Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, said the Lord.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Give place unto wrath.—It seems best to understand this of “the wrath of God” (indicated in the Greek, here as elsewhere, by the use of the article). Stand aside yourself as a mere spectator, and let the wrath of God have free course to accomplish itself as He shall think well. The other most plausible interpretation would be, “Give room to the wrath of your adversary; let it spend itself; resist not evil,” etc., as in Matthew 5:39. The sense, “Allow time for your own anger to cool,” cannot be got out of the Greek. The view first stated is to be preferred.
Vengeance is mine; I will repay.—The form of this quotation, which differs both from the LXX. and from the Hebrew, is precisely similar to that in Hebrews 10:30. This should be noted as a point of resemblance between St. Paul and the author of that Epistle, but its strength as an argument for the identity of the two is much diminished by the fact that other marked coincidences are found in the literature of this age, which seem to point to the conclusion that forms of text were current (perhaps confined to a few familiar quotations) of which no direct representations have come down to us.
STILL ANOTHER TRIPLET
Romans 12:19 - Romans 12:21.
The natural instinct is to answer enmity with enmity, and kindliness with kindliness. There are many people of whom we think well and like, for no other reason than because we believe that they think well of and like us. Such a love is really selfishness. In the same fashion, dislike, and alienation on the part of another naturally reproduce themselves in our own minds. A dog will stretch its neck to be patted, and snap at a stick raised to strike it. It requires a strong effort to master this instinctive tendency, and that effort the plainest principles of Christian morality require from us all. The precepts in our text are in twofold form, negative and positive; and they are closed with a general principle, which includes both these forms, and much more besides. There are two pillars, and a great lintel coping them, like the trilithons of Stonehenge.
I. We deal with the negative precept.
‘Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto wrath.’ Do not take the law into your own hands, but leave God’s way of retribution to work itself out. By avenging, the Apostle means a passionate redress of private wrongs at the bidding of personal resentment. We must note how deep this precept goes. It prohibits not merely external acts which, in civilised times are restrained by law, but, as with Christian morality, it deals with thoughts and feelings, and not only with deeds. It forbids such natural and common thoughts as ‘I owe him an ill turn for that’; ‘I should like to pay him off.’ A great deal of what is popularly called ‘a proper spirit’ becomes extremely improper if tested by this precept. There is an eloquent word in German which we can only clumsily reproduce, which christens the ugly pleasure at seeing misfortune and calls it ‘joy in others’ disasters.’ We have not the word; would that we had not the thing!
A solemn reason is added for the difficult precept, in that frequently misunderstood saying, ‘Give place unto wrath.’ The question is, Whose wrath? And, plainly, the subsequent words of the section show that it is God’s. That quotation comes from Deuteronomy 32:35. It is possibly unfortunate that ‘vengeance’ is ascribed to God; for hasty readers lay hold of the idea of passionate resentment, and transfer it to Him, whereas His retributive action has in it no resentment and no passion. Nor are we to suppose that the thought here is only the base one, they are sure to be punished, so we need not trouble. The Apostle points to the solemn fact of retribution as an element in the Divine government. It is not merely automatically working laws which recompense evil by evil, but it is the face of the Lord which is inexorably and inevitably set ‘against them that do evil.’ That recompense is not hidden away in the future behind the curtain of death, but is realised in the present, as every evil-doer too surely and bitterly experiences.
‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.’ God only has the right to recompense the ungodly and the sinner as well as the righteous. Dwelling in such a system as we do, how dares any one take that work into his hands? It requires perfect knowledge of the true evil of an action, which no one has who cannot read the heart; it requires perfect freedom from passion; it requires perfect immunity from evil desert on the part of the avenger; in a word, it belongs to God, and to Him alone. We have nothing to do with apportioning retribution to desert, either in private actions or in the treatment of so-called criminals. In the latter our objects should be reformation and the safety of society. If we add to these retribution, we transcend our functions.
