Choosing against revenge

I love this analogy: holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. Typically we say this because a grudge continues to eat away at us and it doesn’t do anything to the other person. So we are the only ones who suffer, all because we cannot let go of the grudge. But what about if you had a chance to “repay” the person who has wronged you? What if you could exact your “justice” on him or her? Should you do it? Scripturally speaking, the answer is and always has been, “No.” 

As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day.  – 1 Samuel 25:16-19, ESV

If any man deserved the right to take out his revenge on another, it would have been David on Saul. Saul tried to kill David multiple times. Saul even went after his own son, Jonathan, because Saul felt Jonathan was choosing David over him. Saul made David’s life miserable, forcing him into a life on the run: a life of exile filled with hardship. David knew that if Saul ever found himself in a position to do so, Saul would kill David. Yet David not only didn’t seek revenge, but in the two occasions when David could have taken Saul’s life, David chose not to do so. 

This passage is from the first chance which David had. So good was the opportunity that David was able to cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. He certainly could have killed Saul. He didn’t, however. Appearing to Saul, David showed him the corner of the robe. Saul realized the implications of that piece of cloth, which led him to the confession above. 

Saul called David more righteous. Saul pointed out that David repaid Saul with good, even when Saul only dealt evil towards David. Saul also pointed to the fact that David let his enemy go and because of this Saul asked that The Lord repay David for the good act. One response to this passage is that  Saul’s words are that of a normal man’s. Furthermore, he didn’t have the direction of the Holy Spirit any longer when he spoke them. Therefore, they don’t tell us how we should act. However, when we compare Saul’s words with commands and examples throughout Scripture with regards to revenge, we see they match. Quite simply, God has asked us not to pursue revenge, even when the opportunity is at hand. 

Consider Gethsemane. Jesus’ dilemma was life or death. That mob was there to take Him away and ultimately kill Him. He knew that. Those same religious leaders who sent the mob had been hounding Jesus His whole ministry. They had plotted to kill Him almost from the very beginning. He had every right to call down the legions of angels and deal with the mob. Yet He didn’t. The price for revenge was too great. He knew that. So no call was made. Jesus went to the Cross so we might have our sins paid for by Him and thus forgiven.

Speaking of price, we don’t know what the true price of a given act of revenge will be. We don’t have the omniscience of God. We don’t have His wisdom. We can’t exact perfect justice. Therefore, the idea that we can do revenge “right” is absurd. Mercy, now that’s something we can get right. Forgiveness, yes, we can do that. After all, we have received both from our Savior, Jesus. Those acts don’t require complete knowledge or wisdom. Those acts are what we are called to do. 

If we respond accordingly, we will find favor with God. Saul’s words will ring true in our own lives. God will bless us for the good we have demonstrated. We should always choose to do good, even if a person has done evil to us. If there is a punishment to be delivered, leave it in God’s hands. Even if the opportunity presents itself, walk away from revenge and instead walk in righteousness.

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