Forgiveness Consistent with Vengeance
Psalm 99:8
You answered them, O LORD our God: you were a God that forgave them, though you took vengeance of their inventions.

This is a strange statement, but it is what this verse and numerous others and many facts beside clearly declare. Therefore, that we may the better understand this apparent contradiction, consider -


1. "Thou answeredst them." That is, answered their prayers for forgiveness of the people. Moses, Aaron, Samuel, had each this in common - that once and again they were intercessors with God on behalf of Israel who had sinned (Numbers 14:13, etc.; Numbers 16:47; 1 Samuel 12:19, etc.). And their intercession was effectual. Nevertheless, vengeance followed.

2. "Thou forgavest them. What is God's forgiveness? It is not the mere letting off of punishment. That may be done, often is done, but there is no forgiveness. And it is distinctly said here that God did forgive, though he did not forego punishment. It is true that the word though" in this verse should rather be rendered "and;" but this alteration does not really alter the sense, the two seemingly incompatible ideas of forgiveness and vengeance are linked together all the same. But they are not incompatible ideas if we consider what God's forgiveness really is. What is a father's forgiveness of his child? "Let us remember our own childhood, our children, if we have any, and how we do with them. What makes the little face fall, and the tears come to the eyes? Is it your taking down the rod from behind the door, or the grave disapprobation in your face, and the trouble and rebuke in your eyes? It is not only the buffet from the father's hand that makes the punishment, but still more the disturbance and the displeasure of the father's heart that makes the child's punishment. And forgiveness is not complete when the father says, 'Well, go away; I will not hurt you,' but when he says, 'Well, come, I am not angry with you; I love you still.' The taking the child to the father's heart is the forgiveness" (Maclaren). And such is God's forgiveness - the taking back of his sinful child to his heart again. If that were not done, no mere remission of penalty could ever make the soul blessed. The soul of man is so constituted that it would say over and over again, "Never mind the penalty; I can bear that if only I have the love." Forgiveness, therefore, is the putting away of anger from the heart of God towards the sinner.

3. "Vengeance." This does not mean revenge. The punishment of a criminal by the state is not an act of revenge, but the due maintenance of righteous law - a maintenance necessary for the preservation of society, and oftentimes for the reformation of the criminal himself. And so when God allows and, indeed, causes the consequences of the sinner's crime to dog his footsteps, and darken his life, and cause him sore sorrow, he may, he does, do that for reasons altogether consistent with the love which has already led him to forgive the sin and to receive the sinner back into his heart's love again.

II. THE TRUTH THE TEXT DECLARES. That prayers may be answered and forgiveness bestowed, and yet vengeance taken.

1. This is so. See ease of Moses and Aaron; they were forgiven men, beloved of the Lord, yet their penalty - exclusion from Canaan - was never removed. David (2 Samuel 12:10) was forgiven, but the penalty was exacted. All his afterlife testified to the truth here declared. Israel: they were forgiven, but for their unbelief none of them entered into their rest. And it is so still. How many a forgiven child of God is yet bearing in weakened health, in tarnished reputation, in stern poverty, in enfeebled will, in recurring fierce temptation, in shortened and saddened life, the consequences of former sin! But there is no doubt Shut they are forgiven and true children of God; and yet And it probably will be so. Until the ends and purposes for which these penalties are exacted are fulfilled, how can they come to an end? They are inflicted in love, not wrath, and love must hold us down to the endurance of them until that which is desired is attained. Hence:

2. Such retribution is consistent with forgiveness. For though the outward penalty be continued, its character is changed. It is now not a token of anger, but a means of blessing. For such sufferings deepen our hatred of sin, drive us to God in prayer, keep us lowly before God and man in humility, make us ever watchful and compassionate to other tempted ones, enable us to glorify God amid all, maintain the truth of God's holy law of retribution. If along with forgiveness there came at once remission of all penalty, we should think that God did not care much for sin, and certainly we should not. But they will cease when their purpose is accomplished.


1. Hate sin.

2. Rob it of its sting by turning to Christ in repentance, by submission to his will, by careful obedience in the future, and by daily, hourly trust in his grace.

3. Fight against it in others.

4. Exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, who makes us more than conquerors over it. - S.C.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Thou answeredst them, O LORD our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.

WEB: You answered them, Yahweh our God. You are a God who forgave them, although you took vengeance for their doings.

Forgiveness and Retribution
Top of Page
Top of Page