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balancing scales March 11 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Numbers 31

Vengeance and Rewards

Vengeance

In a culture of tolerance and acceptance, God's vengeance is something most people and even Christians do not like to think or talk about. Vengeance is considered terrible, but in certain circumstances it expresses the justice of God. Those who have seen injustice and extreme wickedness often cry out, why doesn't God do something about this? They want someone to balance the scales by removing evil. When the time is right the LORD will do this, and that is when He will express His vengeance.

Today, we begin the concept of God taking vengeance. It is a teaching found throughout the Bible. It is more prominent in the Old Testament; that is true; there are thousands of years of history in the O.T., versus a mere 100 years of history in the New Testament. The thought of God's vengeance makes people uncomfortable. Because of this, some even talk of two Gods, the God of the Old Testament, who is considered mean and unloving, and Jesus of the New Testament, who is considered as the kind and loving, miracle-working God-man. It may surprise many, however, that God expresses overwhelming love and forbearance in O.T. times, and He exercises judgment on wicked and unrepentant people as a last resort. Furthermore, in the times of Jesus’ life on earth, He not only speaks words of love; He often speaks words of judgment, especially on false religious leaders. And, in the end times of earth's history, the meek, mild, and loving Jesus will be king and take vengeance against His enemies (Revelation 6:10; 19:1-2). Still, the concept of God's vengeance makes us uncomfortable. How should God's vengeance be understood?

God is one, and yet the Scriptures teach that He exists in three eternal persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - all who work in perfect and glorious concert with one another to accomplish the Father’s will. He is not two or three Gods with different characters (more...). He is a God of perfect love, righteousness and justice. In a song Moses would soon teach the Israelites, Moses describes the character of God:

I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he, (Deuteronomy 32:3-4, NIV).

God's vengeance is based on His faithful love, holiness, and justice. In His love and mercy He waits 400 years for the people in Canaan to repent (the sins of the Amorites) but they do not. They become a very evil people - sexually immoral, violent, and they even offer their own children as burnt sacrifices to their gods. Through God's love He delivers Israel from the slavery of the Egyptians, protects her, and provides for her. Through God's love He makes a covenant with her that He will bless her if she keeps it. If she violates the covenant, however, God's vengeance will come upon her (Leviticus 26:24). Unfortunately, Israel does violate God's covenant and His holiness, and the LORD's wrath does come upon her.

One incident of violation is Baal-Peor. God protects Israel; therefore, Balaam, a hired spell-caster, fails to curse the Israelites. But because Balaam is a greedy man, he teaches King Balak “to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality,” (Revelation 2:14, NIV). So, Moabite women entice Israelite men to have sex with them and worship their god, Baal-Peor. God is angry at the Israelites for prostituting themselves before a foreign god and violating His covenant. Therefore, God kills 24,000 Israelites with a plague before Phinehas, the son of the high priest, kills an Israelite man and Moabite woman, who brazenly parade before the Israelite community and enter a tent to have sex. Judgment (the determination of right and wrong and punishment) begins with the household of God, His people of every age who have a covenant relationship with Him. If we are Christians, we have a New Testament covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ and are subject to His judgment (discipline but not condemnation). Therefore, we should fear the LORD and walk in obedience to Him so that we will be blessed.

Israel did wrong but so did the Moabites (also called Midianites). What was God going to do about their wickedness? In His vengeance He instructs Moses to take 12,000 soldiers and destroy the Midianites. God is jealous over the Israelites, and He takes vengeance upon those who try to harm His people (Nahum 1:2). This is a holy war, a war instituted by God upon an unbelieving unrepentant wicked and idolatrous people. Israel should have completely destroyed their enemy because the Midianites incited the LORD's anger against her for her sins (Numbers 25:1-11). The army, however, kills all the men but spares the women and children, all the spoils and even the women who had enticed the men to sin. When he discovers their incomplete obedience, Moses tells the soldiers to kill all the boys and the women who had sexual relationships with men. In our day we might think this is rather severe, but Moses later gives the following instructions which help us understand the righteousness and justice of God in taking vengeance:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations-- the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you-- and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (Deuteronomy 7:1-4, NIV)

Because Israel refuses to do this in later generations, this leads to her downfall and ultimate expulsion from the Promised Land. More about God's vengeance can be found in the March 16 Bible study.

Should we take vengeance upon our enemies? No. God does not direct us to do that today. The land of Israel has already been conquered. We are not Jews in a holy war for our land. Instead, the Bible tells Christians

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” [Deuteronomy 32:35] says the Lord.

On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,” [Proverbs 25:21,22]. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21, NIV)

What are we to do then if someone harms us? If it is an unbeliever who does us harm and there is legal recourse, there is nothing in the Scriptures that forbids us to seek justice (the Apostle Paul in 1Corinthians 6:1-11 instructs us not to take our fellow believers to court). God has appointed our governing officials to punish the evil doers (Romans 13:1-4). If there are no legal recourses, however, we are to leave vengeance to God. We should, as Christians, however, eradicate personal evil from our lives and live holy before our God. Allowing evil influence is a recipe for disaster. Do we confess our sins to the LORD but leave pornographic material lying around? Do we protect ourselves from pornographic pop-ups on the computer? Do we remove ourselves from tempting physical attractions of the opposite sex in the work place? 1Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body,” (NIV). To be holy we must eradicate personal evil influences from our lives.

A word of warning: unbelievers and rebellious believers should fear God's wrath.

How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” [Deuteronomy 32:35] and again, “The Lord will judge his people,” [Deuteronomy 32:36; Psalm 135:14].

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, (Hebrews 10:29-31, NIV)

Rewards

Soldiers in Israel's army were to share in the spoils of war 50/50 with the congregation, and in thankfulness for their victories they were to give an offering to the LORD, 1/500th of what they took in spoils. Because there were fewer soldiers than the total Israelite population, they were well compensated. How well do we compensate our soldiers?

According to Ephesians 6:10-18, we Christians are soldiers in a spiritual battle. Are there compensations for us? Presently we rejoice in the souls we have helped save, and they rejoice in our faithfulness as well. God also blesses those who are faithful. “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them,” (Hebrews 6:10, NIV). Jesus said to the suffering church in Smyrna (and by application to us who are in spiritual battles, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:20b, NIV). God will reward us for our faithful service.

Lessons to live by:

  • God's vengeance is based on His faithful love, holiness, and justice.
  • Judgment (the determination of right and wrong and his discipline, not condemnation) begins with the household of God, His people of every age who have a covenant relationship with Him. If we are Christians, we have a New Testament covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ (more...) and are subject to His discipline. Therefore, we should fear the LORD and walk in obedience to Him so we will be blessed.
  • God takes vengeance upon those who try to harm His people.
  • We should not take vengeance upon our enemies. God does not direct us to do that today.
  • We should, as Christians, eradicate personal evil from our lives and live holy lives before our God.
  • Unbelievers and rebellious believers should fear God's wrath .
  • God will reward us for faithful service.

Today's Bible memory verse:

“I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he,” (Deuteronomy 32:3-4, NIV).

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