Holman Bible Dictionary
The English word vengeance is a principal translation of several Hebrew words related to the stem nqm and of ekdikeo (and cognates) in the Septuagint (or earliest Greek Old Testament) and in the New Testament. Behind the Hebrew usage of nqm stands a sense of the solidarity and integrity of the community which, having been damaged by an offense, must be restored by some deed of retaliation or punishment. The range of meaning of the motif, however, extends beyond “vengeance” and/or “punishment” to a sense of “deliverance.”
Human revenge against an enemy or enemies is demonstrated in a broad range of circumstances in the Old Testament documents (Genesis 4:23-24 ; Jeremiah 20:10 ). Samson's reaction to his enemies (Judges 15:7 ) is so described. Vengeance might be punishment directed toward another who has committed adultery with one's wife (Proverbs 6:32-34 ) or toward a whole ethnic group such as the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:25 ). On occasion, the enemies of the people of God are described as acting vengefully (Ezekiel 25:12 ,Ezekiel 25:12,25:15 ,Ezekiel 25:15,25:17 ). In the context of loving one's neighbor, human revenge toward fellow Hebrews was forbidden (Leviticus 19:17-18 ; compare Deuteronomy 32:35 ), but nqm may be used of legitimate punishment for a wrong ( Exodus 21:20 ; compare Exodus 21:23-25 ; Leviticus 24:19 ; Deuteronomy 19:21 ).
As an activity of God on behalf of His people, nqm is sometimes best understood as retribution ( Judges 11:36 ). David was often the recipient of such favor (2 Samuel 4:8 ; 2 Samuel 22:48 ; Psalm 18:47 ). The motif occurs in this sense in the prayers of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:20 ; Jeremiah 15:15 ; Jeremiah 20:12 ) and of the psalmist (Psalm 58:10 ; Psalm 79:10 ; Psalm 94:1 ). Note that deliverance is involved in several of these instances. The wrath of God was exhibited toward Babylon ( Jeremiah 51:6 ,Jeremiah 51:6,51:11 ,Jeremiah 51:11,51:36 ; Isaiah 47:3 ; Ezekiel 24:7-9 ). In the song of Moses, such retribution is attributed to God alone (Deuteronomy 32:35 ,Deuteronomy 32:35,32:41 ,Deuteronomy 32:41,32:43 ). Yet, the wrath of God might be extended toward the people of Israel because of their sin (Leviticus 26:25 ).
Nqm has a sense of eschatological deliverance. This can be combined with an expression of God's wrath against Israel's enemies ( Isaiah 34:8 ). The parallel Isaianic phrases “day of vengeance” and “year of my redemption” have the same import (Isaiah 63:4 ; compare Isaiah 61:1-3 ).
In the New Testament, the motif of “vengeance” (ekdikeo and cognates) occurs on relatively few occasions. Of the evangelists, Luke alone uses both the verb and the noun. In Jesus' parable of the unjust judge, a widow's persistent request for vindication from her enemy is grudgingly granted. Luke displayed the parable as a worst-case model of God's vindication (“deliverance”) of His people ( Luke 18:1-8 ). In another teaching of Jesus, “vengeance” has an eschatological dimension which is reflective of Isaiah 63:4 ( Luke 21:22 ). A further Lukan example is found in Stephen's speech this time retribution (Acts 7:24 ).
Paul forbade human vengeance much in the way of Deuteronomy 32:35 (compare Leviticus 19:18 ), asserting that the Lord is the Avenger of wrong (Romans 12:19 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:6-7 ). In the Corinthian correspondence, Paul used both noun and verb in the sense of “punishment.” The usage seems designed to bring about repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10-11 ; 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 ). On one occasion, Paul wrote of the ruler of a state as a servant of God, “a revenger to execute wrath upon him who doeth evil” (Romans 13:4 ). Once, he wrote of the eschatological wrath (judgment) of God (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ; compare Isaiah 66:15 ; Psalm 79:6 ).
The author of Hebrews also cited the Deuteronomic prohibition against human vengeance (Hebrews 10:30 ; Deuteronomy 32:35 ; compare Romans 12:19 ; Leviticus 19:18 ), and the author of 1Peter referred to human governors as persons sent by God to punish evildoers (1 Peter 2:14 ; compare Romans 13:4 ).
In Hebraic fashion, the author of Revelation viewed God as the Avenger who vindicates His people against their enemies (Revelation 6:10 ; Revelation 19:2 ). Both of these usages have eschatological overtones (compare Isaiah 63:1-6 ). See Avenger ; Punishment; Wrath.
Donald E. Cook
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