II. Take the positive,-Follow God’s way of meeting hostility with beneficence.
The hungry enemy is to be fed, the thirsty to be given drink; and the reason is, that such beneficence will ‘heap coals of fire upon his head.’ The negative is not enough. To abstain from vengeance will leave the heart unaffected, and may simply issue in the cessation of all intercourse. The reason assigned sounds at first strange. It is clear that the ‘coals of fire’ which are to be heaped on the head are meant to melt and soften the heart, and cause it to glow with love. There may be also included the burning pangs of shame felt by a man whose evil is answered by good. But these are secondary and auxiliary to the true end of kindling the fire of love in his alienated heart. The great object which every Christian man is bound to have in view is to win over the enemy and melt away misconceptions and hostility. It is not from any selfish regard to one’s own personal ease that we are so to act, but because of the sacred regard which Christ has taught us to cherish for the blessing of peace amongst men, and in order that we may deliver a brother from the snare, and make him share in the joys of fellowship with God. The only way to burn up the evil in his heart is by heaping coals of kindness and beneficence on his head. And for such an end it becomes us to watch for opportunities. We have to mark the right moment, and make sure that we time our offer for food when he is hungry and of drink when he thirsts; for often mal-a-propos offers of kindness make things worse. Such is God’s way. His thunderbolts we cannot grasp, His love we can copy. Of the two weapons mercy and judgment which He holds in His hand, the latter is emphatically His own; the former should be ours too.
III. In all life meet and conquer evil with good.
This last precept, ‘Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,’ is cast into a form which covers not only relations to enemies, but all contact with evil of every kind. It involves many great thoughts which can here be only touched. It implies that in all our lives we have to fight evil, and that it conquers, and we are beaten when we are led to do it. It is only conquered by being transformed into good. We overcome our foes when we win them to be lovers. We overcome our temptations to doing wrong when we make them occasions for developing virtues; we overcome the evil of sorrow when we use it to bring us nearer to God; we overcome the men around us when we are not seduced by their example to evil, but attract them to goodness by ours.
Evil is only thus transformed by the positive exercise of goodness on our part. We have seen this in regard to enemies in the preceding remarks. In regard to other forms of evil, it is often better not to fight them directly, but to occupy the mind and heart with positive truth and goodness, and the will and hands with active service. A rusty knife shall not be cleaned so effectually by much scouring as by strenuous use. Our lives are to be moulded after the great example of Him, who at almost the last moment of His earthly course said, ‘Be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.’ Jesus seeks to conquer evil in us all, and counts that He has conquered it when He has changed it into love.Romans 12:19-20. Dearly beloved — So he softens the rugged spirit; avenge not yourselves — On those that have injured you, whatever wrongs you may receive; but rather give place unto wrath — Yield to the wrath of the enemy: for it is written, Vengeance is mine — It properly belongs to me; and I will repay — The deserved punishment; saith the Lord — Or perhaps the original expression, δοτε τοπον τη οργη, might be more properly rendered, leave room for wrath; that is, the wrath of God, to whom vengeance properly belongs. “This precept,” says Macknight, “is founded, as in religion, so in right reason, and in the good of society. For he who avenges himself, making himself accuser, and judge, and executioner, all in one person, runs a great hazard of injuring both himself and others, by acting improperly, through the influence of passion.” Therefore — Instead of bearing any thoughts of hurting them that abuse you, however unkindly and unjustly; if thine enemy hunger, feed him —
Even with your own hand: yea, if it be needful, put bread into his mouth: if he thirst, &c. — That is, on the whole, do him all the good in thy power: for in so doing — As Solomon urges, (Proverbs 25:21,) thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head — Thou wilt touch him so sensibly, that he will no more be able to stand against such a conduct, than to bear on his head burning coals; but will rather submit to seek thy friendship, and endeavour, by future kindness, to overbalance the injury. “The metaphor is supposed to be taken from the melting of metals, by covering the ore with burning coals. Thus understood, the meaning will be, In so doing, thou wilt mollify thine enemy, and bring him to a good temper. This, no doubt, is the best method of treating enemies: for it belongs to God to punish the injurious, but to the injured to overcome them, by returning good for evil.
“So artists melt the sullen ore of lead, By heaping coals of fire upon its head:
In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow, And, pure from dross, the silver runs below.”
That the expression is used here in this sense, seems evident from the following verse, where we are commanded to overcome evil with good.
