Get Mad, Don’t Get Even

“O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongs – O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth (Psalm 94:1)!”

It has been said that revenge is a dish best served cold. Several recent studies are indicating that avenging oneself only leaves the one who retaliates feeling cold. Rather than bringing satisfaction. research suggests that any good that one feels for getting revenge is only momentary and results in greater harm and feelings of guilt. (1)

Not only does the avenger endure pain but other innocents can suffer harm from uncontrolled acts of revenge. Jamie Richards-Hogland was shot in the face and left paralyzed in December when she answered the door of her apartment. The suspect, Shawn Layton, evidently went to the wrong door and intended to shoot another man as payback for a drug deal gone bad. (2) Laylah Petersen, a five-year-old, was sitting on her grandfather’s knee when she was mistakenly shot and killed by three men seeking revenge for an associate’s murder. (3) These failed attempts at retaliation did far more harm than those seeking revenge could have conceived.

The drive for revenge is as old as civilization and has undoubtedly led to more pain and death and a cycle of unending violence. The Law of Moses did allow for a relative to exact revenge on one who killed their kin, but it also provided for six cities of refuge for the manslayer to seek asylum and allow for their case to be lawfully adjudicated (Numbers 35:6-28) letting cooler heads prevail and true justice to be served.

The Bible records multiple examples in which revenge was exacted and it uniformly demonstrates that it did not make things better. Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, was violated by a Canaanite named Shechem (Genesis 34:2). When Jacob’s sons learned of it they became enraged (v.7) and conspired to get even (vv.13-17). After craftily weakening their Canaanite neighbors Simeon and Levi took their swords and killed all the males. Rather than evening the score it imperiled their family further and promised greater bloodshed (Genesis 34:30-35:1).

Samson got revenge on the Philistines (Judges 15:1-7), who then got revenge on Samson (Judges 16:21), then Samson and many Philistines died in a final act of revenge (Judges 16:28-31). Jezebel promised to have her revenge on Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2) but it did not go well for her. Absalom waited to bring retribution on his brother (2 Samuel 13:21-29) but killing Amnon and settling the score didn’t make things better, rather it set him on a course of alienation and destruction.

The law of Moses did state “eye for eye, tooth for tooth (Exodus 21:24).” The “eye for an eye” law is known technically as the lex taionis, a Latin phrase meaning “the law of retribution.” (4) But this was to be a legal, not a personal, matter. Even under that Covenant God had expressly stated, “Vengeance is Mine (Deuteronomy 32:35).”

After a village in Samaria did not receive Jesus, James and John wanted to nuke them (Luke 9:52-55) but the Lord rebuked the disciples and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” Jesus exemplified the right spirit His disciples are to possess; “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also (Matthew 5:38-39).” He didn’t just say it, He put it into practice as an example we are to follow (1 Peter 2:21-24).

Vengeance is the domain of God alone and it is a matter of our faith to leave it with Him (2 Thessalonians 1:4-9). In this there is a peace that has sustained Christians through the ages.

“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).”

  4. Coy D. Roper, Ph.D., Truth For Today Commentary Exodus, Resource Publications, Searcy, AR, 2008, p. 354-5

Billy Alexander is a member of the church of Christ in Jersey Village in Houston, TX. He and his wife Gwen both work at Hewlett-Packard where they met and have worked more than 25 years each. Billy enjoys teaching Bible several times each week at Jersey Village and Memorial church of Christ. Since 2008, his weekly article "Equipping the Saints" as run in the Jersey Village bulletin.