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Sweet Revenge

Wisdom in not seeking vengeance on another

Proverbs 20:22

22 Do not say, “I will recompense evil”;
Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.

Proverbs 20:27

27 The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord,
Searching all the inner depths of his heart.


Have you ever desired to get revenge on someone who had wronged you? Perhaps you plotted and found a way to humiliate someone who had hurt you. How did it feel? Did it achieve the goal you had hoped it would? Or did it somehow make things worse for both of you?

Maybe you have only dreamed of getting vengeance on someone: the school bully, that overbearing boss, a neighbor or relative who has continuously embarrassed you. Or how about that guy who cut you off in traffic yesterday? He even smiled at you while he did it. What a jerk! In your mind you may have even rehearsed a scenario in which you confronted the guy and, with a perfectly-timed exchange, gave him a piece of your mind–before activating his dental plan with a few well-placed Ju-Jitsu moves.  Hi-YAH!

Suddenly, your wife bangs on the bathroom door: “Hey Bruce Lee, hurry up and win the Octagon, already! You’re using up all the hot water!”

There is one story of vengeance from the pages of history that was epic in scope. The Mediterranean coast of ancient Cilicia (modern Turkey) was known to be a hotbed of piracy. In 75 BC, a group of seaborne brigands captured a ship bearing a young Roman nobleman on his way to Rhodes. The pirates debated whether to torture or ransom the aristocrat, for he could be worth a princely sum.

From the start, however the young Roman surprised them by not behaving like an ordinary captive. When he heard that the pirates planned to ransom him for 20 talents, he laughed and demanded they raise it to 50 talents! The pirates had never encountered a captive who negotiated his ransom up before. 

Instead of whimpering and begging to be spared, the Roman began to boss the pirates around. He demanded wine, entertained them with oratory, and insulted their ignorance. He joined them in their pirate games and exercises, and mocked their strategies. The pirate life seemed to be a joke to him, and they were dumbfounded by his confidence and intelligence.

At last, the ransom arrived and the pirates were paid. The young nobleman was released, but he laughed and told them that he would soon return to collect every talent of the ransom–along with all of their treasure. What’s more, he would see to it that they would all be crucified in the Roman way. The pirates took all of this as talk from someone who was surely a fool. 

But this was no ordinary pampered Roman aristocrat. The young man’s name was Julius Caesar, and he was good to his word. Somehow, after Caesar reached Miletus, he raised a fleet and returned for the pirates. According to Plutarch, Caesar captured them all and took their pirate horde. As promised, he had them all crucified, and his legend grew.    

There is an old saying: “revenge is a dish best served cold.” It was coined by French novelist Eugène Sue in 1846, and finds more contemporary use in the 1982 science fiction film “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.” In the film, the vengeful Khan cites it as a “Klingon proverb” as he seeks revenge on Captain Kirk.

Whether it be Caesar, Klingons, or Khan, the impulse to get revenge on someone is found in the hearts of us all. Solomon knows and understands this, and here in Proverbs Chapter 20, he gives some plain talk about how seeking vengeance impacts your life and heart: 

22 Do not say, “I will recompense evil”;
Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.–Proverbs 20:22

You have long known that, as a Christian, it is wrong to seek revenge. Why, then, is the impulse sometimes so very strong? What should you do when you find yourself desiring vengeance when you have suffered an injustice?

Solomon’s plain advice echoes the words of Moses in the law of God:

35 Vengeance is Mine, and recompense;
Their foot shall slip in due time;
For the day of their calamity is at hand,
And the things to come hasten upon them.’–Deuteronomy 32:35

It is clear that revenge should come from God alone and not from you and me. The apostle Paul reminds us of this in his letter to the church in Rome:

19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.–Romans 12:19

Simply put, you and I are not to seek vengeance on another person because only God knows that person’s heart. Only your heavenly Father can dispense true justice because only He holds the moral high ground. As Solomon says in Proverbs 17:

3 The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold,
But the Lord tests the hearts.–Proverbs 17:3

The Lord, the “tester of hearts,” is the only one free of sin and thus able to dispense true justice in this life–and the next. One reason you get so incensed when you are wronged is because you feel deep down that you would “never do what that other guy did” to you. You become angered or agitated because you feel that you know his heart, as well as your own.

