Vengeance and Recompense
Deuteronomy 32:19-47
And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.…

The reasonableness of the Divine jealousy being shown already, we can have little difficulty in recognizing the further reasonableness of the Divine vengeance. Paul's treatment of the question is concise and conclusive. "Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man). God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?" (Romans 3:5, 6). Vengeance is recognized, therefore, as belonging to God's justice, which shall be called into play as vengeance through the ingratitude and folly of many of mankind. Let us briefly indicate the course of the Divine vengeance as presented in the remainder of this song.

I. GOD PROPOSES TO MOVE HIS UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE BY INTRODUCING GENTILES TO THEIR PRIVILEGES. This is the first experiment of the holy jealousy, to see what effect the ingathering of the Gentiles will have. And to a Jewish mind there must be something striking and convincing in the history of Christianity. Surely the elevation and civilization of the heathen world must be due in large measure to that Divine favor which, as Jews, they despised and forfeited. Such a spectacle is calculated to lead them to earnest thought and deep contrition. Were their hearts not dull and gross, they would humble themselves before God, and acknowledge that they deserve other heirs to be put into their room.

II. THE ACTUALITIES OF THE DIVINE VENGEANCE HAVE BEEN TERRIBLE. The Lord represents his anger as burning to the lowest hell (שְׁאול תַּחְתִּית), reaching manifestly to that "under world," as Kahle would call it, where the spirits of the faithless are confined. But in the present life there is a foretaste given of the vengeance which embraces the life to come, which may be summed up, as given in these verses (vers. 23-25), in the terms hunger, pestilence, wild beasts, and war. The faithless nation experienced all these, as an earnest of the Divine vengeance which justly burns even to the lowest hell. The only limit to it is lest the enemies employed to execute part of the vengeance should say, "Our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this" (vers. 26, 27). The Lord will modify and limit his vengeance, lest his instruments should regard it as their work and not his.

III. THE REGRET ABOUT POSSIBILITIES THROWN AWAY WILL FORM PART OF THE DIVINE VENGEANCE. Very pathetically is this put in this song (vers. 29-31). The Israelites, though in a vast minority sometimes, had been carried by their most faithful Father and God to victory, and this would have still characterized them had they remained faithful to him. They would have proved his "invincibles." And no effort of faithless souls can keep regret at bay. We see Milton very properly putting it into the mouth of the archangel when he says -

"Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy forever dwells!" and subsequently summons his associates from "the oblivious pool," where they are lying astonished. Unholy spirits may doubtless see the vanity of regret, but they cannot dismiss it. Indeed, it is one of the test struggles of the Christian life to put regret away. We need the rousing words of the poetess continually -

"Rise! if the past detains you,
Her sunshine and storms forget;
No chains so unworthy to hold you
As those of a vain regret.

Sad or bright, she is lifeless ever;
Cast her phantom arms away,
Nor look back, save to learn the lesson
Of a nobler strife today." How deep a sorrow this regret must be to all who despise God and reject his love we cannot in this life tell.

IV. APPARENT PROSPERITY WILL PROVE REAL DISASTER. Just as the osher plant, which flourishes best near the site of Sodom and Gomorrha, presents apparently most luscious and attractive fruit, which yet prove but bags of air and ashes, so the apparent prosperity of the faithless souls proves emptiness and bitter disappointment at last. All the investments, so to speak, which seem so fortunate turn into splendid mistakes and miseries. Upon the whole life, opposed as it is to God, there broods a curse.

V. THE PROGRAM OF VENGEANCE IS CAREFULLY PREPARED. This is the spirit of the remaining verses (vers. 35-43). God makes his calculations calmly and deliberately. The foot of his enemies shall slide in due time, and his work of vengeance, like all his other work, prove perfect. As God refuses to exercise "unprincipled mercy," so will he refuse to execute random wrath. The great Jonathan Edwards has a remarkable sermon on ver. 35, entitled 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,' which may be distasteful to some easy-going theologians, but is nevertheless weighty with doctrinal and convincing truth. The idea should surely be got rid of that there is any difference in principle between the Old Testament and the New. The prerogative of vengeance so powerfully asserted in this song of the Lord, put into the mouth of Moses, has not been renounced nor laid down for an instant. The Lord still claims it, as Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30, and other passages show.

VI. THE POLICY OF THE LORD SHALL HAVE A SPLENDID CONSUMMATION. After the cycle is complete, Jews and Gentiles, as ver. 43 distinctly indicates, shall be found rejoicing in concert before the Lord, who has shown himself merciful to his land and his people. We need not in this Homily enter upon the discussion of the great difference between the Hebrew of ver. 43 and the LXX. It does not affect the truth we draw from the remarkable passage. However the individuals may suffer through the Divine vengeance, it will not be lost as a lesson upon the race. Jew and Gentile shall alike recognize its justice and the compensating mercy which always lay for men in the tender hands of God. The vengeance is forced upon him - the judgment is his strange work; but he delighteth in mercy.

VII. MOSES SUMS UP THE LESSON OF THE SONG BY URGING OBEDIENCE UPON THE PEOPLE AS THEIR LIFE. And when we remember that God is the source of life; that spiritual life lies in his favor and fellowship; then it is clear that the Israelites had but one duty to discharge - to obey God and live. All the energy of Moses and all the urgency of God are devoted to secure this obedience. The remembrance of God's love, the recognition of his vengeance and deserved wrath, and the consummate wisdom manifested in the whole policy pursued, should move our hearts to love and obey. Let us accept of the mercy, and not force the Lord to judgment! - R.M.E.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.

WEB: Yahweh saw [it], and abhorred [them], because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.

A God Provoked
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