1. Please turn in your Bible to Genesis chapter 4. When you find Genesis chapter 4, please stand as we read God’s Word together. If you are not holding a Bible, please read with the person next to you.
2. We read two passages:
1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;
12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
13 And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
15 And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
Now we read about Cain’s great-great-great-grandson, Lamech, certainly born in those days of great longevity long before Cain would have died. So, their lives must have overlapped by many centuries. Therefore, we can be sure that this fellow knew Cain’s story very well. This makes his own behavior all the more bizarre.
19 And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.
20 And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle.
21 And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.
22 And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.
23 And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt.
24 If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.
3. An understanding of Cain’s experiences is necessary to grasp the bizarre nature of Lamech’s actions, so allow me to review what we have read of Cain before commenting on Lamech.
4. Cain was Adam and Eve’s firstborn child, the first human being born, the first human being born with a sinful nature. He was also the first human being to commit murder, taking the life of his brother, Abel.
5. When God questioned Cain about Abel, Cain lied to God. Thus, Cain knew of God’s existence. How could he not know of God’s existence? In addition to what his parents had taught him he had spoken to God himself. And at that time he denied any responsibility for his brother when he said, in response to God’s questions, “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” Therefore, one might wonder what Cain could have been thinking to believe that God would not have known what he had done to his little brother.
6. Then, of course, God cursed Cain, taking agriculture away from him as a means of livelihood, and consigning him to the life of a fugitive and a vagabond, meaning Cain would be a drifter and would live as a nomad for the rest of his natural life.
7. Cain’s response to God, of course, was to protest, to show that he felt God to be unjust toward him. After all, he had only murdered his brother. It wasn’t like what he had done was all that wrong. So he said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” No gratitude for sparing his life. And no apparent appreciation for the opportunity he had, at that moment, to fall on his knees and admit his wrongdoing and beg God’s forgiveness.
8. His only concern was that someone might kill him like he killed his little brother, Abel. And he may have had good cause to fear vigilante justice, had not God interfered. After all, at this time in human history there may have only been dozens to a few hundred closely related family members comprising the entire human race. And Cain had murdered a member of the family.
9. But God, ever merciful, even to this unrepentant murderer, put a mark on Cain, as a means of identifying him. What was the mark? No one knows. But whatever the mark was, it forever identified Cain as the man protected by God. And if anyone slew Cain, God promised that vengeance would be taken upon that person sevenfold.
10. Now let us consider Cain’s great-great-great-grandson, Lamech. If God was the first to ever warn anyone about getting revenge, Lamech was the first man to actually ever take revenge.
11. From the first we see what kind of a man Lamech was, since he was a man who had taken two wives. Now, we know that God had not at this time expressly forbidden more than one wife, but had He not provided only one wife for Adam? What God sometimes permits is not what God sometimes wants, a point not made with this man, Lamech.
12. Listen again to what he said to his two wives: “Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.”
13. What, exactly, Lamech meant by these words is uncertain. It appears that Moses, the human author of Genesis, has preserved here a snippet of the earliest poem ever recorded. In this poem Lamech admits to his wives that he has killed a man, a young man, and was himself wounded.
14. But it’s verse 24 that smolders with smoke from the furnace of arrogance and defiance. God promised to exact revenge if anyone sought to avenge Abel’s murder. If anyone killed Cain he would be avenged by God sevenfold. But Lamech boasts to his wives that he would be avenged seventy and sevenfold.
15. Surely, this man would not expect God to so honor such an ungodly and disrespectful wretch as he by avenging his death more vigorously than Cain’s death. My own opinion is that this man is so full of himself that he takes it upon himself to appraise his own value so highly that he will avenge those who hurt him in any way seventy and sevenfold. Thus, a young man wounds him, so he responds by killing the young man. In Lamech, then, we have the first man who felt he had a right to seek revenge for wrong being done to him, and to actually take revenge against another human being.
16. Let me read an excerpt from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, under the heading of Revenge; Revenger: “The same Hebrew and Greek words are used to express the idea of “to avenge” and “to revenge” ([µqn;, naqam], or derivative; [ejkdike<w, ekdikeo], or derivative). In English these words are synonymous in that they are both used to express the infliction of punishment upon the wrongdoer, but “to take revenge” may also imply a spiteful, wrong or malignant spirit.” [Emphasis added]
17. So that we understand this whole issue of revenge and seeking to avenge wrongs, let’s consider the three types of revenge that I have found in the Bible, and how they apply to you:
1A. First, THERE IS GOD’S REVENGE
1B. The first mention of God’s revenge is found in Genesis 4.15, where God promises to revenge Himself upon anyone who kills Cain. Thus, God declares His right and His intention to inflict punishment upon any wrongdoer, even a wrongdoer who may think God hasn’t punished another person severely enough for his wrongdoing.
