Vengeance Belongs to GodSermon passage: (Judges 9:42-10:5) Spoken on: April 20, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges
Sermon on Judges 9:42-10:5
The theme of vengeance is very popular in our culture. Especially as portrayed in the movies, from Bruce Lee’s Way of the Dragon (1972) to Alan Moore’s graphic novel turned motion picture, V for Vendetta (2005), everyone loves a good story about vengeance. Some say, “Justice is best served cold on a platter”. From the whole Lethal Weapon series to Braveheart, from The Patriot to Payback, and finally, The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson is known for acting and directing many “revenge movies”. Bad guys in his movies never walk way scot free. At the end, good always triumphs evil.
However, revenge can often be never-ending. In a typical Chinese Gong Fu flick, the bad guys kill off an entire family, almost always leaving behind a young child hidden away. And when this child grows up under the tutelage of an expert Gong Fu master, he soon becomes an expert fighter himself surpassing the greatness of his master. He hunts down his enemies and kills them off, sometimes missing a child or two behind. And the cycle of revenge goes on and on from one generation to another.
Terrorism is another form of revenge. Depends on whose perspective you are looking at it from, who is right and wrong may be subjective. The Al Qaeda may think that they are doing the world a favor by attacking evil America, the king of capitalism and greed. And likewise, the Americans feel the same about these terrorists. Who is right? Who is in the wrong? A Chinese proverb puts it rather well, “He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself”
But vengeance in the Bible is not revenge. God’s wrath is not about getting even or getting back at His enemies. Psalms 94:1 reads, “O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs— O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth! Vengeance does not belong to man, but to God alone.
Romans 12:19-21 also tells us, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
God’s vengeance or God’s wrath is always in response to sin. What is God’s vengeance? Simply put, it is God’s judgment. There are two parts to God’s vengeance: punishment and justice. The sinner will be punished and sin will be dealt with and injustice will be made right. And at the end of days, there will be one Final Judgment, the last Vengeance of God.
Abimelech’s Revenge vs. God’s Vengeance
For a few weeks now, we have been looking at the life story of Abimelech, Gideon’s wayward son, of how he came into power, played politics to establish his rule and finally today, we will hear of how he dies. If you are like me, you might be going mad thinking, how could God allow such an evil person to exist? What is God doing about Abimelech’s madness murders? How does God carry out His vengeance? How does God deal with the sins of Abimelech? Let’s find out!
At the start of Abimelech’s political campaign, it was the citizens of Shechem who had placed Abimelech into power. With their help, Abimelech put to death his other sixty-nine half brothers on a single stone. For three years, Abimelech had governed Israel but as soon as a true Shechemite comes along, the people of Shechem turned their loyalty from Abimelech, the half Shechemite and half Israelite leader, to Gaal. One would think that surely Abimelech would understand such logic since he used it when he rallied the people to support him instead of Jotham. If 50% lineage is better than 0%, then shouldn’t 100% be better than 50%? But no, such is the double standard of those in power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely! With help from Zebul, his only remaining supporter, Abimelech sets out to kill Gaal. And he did so, effortlessly.
Our story today takes place the next day, after Abimelech successfully kills off Gaal. Now, he goes after his betrayers! It would have been reasonable for him to end his attack after the elimination of Gaal and his supporters. But he was not satisfied. Abimelech takes revenge to the extreme.
In his first attack, he kills off all the common people of Shechem as they came out to the fields outside the city in the morning. Abimelech destroyed the city and scattered salt over it. This is an act of consecration of the city to a deity or an ancient ritual for purification. It hints to us that Abimelech has long departed from the ways of YHWH. Additionally, salt impedes the action of yeast (found in leaven bread), and since yeast was a symbol of rebellion, salt could easily represent that which inhibited rebellion. The people of Shechem were the yeast of rebellion and the salt of Abimelech is crushing them down. This was Abimelech’s revenge! His intention and motives were evil and self-fulfilling.
Abimelech was hungry for more revenge. The second attack took place at the Tower of Shechem in a temple at El-Berith, which literally means the god of the covenant. Interestingly, El refers to the chief Canaanite deity while berith refers to the covenant established by YHWH, God of Israel. This again shows us the syncretism of religious beliefs among the mixed Israelite / Canaanite population of Shechem. Here, Abimelech and his army frantically gathered branches and set the tower on fire, killing a thousand men and women in the process. Observant readers may recall Jotham’s fable curse in his rally speech at the beginning of chap. 9 (v. 20), “let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo.” In modern day, Abimelech’s killing would be termed genocide: a deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.
The last and final attack took place inside the city at the tower of Thebez. It is at this tower that Abimelech meets his end when a certain woman at the top of the tower throws a “millstone” which hits Abimelech and cracked his skull. But before he dies, Abimelech commands his armor-bearer to drive his sword into him lest people say that “a woman killed him.” And when the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they went home. Chap. 9 concludes with v. 56-57 saying, 56 Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. 57 God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them. Abimelech joins the ranks of Sisera who had also died in the hands of a woman. It is indeed poetic justice.
God uses an evil spirit to bring about justice
How does God bring about His vengeance? Let’s take a look at Judges 9:23-24, 23 God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech. 24 God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal’s seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelech and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers.
