Sabbath Reflection for Friday, 2 January 2015
Text: Psalm 94:1
O Yahweh (“LORD”), God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!
This verse is disturbing and misunderstood.
It is the psalmist himself who calls Yahweh a “God of vengeance.” This description is linked in the next two verses to judgment.
Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve!
O Yahweh, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
This is a cry for the visitation of God, and it is not a thing to be mocked, for this is the “Day” when he will repay those who are wicked, giving them a return on the investment of their wickedness. Judgment involves vengeance, and so Yahweh may say, “Vengeance is mine, says Yahweh” (Dt 32:35).
What is it about him that makes it so we should obey this command, and in so doing, glorify his character more? To put it another way, this theme of judgment and vengeance found so frequently in the 150 psalms and the prophetic literature from Joshua to Malachi calls us to trust in his judgment and in his vengeance and, in so doing, to magnify him in a way we cannot when we seek vengeance on our own terms.
There are 7 reminders that assist us in trusting His vengeance over our own, but please note, we’re not trying to answer every possible question on the theme of judgment/vengeance, nor trying to resolve ethical dilemmas about personal or national defense, military service, gun ownership, or anything else. But these 7 reminders are helpful for those other discussions.
1. By seeking vengeance on our own terms, we short-circuit the justice that will be revealed upon a “full-tank” of wickedness. In other words, when God issues the death penalty (cf. Genesis 9:6 and our recent post on capital punishment) or commands His people to slaughter others, these (and only these) times are when we can be certain taking “vengeance” is not our vengeance, but the Lord’s. In the case of capital punishment, for two reasons, we are commanded to put to death those who murder willfully: first, because it is a function of our reflecting God in his image and, secondly, because murderers who steal life show complete disregard for God by assaulting his image, i.e., people.
By leaving vengeance to God, we give Him room to magnify Himself to His fullest extent. Remember, He even told Abraham that, though the land promised to him was Abraham’s, his descendents would only have it when God was ready (see Gen 15:13-14) to fully give it.
2. By seeking vengeance ourselves, we act independently of grace rather than dependently upon it, i.e., we seek to support ourselves rather than suffer for an act of godly obedience we give. It takes more faith and humility to be wronged than to seek vengeance and justice immediately. By leaving judgment to Him, we magnify His grace to us and show our desire is more grace and mercy rather than immediate gratification. This runs counter to every prevailing cultural wind that screams “bigger, better, now!” Consider how marriages might operate if warring spouses took this stance. In short, do we want to be children, or mature adults in the faith?
Wrong-doers will be punished by Him, in His time, when His judgment will be so complete that His justice and holiness will be as maximized as possible. By waiting on Him instead of seizing the wheel, we place ourselves in the speed lane to grace.
3. Be leaving vengeance to Him, we allow His vindication to be ours rather than a vindication made by human hands. We seek a vindication that is eternal, not temporal; infinite, not finite; universal, not just local; unchangeable, unending, and final and not subject to review.
This makes Christians either horrible people, or very calm and patient. Why? Because those who seek such unimaginable justice (infinite, eternal, and unchangeable) will either do everything in their power to reconcile the wicked with their Judge out of pity or they will become embittered, hateful, and mean. And the latter type of people have no business calling themselves “Christian”.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).
4. By leaving vengeance in His time and hands, we maximize the chance for conversion of an idolater and wicked man. History is moving forward on the graves of martyrs. ISIS is a constant reminder. In Psalm 13 and Revelation 6, the righteous faithful and few cry out, “How long, Oh Lord, before you avenge us?” And his reply is quite simple:
…They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been (Rev 6:11).
This text says, especially when coupled with the call to preach the word (2 Tim 4:2) and endure all things for the sake of the “elect” who haven not yet trusted in their Messiah (2 Tim 2:10; 2 Pet 3:9), that martyrs become martyrs by the plan of God, for the purpose of God.
That should stun you, and make you consider just how faithful your new year will be. This is 180º from the American Dream. Christians, wake up with us! Arise from slumber!
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12).
We must arrange our lives, work appointments, expectations, and holiday celebrations to ensure we are delighting in proclamation, not just presents and play-dates. When vengeance comes upon the ungodly, we won’t look at one another and say, “I wish I had shopped more.” We’ll say, “I wish I had preached more.” Our lives serve his kingdom. His kingdom never serves our lives.
5. By leaving vengeance to Him, we obey the command to turn the other cheek—we obey His Law, trusting in His righteousness rather than our own, not demanding our rights, as Jesus Himself did not, when he was before Pilate. Arrogance is at the heart of a man who seeks personal vengeance now, but trusting in God’s vengeance makes us more like our Lord and Savior.
6. By leaving vengeance to Him, we risk—and sometimes guarantee—that we will bear the marks of Jesus in our own bodies and so “fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (cf. Col 1:24). This magnifies His worth and enhances our joy in Him before our perpetrators and those who watch with disdain and detachment on the sidelines. They come to realize they can kill us, and we will go out praying for them, forgiving them. Money where our mouth is.
7. By leaving vengeance to Him, we consciously link ourselves to all who have been wrongfully treated, not just among mankind generally, but also, especially, among the people of God. Persecution is not optional. As previously quoted from 2 Timothy 3:12, if you desire to be godly (and what Christian does not?), you will be persecuted. You will suffer. You will not have the American Dream in some way. This kind of suffering is a picture ID for a Christian. By it he is identified as belonging to his Master who did, after all, promise,
Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.(John 15:20)
These are the 7 reminders Christians need not to rush to vengeance. Above all, we must not confuse conservative American geo-political ambitions and dreams for those of Christ or Christians.
May God’s people suffer if it means the glory of the Lord shines forth, and the full number of the Gentiles is saved. In the meantime, we obey Paul’s words that give us hope:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given fat the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim 2:1-7).