The God of Vengeance?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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O LORD, the God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice shine forth!

Psalms 94:1

I must confess that when I first read Psalm 94:1, I cringed. How could the Lord be a “God of vengeance”? Isn’t he a God of mercy, love, and forgiveness? Moreover, if God is truly a God of vengeance, doesn’t this lead to people seeking revenge in God’s name, fueling the cycle of violence that infects our world? How can I pray to a God of vengeance?

Some people dismiss Psalm 94:1 and similar verses as mistaken remnants of an antiquated view of God. Even some Christians believe that God must not be associated with vengeance. But I take the Bible as God's inspired Word, and I cannot endorse this option. Moreover, as I study Psalm 94 more carefully, I realize that dismissing the first verse because it uses the word “vengeance” misunderstands the text.

Admittedly, we tend to associate vengeance with hatred and cruelty. Those who seek revenge are filled with inextinguishable and unreasonable anger. Scripture uses the term neqama, often translated as “vengeance,” with a different meaning. You can see this in Psalm 94. After referring to the Lord as “the God of vengeance” in verse 1, the psalmist calls him “judge of the earth,” asking him to “give the proud what they deserve” (94:2). These boastful ones “crush” and “hurt” God’s people (94:5). “They kill widows and foreigners and murder orphans,” while claiming that God doesn’t care (94:6-7). Thus, the vengeance of God is not some irrational burst of divine anger, but rather the exercise of divine justice. God gives sinners what their sin deserves. So, the last verse of Psalm 94 observes: “God will turn the sins of evil people back on them.” God’s vengeance is, therefore, a righteous expression of his justice.

Whenever we speak of divine justice or vengeance, it’s important to remember God’s mercy. Yes, he does judge us in our sin. But because God is “rich in mercy,” his “mercy triumphs over judgment” (Eph. 2:4; James 2:13, ESV). Thus the triune God did not dismiss our sin as no big deal, but instead bore our sin on the cross in the Son. Take away God’s justice or vengeance, and the cross becomes unnecessary.

When we consider God’s vengeance, it’s also crucial for us to remember Romans 12:19 (and Deut. 32:35, which it quotes): “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the LORD.” There will be times in our life when people mistreat us and we’re tempted to seek revenge. Or, as we see the gross injustice done to millions throughout the world today, we may want to treat the perpetrators with the same measure of evil they have doled out to their victims. The desire for revenge is natural, but it is something we must offer to God. Vengeance is his job, not ours. Yes, we are to “act justly,” but also to “love mercy” (Micah 6:8, NIV).

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you understand verses that speak of God’s vengeance? When you’re tempted to seek revenge on someone who has hurt you, what do you do? How can we do justice in this world and still be people who love mercy?

PRAYER: O God, you know how hard it can be for me when you are associated with vengeance. That word has such negative connotations in our world today. It’s hard, I must admit, for me to realign my thinking in terms of biblical categories, to understand your vengeance as a righteous expression of justice. So I ask for your help to understand both the Scripture and your character truly.

When I think of how people are being abused throughout the world today, when I consider victims of violence and injustice, when I think of those who are trapped in human trafficking and slavery, I can begin to feel some of the passion of the psalmist. I ask you, Lord, to bring to justice those who are hurting others for their own advantage. In your mercy, set free those who are oppressed. Help me to participate with you in this work, without endorsing acts of human vengeance.

Thank you, Lord, for those who are on the front lines of doing justice in our world today. Protect them. Give them wisdom and strength. May their efforts be fruitful as they see victimizers brought to justice and victims set free.

Finally, I thank you, Lord, for your mercy. In my sinfulness, I am worthy of your righteous vengeance. But your mercy has triumphed over judgment in my life. All praise be to you, O God. Amen.


Show Me the Way

Seeking advice for the road ahead is a practice as old as people. How we do it may look different from one generation to the next, but all of us want what wisdom has to offer. Our series at The High Calling, Show Me the Way, addresses this topic from various angles. Our hope is that even the most professionally independent among us will remember the power of sage advice as we serve the Lord in our jobs.