2B. Lest anyone be confused about God’s right to punish to wrongdoers in order to avenge Himself, let me read some selected verses that serve to bring the issue into very sharp focus:
1C. From Deuteronomy chapter 32, I read verse 35, “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time,” verse 41, “. . . I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me,” and verse 43, “. . . he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.”
2C. In Psalm 94.1-2, the psalmist writes, “O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself. Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.”
3C. Psalm 149 is one of the praise psalms. Verses 6-7 describe the Israelites as instruments of God’s revenge: “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand; To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people.”
4C. Isaiah 34.8 shows that there are aspects of God’s revenge which will be most fully revealed as end time prophesies are fulfilled: “For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.” The phrase, “the day of the LORD” shows that one aspect of God’s revenge has to do with the final devastation of the world before the second coming of Christ.
5C. Micah 5.15: “And I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.” Here we begin to realize the ferocity of God’s revenge.
6C. In the short book of Jonah we read of God’s great grace poured out on the Assyrian city of Nineveh. But 110 years later, after Nineveh and the Assyrian empire turned away from God, we read of God’s intention to seek vengeance. I read Nahum 1.2: “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.”
3B. I could cite many more passages like these to you, but the principle is established that God avenges Himself against wrongdoers. Let me establish two more aspects of God’s revenge; first, when His people are wronged. What happens when God’s people are persecuted?
1C. In Luke 18.7-8, I read the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
2C. Romans 12.19: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
3C. Hebrews 10.30: “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.”
4C. So, not only will God avenge Himself against wrongdoers, but He also reserves to Himself the exclusive right to seek revenge. This means, God does not want His people to seek revenge for wrongs done to us, but to leave revenge to Him. He will deal with our persecutors Himself.
4B. There is revenge that God gets during this lifetime, and then there is revenge that God gets throughout eternity.
1C. Had you not already guessed that Hell and the lake of fire are God’s places of eternal revenge, Second Thessalonians 1.7-8 would settle the matter for you once and for all: “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2C. Jude 7 also makes the point by saying, “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” So, Hell and the lake of fire are God’s ultimate revenge.
5B. “Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance?” Paul asks in Romans 3.5. Would anyone challenge God’s right to seek revenge when He sees fit, or His right to forbid His people from seeking vengeance ourselves when we are unjustly wronged? No. God is God and He is right in whatever He does, and in whatever He forbids us to do.
6B. And should you question the authority and propriety of a government punishing criminals, turn to First Peter 2.13-15, where you will see that the punishment of evildoers is one way God gets revenge, with the Greek word for “revenge” translated “punishment” in verse 14: “13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Vengeance is God’s. Sometimes He gets revenge directly. Sometimes He gets revenge through means, such as human government.
2A. Now Let Us Consider THE CHRISTIAN’S REVENGE
1B. Though it is very clear in God’s Word that God does not want His people to seek vengeance against those who wrong us, those who ridicule us, those who persecute us, those who hinder our service and ministry to the cause of Christ, this does not mean that we have nothing to do with revenge.
2B. In Second Corinthians 7.11, Paul commends the Corinthians for responding so well when he corrected their sinful behavior. How did they correct their sinful behavior? By getting revenge. Turn to that verse and let’s read: “For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
3B. Let me give you some background. In First Corinthians 5 Paul strongly rebuked the congregation for tolerating in their midst a man guilty of a terrible sexual sin. This verse shows us that the congregation responded properly to Paul’s sharp rebuke and followed Paul’s directions to deal with that sin after the decisive fashion described by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 18. The result? They excommunicated the wicked unconverted Church member and put him out.
4B. When Paul describes the Corinthian congregation’s repentance, in Second Corinthians 7.11, he listed the behavior that convinced him that their repentance was real and their obedience was genuine. And part of what convinced Paul was their willingness to seek revenge against the one who brought such wickedness into their Church by expelling him from the Church.
5B. But there is more, in Second Corinthians 10.6: “And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.” Here we see that Paul, too, is ready and willing to seek revenge, which is to say, to punish wrongdoers who will not repent of their destructive and evil deeds.
