Q: Does God permit or condone revenge?

“Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Judges 16:28.

I. Definitions. There are several words we use to describe revenge: Vengeance, Avenger, Repay, Retaliation. The basic concept is to pay back someone for a wrong or evil that was done to another party.

Some people believe that vengeance is always wrong. However, the Bible actually teaches that there is a proper time for vengeance. Not all vengeance in the Bible is wrong.

II. Man’s View of Revenge.
In what ways do people sometimes take revenge on others? To get back at the person who hurts us.

  1. Examples of biblical figures taking revenge.
  2. Samson constantly took revenge when he was wronged.
  3. Solomon took revenge on Joab and Shimei (I Kings 2:5-6,8-9)
  4. In Judges 19 & 20, 11 tribes took vengeance on Benjamin for shielding rapists in their tribe who committed a vile act.

  5. Unforgiveness is the root of personal revenge.

III. God’s View of Revenge.

Does God take revenge on people?
Forbidden to Christians.

  1. Leviticus 19:18. Revenge and love tied together. “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.”
  2. “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” (Matthew 5:38).

  3. God sometimes take revenge.
  4. Examples of God taking revenge.
    Taking vengeance on Israel for violating the covenant. Leviticus 26:25. “I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant.”
  5. Taking vengeance for Israel against Babylon. Jeremiah 51:36-37. “I will plead your cause and take vengeance for you. I will dry up her sea make her fountain dry, and Babylon shall become a heap of ruins.”
  6. Why God takes vengeance. Nahum 1:2. “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.”
  7. Notice that right after this he says, “The Lord is slow to anger” (Nahum 1:3). God does not quickly rush to judgment.
  8. What is the difference between revenge and justice?
  9. For the protection of society, justice seeks to remove evil and the harm it causes.
  10. Revenge seeks to retaliate in a harmful way against others, including up to killing.

  11. Someday God will have a final day of reconning when he will punish all evildoers for eternity. Those people will experience God’s eternal wrath and he will have his vengeance and will take vengeance for his people (Revelation 6:10).

IV. Government’s View of Revenge.

Payback for evil against its citizens.

  1. “For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

  2. God’s requirements for vengeance by a government.
  3. Amalekites as an example of God’s vengeance against Israel’s enemies. “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have” (I Samuel 15:2-3).
  4. God established in Israel something called the “Avenger of Blood.”
  5. Context and description (Numbers 35:18-29).
  6. Numbers 35:18-19. “The murderer shall be put to death. The avenger of blood shall himself put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.”
  7. The Avenger of Blood was part of Israel’s criminal justice system. It was not meant as a way of exacting personal revenge.

V. When Is Revenge is Acceptable or Unacceptable?

By governments when wrongly attacked.

By God, when judging evil (personal or political)

There is no situation in scripture where God condones personal revenge by another person.

  1. Some believe that the biblical phrase, “Eye for an eye” permitted revenge. However, the passage it is taken from, Exodus 21:23-25 is part of a larger passage describing the administration of criminal justice.
  2. Eye for an eye was a principle of criminal justice, not personal behavior. Jesus condemned personal revenge in Matthew 5:38-39.

  3. God prefers forgiveness over revenge.
  4. People who did not take revenge:
    David did not take revenge against Saul or his offsprin
    Joseph did not take revenge against his brothers.

VI. Application.

Wrestling with forgiveness

  1. The root of revenge is unforgiveness. Jesus wants us to do away with revenge by granting forgiveness. “Forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:25).

  2. Taking the attitude of Jesus on ourselves

  3. Let God handle vengeance

  4. Three application points from Roger Barrier of on revenge:
  5. Since man is depraved, expect to be mistreated.
  6. Since mistreatment is inevitable, anticipate feelings of revenge.
  7. Since we all deal with feelings of revenge, handle mistreatment God’s way.
    a. We are responsible for sharing Christ with our enemy, whoever that might be.
    b. If possible, be at peace with everyone (but sometimes it’s not possible).
    c. Don’t spend life trying to get even. Repay evil with good.
Tom Terry is head of Global Broadcast Strategy for JESUS Film Project and serves as Global English Station Manager for Trans World Radio. Tom is also the author of several books, including Bible studies, and "Like An Eagle," his biography about living in Mongolia for ten years.


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