Avenge not yourselves - To "avenge" is to take satisfaction for an injury by inflicting punishment on the offender. To take such satisfaction for injuries done to society, is lawful and proper for a magistrate; Romans 13:4. And to take satisfaction for injuries done by sin to the universe, is the province of God. But the apostle here is addressing private individual Christians. And the command is, to avoid a spirit and purpose of revenge. But this command is not to be so understood that we may not seek for "justice" in a regular and proper way before civil tribunals. If our character is assaulted, if we are robbed and plundered, if we are oppressed contrary to the law of the land, religion does not require us to submit to such oppression and injury without seeking our rights in an orderly and regular manner. If it did, it would be to give a premium to iniquity, to countenance wickedness, and require a man, by becoming a Christian, to abandon his rights.
Besides, the magistrate is appointed for the praise of those who do well, and to punish evil-doers; 1 Peter 2:14. Further, our Lord Jesus did not surrender his rights John 18:23; and Paul demanded that he himself should be treated according to the rights and privileges of a Roman citizen; Acts 16:37. The command here "not to avenge ourselves" means, that we are not to take it out of the hands of God, or the hands of the law, and to inflict it ourselves. It is well known that where there are no laws, the business of vengeance is pursued by individuals in a barbarous and unrelenting manner. In a state of savage society, vengeance is "immediately taken," if possible, or it is pursued for years, and the offended man is never satisfied until he has imbrued his hands in the blood of the offender. Such was eminently the case among the Indians of this country (America). But Christianity seeks the ascendancy of the laws; and in cases which do not admit or require the interference of the laws, in private assaults and quarrels, it demands that we bear injury with patience, and commit our cause unto God; see Leviticus 19:18.
But rather give place unto wrath - This expression has been interpreted in a great variety of ways. Its obvious design is to induce us not to attempt to avenge ourselves, but to leave it with God. To "give place," then, is to leave it for God to come in and execute wrath or vengeance on the enemy. Do not execute wrath; leave it to God; commit all to him; leave yourself and your enemy in his hands, assured that he will vindicate you and punish him.
For it is written - Deuteronomy 32:35.
Vengeance is mine - That is, it belongs to me to inflict revenge. This expression implies that it is "improper" for people to interfere with that which properly belongs to God. When we are angry, and attempt to avenge ourselves, we should remember, therefore, that we are infringing on the prerogatives of the Almighty.
I will repay ... - This is said in substance, though not in so many words, in Deuteronomy 32:35-36. Its design is to assure us that those who deserve to be punished, shall be; and that, therefore, the business of revenge may be safely left in the bands of God. Though "we" should not do it, yet if it ought to be done, it will be done. This assurance will sustain as, not in the "desire" that our enemy shall be punished, but in the belief that "God" will take the matter into his own hands; that he can administer it better than we can; and that if our enemy "ought" to be punished, he will be. "We," therefore, should leave it all with God. That God will vindicate his people, is clearly and abundantly proved in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 6:9-11; Deuteronomy 32:40-43.
but rather give place unto wrath—This is usually taken to mean, "but give room or space for wrath to spend itself." But as the context shows that the injunction is to leave vengeance to God, "wrath" here seems to mean, not the offense, which we are tempted to avenge, but the avenging wrath of God (see 2Ch 24:18), which we are enjoined to await, or give room for. (So the best interpreters).Dearly beloved; he useth this friendly compellation, the better to persuade to the following duty, which is so hard to flesh and blood.
Avenge not yourselves: you had an exhortation to this purpose, Romans 12:17; but considering the proneness of corrupt nature to private and personal revenge, he renews his exhortation, and enlargeth upon it. This seems to be borrowed from Leviticus 19:18.
But rather give place unto wrath; i.e. say some, your own wrath: q.d. Be not angry, or suffer not your anger to hurry you to revenge; give way a little, and walk aside, as Ahasuerus did, when his wrath kindled against Haman. Others refer it to the wrath of those who wrong us; decline their wrath, as David did Saul’s; put up wrongs and injuries. But it is better referred to the wrath of God, which they seem to prevent who seek revenge: q.d. Suffer God to vindicate and right you, to avenge you of your adversaries; commit your cause to him, and do not take his work out of his hand. This sense agrees well with what follows.
