Why Will a Loving God Exact Vengeance?
“God is love.”—1 John 4:8.
1. What will help us to understand an apparent contradiction in our theme?
VENGEANCE? From a loving God? How can that be? Is not the thought of a loving God’s doing something vengeful a contradiction? It might seem that way. But let us consider the loving qualities that the Creator displays, and then we will understand more clearly how this relates to his vengeance.
2. Why can we say God’s love is superlative, and what are some of his loving provisions for which we should be thankful? (Ps. 136:1-6)
2 When we talk about God’s love, we can say that it is superlative, that is, of the highest degree. And it has been expressed toward us in a multitude of ways. Consider, for example, the earth on which we live. The Bible says that the earth is ‘God’s gift’ to humans. (Ps. 115:16) And what a marvelous gift! Think how lovingly God prepared this globe for us. God placed it in the heavens for it to get just the right amount of heat and light from the sun, and clothed it with a lovely carpet of greenery, along with a wide variety of beautifully colored flowers. And out of God’s love, he stocked our earth with an abundance of animal, bird and fish life, and provided an overflow of grain and other foods.—Ps. 104:1, 13-15.
3. How did God display love in creating us humans?
3 However, God’s love is expressed not only in the things he made for us; it is also expressed in the way he made us. He made us to enjoy his creations. How well the psalmist expressed it when he said: “O Jehovah, . . . I shall laud you because in a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made”! (Ps. 139:1, 14) Out of his generosity and love, God gave us eyes to behold the beauty of the world about us. He gave us ears with which we could delight in different sounds such as music and human voices. He gave us a nose by which we could take in the aromas of food and the fragrance of flowers. And to top it all is the human brain, which reasons, remembers and coordinates the body’s actions. Really, we have to marvel at God’s rich endowment of our bodies. Truly, “God is love.”—1 John 4:8.
God’s love to the rescue
4. How was God’s love expressed in the paradise of Eden?
4 When God created the first man, Adam, he placed him in the beautiful paradise of Eden. What pleasure Adam must have found in the abundance of God’s loving provisions around him! Later, God formed Eve and brought her to Adam. How delightful for Eve, on her first day of life, to be united with a husband and head who would cherish and guide her! Together they could look forward to carrying out God’s will in beautifying and populating the earth, and having loving dominion over the animal creation. What a grand future God placed before them!
5. (a) How did our first ancestors become unworthy of God’s love? (b) Yet how was God’s love extended to their offspring?
5 However, sad to say, that future was not to be, at least not for them. A rebellious spirit creature selfishly took himself out from under God’s love, making himself into Satan the Devil. This Devil persuaded Eve, and through her, Adam, to ‘do their own thing.’ Thus, they took a selfish course, independent of their Creator. But in doing this, they showed themselves completely unworthy of their Creator’s love. So God rightly passed the sentence of death on those willful sinners. Yet, out of his love for mankind, he permitted them to survive until they could produce children, otherwise we would not be alive right now. Moreover, though the human race had inherited sin and death from our first parents, the loving God provided a basis for hope.—Gen. 3:16-23; Rom. 8:20, 21.
6. What pronouncements in Eden showed forth God’s love, and how?
6 In what way? Well, at the very onset of rebellion, God made known that he would raise up a ‘Seed,’ that is, an offspring. He would send this One forth from his own loyal heavenly organization to undo all the damage caused by the Devil, and Adam and Eve. However, back there in Eden, the loving God also declared that he would execute vengeance upon Satan and all others who would make themselves part of the offspring of Satan by turning from God’s love.—Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:9.
GOD OF LOVE, AND OF VENGEANCE
7. In line with Deuteronomy 32:43, what reasons do we have for gladness?
7 So the God of love declared himself also to be a God of vengeance. But his taking vengeance on his enemies would be right. Why so? Because it would clear the way for all persons who love God to be glad, to rejoice. Surely, we now can rejoice that God will clear the way for us to enjoy his provision of everlasting life. Notice what God inspired Moses to say: “Be glad, you nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and he will pay back vengeance to his adversaries.”—Deut. 32:43.
