The Law of Revenge--Part 1
Jan 09, 2008
There has been much misunderstanding of the nature and character of the Old Testament God, known as Yahweh. Too often He has been portrayed as a God of Vengeance and has been contrasted unfairly with Jesus, the God of Love, as if they are polar opposites.
But when Jesus said in John 10:30, "I and My Father are one," He was not so much speaking of being the same Person, but being of one mind and in full agreement. Jesus came, in part, to correct the many misunderstandings that men had about the character of God, and He Himself set forth by example the character of Yahweh for all to see.
Jesus' Hebrew name is Yeshua, and this name appears many times in the Old Testament. Not only was it a proper name, it was also the word for "salvation." So whenever the Old Testament spoke of "salvation," it was the word yeshua or yesha. For example, Isaiah 12:2, 3 says, "Behold, God is my Yeshua . . . for Yah Yahweh is my strength and song, and He has become my Yeshua. Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of Yeshua."
That this was understood by the New Testament writers is made plain in places like Luke 2:30, where Simeon saw the baby Jesus in the temple and said, "for my eyes have seen Thy Salvation." Likewise, Jesus Himself told the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:22, "for Salvation [Yeshua] is from the Judeans." In other words, Jesus Christ was prophesied to come from the tribe of Judah.
So when God identified Himself to Moses by the name Yahweh in Exodus 6:2 and 3, we understand that this was Jesus in His pre-incarnate state. Yahweh-Jesus was the Lawgiver as well, so any criticism of the Law is a criticism of the character of Jesus Christ. We cannot separate Yahweh from Yeshua and think of them as having different natures, one vengeful and the other more loving.
[By the way, please do not try to figure out whether I am a trinitarian or not. Some of these verses are used in support of the trinity, while others are used to support the opposition. Let me remind you that God is also referred to as El Elyon, the "Most High God" (Gen. 14:22). So when Jesus, being Yahweh in the flesh, prayed to the Father, a trinitarian can argue that the "Father" was El Elyon. A unitarian can argue that God, who fills all things and is omniscient, can be in all places at the same time, so God did not have to abandon heaven to come to earth as Jesus. Personally, I take no position either way, so depending on which article you read, I may come across as being on one side or the other. But in fact, I take the position that my poor little brain cannot comprehend the nature of God, so until I receive a direct revelation from heaven about it, I will stay out of the debate altogether.]
The Hebrew word for "revenge" is naqam. It is almost identical to the word for "comfort," which isnakam. The connection and interplay between the two words is seen in the book of Nahum (Nakam), whose name means "comforter" or "consolation." The prophecy is about God's vengeance (naqam) upon Nineveh and comfort to Israel in their captivity to Assyria (Nineveh). Naham is also the root of Nehem-iah, "Comforter of Yah," and Me-nahem.
In Luke 2:25, Simeon was in the temple "waiting for the consolation [nakam] of Israel." He then saw Jesus, Yeshua and said, "my eyes have seen Thy salvation [Yeshua]." Jesus was not only the salvation of Israel, but was also the consolation of Israel. That is, He was the "Comforter." But in John 14:16, Jesus told His disciples, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter."
In other words, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit were referred to as Comforters. The Greek term isparakletos, which is a helper, particularly in a legal sense. Today they are advocates or attorneys to help us obtain justice or to maintain right standing before the Judge (God) and His law.
The Old Testament equivalent of parakletos is the Hebrew word nakam. Today, we tend to think of the Holy Spirit primarily in terms of spiritual gifts. But the biblical term puts it in a legal context. Remember that the New Testament is expressing Hebrew thoughts in the Greek language. So when we look at the Greek words, we must automatically try to find the Hebrew equivalent to know the thought.
Biblical vengeance is directly related to the Comforter. It is for this reason that God says in Deut. 32:35, "Vengeance [naqam] is mine and recompense [shalam, "repayment, requital, restitution]." When God takes "vengeance," it is to demand restitution payment according to His law in Exodus 22:1-4. It is a matter of justice, not an emotional response that might involve hatred or holding grudges.
In Romans 12:19, Paul quotes this law, interpreting it to mean that we should let God do the judging, because He alone knows all the facts in any case. The law in Leviticus 19:18 says,
"You shall not take vengeance [naqam], nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord."
This is a prohibition on taking the law into one's own hands in an unauthorized manner. In other words, God set up Israel's Department of Justice, using the priests as judges, since they were the ones charged with studying and teaching the law. They were supposed to know not only the letter of the law, but the intent as well, in order to render true justice and establish peace in the land. Of course, as time passed, their carnal minds often set precedents that were actually ungodly. We see the same in America today with the reinterpretation of the Constitution in a way that the founders never envisioned.
A biblical court of law had a specified procedure for law enforcement. The "avenger of blood" brought the accusation to prosecute the case on behalf of the one who had been wronged. This "avenger of blood" was the parent, guardian, or nearest relative of the victim. It was his duty before God to obtain justice on behalf of the victim and see to it that the rights of the victim were not violated in any way.
Two or three witnesses (or pieces of evidence) had to be brought forth to convict anyone of any crime (Deut. 19:15). If the man was found guilty, he had to pay restitution to the victim, according to the nature of the crime--either double or four times for theft, or simple replacement for accidental damage to property.
They did not have U.S. Marshals to take convicted sinners into custody, nor did they have prisons to warehouse those convicted of sins of property crime. Convicted sinners paid restitution or worked until the debt was paid. If they refused to work, or ran away to avoid payment, they could be executed (unless, of course, the victim decided to forgive him).
For capital crimes, they did not hire executioners to chop off heads or to "pull the switch." The "avenger of blood" was the one responsible to arrest the sinner, bring him to the judge, and prosecute the case; and in capital crimes, he was the one responsible to ensure execution of the murderer. The witnesses were the first to cast stones in his execution. Their participation ensured that they understood the gravity of their testimony and the importance of its accuracy.
The "avenger of blood" is a goel, a redeemer, from the Hebrew word ga'al, "to redeem." As a redeemer, he was responsible to make sure that the victims in his care received perfect justice. It was his responsibility to restore the lawful order.
Dr. Stephen Jones