Punishment and Vengeance
Marvel's The Punisher
Jewish Lords' Witness
The subject of comparing vengeance with punishment came to me after watching the film 'The Punisher' from Marvel. Yes, I really must get out more although COVID-19 seems to be putting the brakes on that resolution! My initial personal response on the matter is that human vengeance comes with emotion whereas punishment does not. Let us compare the English dictionary definitions of the two words from Dictionary.com:
Vengeance: infliction of injury, harm, humiliation, or the like, on a person by another who has been harmed by that person; violent revenge.
Punishment: a penalty inflicted for an offense, fault, etc.
I think my initial response on the subject would seem to be pretty well substantiated by these definitions. So, in time-honoured fashion, let us see what the Good Book has to say on the subject. Another ripping good read in prospect, I expect!
Vengeance is Mine
In the Law, it is made clear that man is not to seek vengeance against his fellow man:
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people; but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I [am] Jehovah. (Leviticus 19 GLT)
The following verse offers what, to me, is a wonderful insight to a man’s response to being the victim of a wrong-doing. It is expected that we should be angry at such treatment, but we should take time out to reflect on the matter to ensure that we, too, do not respond with our own sinful revenge. I should add that to find what I consider to be a good translation for this verse proved difficult to the extent that I have taken the highly unusual step of using the Septuagint Translation of St Lancelot Brenton:
4 Be ye angry, and sin not; feel compunction upon your beds for what ye say in your hearts. Pause. (Psalms 4 LXXb)
This is later followed up with God’s words regarding His own treatment of wrong-doers. These appear in the Hebrew scriptures and, given their importance, they are repeated in the Greek scriptures:
35 To me [belongeth] vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in [due] time: for the day of their calamity [is] at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.
36 For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that [their] power is gone, and [there is] none shut up, or left. (Deuteronomy 32 KJV)
17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
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. (Romans 12 KJV)
30 For we know Him who has said, "Vengeance [belongs] to Me; I will repay," says [the] Lord. And again, "The Lord will judge His people." [Deut. 32:35, 36] (Hebrews 10 GLT)
Looking at the Hebrew text, to begin with, we see that God is seeking vengeance on the sinners. This would suggest an emotional reaction. And why not? We know from our previous work on Anger, that both men and God feel that emotion. God is also seeking recompense on those ones. He is clearly talking about some form of payback for their wrong-doings. This is all a very human reaction of being a victim of someone else’s sinful acts. However, the second of the above Hebrew verses then states that God will be the judge of His people. Herein lies the follow-up in that although His initial reaction was an emotional one, it will be followed up by His judgement which, from my own personal experience, we can be assured will produce a measured and appropriate punishment. A punishment that the victim of any sinful act should feel matches the crime. The repetition in the New Testament scriptures emphasises the importance of all the above points. And just in case we still have not got it:
22 Say not thou, I will recompense evil; [but] wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee. (Proverbs 20 KJV)
17 And I will execute on them great vengeance with rebukes of fury. And when I put My vengeance on them, they will know that I [am] Jehovah. (Ezekiel 25 GLT)
1 O Jehovah, God of vengeance; O God of vengeance, shine forth! (Psalms 94 GLT)
David provides the perfect example by allowing God to seek vengeance on his behalf for Saul’s plotting against him:
12 The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee. (1 Samuel 24 KJV)
In considering the human victim’s response to wrong-doing, it is interesting to note that it is not only mankind that has his enemies that do him harm but God also arguably feels the victim of mankind’s actions against Him and His righteous ones:
2 Jehovah is a jealous God and avengeth; Jehovah avengeth and is full of wrath; Jehovah taketh vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth [wrath] for his enemies. (Nahum 1 ASV)
Speaking of His righteous ones, the Saints, even they will plead for justice from Jehovah:
10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Revelation 6 KJV)
Oh yes, and we should not forget that God’s punishment can fall upon the faithful ones also for our misdemeanours not just those of our enemies:
6 That no [man] go beyond and defraud his brother in [any] matter: because that the Lord [is] the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. (1 Thessalonians 4 KJV)
However, we should see this as the correction of a loving father to his son:
5 And you have known with your heart that as a man disciplines his son, Jehovah your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8 GLT)
11 My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction:
12 For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son [in whom] he delighteth. (Proverbs 3 KJV)
17 Behold, blessed [is] the man whom God corrects; and despise not the chastisement of the Almighty. (Job 5 GLT)
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which [He] speaks with you, as with sons, "My sons, do not despise the chastening of [the] Lord, nor faint [while] being corrected by Him.
6 For whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and whips every son whom He receives." [Prov. 3:11, 12]
7 If you endure discipline, God is dealing with you as with sons; for who is [the] son whom a father does not discipline?
8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become sharers, then you are bastards, and not sons.
9 Furthermore, indeed we have had fathers of our flesh [as] correctors, and we respected [them]. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits, and we shall live?
10 For they truly disciplined [us] for a few days according to the thing seeming good to them; but He for [our] profit, [in order for us] to partake of His holiness.
11 And all discipline for the present indeed does not seem to be joyous, but grievous; but afterward it gives back peaceable fruit of righteousness to the ones having been exercised by it. (Hebrews 12 GLT)
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (Revelation 3 KJV)
And then none of us must forget God’s final judgement on mankind:
15 For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. (Isaiah 66 KJV)
6 since [it is] a just thing with God to pay back tribulation to the ones troubling you,
7 and to [give] you, those being afflicted, relief with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from Heaven with angels of His power,
8 in flaming fire giving full vengeance to those not knowing God, and to those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, [Isa. 66:15; Jer. 10:25]
9 who will pay the penalty: everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord, "and from the glory of His strength," [Isa. 2:19] (2 Thessalonians 1 GLT)
7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, in like manner to these, committing fornication, and going away after other flesh, laid down an example before-times, undergoing vengeance of everlasting fire. (Jude 1 GLT)
9 The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: (2 Peter 2 KJV)
Whilst vengeance is the Lord’s, the Law of Moses clearly gives men the responsibility for policing themselves whereby God requires His judgement on the unrighteous ones to be carried out by His earthly subjects. Let us look at a few examples of this.
