Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Vengeance and Retribution

Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
(Isaiah 35:4 NIV)

I read this the other day with some degree of confusion.

Partly because in my experience of God and in my reading of the bible, I understand a loving God who is less vengeful and retributive, and more compassionate and gracious. Mostly informed by passages likeExodus 34:6, Psalm 145:8, Nehemiah 9:7, Lamentations 3:33 and 2 Peter 3:9 (among others).

The other part was the slight paradox of God ‘saving’ people with ‘divine retribution’. I’m not sure how that works. Some of the other translations have references to ‘destroying enemies’, but again, I’m faced with the dilemma of trying to reconcile a forgiving God with one that wants to crush and mash, not easy concepts to hold together.

The word translated here as “retribution” in the NIV is the Hebrew ‘gmuwl’ (ghem-ool’) and comes from the root concept of service or requital and seems semantically to fall closer to the meanings ‘benefit’, ‘desert’ (i.e. just deserts – given what was due), ‘deserving’, ‘recompense’, or ‘reward’.

Reading on the surface, there is a surprising paradox from “vengeance” to “divine reward”.

This is where digging below the surface a bit more reveals something almost as surprising again. The word “vengeance” in Hebrew is ‘naqam’ (naw-kawm’), it is rooted in concepts of revenge, avenging, and quarrel. This word is most commonly translated as ‘avenge’ which, as a concept of ‘bringing justice’ or ‘righting wrongs’ does seem to be falling more into line with the way God describes himself in the passages previously mentioned above.

Where does that leave this scripture in Isaiah? I suppose it could now read like this:

Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come bringing justice;
with divine reward
he will come to save you.”
(Isaiah 35:4)

And so we see once again, God is not a vengeful, furious, angry monster in need of placation that wants to smash and crush and squish us all because we are all disgusting sinners, he is something entirely different. When we start to understand who God really is and what he is really like, perhaps we see that some of the ideas we have been fed over the years skew the true consistent picture into something man-made.

The ‘vengeance’ of God is in bringing freedom – God’s avenging – his ‘justice bringing’ comes in rewarding those with “feeble hands”, “fearful hearts” and unsteady knees by “opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf” etc.

Here’s the whole chapter from Isaiah (with my bold alterations based on the above exploration)

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come bringing justice;
with divine reward
he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the LORD has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isn’t that the true picture of ‘Shalom’ – true peace, harmony of all things, joy, release of suffering and pain!?

That’s the picture painted by the God that I know and love and partner with in his rebuilding and restoring of this world.

%d bloggers like this: