Leaving Revenge to God
Robert Wurtz II
“Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send” (1 Sam. 25:25 KJV).
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:3–8 ESV).
I have chosen a passage from both the Old and New Testament to demonstrate a common expectation between both Testaments. That expectation is that we leave revenge to God, even if we have been wronged to the uttermost.
In 1 Samual 25, David seeks provisions from Nabal (Naval), a wealthy landowner who was holding a feast. David and his mighty men had served as security for Nabal’s servants and property though Nabal was unaware of it. When David sent a message to Nabal the messengers were horribly mistreated and David was effectively mocked by Nabal who was, according to his own wife, a “man of Belial” and a “fool” (the meaning of Naval in Hebrew). He was also an alcoholic.
When the servants returned with the news of Nabal’s hostility, David planned to ride into the camp and kill every last one of the men on that property. It was only the wisdom of Abigail, Nabel’s faithful wife, who saddled animals loaded with provisions, that kept David from taking revenge. David responded by saying, “Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand. For indeed, as the LORD God of Israel lives, who has kept me back from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!” (1 Sam. 25:32–34 NKJV)
The rest of the story is a great lesson for us. Abigail returned home and told Nabal, who had sobered up by now, all that could have happened to him had she not acted swiftly. The sobering account of what followed is worthy of our attention, “So it was, in the morning, when the wine had gone from Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became like a stone. Then it happened, after about ten days, that the LORD struck Nabal, and he died” (1 Samuel 25:37–38 NKJV).
Defrauding a Fellow Brother
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, perhaps the oldest writing in the New Testament alongside Galatians, he addresses a matter that is frequently overlooked. As with most of Paul’s writings, he warns the people against sexual immorality. Yet in this case, he seems to be addressing something that may have been happening at the church. It’s hard to grasp what’s being said on the surface because Paul is being discreet, but a closer look reveals some insightful and disturbing details.
The ESV translates 1 Thess. 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor (…).” The phrase “his own body” contains the Greek word skeuos and is translated by the AV (KJV) as “vessel.” You will recall an earlier time when David and his men were on the run and needing food. This time he went to the house of God where they had only the sacred shewbread. The priest would allow them to eat the bread if they had not been intimate with women. “And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel” (1 Sam. 21:5 KJV). The LXX (Greek OT) has skeuos that is rendered in the KJV as “the vessels of the young men are holy.”
Clearly, David was telling the priest that the young men had not been fornicating as their bodily members (to borrow a phrase) are holy. Had they been fornicating, they would have been unholy. This agrees with what Paul was telling the men at Thessalonica. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. Fornication makes us “unholy” as it is a breach of our sanctification. It’s no different than when Belshazzar took the holy implements of the temple, partied, and drank wine from them. He profaned the holy things. But Paul is saying more than we mustn’t be using our bodily members for sin.
Paul adds that we must not “transgress and wrong our brother in this manner.” The AV (KJV) uses the word defraud. What does this mean? Clearly, Paul is warning the men in the churches not to take advantage of another man’s wife or perhaps one of his unmarried daughters. We don’t know what was going on there. Again, Paul is too discreet to come right out and say what he intends for them to read between the lines. Few things provoke a man more than to have his wife or daughters taken advantage of in a sexual way (pardon the expression). Solomon warned his sons that if they commit adultery and the man finds out his anger will not be cooled off though you would offer him many gifts (Proverbs 6:33-35).
We then have the final analysis as Paul states, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. Have you ever heard a preacher or pastor solemnly warn his congregation about sexual immorality (fornication, adultery)? If not, why not? Paul did it regularly and repeatedly. We find these warnings in 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and the circular Ephesian letter. What is striking is that he says things like, “I have told you in times past” meaning that he was drilling it into their minds. Why? Why is it that important?
What is the solemn warning? The Lord is an avenger in all these things. Proverbs says that jealousy is the rage of a husband and he will not spare in the day of vengeance (Proverbs 6:34). But this is not the Christian way. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 ESV). As Christians, we must leave revenge to God–no matter how sorely provoked we may be at times (Luke 18:7).
God is the avenger and we are not. Regarding the great provocation of being a victim of sexual immorality the late great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson comments, “An avenger (ekdikos) is Regular term in the papyri for legal avenger. Modern men and women need to remember that God is the avenger for sexual wrongs both in this life and the next.”
Paul understood mistreatment. He was as human as you are and as I am. When the High Priest’s servant struck him in the mouth in Acts 23:3 he responded, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” He backed-off (as it were) soon after, but it’s instructive to see Paul’s instinct in an unguarded moment. He knew in the depth of his being that God is the ultimate judge and he didn’t need to take matters into his own hands. He had a settled assurance that the Lord is an avenger in all these things. He didn’t just preach it; he lived it.