6B. So, Christians do seek revenge when they are directed to do so in God’s Word. But it’s only as a congregation acting in concert to root out sinful practices that threaten the well-being of the entire congregation that Christians should be involved in getting revenge. It’s never to fulfill a personal desire to get even or to pay someone back.
3A. Finally, MAN’S DESIRE FOR REVENGE
1B. Of course, we find the wicked man’s desire for revenge first mentioned in Genesis 4, in connection with Lamech. And we will return to that episode during this morning’s sermon. But there are several other mentions made of revenge that I would like to draw your attention to.
2B. Solomon predicted revenge in Proverbs 6.32-34 as a jealous reaction to adultery. If a man discovers that his wife has committed adultery he will be provoked by jealous rage, we read, and “will not spare in the day of vengeance.” In other words, it is likely that a husband so wronged will try to get revenge in one way or the other if he ever gets the chance.
3B. Ezekiel chapter 25 predicts God’s revenge against both the Edomites and the Philistines. The reason? They both were provoked by the desire for revenge to attack God’s covenant people. God’s response for laying hands on His people? Ezekiel 25.17: “And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.” Their revenge against the Jews resulted in God’s revenge against them.
4B. Finally, in Acts 7.24, Stephen tells us why Moses was provoked to kill the Egyptian: “And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian.” Moses was seeking revenge because the Egyptian had done a fellow Jew wrong.
1. The great majority of the references in God’s Word to vengeance and revenge describe God punishing wicked men for committing various sorts of sins against Him. And when God gets revenge the result is usually death and Hell for that individual or that nation.
2. Generally speaking, God forbids vengeance by people against other people. But the two exceptions to this rule are when governments punish law breakers and when Churches punish unrepentant sinners. And the word “punish” is the correct word to use, because revenge has nothing to do with chastisement. Chastisement seeks to correct future behavior, while revenge results in punishment for past behavior.
3. Think about this: In Scripture we see nothing about a government correcting the future behavior of a law breaker, only punishment. And when an offense serious enough for excommunication to be considered has been committed by a Church member, once the opportunities to repent and make restitution are exhausted, the revenge sought by the Church is not for the purpose of changing that person’s behavior, but for the purpose of removing that person from the congregation.
4. What’s to be said, then, about that fellow who seeks personal revenge? What’s to be said about the guy who is out to “get even,” which is another way of describing revenge? Just a few words are to be said, after brother Isenberger comes to lead us as we stand to sing.
1. The desire to get revenge when you think someone has done you wrong. The drive to “get even” with someone for embarrassing you, for making you look bad, for offending you, for not showing you the kind of respect you think you deserve.
2. Many of you know from personal experience the danger involved in crossing paths with young gang bangers who are hypersensitive at people looking at them. If you take note of their outrageous behavior or their bizarre and clownish costumes you run the risk of them staring you down and asking, “What are you lookin’ at?” If you’re not careful, such a confrontation with one of these losers can quickly escalate to a violent incident, which he thinks is justified because you somehow dissed him. But it’s really all about revenge for not showing a disrespectful clown the respect he hasn’t earned but certainly demands and strangely expects.
3. Solomon addressed the issue of revenge in Proverbs chapter 6. How humiliating it is for a man to discover that his wife has committed adultery. And how much more foolish is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife. He sets himself up for the husband to come after him to get revenge, according to Solomon. And too many newspaper articles show that Solomon’s prediction was on target.
4. But getting revenge doesn’t stop at the personal level. We read can in Ezekiel 25, where the Edomites and the Philistines moved against the Jews because of a desire for revenge. Thus, Biblical evidence that at least some wars are started for no better reason than the wicked desire for revenge.
5. How many wars, and how many lives have been lost, in order to get revenge for a perceived slight, no man can tell for sure. But John Keegan, the foremost military historian of our time, has written “Mongol warfare may be viewed as an extension of the primitive urge to vengeance on an enormous scale.”
6. I would slightly alter Keegan’s description of Mongol warfare a bit. He said that it “may be viewed as an extension of the primitive urge to vengeance on an enormous scale.” A more accurate description, and one that is closer to reflecting what the Bible teaches about the nature of depraved mankind, would read, “Mongol warfare may be viewed as an extension of the sinful urge to vengeance on an enormous scale.”
7. Well, you’re not a Mongol, but you may be driven by a secret and sinful desire to get revenge, so let me make a few comments about revenge.
1A. First, WHAT IS THE MOTIVE FOR REVENGE?
The best illustration of revenge in action is the first example of revenge in action, Lamech, whose story is told in Genesis chapter 4. Let’s look at him again and I will comment, taking a bit of liberty to make some remarks based upon my own observations of revenge in action.
