What is vengeance? Retaliation. Vengeance is paying evil for evil, something which the New Testament condemns. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (Rom. 12:17). Vengeance, therefore, according to the principles of ethics, adds evil to evil.
In the Old Testament, evil was the answer of Jehovah to evil. “…eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Ex. 21:24,25). “Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth”, etc. (Deut. 19:21). Christian children are taught to obey Jehovah as the only true god, since disobedience is like the sin of rebellion or witchcraft, etc. (1 Sam. 15:22,23). What have we been seeing in the Christian childish behavior? “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:1-3). How can Christians be meek, humble and forgiving while attending the most refined school of violence, evil and vengeance? There is ample proof that everything one hears, goes in by one ear and comes out another; but whatever someone sees with his eyes is added to his moral baggage. A thousand words can be forgotten, but a thing that is seen, cannot ever be forgotten. What we see in other’s behavior produces deeper and more powerful marks than a doctrine could. This is why Jesus said: “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man trough whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matt. 18:7). A scandalous act in the Church destroys years of discipleship and teaching. Let us analyze the great men of the Old Testament:
- Moses was revengeful in obedience to Jehovah. “Then Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor, and in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor’” (Num. 25:16-18). Moses’ nature was against vengeance, for when the earth swallowed up Dathan and Abiram with their families as a retaliation of Jehovah, Moses said: “By this you shall know that Jehovah has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing” (Num. 16:28).
- Gideon was revengeful, for when he went up to battle Zeba and Zalmunna, kings of the Midianites, as his men were tired, he asked of the inhabitants of Succoth to give them some bread. They denied it to them, and Gideon then told their leaders: When I return, victorious, I will trash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness. He went up to Penuel, and also asked them for bread. They refused to give it, too. Gideon told them: When I return, I will tear down this tower. After Gideon and his men had won the battle, he could have forgiven them as an act of worship to Jehovah, but he did not. He trashed the flesh of the elders of Succoth with the thorns of the wilderness, as an act of vengeance. Next, he went to Penuel and tore down the tower and killed all their men. What a grotesque example of a vindictive spirit.
- Simeon and Levi, sons of Jacob were revengeful men. Dinah, their sister, went to visit and get to know other girls. Shechem, the son of Hamor, the Hivite, fell in love with her and lay with her. The sons of Jacob were very angry at what had happened. Hamor, then, the father of Shechem, went to Jacob and asked Dinah for a wife for his son. The sons of Jacob imposed a condition for the marriage: They asked that every male of the city were circumcised to get into a spiritual relationship with them. On the third day, when the pain of the circumcision was stronger, Simeon and Levi took their swords and killed all of their men. This is the school of lies, treason and vengeance (Gen. 34:1-26).
- Samson was a revengeful man. His wife betrayed him and Samson became disgusted with her. Her father, then, gave her to his friend. After some time, Samson decided to lay with the woman that he had despised. The father of the woman did not let him, for he was morally stronger than Samson. Furious, Samson decided to avenge himself (Judges 15:1-7). In order to placate his hunger for vengeance, he hurt the Philistines (Judges 15:8). A thousand more (Judges 15:9-16).
- David was a revengeful man, for when an Amalekite lied, saying that he had killed Saul, he immediately ordered that they kill him (2 Sam. 1:1-16). On another occasion, because Joab had killed Abner, David cursed him with the following curse, as vengeance: “May it fall on the head of Joab and on all his father’s house; and may there not fail from the house of Joab one who has a discharge or who is a leper, or who takes hold of a distaff, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks bread” (2 Sam. 3:29); (On the Vulgate we read gonorrhea). Later David ordered the death of the two men who had killed Ish-bosheth, son of Saul, in a vindictive attitude (2 Sam. 4:5-12).
- The prophet Elijah was a revengeful man. Elijah told Ahab, king of Israel to help the people, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19). He next told them to build two altars, one for them and another for Elijah. Whatever god answered by fire would prove to be the true god. The prophets of Baal cried from morning until noon. Elijah then called on Jehovah and fire from heaven fell and consumed the altar, the burn offering and all else. Then all the people began to cry out: Jehovah alone is God! Jehovah alone is God! — It was the right moment for Elijah to win those 850 prophets for Jehovah, but no. On the contrary, in order to avenge Jehovah, he slew them all by the brook of Kishon (1 Kings 18:19-40).
- The prophet Elisha was a revengeful man. When this prophet was on his way up to Bethel, a few boys began to mock him, saying: Bald man! Bald man! The great Elisha, then, revengeful, cursed them, with the approval of Jehovah, for two female bears came out of the woods and killed forty-two boys (2 Kings 2:23,24).
- Jeremiah, one of the four Major Prophets, was revengeful. When he was persecuted by the false prophets and by the king, cursed them saying: “Let those who persecute me be put to shame, but as for me, let me not be put to shame; let them be dismayed, but let me not be dismayed. Bring on them a day of disaster, and crush them with twofold destruction!” (Jer. 17:18). In the 18th chapter, Jeremiah curses with another curse of revenge: “Should good be repaid with evil? For they have dug a pit for me: Remember how I stood before Thee to speak good on their behalf, so as to turn away Thy wrath from them. Therefore, give their children over to famine, and deliver them up to the power of the sword; and let their wives become childless and widowed. Let their men also be smitten to death, their young men struck down by the sword in battle” Jer. 18:20,21). This was the revenge of Jeremiah, the prophet. Closing, he added: “Do not forgive their iniquity or blot out their sin from Thy sight” (Jer. 18:23).
There are more life examples in the school of hatred and vengeance of the Old Testament with which to teach children and new converts how not to be new creatures. Paul, nevertheless, says: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17).
By Pastor Olavo Silveira Pereira