But you are wrong. Only God truly knows both your hearts, and the good–as well as evil–that each of you are capable of doing. Paul again:

Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?–Romans 2:4

This is a call to trust in God fully, and not yourself, because God is just and sovereign. Think about this for a moment. You seem certain that you not only know right and wrong, but that you likely act righteously in both the good deeds you do–and in the bad. You feel that vengeance may be wrong, and acknowledge that sometimes it can be abusive, but your desire for revenge is right and just. This is often simply based on feelings or past experiences, and not a true sense of righteousness. 

In the “Lord of the Rings,” author J.R.R. Tolkien illustrates this colorfully in a conversation between Frodo the Hobbit and Gandalf, the wise wizard. Frodo rashly wishes death on the character Gollum, who is pursuing them. Gandalf cautions him:  

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.–J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

If you really had to, could you deal out true justice of your own accord? Like Frodo, you too may eagerly wish to accept this responsibility. But can you step into the shoes of God?

This section of Proverbs 20 is concerned with good and evil speech, along with its earthly–as well as spiritual–consequences. In verses 14-20, it warns you against using vengeful speech in response to evil. Evil speech is defined as being duplicitous (vs 14), seductive (vs 16), deceitful (vs 17), lying (vs 19), cursing parents (vs 20). The consequence of this evil speech is that  the “Lamp” of your spirit “will be put out in utter darkness” and extinguished forever.

Good speech, on the other hand, is compared to that of precious jewels (vs 15). Kind words, godly words, are a reward to you and to others. For as Paul instructs the believers of the church at Colossae:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.–Colossians 4:6

Paul spent two years planting the church in nearby Ephesus, and as the gospel took root in Colossae, and while in prison he learned of their wavering faith. He instructed them to hold fast and remember their calling, and the Lord who sustained them. 

These are also the instructions that Solomon has for you here in Proverbs. If you are not to seek vengeance in order to avoid the curse of evil, rash words and the judgement of God, then waiting on Him is the only solution that you must grasp.  

"Wait for I AM,” Solomon tells you. Your waiting is not to be filled with seething and coping, but with prayer. As you have also read:

17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.–I Thessalonians 5:17-18

For what do you wait? Fire from heaven on your enemy? No, you wait for God’s deliverance:

4 One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.–Psalm 27:4

This hardly seems satisfying, does it not? “Can’t I get just a little fire and brimstone from heaven, Lord?” No, you are called instead to seek blessing:

Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.–I Peter 3:8-9

Does this sound familiar to you? You know this from the words of Jesus as he teaches you in the Sermon on the Mount. In this, He gives you hard, but sweet instructions:

39 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 5:39

In exhorting you to “turn the other cheek,” Jesus is reminding you of His coming to fulfill the law of God. He is expounding on an aspect that has been classically abused:

21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.–Deuteronomy 19:21

Instead of license for revenge or harsh justice, Jesus is telling you that “eye for an eye” was meant as a principle to guide judges–the purpose behind the law was to limit and to restrain retaliation, not to justify revenge. As it was meant to restrain personal vindictiveness and retaliation, so true fulfillment is in the man who does NOT seek revenge.

In other words, Jesus is telling you, “Do not stand on your legal rights as a Christian, and bleed this law and others for all they are worth.” Instead, seek peace. When you do so, not to simply avoid conflict, but to give the peace of Christ, you will see the power of the Gospel overcoming evil.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this all too well as he confronted the evils of Nazi Germany. Although ultimately martyred by that evil regime, he knew that the final victory lay in Christ, and that only when evil encountered Christ could it be truly defeated:

The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a stand-still …when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Do you seek vengeance on another? Do you have the strength instead to wait on the Lord, to seek peace and present Christ, though the blows may rain down on you? There may be no earthly glory in this, but the eternal reward may be a saved soul for them, and spiritual blessing for you. Your Father, who searches the hearts of men, knows your suffering. Instead of extinguishing your spiritual lamp, He lights it for all eternity to shine for His glory:  

27 The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord,
Searching all the inner depths of his heart.–Proverbs 20:27



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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