1B. The motive for revenge is pride.
Looking at Genesis 4.23-24 again, try to imagine the tone with which these words were spoken so long ago: “Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.”
1C. Is not this the voice of pride and arrogance? Is not this the opposite of humility and meekness? This man has highly esteemed himself. He so highly esteems himself that he feels himself perfectly competent to act as prosecutor, judge and jury to indict, convict and execute a man for wronging him in some way.
2C. If God hates a proud look, Proverbs 6.17, which so often accompanies the feeling of being wronged that leads to a desire for revenge, imagine God’s attitude toward the “heart that deviseth wicked imaginations” to plot and scheme in order to get revenge, Proverbs 6.18?
3C. Do you plot and scheme and connive to get back at those who do you wrong? Do you hold grudges? Then you have a heart that God says He hates.
2B. Accompanying this motive of pride is the necessary component of ignorance. That’s right, ignorance.
1C. Consider Romans 8.28, which declares “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
2C. This is what the child of God knows when something happens to him, even at the hands of a persecutor who seeks to hurt him for no rational reason.
3C. The avenger, on the other hand, doesn’t know this. Whether he is an unspiritual Christian or an unconverted man, for him to operate in his tiny and closeted universe of getting revenge for being wronged he has to be ignorant on two counts: First, he doesn’t know why the event that angers him and motivates his desire for revenge happened. He is completely clueless. And second, he is completely ignorant of how wrong it is for him to seek revenge against anyone for any reason.
4C. So, however you look at it, when you try to get even when you feel you have been wronged, when you try to get revenge and make someone feel sorry for what he did to you, when you hold a grudge against someone who has offended you, you are the loser for it.
5C. Even unsaved politicians recognize this truth. In his book, Hardball: How Politics Is Played, told by one who knows the game, Christopher Matthews cites former Illinois Republican senator Everett Dirksen as the author of the line, “Don’t get mad; don’t get even; get ahead.”
6C. So you see, it doesn’t take spirituality, really only common sense and the wisdom born of experience, to see that revenge never benefits anyone unless it’s revenge taken by God or at God’s direction to fulfill His holy purpose and plan. Whenever you contemplate revenge there is terrible sin and wickedness involved.
2A. Finally, WHAT IS THE METHOD FOR REVENGE?
1B. Is it not obvious that someone who tries to get revenge is usurping God’s position in his own life, as well as the life of that person he thinks needs to be punished for wronging him? God has reserved to Himself the right to get revenge Himself, or to direct men how they are to seek revenge in the form of governments punishing law breakers and congregations punishing sinning members. So, clearly, anyone who tries to get revenge shows himself unwilling to allow God to be God in his own life and in the life of the person he wants to get even with. And that makes him worse than the person he wants to get revenge from. So, the first method in getting revenge is usurping God’s position.
2B. The second method for getting revenge is remembering every offense and wrong done against you. The reason some people remember everything that’s happened to them, in the most minute detail, is that they are revenge seekers who make an effort to remember every wrong done to them, every slight no matter how small, so they can get revenge. How harmful that is, in light of the Scriptural admonition: “. . . whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
1. Revenge. Men and women have been killed, wars have been started, God has been usurped from His position as Ruler and Judge in men’s lives, and minds have been needlessly preoccupied, in the foolish and wicked efforts of proud men and women to get it.
2. Revenge. It’s used to motivate individuals and teams in the realm of athletics, mobilize political parties and labor unions in the realm of politics, but it’s wrong no matter how it’s used.
3. Revenge. It drives dictators and justifies genocide.
4. Revenge. The only way revenge can be gotten justly and properly is when God gets revenge. Only He has the knowledge, only He has the wisdom, only He has the power, only He has the right, to seek revenge and to direct governments and Churches to seek revenge for wrongdoing.
5. If you seek revenge as an individual, if you harbor thoughts about getting revenge against someone for personally wronging you, if you think so much of yourself as to feel justice is due you when you have been wronged, then you are wrong . . . as wrong as Lamech was. And maybe as wicked as he was, too.
Alfred Edersheim, Bible History Old Testament, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995), page 19.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (AGES SOFTWAREÔ, INC. · Rio, WI USA · Version 8.0 © 2000)
John Keegan, A History Of Warfare, (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), page 204.
Christopher Matthews, Hardball: How Politics Is Played, told by one who knows the game, (New York: HarperPerennial, 1989), page 111.