8, 9. (a) Out of his love, what two things does God purpose to do? (b) In expression of his love, what marvelous gift has God made?
8 Yes, our loving God purposes to vindicate the rightfulness of his rule, and to rescue those who love him from their adversaries. Why, he will even rescue us from the great enemy, death, that comes into our lives by inheritance from our first parents. (Rom. 5:12) But how does God do this? The Bible tells us that he does it by the gift of his Son: “God is love. By this the love of God was made manifest in our case, because God sent forth his only-begotten Son into the world that we might gain life through him. The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.”—1 John 4:8-10; 1 Cor. 15:25, 26.
9 So God provided his Son Jesus Christ to release us from the death that comes to us because of the sin inherited from Adam. Yes, as the Bible says at First Timothy 2:6, Christ “gave himself a corresponding ransom for all” who would exercise faith in him. Jesus could therefore say concerning his sheeplike followers: “I have come that they might have life and might have it in abundance,” yes, everlasting life.—John 10:10.
10. (a) Why is the ‘God of love’ a God also of “vengeance”? (b) Why is it so important today that we know and obey God?
10 Yet, repeatedly, the Bible tells us that the ‘God of love’ is also a ‘God of vengeance.’ Why? Because God’s love cannot forever tolerate evil. (Nah. 1:2; Deut. 32:35, 41) That is why the apostle Paul writes about the “revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess. 1:6-9) How important it is, then, that we come to know God! In this mixed-up world of so many different religions, how vital it is, as the Bible says, ‘to seek the true God and really find him!’—Acts 17:27.
BALANCING VENGEANCE WITH LOVE
11, 12. (a) What situation developed early in human history, calling for what action on God’s part? (b) How was God’s vengeance there balanced out with his love?
11 However, let us return to the beginnings of human history. This will help us to understand better the relationship between God’s love and his vengeance. Lovingly, God had permitted the offspring of Adam to multiply. But wayward humans did not respond to that love. So, after some 500 years, Jehovah sent his prophet Enoch to pronounce divine judgment on wicked humans because of their ungodly deeds and the shocking things that they spoke against God. (Jude 14, 15) Another thousand years passed, and that ancient world reached its zenith of immorality and violence. Thus, God’s Word says, “the earth came to be ruined in the sight of the true God and the earth became filled with violence. So God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined.”—Gen. 6:11, 12.
12 Now, what would God do? Would he exact vengeance? Yes! But even in this, his quality of love came to the fore. Why do we say so? At that time, there was one family on earth devoted to doing God’s will. It was the family of Noah, the man who is called in the Bible “a preacher of righteousness.” Lovingly, Jehovah had Noah construct an ark “for the saving of his household.” Then came the global flood, which wiped out Noah’s wicked neighbors. (2 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 11:7) The entire earth was cleansed of ruinous violence and immorality, so that it again became a fit place for the families of mankind to multiply.—Gen. 6:9, 22; 7:21-23; 8:15-17.
13. Was Jehovah’s judging of Sodom and Gomorrah unloving, and why do you so answer?
13 However, sinful tendencies inherited from Adam remained, and soon godless humans began to show bad traits again. (Ps. 51:5) Take, for example, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who dwelt in a district that was once “like the garden of Jehovah.” The Bible tells us that “the men of Sodom were bad and were gross sinners against Jehovah.” They were homosexuals, and were violent in seeking to gratify their lusts. (Gen. 13:10, 13; 19:4-11) The loving God, Jehovah, determined to destroy those cities. In this way righteous Abraham and his nephew Lot would no longer have to put up with such vile neighbors. As Genesis 18:25 says, the “Judge of all the earth,” Jehovah, did ‘what was right.’ He delivered Lot and his two daughters, but rained fiery destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah, decontaminating that entire district.—Luke 17:29; Jude 7.
14, 15. (a) How innocent were the Canaanites? (b) Did God act rightly in executing vengeance on them?
