Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17, NKJV)
A great fish swallowed Jonah. Jesus agreed, saying that Jonah being “three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish” typifies the Son of Man being “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). But, something more than a fish was eating up Jonah. When God first commanded him to go to Nineveh, he tried to flee his God-given work (Jonah 1:2). After three days and nights in the dark belly of the fish he went to sinful Nineveh with the burning light of truth, preaching “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). But, instead of punishing the evil city, God showed it mercy and spared the city when the people repented (Jonah 3:5-10). This “displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). You see, Jonah was eaten up with an unmerciful heart of vengeance. He even seemed to complain to God about the Almighty’s gracious mercy to explain (justify) his ill-conceived flight to Tarshish (Jonah 4:2). Now, he had rather die than see Nineveh live (Jonah 4:3). God showed Jonah mercy time and again (first the fish, then the plant, Jonah 4:5-10). The prophet needed to learn to be merciful as God had shown him (and Nineveh) mercy (Jonah 4:9-11). While we are quick to receive God’s grace and mercy, we must empty our hearts of vengeance toward others who also need mercy. Truly, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
“For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4, NKJV)
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Allied invasion of Europe on the beaches of Normandy, France. Their goal was to liberate a continent captured in the grip of Nazism. Their success continues to be felt to this present hour. As we honor the sacrifices of that day and the freedom it signaled for millions of souls, we ought to remember it is God who ordains civil authorities. The governments of men are intended by Him to execute justice, and to apply punishment (wrath) to evildoers. Therefore, we are to submit to governing authorities out of our respect for God (Rom. 13:1-3). They are God’s servants for us to administer what is good. But, what happens when governments before evil and oppressive? Since God rules the nations, He raises them up and He brings them down when their rulers and their citizens refuse righteousness (Prov. 14:34; Dan. 4:28-35). We must keep on doing good and not take personal vengeance against evil. Instead, we are to give place to the wrath of God: “for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:17-19). He did. And, He continues to do so. Let the righteous be patient, and “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:20-21).
30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:30–31, NKJV)
The God we know is the same God who exacted punishment upon His people Israel when they turned away from God to serve themselves and the idols of the nations (Deuteronomy 32:35). Although God had richly blessed them, the nation “grew fat” and “forsook God” (Deuteronomy 32:15). This serves as a warning to Christians who convince themselves they are justified in “charting their own course” away from God – they will show God (and everyone else) who’s boss! Thus deceived, they forsake God’s word and God’s people for the pleasures of sin. Yet, in the end, God will vindicate Himself. With righteous vengeance, God will recompense those who forsake Him and spurn the spiritual blessings they previously received in Christ (Hebrews 10:26, 29). We will indeed reap what we sow, including Christians (Galatians 6:7-8). It is truly dreadful to contemplate the punishment that is justly prepared for those who sin willfully against Almighty God. Now is the time to repent of every sin, receive mercy from God, and live faithfully. When Judgment Day comes, the fearful expectation of fiery wrath will be the certain reality for all who forsake the Lord.
And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. (Jeremiah 29:7, NKJV)
Judah was in Babylon, exiled by the Lord God because of her sinful rebellion against Him (Jeremiah 29:1, 4). In this letter to the elders of the people, God’s prophet instructed them to build houses, plant gardens, maintain their families, and be at peace with those who ruled over them. Like them, we live in a strange land as we live for heaven. In times of societal distress we are tempted to become militant against unrighteous governing powers, forgetting that God rules over every nation (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:17). During times of peace as well as turbulence, Christians supplicate heaven, giving thanks and praying “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). While the mobs gather, we live for a better country, a heavenly one. Instead of repaying evil for evil, “have regard for good things in the sight of all men” so that, “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:17-18). In His time, God rights every wrong with just vengeance (Romans 12:19). We are to promote peace in righteousness. That is what sojourners do while living in a foreign land (1 Peter 2:11-12).
20 Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20–21, NKJV)
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to use Proverbs 25:21-22 to teach Christians to give place to the Lord’s vengeance against those who do them wrong. This counterintuitive counsel is a hallmark of the “wisdom from above,” and is in striking contrast to the (foolish) wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, demonic” (Jas. 3:13-18). God calls on us to rise above the thinking of the world. Such commands challenge our faith and keep us focused on eternity instead of the immediate satisfaction of personal revenge. Jesus said to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Matt. 5:44). Evil never overcomes evil. Good is more powerful than evil. Honor the power of good by doing good to those who are not good to you. By doing so, Christian show themselves to be “sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (Lk. 6:35).
19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19–21, NKJV)
How very different this counsel is from that of the worldly-minded. Revenge is glamorized in movies, YouTube videos and just about every medium that exists. Self-vindication, not divine-vindication, is the impulse of the selfish and self-centered. Christians shun retaliation against evil as their personal “right” and responsibility. Instead, Christians overcome evil by continuing to do good things for those who are not good to them. This does not mean we are unconcerned with justice. It means we know that true, lasting justice will be exacted by the Lord God. He is perfect in knowledge, righteousness, wisdom and might. We much prefer for God to deal with the evil-doers. We know that when He does, it is always fair, just and complete. Do not fret over evil-doers; trust the Lord to right every wrong by and by. In the meantime, you overcome evil with good.
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18, NKJV)
Israel was instructed not to retaliate against each other out of hatred and anger. (“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him”, Lev. 19:17.) Bearing a grudge means holding onto anger and resentment and allowing those evil twins to dictate your decisions and actions toward others. Holding a grudge is not loving your neighbor, nor does it honor the Lord. Can you imagine Jesus holding a grudge? Neither can a Christian and please Him. Holding a grudge reflects hatred. If you are holding onto a grudge, let go of it. It is harming your relationship with God and others. If you have been wronged, let God deal with that. Follow the example of Jesus and keep on loving the unlovable. After all, that’s how He has loved us all (Rom. 5:6-8).