“O Lord, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth!” (94:1) So begins Psalm 94, but what is this vengeance? Is God’s vengeance the same as human vengeance?
Psalm 94 is a lament in two parts. The first fifteen verses comprise a lament of the community against evildoers who oppress the most vulnerable, while 16-23 is an individual lament that highlights trust in God.
The psalmist begins with calling upon God to wreak vengeance on evil doers, “O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?” (3) They afflict the community with their arrogance. They kill widows, orphans and strangers, those under the special care of God according to the prophets. “They pour out their arrogant words, they boast, all the evildoers. They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage. They slay the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless.” (4-6)
They claim God does not see, “And they say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’” (7) To this the psalmist responds, “Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? . . . The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.” (8-11) The writer calls them fools, God knows all, sees all, and understands us better than we understand ourselves.
He states his belief that justice will prevail, “For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.” (14-15)
In the second section, the writer repeats affirmations of how God has helped him, “When I thought, ‘my foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (18-19) He ends in a statement of trust in God, “But the Lord has become my stronghold and my God the rock of my refuge. He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for the wickedness; the Lord our God will wipe them out.” (22-23)
The psalm begins with vengeance and ends with vengeance – God wiping out all the evil-doers. But what does this vengeance look like?
In verse 12 the writer says that those who are corrected by God are blessed. “Blessed is the man whom you chastise, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.” While it appears that the writer was only writing about those who are following God’s ways for verse 13 states, “To give him respite from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked,” in asking God to punish the wicked, the writer is actually asking for a blessing for the wicked!
God corrects those he loves out of his vast care for his people. The wicked are their own worst enemy, hurting themselves as much as they are hurting others. They just don’t see it.
What does God’s vengeance look like? Not what you may think.
I believe God’s vengeance is the same for all of us–to let us see ourselves as we truly are, recognizing our fallen ways. Those who harm widows and orphans and cheat others will face the consequences of their action, comprehending the harm they have done. Only then will they receive eternal reward.
Heaven is the same for all; open to all who are willing to accept God’s vengeance. Some will refuse God’s gracious offer of love and forgiveness and chose to continue living in their own personal hell. Others will embrace God’s offer.
Vengeance belongs to God.
What do you think God’s vengeance looks like? I would love to hear from you!