What Does Recompense Mean in the Bible?
C.S. Lewis, I think, understood the meaning of the recompense of God as evidenced by this passage from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion...”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver… “who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Susan anticipated a lion—king of the beasts—a beast who, in her eyes, was not safe and was instead a maneater. Likewise, it is dangerous to come into the presence of a holy God, for His recompense is always appropriate, and is full repayment based upon what a person deserves.
Throughout the Bible, recompense has various meanings, some in a favorable sense and some in an unfavorable sense. This same word can be translated as repayment, benefit, compensation, retaliation, requital, or reward (among others). Therefore, as with all Bible studies, context is king, so a close examination of each usage is recommended.
Examples of Recompense in the Bible
Deuteronomy 32 is a prophetic song Moses delivered to Israel’s elders and officers after he had delivered the Law and before his death. He said, “for I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:29). Because Israel corrupted itself, God said, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense;” (Deuteronomy 32:35) Here the word recompense is a consequence—a repayment—for Israel’s actions. God will repay those who hold “strange gods” above Him and who had performed things abominable to Him.
Recompense takes on the meaning of benefit in Isaiah 66:6. The LORD is addressing the faithful remnant who stood in the face of the apostate Israelites. The perspective shifts as the people of the Lord shout for joy when God recompenses His enemies. In verse 12, God says He will extend His peace like a river, and in verse 13, he says “And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” The remnant shall receive the benefit of His action because He will repay (recompense) their enemies.”
Things turned for Israel, however, when Hosea delivered harsh words from the Lord God. (Hosea 9:7) They had forsaken God and had lived corrupt lives of hatred for Him. The time had come for God to recompense them for what they had done. They would receive God’s righteous punishment (compensation).
Isaiah 40:10 depicts recompense as reward—the LORD’s reward. God had paid for Israel’s sin, and He would restore His people from exile (Babylonian). He would bestow blessings upon Israel.
Recompense also figures as retaliation, and in Psalm 91:8, the Lord recompenses the wicked for their acts against His people. Nothing can touch God’s servants but by God’s permission; no rebel can escape His vengeance.
At the end of all worldly history as depicted in Revelation 22:12, Jesus will announce to all nations, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” In this verse, we see the use of both repay and recompense. Recompense here denotes reward—Christ’s reward for believers. Repay is directed toward the unbelievers.
What Is the Difference between Recompense and Compensation?
Recompense is wholly in the hands of the one who provides it based upon their standards and commands. The recipient thus receives merits or “paybacks” for actions that directly affect the one giving the recompense. It is more a cause-and-effect action and revolves around intentional acts. In the Bible, God controls all divine acts of recompense, whether they be positive or negative, for only He has perfect wisdom (Proverbs 3:19, Jeremiah 10:12, Luke 11:49, Colossians 2:1-3).
Compensation in a worldly sense means a restoration of loss. But compensation in the Bible is guilt penalty (Leviticus 5:6), or ransom/payment of something owed, such as work or services (Proverbs 6:35).
Deuteronomy 32:35: "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."
Psalm 91:8: "You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked."
Isaiah 34:8: "For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion."
Isaiah 35:4: "Say to those who have an anxious heart, "Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you."
Isaiah 40:10: "Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him."
Isaiah 49:4: "But I said, "I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God."
Isaiah 61:8: "For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them."
Isaiah 62:11: "Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him."
Isaiah 66:6: "The sound of an uproar from the city! A sound from the temple! The sound of the LORD, rendering recompense to his enemies!"
Jeremiah 25:14: "For many nations and great kings shall make slaves even of them, and I will recompense them according to their deeds and the work of their hands."
Jeremiah 51:56: "for a destroyer has come upon her, upon Babylon; her warriors are taken; their bows are broken in pieces, for the LORD is a God of recompense; he will surely repay."
Hosea 9:7: "The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it. The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad, because of your great iniquity and great hatred."
Revelation 22:12: Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done”
How Does God Restore or Repay Us?
It’s good to remember we can do nothing to repay the Lord. Psalm 116:12 is a statement of complete surrender to the Lord—one in which the speaker understands he can do nothing to repay the Lord for all He has done. In it he says, “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me?” We must remember is it is the Lord Who is our Benefactor and Judge. By way of context, restore is another nuance of the Hebrew root for recompense.
When Scripture speaks of our restoration as in Psalm 23, we think of a sheep wandering from the shepherd. In our case, as humans, we tend to wander. We stop seeking God’s way and direct our own paths. When we repent, God restores our souls to a place chosen and protected by Him. It’s our rest in Him which restores (recompenses) us because He initiates it (John 6:44).
God’s grace. It’s what He gives us—and it’s what we do not deserve. What we warrant instead is death because we are all sinners (Romans 6:23). Yet that verse in Romans also shares the truth that God’s free gift is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s free! We can do nothing to earn it or deserve it. Why? Because it’s God’s initiative that brings us to Him. He loves us (John 3:16), and because of that, we love Him (1 John 4:19).
Recompense—as used in the Bible—is something instituted and enacted by the Lord based upon His holiness—His divine simplicity. Yes, what we do matters, both before we encounter the Gospel and then once we are engaged with it. As “Gospel engagers,” we do well to meditate upon the many ways God’s recompense has affected peoples and nations, for He will never leave us or forsake us, (Deuteronomy 31:6) and He will never forget us (Isaiah 49:15).
But the world—oh, the world.
We will all stand before the Lord for His perfect judgment to give an account of what we did and/or didn’t do for Jesus, and how we lived our lives as a result. Revelation 22:12, then, is a scary truth for the unsaved. Unbelievers will be repaid for their unbelief.
John 3:16 is the most familiar verse in the Bible, and people of all walks of life recognize it. But few have taken it to heart (Matthew 7:14), and those who don’t will experience God’s wrath when He comes with His recompense before Him (Revelation 6:15-16; 19:11-21).
There will be a recompense such as has never happened before, first for the devil and his minions (including the antichrist and the false prophet) and for those who willingly followed him and his lies (John 8:44, Romans 1:18-32, Revelation 18:5-6).
Scripture explains that God’s recompense is just. Psalm 19 begins, “...The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork...” Follow that passage with Romans 1:18-32 and it is clear “man has no excuse” but to recognize exactly Who the Creator and Giver of life is. Every recompense He gives is just—every reward of faith is given with grace and mercy. Even if we don’t fully understand the biblical principle of recompense, we can join Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe passage, and say about God, “But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
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Lisa Loraine Baker is a rock & roll girl who loves Jesus. She and her husband, Stephen, inhabit their home as the “Newlyweds of Minerva” with crazy cat, Lewis. Lisa is co-author of the non-fiction narrative, “Someplace to be Somebody” (End Game Press, spring 2022). She has also written for Lighthouse Bible Studies, and CBN.com,