The New Testament has many things to say about the vengeance of God. Paul, writing to the Romans, wrote, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19).
The author of the book of Hebrew also mentions the vengeance of God by citing the same words Paul used in his letter to the Romans. He wrote, “For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’” (Hebrews 10:30).
Both Paul and the author of the book of Hebrews make one important statement about the God of the New Testament. Both of them say that vengeance belongs to God.
In reality, both Paul and the author of Hebrews are talking about Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. In the book of Deuteronomy, Yahweh said of himself: “Vengeance is mine” (Deuteronomy 32:35).
Both Paul and the author of Hebrews are identifying the God of the New Testament with the God of the Old Testament.
In my book, Divine Violence and the Character of God, I have a whole section dealing with the vengeance of Yahweh. Below is a short except from the book:
In Ps 94:1 Yahweh appears as ʾēl neqāmôt yhwh “Yahweh the God of Vengeance.” When Yahweh acts in the world, that which is called the “vengeance of Yahweh” or divine violence “actually designates those events in human experience that were identified as the exercise of the sovereignty” of Yahweh as king and creator. It is Yahweh’s sovereignty as creator that undergirds his authority and his legitimate power to act.
Of the seventy-eight occurrences of the word nāqam (“vengeance”) in the Hebrew Bible, “fifty-one involve situations in which the actor is either Yahweh Himself, or an agency to which the power to act is specifically delegated in a specific situation. Thus, in over two thirds of the total occurrences, the root designates the exercise of divine imperium either directly or indirectly.”
Divine imperium may be directed against a foreign nation, against Israel, or against individuals. As Mendenhall explains, the concept of vengeance of Yahweh has do “with the use of power against the enemies of that power, whether internal or external” (emphasis his). One example of the use of divine imperium is found in the Gibionites’ effort to defend themselves against the Canaanite army.
Because the Gibionites were allied with Israel through a covenant, they called on Joshua to deliver them. That call for help brought Joshua and the army of Israel to defend the Gibionites. With the help of Yahweh, the army of Israel defeated the Canaanites. On that day of battle “the nation took vengeance on their enemies” because “the LORD fought for Israel” (Jos 10:13). Since the word nāqam (“vengeance”) refers to the victory Yahweh gave to Israel, the verse means that “the nation defeated the enemies” because Yahweh fought for them.
Divine Violence and the Character of God will be published on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. The book deals with God’s violent acts in the Old Testament in light of God’s character as a gracious and merciful God.
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Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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