Revenge: The Long Empty Road
Recently, I was talking to a good friend in the ministry and we were discussing some of our favorite movies. Ironically, we both agreed that we love the film The Count of Monte Cristo. It's based on the famous book by Alexandre Dumas and centers around the ageless concept of revenge. As the story plays out you can't help but feel empathy for the victim as his life is ripped from him and shattered in moments. After an improbable return from a life sentence in prison on a remote island he gets his chance to settle the score with his enemies and capitalizes on his opportunity. In complete transparency, this is the kind of story where you find yourself blurring the lines of Scripture in order to fulfill a sinful desire and all the while justifying it in your mind as the right and proper thing to do.
I mention Dumas' timeless work because I came across a passage in my personal study time recently which gives us the account of another story of revenge. In the 15th chapter of the book of Judges we see the culmination of a man burning with revenge in his heart. The Bible records the days of Samson beginning in chapter 13 and only two chapters later we see how anger, poor choices, broken vows, lust, and manipulation can stain a once promising life. What could've been in the life of one of the Old Testament's greatest figures! Before we go down a road of tears we have to pause and thank God for using a multitude of evil and still bringing about justice and righteousness for the people of Israel through His marvelous grace. In spite of all the chaos and destruction in the life of Samson we praise the Lord for His faithfulness in the midst of a revenge-soaked tale.
After a rebellious decision to marry a Philistine woman, Samson goes on to break his Nazirite vow multiple times in just a short season of his life. He is manipulated by his wife after he too was guilty of trying to manipulate a group of Philistine men at a celebratory feast. The result of all this manipulation was Samson's anger and wounded pride driving him to kill a multitude of men and losing his newfound marriage almost as quick as it was brought together. By the time we get to chapter 15, Samson tries to meet with his wife once again but is soon smartened up to the fact she has moved on to someone else and we see Samson's rage grow to new heights. He quickly begins to plot against the Philistines once again, but this time with even more damage in mind.
Samson cunningly burns down the fields and vineyards of the Philistines, but in terrible retaliation the Philistines respond by killing Samson's wife and her family. With seemingly no more family to turn to, no one to trust, and living alone as a glorified fugitive, Samson vows revenge once again on the Philistines. He goes on to crush a great number of men in his wrath and hatred toward the Philistines. Samson had become a one-man army and nothing could seemingly stand in his path of revenge. The timid men of Judah then come to confront Samson and arrest him to stop adding more fuel to the fire of the suppressed people of Israel under Philistine control. In one of the saddest, but most honest verses in the Bible the men ask Samson why he continued to fight and rebel as he did and Samson replied in verse 11, "As they did unto me, so have I done unto them."
You can go on to read the conclusion of Samson's story and the account of his life and death. Certainly a life checkered with victories and defeats, but one which will go down as one of the most tragic "what could have been" stories in Scripture. Revenge seemed to be the theme of the day in the era of Samson. Sadly, this young man was full of physical strength, but empty of much needed wisdom. What Samson failed to realize (like many in our day) is that revenge is an unstoppable monster. Each act of retaliation drives another and the cycle continues to repeat itself. It's the equivalent of someone throwing a boomerang, arrogantly turning their back on it and walking away not knowing the consequences to the thrower.
The Bible teaches a different approach to revenge than the one Samson took. First and foremost, revenge does not belong to us. We commit highway robbery anytime we embark on revenge in this life. Romans 12:19 reminds us, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." This life is not about getting back at others and righting the so-called wrongs which have been committed. Payment will be required by God and He alone will settle the score with those who choose evil. Our part in the entire process is the pursue grace and follow our Lord Jesus. Secondly, revenge serves no good in our life and brings zero glory to God. Nothing about retaliation shines a light on the Gospel and points people to Christ. It only solidifies our selfishness and personal desire to be in control of our lives without accountability to God. If anything, our attempts at getting back at others is an exposure of our soul's true colors.
Finally, revenge only robs and never benefits. The hidden truth in the endeavor of revenge is that everyone involved will be hurt or destroyed in one way or another. Samson found this out the hard way as he was isolated from his family, lost his wife and her parents, and ultimately would have his sight and strength taken from him as he found himself alone in bondage. Revenge robs us of the life God intended for us and others to live in. It crushes our spirits, bankrupts our joy, and buries our faith. Revenge ignites the flames of selfishness and steals our potential for honoring God. To put it bluntly, revenge on our part is sin.