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Proverbs 20:22

“Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.”

It has been said that “revenge is sweet.” This statement captures how we may feel when someone has wronged us and we are out to see the perpetrator earn his comeuppance. Being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27), we have an innate sense of justice because He is just, and so we desire for wrongs to be righted.

Yet because we are sinners, we are apt to overcompensate for how we are wronged by others. Caught up in the heat of the moment, we can repay the evildoer far more than he is actually owed when our anger gets out of hand. Scripture recognizes this truth implicitly in the principle of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Prov. 21:24), which limits the repayment of wrongs so that one does not take an arm, leg, and eye for an eye and a life for a tooth. Furthermore, we are not only prone to overcompensate for being wronged, but we must also note that our pursuit of vengeance can never fully satisfy us. We cannot make others answer perfectly for their crimes; that is the prerogative of God alone.

Such principles undoubtedly lay in the background of today’s passage. Proverbs 20:22 calls us not to act hastily to repay the evil done against us personally; rather, we are to wait for the Lord’s deliverance. Given that this proverb appears in a book that is concerned to help us rightly deal with fools (26:4–5), the focus of the proverb we have chosen for today’s study is to not seek vengeance for the insults and other personal wrongs that the fools whom we know may commit against us. It is not a principle that is supposed to guide the judicial system, for the Lord specifically instituted government to punish evil (Rom. 13:1– 7). But the principles that God revealed for the government, such as “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” are not to be applied to every single offense we endure. Jesus Himself tells us this in His teaching against retaliation in Matthew 5:38–42. It is not wrong to pursue justice or to repay criminals for their offenses; the point is that judicial principles should not be applied to every minor personal encounter we have with an enemy.

When we experience a wrong that is relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, we are not to seek vengeance. We are unlikely to get it anyway, and if we do, it will be less than fully satisfying because only God judges perfectly. Trusting the Lord to repay our wrongs also helps us avoid bitterness. If we believe that He will finally set things right, anger will not consume us when those who wrong us seem to escape what they are due.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Christians are to be known for their love for their enemies and for each other (Matt. 5:43–48; John 13:34–35), and such love does not seek vengeance for every wrong that is ever done to us. Of course, this is difficult, as we all seek to be repaid for the evil we experience. However, if we trust in the Lord for vengeance and pray that He will make us patient with sinners just as He is patient with sinners, the Spirit will enable us not to seek vengeance when it is not appropriate to do so.

For Further Study
  • Deuteronomy 32:35–36
  • Isaiah 35:4
  • Romans 12:14–21
  • Hebrews 10:30–31

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