For it is written; viz. in Deu 32:35. This is cited also, Psalm 94:1 Nahum 1:2 Hebrews 10:30.
avenge not yourselves; this is no ways contrary to that revenge, a believer has upon sin, and the actings of it, which follows on true evangelical repentance for it, 2 Corinthians 7:11, and lies in a displicency at it, and himself for it, and in abstaining from it, and fighting against it; nor to that revenge a church may take of the disobedience of impenitent and incorrigible offenders, by laying censures on them, withdrawing from them, and rejecting them from their communion; nor to that revenge which civil magistrates may execute upon them that do evil; but this only forbids and condemns private revenge in private persons, for private injuries done, and affronts given:
but rather give place to wrath; either to a man's own wrath, stirred up by the provocations given him; let him not rush upon revenge immediately; let him sit down and breathe upon it; let him "give" "space", unto it, as the Syriac, which may signify time as well as place; and by taking time his wrath will, subside, he will cool and come to himself, and think better on it: or to the wrath of the injurious person, by declining him, as Jacob did Esau, till his wrath was over; or by patiently hearing without resistance the evil done, according to the advice of Christ, Matthew 5:39; or to the wrath of God, leave all with him, and to the day of his wrath and righteous judgment, who will render to every man according to his works; commit yourselves to him that judgeth righteously, and never think of avenging your own wrongs; and this sense the following words incline to,
for it is written, Deuteronomy 32:35;
vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord; vengeance belongs to God, and to him only; it is proper and peculiar to him, not to Heathen deities, one of which they call "vengeance"; see Acts 28:4; nor to Satan, who is of a revengeful spirit, and is styled the enemy and the avenger; nor to men, unless to magistrates under God, who are revengers and executioners of his wrath on wicked men; otherwise it solely belongs to God the lawgiver, whose law is broken, and against whom sin is committed: and there is reason to believe he will "repay" it, from the holiness of his nature, the strictness of his justice, his power and faithfulness, his conduct towards his own people, even to his Son, as their surety; nor will he neglect, but in his own time will avenge his elect, which cry unto him day and night; and who therefore should never once think of avenging themselves, but leave it with their God, to whom it belongs.Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Romans 12:19. μὴ ἑαυτοὺς ἐκδικοῦντες, ἀγαπητοί. Even when the Christian has been wronged he is not to take the law into his own hand, and right or vindicate himself. For ἐκδικεῖν see Luke 18:3; Luke 18:5. ἀγαπητοί is striking, and must have some reason; either the extreme difficulty, of which Paul was sensible, of living up to this rule; or possibly some condition of affairs in the Church at Rome, which made the exhortation peculiarly pertinent to the readers, and therefore craved this affectionate address to deprecate, as it were, the “wild justice” with which the natural man is always ready to plead his cause. ἀλλὰ δότε τόπον τῇ ὀργῇ: the wrath spoken of, as the following words show, is that of God; to give place to God’s wrath means to leave room for it, not to take God’s proper work out of His hands. For the expression cf. Luke 14:9, Sir 13:22; Sir 19:17; Sir 38:12, Ephesians 4:27. For ἡ ὁργὴ used thus absolutely of God’s wrath cf. Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 2:16. The idea is not that instead of executing vengeance ourselves we are to abandon the offender to the more tremendous vengeance of God; but this—that God, not injured men or those who believe themselves such, is the maintainer of moral order in the world, and that the righting of wrong is to be committed to Him. Cf. especially 1 Peter 2:23. γέγραπται γάρ: Deuteronomy 32:35. Paul gives the sense of the Hebrew, not at all that of the LXX, though his language is reminiscent of the latter (ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἐκδικήσεως ἀνταποδώσω). It is singular that Hebrews 10:30 has the quotation in exactly the same form as Paul. So has the Targum of Onkelos; but whether there is any mutual dependence of these three, or whether, independent of all, the verse was current in this form, we cannot tell. The λέγει κύριος (cf. Romans 14:11) is supplied by Paul.19. Dearly beloved] Words here conveying a singularly beautiful appeal. The believers are entreated by the voice of love to walk in love.