When we read verses like these, sometimes we feel uncomfortable and question how could a morally good God use evil to achieve his plans? But let’s take this question a step further. If we truly believe that God’s dominion reaches across all physical and spiritual realm, shouldn’t that also include His dominion over the evil spirits of this world? If you truly believe that our God is sovereign, doesn’t it mean he can use whatever he sees fit to accomplish His tasks? There is no denying that the text clearly tells us that God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem to avenge the murder of Gideon’s seventy sons. What may be controversial to us is not an issue for the Hebrews. Abimelech is one of Israel’s most evil and sinful characters. And God deals with him in a non-conventional way. He uses evil against evil.
Abimelech is a self-proclaimed “king” and in his three years of absolute corruptive power, he ruled the nation with a treacherous fist. He murdered his seventy half brothers less Jotham with the help of the people of Shechem. He killed his strongest and most legitimate opposition, Gaal, a true Shechemite. And eventually also killing innocent citizens of Shechem, the very people who placed him into power in the first place. Those who live by the sword, dies by the sword.
Abimelech’s death was not a suicide. It is a crude form of euthanasia, assisted-killing. The millstone would have ended his life no sooner if his armour bearer had not killed him. Abimelech’s death was remembered by generations of Israelites after him, it became a standard reference in warfare to warn soldiers not to be too close to the wall when they attack, as seen in 2 Sam 11:18-21, “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelech son of Jerub-Beshethb? Didn’t a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez?
The ironic story of Abimelech’s legacy is indeed poetic justice. He feared that his death at the hand of a woman would be remembered, but this is precisely what was recorded in history as seen in the verse. He murdered Gideon’s seventy sons (less one) on a single stone and yet he dies from one himself, the upper millstone dropped on him by a woman. In trying to kill off Gideon’s seventy sons, Jotham being the only one who escaped, it was his curse which came true for Abimelech and the people of Shechem. Vengeance belongs to God.
According to Israel’s history, Abimelech is not recognized as a judge or a deliverer. His story is merely a continuation of Gideon’s, to describe to us how depraved the nation has become and what is God going to do with them. This spirit of discord was sent to cause division and conflict between the Abimelech and the people of Shechem. Both groups of people were evil to begin with. God did not send the evil spirit to make them evil. But God uses the evil spirit as vengeance for the blood of Gideon’s seventy sons. A good way to understand this is the concept of retribution: “you reap what you sow”. If one persists in their evil ways, sometimes God uses evil to punish evil. However, this is not God’s Modus Operandi. This does not mean that God will always act in this manner. Two other prominent characters in the Bible which mention about evil spirit affecting humans would be Saul (1 Samuel 16:14) and Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3-6). Although I would say that their context is different from Abimelech’s story.
The passage today merely wants to tell us that God has a hand in Abimelech’s downfall. It tells us that God is actively participating in the affairs of this world. He is not a God who sits on His throne in heaven and care not about His created world. The personal God of the Judeo-Christian faith is not the same as Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. After creation of the universe, the Unmoved Mover merely sets the universe into motion and then he retreats and watches the universe unfolds itself. After the initial movement, the Unmoved Mover will not interfere in the affairs of this universe. The God we worship is not the Unmoved Mover. He is a personal God who cares deeply about the state of this universe. He cares deeply for the people whom He has created.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,f that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
Christ is God’s response to the sins of this world. Galatians 3:13 tells us that, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'" In the words of John Piper (desiringGod.org), “Christ bore the curse of God’s wrath for all who come to him and believe in him and glory in the shelter of his blood and righteousness. Come. Come. He is infinitely worthy.”
To ask how a morally good God could use evil to accomplish His task may perhaps be asking the wrong question. It is not the author’s intention to explain God’s action to the readers; neither should we try to defend God. This is, nonetheless, an important theological question and perhaps the pulpit may not be the best place to answer this question adequately. But for the curious, allow me to share in brief my personal theological stand on this. I believe that our God is a very powerful and amazing God. He can turn the most impossible situations around and make it possible. If He can create the world out of nothingness, I’m pretty sure He is more than capable of using evil to bring about goodness. This is because our God is beyond good and evil. God is in control of both good and evil. Did God create evil? I do not know. It would be hard-pressed to find evidence in the Bible to say that God created evil, but the Bible is pretty clear in telling us that He uses evil for certain purposes. Not always, but sometimes he does it in response to very sinful people. He will not use evil for evil sake. However, I do believe that He can use evil for the sake of good.
Like in our story today, God sent an evil spirit to bring discord among the evil doers to punish them and to end their evil rule. The passage continues to tell us that after Abimelech’s death, Tola and Jair led Israel for many more years. During the time of Jair, Israel was led by his 30 sons riding on 30 donkeys in 30 towns in Gilead. Throughout the Bible, we often read of how God magnificently turns a weakling into a mighty warrior (like Gideon), or to redeem a symbol of shame into a symbol of hope (like the cross), or transform a sinner into a priest (if we truly believe that we are all a royal priesthood of believers). If it is God’s will, is there truly anything our Lord and God cannot make good? Isn’t our God truly powerful and amazing?
Indeed, at the end of the day, vengeance belongs to God. In the world of constant suffering and unexplained evil, Christians need not despair for God’s peace reign for all eternity. May the God of vengeance continue to shine forth! YHWH is the Creator and the Most Sovereign God. In Him we place our trust and hope. In Christ, all of God’s vengeance has been made a peace. In Christ, there is justice. In Christ, the sins of this world have been paid in full. Thank you, Lord Jesus.