Theme: God’s Vengeance
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that in his time the Lord will both punish the wicked and vindicate the righteous.
Scripture: Psalm 94:1-23
The problem some people will have with these verses from Psalm 94 is that they use the word “vengeance,” and they do not like this word.
The real problem for such people is that they do not distinguish between vengeance and revenge. Dr. Samuel Johnson, the maker of the first great English dictionary, made the distinction well when he said, “Revenge is an act of passion, vengeance of justice; injuries are revenged, crimes are avenged.”1 In other words, revenge is a response to personal injury while vengeance is a function of legitimate judicial authority. This is why Paul writes about both as he does in Romans 12: “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:18, 19; quoting Deut. 32:35). The reason why vengeance belongs to God and not man is that in man our emotions usually cause it to degenerate into mere revenge.
Vengeance is proper to God. It is a function of his perfect justice. Alexander Maclaren writes:
There are times when no thought of God is so full of strength as that he is “the God of recompenses,” as Jeremiah calls him (51:56)…They who have no profound loathing of sin, or who have never felt the crushing weight of legalized wickedness, may shrink from such aspirations as the psalmist’s, and brand them as ferocious; but hearts longing for the triumph of righteousness will not take offence at them.2
Even more, avenging justice from God is what we should desire when we observe terrible wrongs being done. John Milton heard about the massacre of entire Protestant families at Piedmont in northern Italy in the seventeenth century and wrote about it, drawing on Psalm 94. The poem began
Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered Saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold…
Even closer to Psalm 94 is a hymn we sometimes sing. The first stanza goes:
O Lord, thou Judge of all the earth,
To whom all vengeance doth belong,
Arise and show thy glories forth,
Requite the proud, condemn the wrong.
It is a way of confessing rightly that we stand on the side of justice with God and long for the day when the arrogant people of the world will be punished for their crimes against the weak.
If verse 3 belongs with the second stanza, as I believe it does, then the problem that is disturbing the psalmist is the jubilant boasting of the arrogant, who do not believe God sees what they are doing (vv. 3-7).
What they are doing is oppressing the weak, defined specifically as the widow, the alien and the fatherless. In each case, these are people who have little means of self-defense. The widow has no husband to provide for her. The alien had limited rights in a foreign country under foreign laws. The orphan has no father to protect him. These were all weak, so they became the prey of the arrogant. And the arrogant were not even ashamed of what they were doing. On the contrary, they were proud of being able to do it. So far as God is concerned, they were convinced that he did not even see their wickedness. They stole and got away with it; so they concluded that God had not observed them. They said, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed” (v. 7). It is true that the Lord does not seem to see, at least in the short run. It is what the psalm is dealing with when it asks God to intervene and take vengeance.
1Cited by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 148.
2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), pp. 40, 41.
Distinguish between vengeance and revenge. Why does vengeance belong to God and not to man?
What point did Paul make on the subject of vengeance in Romans 12?
Who are the weak, and why are they considered that?
What wrong conclusion do the arrogant make about the weak?
Reflection: What should you desire when you see injustice? Why?
Prayer: Ask God to protect someone whom you know to be weak.
Application: Have there been times when you have felt like a victim and God did not seem to see? Pray for justice in God’s time.
Key Point: The reason why vengeance belongs to God and not man is that in man our emotions usually cause it to degenerate into mere revenge.