God is jealous, and the LORD revenges; the LORD revenges, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries…
In engaging in work for God, the worker must not be unmindful of the terrible consequences resulting from despising the riches of Divine mercy and grace. There is, assuredly, such a thing as retribution following a course of alienation from God's ways. It must be so. The very love of God renders the punishment of the ungodly absolutely essential. Objectors sometimes point to the scriptural teaching concerning the future of the impenitent as indicating that the God of the Bible is unlovely and severe. But surely, where there is love there will also be found regard for justice. There is a mawkish sentimentalism about the teaching which dwells upon the love of God to the exclusion of all regard for his rectoral character. There is much of this teaching prevalent today. It is the recoil from extreme Calvinism, and, as is usual in such eases, the very opposite extreme is reached. It is impossible to indicate the extent to which the intense sense of God possessed by the Reformer of Geneva gave strength to his work; and let God be realized by us as "infinite Justice, infinite Love, and infinite Truth, blended in one indivisible ray of whitest light," and the thought of his all-embracing sovereignty and wise and perfect administration will be found full of comfort and inspiration to our hearts. And so long as he is righteous, sin, unrepented of and unabandoned, must be followed by bitter results; and hence, whilst joyfully proclaiming "the acceptable year of the Lord," we must also declare the coming of "the day of vengeance of our God." In these verses -
I. LIGHT IS CAST UPON THE NATURE OF THE DIVINE VENGEANCE. Our conceptions of the Divine Being are sometimes assisted by our ascribing to him certain characteristics belonging to the children of men. Analogy, however, in this direction must not be pressed too far, or we may be led to form very erroneous views concerning our God. We have in these verses a case in point. Nothing is more strongly to be condemned in men than the cherishing by them of the spirit of jealousy and of vengeance; yet this is here ascribed to God. "The Lord is jealous, and the Lord revengeth," etc. (ver. 2). But then "jealousy" and "vengeance" mean something very different when applied to man from what is intended when the same terms are used in reference to God. By jealousy on the part of man we understand envy, but by the same word in reference to God we are reminded of his regard for the maintenance of truth, his holy concern for the upholding of righteousness. And by vengeance on the part of man we understand revenge, a determination that satisfaction shall be given for the injury we consider has been done to us; whereas the same word as applied to God carries with it no such idea of vindictiveness, but simply a pure desire that the cause of justice and rectitude may be established and secure complete vindication. Since this brief book of prophecy has almost exclusive reference to the Divine judgments to fall upon the Assyrians, it is all-important that we clearly understand at the outset that Divine vengeance has absolutely no malice in it, and is ever exercised in the maintenance of righteousness. This is indicated in the next verse in three particulars (ver. 3).
1. The Divine slowness. "The Lord is slow to anger." Vindictiveness will not brook delay; human vengeance reckons with its victims at the earliest moment; revenge burns; passion rages; but the Divine vengeance delays, that perchance, through penitence, the blow may not be required to fall.
2. The restraining of Divine power. Man, cherishing the spirit of vindictiveness, sometimes lingers because conscious of his want of power to inflict the penalty; but God "great in power" (ver. 3) restrains his might, holds back his avenging hand, that "space for repentance" may be given, and the fact be made manifest that he "desires not the death of the wicked."
3. The Divine concern for the maintenance of his pure Law. "And will not at all acquit the wicked" (ver. 3). His vengeance is not vindictive, but is exercised in order that the supremacy of his holy Law may be asserted. He has graciously made provision for the forgiveness of sin and the salvation of transgressors from condemnation (Romans 8:1), and they who wilfully persist in iniquity must bear the consequences, which will light upon them, not because God is vindictive, but because the honour of his pure Law must be sustained.
II. THIS ASPECT OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER IS SET FORTH IN GRAPHIC IMAGERY. (Vers. 3-6.) For sublimity and grandeur this passage stands unrivalled. The Divine vengeance is presented to us here:
1. In its irresistibleness. Like the whirlwind, it sweeps everything before it (ver. 3).
2. In its terribleness. In vivid symbolical language all nature is represented as full of terror at the Divine manifestations (ver. 5).
3. In its destructiveness. Desolation is brought about - the sea and the rivers are dried up at the rebuke of the Lord; the rich pastures of Bashan, the beautiful gardens of Carmel, and the fragrant flowers and fruitful vines and stately trees of Lebanon languish (ver. 4); as a devouring fire this vengeance consumes in every direction (vers 5, 6); yea, so mighty is it that the very rocks crumble to pieces when it is put forth (ver. 6).
III. THIS VIEW OF OUR GOD IS PRESSED HOME UPON OUR HEARTS BY EARNEST INQUIRY. "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?" (ver. 6). The design of the questions is to quicken conscience. They contain and suggest the answers. Humbled in the very dust of self-abasement, we cry, "Enter not into judgment with thy servants, O Lord; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified" (Psalm 143:2). - S.D.H.
Parallel VersesKJV: God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.