14 Years afterward Jehovah again did ‘what was right’ toward his people, Israel. How? In arranging to drive away the Canaanites from the Promised Land. (Deut. 18:9-12) ‘But was that not unfair to those innocent Canaanites?’ someone may ask. Innocent Canaanites? By no means were they innocent! Those Canaanites had become disgusting in their practices of incest, sexual uncleanness, adultery, sacrificing of children, homosexuality and bestiality. For example, in the worship of their false gods they sacrificed their children by throwing them alive into the fire. Also, they had female and male temple prostitutes.a Therefore, Jehovah gave these instructions to his people: “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, because by all these things the nations whom I am sending out from before you have made themselves unclean. Consequently the land is unclean, and I shall bring punishment for its error upon it, and the land will vomit its inhabitants out.”—Lev. 18:1-25.
15 Again, it was out of love for his own people that Jehovah commanded Israel to clear out those wrongdoers. Their filthy way of life endangered God’s people. It was as the Bible puts it, “something detestable to Jehovah.” Rightly, then, God’s vengeance blazed against them.—Ps. 106:34-40; Deut. 18:12.
16. How were God’s love and patience expressed toward Israel?
16 On the other hand, how did God deal with the people of Israel? Jehovah expressed a most tender love toward them. Moses described it in these beautiful words at Deuteronomy 32:11 and 12: “Just as an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its fledglings, spreads out its wings, takes them, carries them on its pinions, Jehovah alone kept leading him, and there was no foreign god along with him.” But, alas! In time, foreign gods did intrude into Israel’s worship. Thus, the God who had declared that he would pay back vengeance to their adversaries was compelled to exact vengeance from his own people. But how patient Jehovah was toward Israel! Why, for 900 years he endured their waywardness! During all that time, Jehovah extended his hand of mercy toward them. “I take delight,” declared Jehovah God, “not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living. Turn back, turn back from your bad ways, for why is it that you should die, O house of Israel?”—Ezek. 33:11.
17. (a) What warning did God give Israel? (b) How was God’s executing of vengeance on Israel tempered by his love?
17 Time and again, God warned his people of the consequences of their idolatry, their immorality, and their shedding of innocent blood. But, at last, Jehovah was compelled to exact vengeance from Israel by allowing King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to destroy Jerusalem and their temple. The survivors were carried off to Babylon. However, after 70 years God maneuvered the overthrow of Babylon so that an appreciative Israelite remnant could return to their own land and resume pure worship there.—2 Ki. 24:3, 4; 2 Chron. 36:12-21; Ezra 1:1-3; Heb. 12:6.
JESUS SPEAKS OF LOVE AND VENGEANCE
18. What expressions did Jesus make concerning (a) God’s love, and (b) his vengeance?
18 What did Jesus Christ have to say about this matter of God’s love and vengeance? For one thing, he spoke warmly of his Father’s love, saying: “God loved the world [of mankind] so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) But did he hesitate to speak of God’s vengeance? Why, no! For the Bible says that Jesus, just like his Father, ‘loved righteousness, and hated lawlessness.’ Jesus in particular hated the lawlessness and bloodguilt of the religious leaders. (Heb. 1:9; Ps. 11:5, 7) He never minced words when he spoke to, or about, the Jewish clergy of his day. Three times in his Sermon on the Mount, he called them “hypocrites.” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16) He told those clergy: “You are from your father the Devil,” thus linking them with ‘the seed of the serpent.’ (John 8:44; Gen. 3:15) Then, just three days before he was murdered, Jesus denounced those Jewish religious leaders publicly, saying: “Serpents, offspring of vipers, how are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna?”—Matt. 23:13-33.
19. (a) Why were Jesus’ attitude and warning message most loving? (b) But how did Jehovah act rightly?
19 Did this mean that Jesus was unloving? Not at all, for while Jesus knew that those Jews were about to add to their bloodguilt by killing him, yet he went on to say, in Matthew chapter 23: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you.” (Matt. 23:37, 38; Acts 3:13-15) Thirty-seven years later Roman armies sacked Jerusalem and destroyed its temple. This was a calamity in which 1,100,000 of its rebellious people died! Then, at that time, the full force of Jesus’ prophetic words became clear. Rightly, Jehovah had exacted vengeance!