For a remarkable illustration of the precept see 1 Corinthians 6:7; and cp. 1 Peter 2:20-23.
wrath] Lit. the wrath; that of the enemy or oppressor.
Vengeance is mine; I will repay] “Mine” and “I” are, of course, emphatic.—The quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:35; where lit. Heb., “To me belongeth vengeance and recompence.” The LXX. has “In the day of vengeance I will repay.”—In Hebrews 10:30 the same words are quoted, with another view; namely to warn Christians that their God will visit their transgressions, as the chastiser of His people.Romans 12:19. Ἀγαπητοὶ, beloved) By this appellation he soothes those who might feel angry; and he often uses it in the exhortations, that flow from a sense of the Divine grace which had been exercised towards the exhorter and those to be exhorted: comp. Romans 12:1.—δότε τόπον, give place) He who avenges himself, flies upon [seizes unwarrantably] all that appertains to the wrath of God.—τῇ ὀργῇ) that wrath, of which so many things are said in Scripture; that is: the wrath of God, which alone is just and alone deserves to be called wrath [Not as Engl. V. seems to imply, Yield to the wrath of your enemy]. This is an ellipsis, due to a feeling of religious reverence, 2 Chronicles 24:18.—ἐμοὶ, to me) supply, let it be [left to Me, as My Divine prerogative], Deuteronomy 32:35, ἡμέρᾳ ἐκδικήσεως ἀνταποδώσω, I will repay in the day of vengeance.—ἐκδίκησις, vengeance) Hence Paul inferred—not avenging yourselves, ἐκδικεῖν, to exact by law, to prosecute a law-suit to the utmost.—ἐγὼ ἀνταποδώσω, I will repay) i.e. leave this to me. [This consideration easily suppresses all desire of vengeance. Suppose, that your adversary is not better, and that you are not worse than you think of yourself and him: he will either obtain at length the Divine grace, or he will not. If he shall obtain it, he will also acknowledge no doubt the injury, which he did to you, even though you should not be alive; and in this case you will not desire, I hope, in consequence of any grudge of yours, to debar him from access to GOD, but rather would feel delight in assisting him in every way with your prayers. If he shall not obtain it, GOD at least in His own behoof as supreme Judge, will by no means fail to punish him severely for the fault, for which you have granted him pardon.—V. g.]—λέγει Κύριος, saith the Lord) A form of expression used by the prophets, which the apostles did not use, but when they quoted the prophets; because, the prophets had one mode [ratio] of inspiration and the apostles another.
Wrath has the article: the wrath, referring to the divine wrath. Give place is give room for it to work. Do not get in its way, as you will do by taking vengeance into your own hands. Hence as Rev., in margin, and American Rev., in text, give place unto the wrath of God.
Vengeance is mine (ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις)
Lit., unto Me is vengeance. The Rev. brings out better the force of the original: Vengeance belongeth unto Me. The quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:35. Hebrew, To me belongs vengeance and requital. Septuagint, In the day of vengeance I will requite. The antithesis between vengeance by God and by men is not found in Deuteronomy. Compare Hebrews 10:30. Dante, listening to Peter Damiano, who describes the abuses of the Church, hears a great cry. Beatrice says:
"The cry has startled thee so much,
In which, if thou hadst understood its prayers,
Already would be known to thee the vengeance
Which thou shalt look upon before thou diest.
The sword above here smiteth not in haste,
Nor tardily, howe'er it seem to him
Who, fearing or desiring, waits for it."
"Paradiso," xxii, 12-18.
Compare Plato: Socrates, "And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the morality of the many - is that just or not? Crito, Not just. Socrates, For doing evil to another is the same as injuring him? Crito, Very true. Socrates, Then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to any one, whatever evil we may have suffered from him.... This opinion has never been held, and never will be held by any considerable number of persons" ("Crito," 49). Epictetus, being asked how a man could injure his enemy, replied, "By living the best life himself." The idea of personal vindictiveness must be eliminated from the word here. It is rather full meting out of justice to all parties.
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