotionals and faith resource articles to inspire keeping faith at the center of it all. She lives and thrives on Jesus, coffee, and music. She is in pastoral ministry and gets to share in the emotional and spiritual lives of many people, being a small piece of each journey. Pamela married the perfect man for her and they have two beautiful kiddos. She has been published on herviewfromhome.com and you can follow her at upheldlife.com, or on Facebook.com/upheldlife.