Vengeance is Not Ours, and We Can Refuse It

Last night I was reading my friend Marcus’ Catching RicebirdsAs a child, Marcus experienced the horrors of war in Liberia. The brutality can sicken us, but it’s the predictability that tells us the true tragedy of our world:

“The men were crying and asking the rebels to forgive them. I stood on the porch looking down and I saw in their eyes a look that I was beginning to recognize: the look a person gets when death is near and certain. It’s a look of desperation and vain hope and repentance. Many people never see this look. I can never efface its imprint on my heart” (Marcus Doe, Catching Ricebirds, p.113).

I’m struck, on the one hand, that I have never seen this look. I’m saddened, on the other hand, that I’m not surprised that it exists, that it’s common, that someone is probably wearing it right now. Our world works this way. We’re disgustingly used to it.

My imagination took up these paints as I read 2 Samuel 16 this morning. Like the rebels, above, David is fleeing from the city he had ruled. His men are marching on anger, so when Shimei, from a rival family, comes out and throws rocks at David and mocks, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man!” we expect that he will be seized and beaten, certainly killed. In fact, the man beside David says, “Let me go over and take off his head.”

David, however, replies:

“Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12).

Even as they flee in disarray, an otherworldly melody whispers through David. There’s a faint suggestion, along the road, that what we have come to expect can be different. David is different because David looks to the Lord.

The Lord changes things. Because the Lord brings vengeance, we need not mete it. Because the Lord bore vengeance, we need not fear it. When the Lord breaks into human history, things can be different than they’ve always been, because he comes with the power of life and death that silences crowds. He comes with the power of one killed and raised that still the earth. David’s story is just a momentary glimpse of God’s reign, but that reign is coming, and things will be different before long.

Even now, we can pass on what other gorge on, drink the cup that others mock. Vengeance is not ours, and we can refuse it, because we know the King to whom it belongs. We know he is coming; we believe deliverance and justice are near.


Marcus’ book is subtitled, “A Story of Letting Vengeance Go.” I’m only halfway through it, but I recommend it based on what I’ve read so far. Amazon has it on Kindle and in paperback here (this is an unsolicited recommendation).

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