20. In connection with love and vengeance, what interesting features are to be found at Isaiah 61:1, 2?
20 Centuries earlier, Isaiah, one of the prophets reportedly murdered in ancient Jerusalem, spoke these words: “The spirit of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah is upon me, for the reason that Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news to the meek ones . . . to proclaim the year of goodwill on the part of Jehovah and the day of vengeance on the part of our God; to comfort all the mourning ones.”—Isa. 61:1, 2.
21 Jesus read this prophecy, in part, at the start of his earthly ministry and applied it to himself as the Chief Anointed One of Jehovah. (Luke 4:18-21) However, when Jesus quoted those words of Isaiah he stopped short of mentioning the day of God’s vengeance. Why? Apparently the major emphasis on proclaiming the day of God’s vengeance would come “in the final part of the days,” as Isaiah chapter 2 puts it. Have we now reached that time?
a See also Aid to Bible Understanding, published by the Watch Tower Society, pages 76, 145 and 287, under “Anath,” “Ashtoreth” and “Canaan, Canaanite.”
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THE GREATEST GIFT OF GOD’S LOVE
Out of the depth of his love for suffering mankind, God was willing to sacrifice his most precious possession, his most intimate companion, the “master worker” with him in creation, the “one he was specially fond of day by day.” He was prepared to send his firstborn heavenly Son down to this earth, to suffer all the reproaches, indignities and cruelties that the Devil and his dupes might heap upon him. Under test, the Son would prove that, as a perfect man, he could uphold God’s sovereignty under the severest trials, even to death itself. Moreover, he would thus “give his soul a ransom” on behalf of the many from sin-stricken mankind who would exercise faith in him. (Prov. 8:30; Matt. 20:28) Jesus could therefore say concerning his sheeplike followers, both of the “little flock” and his “other sheep”: “I give them everlasting life, and they will by no means ever be destroyed.” The majority would attain to that life by a resurrection from the dead. (Luke 12:32; John 10:16, 28; 5:28, 29) What an undeserved kindness this is, as expressed toward helpless mankind! If we should spurn this loving provision, indeed we would be deserving of God’s vengeful wrath!
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OUR LIVES DEPEND ON IT!
Most people are born into a religion. But does this mean that they worship the true God? Rather, is not the religion of many an accident of birth? But our very lives depend on ‘knowing God and obeying the good news about the Lord Jesus,’ whom he sent forth to ransom us from sin and death. (2 Thess. 1:8; Mark 10:45) Quite obviously, the world about us does not “know God.” The Bible states plainly that there is “one God and Father of all persons.” (Eph. 4:6) Yet mankind is divided into worshiping a multiplicity of religious gods. There are the Buddhas, the ancestral gods of Shintoism and Confucianism, Allah of the Moslems, also Brahma, Vishnu and Siva—the trinity of the Hindus—and Christendom’s trinity of Father, Son and “Holy Ghost.” Many persons even worship prominent men, dead or alive, such as “rock” stars, sports heroes and revolutionary leaders.
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ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS IN CANAAN:
“Canaanites worshipped, by immoral indulgence, as a religious rite, in the presence of their gods; and then, by murdering their first-born children, as a sacrifice to these same gods. It seems that, in large measure, the land of Canaan had become a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah on a national scale. . . . Did a civilization of such abominable filth and brutality have any right longer to exist? . . . Archaeologists who dig in the ruins of Canaanite cities wonder that God did not destroy them sooner than he did.”—“Halley’s Bible Handbook,” H. H. Halley, p. 161.
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JEHOVAH’S EXCELLING QUALITY OF MERCY
Even when he severely disciplined rebellious Israel, Jehovah extended his hand of mercy, saying through his prophet Jeremiah: “Not to time indefinite will Jehovah keep on casting off. For although he has caused grief, he will also certainly show mercy according to the abundance of his loving-kindness. For not out of his own heart has he afflicted or does he grieve the sons of men.”—Lam. 3:31-33