Isaiah 61 begins, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...”
This much is familiar to us. It’s the part that Jesus quoted when he began his public ministry (Luke 4). It was him announcing, “This is my job description for the next three and a half years. This is the what Messiah will be among you.”
But the statement He quotes from in Isaiah 61 goes on; Jesus actually stopped in the middle of a sentence. I don’t know how many sermons I’ve heard - and I agree with them - saying “That’s because it wasn’t yet time for the next part.” Which reads:
“...and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
We are clearly no longer in the days of Messiah, at least the days of his earthly ministry. I wonder if we’re now in the next bit, “the day of vengeance of our God.”
Look at how this verse defines the day of God’s vengeance. It continues on and describes God’s vengeance as:
¤ to comfort all who mourn,
¤ to provide for those who grieve in Zion,
¤ to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
¤ [to bestow on them] the oil of joy instead of mourning,
¤ [to bestow on them] a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
¤ They will be called oaks of righteousness,
¤ [They will be called] the planting of the Lord.
¤ [They will be called] for the display of his splendor.
That is how Isaiah describes “the day of vengeance of our God”: comforting, providing for, blessing his victims, until they are firmly established and displaying his splendor.
Hmm. I believe I’ve misunderstood God’s vengeance.
I had learned about vengeance from Romans 12:19, which tells me, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”
I’ve always interpreted this as, “Don’t you beat ‘em up and make ‘em pay. God can beat on ‘em far more severely than you can!”
That was my understanding of vengeance. It was the image of God as my hit man, so I didn’t need to dirty my hands (or dirty my soul). He’d do the dirty work for me.
If I was really honest, the idea that I’d always had modeled for me was “God save me and destroy my enemies!” And I rather adopted that idea too, not in so many words, but this was the worldview from which I prayed.
Yeah, I don’t think that’s right any more. That’s not what his vengeance is; where he’s leading us.
Rather, God appears to want to save me AND save my enemies! (What? He loves those idiots, too?)
Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah before he mentioned the vengeance of God. But that didn’t stop him preaching these values.
Everybody loved it when he quoted Isaiah and announced, “That’s right here, right now.” They all smiled and nodded and clapped politely.
But when he went on, things changed.
Seven verses later, Luke records, “They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”
That’s a pretty big attitude change. What pissed them off so badly?
I’m glad you asked. In between, he declared, “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
He was preaching that God wanted to save Israel AND save the gentiles.
It angered the religious community then, and it seems to anger the religious community now. But that’s not my issue here.
My focus here is that this idea that God wants to save us AND save “them” too is far more consistent with God’s character than the idea that God iss our hit man, on duty to smite our enemies so we don’t need to dirty our hands.
I remember a verse from my youth (from when I used to focus on sin as I was presenting the “good news”): “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). That’s him saving his enemies.
I could go on. Now that I stop and think about it (and I’ve been thinking about this for months), I find the value all over Scripture, now that I’m beginning to be willing to see it.
But for now, I’m going to just make this statement:
The vengeance of God is not about smiting my enemies. It’s about saving them, about blessing them with everything he’s blessing me with.