Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. KJV Romans 12:19

When the Lord talked in Leviticus 26:25, of executing “the vengeance of the covenant” little doubt He knew that to keep His word according to the covenant He would have to indict a nation now guilty of  breaking their word, breaking covenant. This has to be what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:17 in fulfilling the Law and not abolishing it. To discard or nullify the covenant He made through Moses, which included the commandments, would mean not to honor His own Word and God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19).  To bring about a New covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33) He had to first honor the Old one by recompensing disobedience—someone had to make payment for sin. Scholars call this a punishment and because it is God’s decision, He recompenses the sins of the world accordingly, and He did that through His Son on the Cross..

Appeasing God

Did Jesus’ crucifixion appease God’s wrath (John 3:36)? In Romans 12:19 vengeance in human terms is the wrathful act of paying back, getting even, whereas with God it speaks more of retribution or paying the penalty for wrong done. Unlike the pagan idea of an enraged and dangerous deity, the word vengeance in our Old Testament is linked more to God’s justice (divine judgment). Vengeance with God is final judgment intended to bring an end to sin (Daniel 9:24; Hebrews 9:26). It is not someone with an enraged and offended self-interest that wants to inflict pain on someone who had inflicted pain on them. Punishment that only focused on the offended who takes pleasure in seeking to return pain for pain (lex taliones) does not answer to the biblical idea of vengeance. God’s vengeance does duty for a number of Old Testament terms: judgment, a divine visitation, and rebuke, correction, and chastisement. If we want our word punishment  to say all this, so be it.

An overjoyed Paul wrote to a repentant Corinthian church, “Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong (vengeance). You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.”

Perhaps, unintentionally but under inspiration, Paul also gave God’s vengeance a context in this verse, 2 Corinthians 7:11, when he put it in the neighborhood of words (using the NLT) like: earnestness, concern to clear or vindicate oneself, indignation (a passion to deal decisively with all sin), alarm, longing, and zeal—all pointing to a “readiness to punish wrong,” or to make things right.  If we use this to interpret Leviticus 26:25 God vowed in conversing with Moses to make things right between Himself and His people and not by tossing the Covenant to the curb.  He would keep His word in fulfilling the Old Covenant in judgment and then replace it with a New one, written on the hearts of His people.

We are still left asking: Why did the Savior need to suffer and die? What happened at Calvary? What was the Father thinking?

 

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