God’s Vengeance vs. Our Vengeance

August 05, 2022

Proverbs 24:15–16 

Lay not in wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; spoil not his resting place; 

for a just man falls seven times, and rises up again; but the wicked shall fall into mischief.

This wise saying is directed towards the wicked man, even though it is unlikely he would be interested in the wisdom of this book. Nevertheless, there are wicked men who seem to be “out to get” the righteous. The world out there can be cruel, and believe it or not, righteous men like Joseph or Jesus are usually despised and abused by wicked men who run into them. So here is a “heads-up” for the wicked man who wants to pick on the good guys. More importantly, it is an encouragement to the poor righteous man that must endure the persecutions of the wicked. 

When a wicked man uses the courts to persecute an innocent man, his intent is evil and destructive. He may proceed to take the good man’s property or inflict permanent bodily harm. But two things happen in these assaults. The righteous man has what it takes to recover from every blow he receives. Whether it will come by a continual renewal of body and spirit, or by the final renewal at the resurrection, we know that the righteous man will always recover. Therefore, he has every reason to be thoroughly upbeat and optimistic in the course of his persecution. We certainly see this in the testimony of the martyrs who suffered greatly in the first centuries of the church. But the second thing that happens is that these persecutors themselves do not last very long. Studying the lives of the greatest persecutors of the Church—Nero, Domitian, Vespasian, James II, Hitler, and others—you will find that none of them lasted very long. They fell and never rose again. This is not the case for the just man. His legacy will continue to grow, though it may have been meager, and it will reap eternal benefits!

Proverbs 24:17–18 

Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles; 

lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him.

Knowing how his son might react to the inevitable fall of some wicked tyrant (as pointed out in the previous verse), the wise father quickly corrects the fleshly response that might be gathering force in his son’s mind. How easy it is to allow personal vengefulness to well up within us, rejoicing when we see an enemy take a tumble! But notice right away that there is a distinction between “your enemy” and “God’s enemy.” The wicked man is God’s enemy, whereas our enemy is one who has set himself against us. 

We might appropriately rejoice when we see enemies, like Nero or Mao Tse Tung, and their evil empires overwhelmed by the kingdom of Christ! But it is a different matter when we find ourselves in the torture chambers, receiving unrelenting blows from our persecutors. At times like these, we simply cannot take vengeance into our own hands. We stand with Christ in these situations and pray for those who despitefully use us. We should emulate the poor saint during the killing time in Scotland who was about to be burned to death for his faith in Christ. Turning to his executioner, he handed the man his boots, remarking that the man would make better use of them than he would in the flames! 

Each act of mercy and kindness done for our persecutors will do one of two things: either the man will capitulate to the powerful message of love and kindness in the face of gross injustice, or he will harden his heart and suffer even more of the white-hot justice of almighty God. What is enjoined here is to restrain our impulses to personal vengeance, impulses which might shift God’s displeasure from your persecutor to yourself. The lesson here is simple. God is a jealous God, jealous of His own right to mete out justice as He sees fit. When wicked men take justice into their own hands and redefine it in their own terms, they violate His law and warrant His judgment. But we can do the same thing. We can usurp God’s justice ourselves by taking personal satisfaction in the suffering of some wicked man. Again, the problem is that this man has not violated our laws (even if he were to violate our person or property). He has violated God’s laws! Be very careful that you do not take the place of God, even as you sustain injustices inflicted upon you at the hands of wicked men. 

Family Discussion Questions: 

1. What two things happen when wicked men start beating up righteous men? 

2. What is the difference between awareness of God’s vengeance on the wicked and personal vengeance against our enemies? 

3. How would you react if evil men were to torture you for your faith?