God requires that anyone who commits an offense against another should suffer the same consequences as his victim as punishment:
17 And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.
18 And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.
19 And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;
20 Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him [again]. (Leviticus 24 KJV)
This next section of the Law is interesting since it additionally introduces the concept of paying damages to the victim. It makes clear that any such compensation will be requested by the victim and determined through the judicial system:
22 And when men fight, and they strike a pregnant woman, and her child goes forth, and there is no injury, being fined he shall be fined. [As much as] the husband of the woman shall put on him, even he shall give through the judges.
23 But if injury occurs, you shall give life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 branding for branding, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21 GLT)
We then have the matter of the use of witnesses in testifying on a case. Firstly, God would not trust the Law in a case to a single witness; a minimum of two witnesses are required to give corroborating evidence. Furthermore, if a false witness is discovered then his treatment will be as he would have had done to the subject of his testimony. Again, this would all be carried out under the powers of the court. Finally, God requires that the penalties should be carried out without fear or favour to ensure that all know the cost of criminal activities which should act as a deterrent to all. This all certainly seems like a decent secular justice system to me which allows man to punish wrong-doing in a fair and unemotional way:
15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
16 If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him [that which is] wrong;
17 Then both the men, between whom the controversy [is], shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
18 And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, [if] the witness [be] a false witness, [and] hath testified falsely against his brother;
19 Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.
20 And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
21 And thine eye shall not pity; [but] life [shall go] for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19 KJV)
This, I think, is still very different than God’s specifically requesting His righteous followers to take their own vengeance upon their earthly antagonists. The Midianites were God’s enemy as well Israel’s:
1 And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.
3 And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm ye men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian, to execute Jehovah's vengeance on Midian. (Numbers 31 ASV)
The second such example is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Christian scriptures state that God’s rule of law will be exacted by those He puts in charge of the nations. As you may recall from my previous paper Civil Obedience, I do have an issue with the Lord’s requiring us to abide by mankind’s laws. However, it is true that mankind does in many countries, attempt to provide a reasonable, if not perfect, system of governance against wrong-doers.
The second point of interest is in looking at the two English translation examples I provide below for the original Greek word ‘ἐκδίκησιν’. This point is fundamental to the original purpose of this paper. Looking at the various Greek bible concordances, the Greek can take either meaning. So, for God, vengeance and punishment are the same thing. Whilst He will show anger at wrong-doing He will, nonetheless, act out His punishment upon the wrong-doers in a just way. I think this marks out a key difference between man and God in that man’s emotional response to wrong-doing may mean that our vengeance is not always just:
13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; (KJV)
13 Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether to the king, as supreme; (ASV)
13Ὑποτάγητε πάσῃ ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει διὰ τὸν κύριον: εἴτε βασιλεῖ ὡς ὑπερέχοντι, (WHO)
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. (1 Peter 2 KJV)
14 or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well. (1 Peter 2 ASV)
14εἴτε ἡγεμόσιν ὡς δι' αὐτοῦ πεμπομένοις εἰς ἐκδίκησιν κακοποιῶν ἔπαινον δὲ ἀγαθοποιῶν: (1 Peter 2 WHO)
As mentioned previously, whilst I do have some issues with this (Civil Obedience), the concept of accepting the rule of Law from God’s chosen secular ministers is made abundantly clear:
1 Let every soul be subject to higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, but the existing authorities have been ordained by God.
2 So that the [one] resisting authority has opposed the ordinance of God, and the ones opposing will receive judgment to themselves.
3 For the rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the bad. And do you desire not to fear the authority? Do the good, and you will have praise from it;
4 for it is a servant of God to you for the good. But if you practice evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword in vain; for it is a servant of God, an avenger for wrath to the [one] practicing bad [things].
5 Because of this, [it is] necessary to be subject, not only on account of wrath, but also on account of conscience. (Romans 13 GLT)
Regardless of the above considerations of man’s justice, it is nonetheless clear that we are not to take the law into our own hands:
15 See that none render evil for evil unto any [man]; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all [men]. (1 Thessalonians 5 KJV)
Ultimately, we will all be judged swiftly by the God who can see into men’s hearts thereby eliminating the vagaries in man’s enactment of God’s justice:
5 And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in [his] wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger [from his right], and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3 KJV)
8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving, and those having become foul, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all the lying ones, their part will be in the Lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21 GLT)
Despite this we should never lose sight of the fact that our God is a loving God who will certainly give mankind every opportunity to change from his evil ways and gain Jehovah’s forgiveness:
8 Jehovah is gracious, and merciful; Slow to anger, and of great lovingkindness. (Psalms 145 ASV)
Love Should Conquer All
The above is the Law of God to be enacted by men amongst themselves. However, the New Testament message expects the faithful to rise above the requirements of the Law:
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have [thy] cloke also. (Matthew 5 KJV)
9 not giving back evil for evil, or reviling against reviling; but, on the contrary, [give] blessing; knowing that you were called to this in order that you might inherit blessing. (1 Peter 3 GLT)
Jesus confirms that we should not only leave vengeance to God but to love those who would injure us:
44 but I say to you, Love your enemies; bless those cursing you, do well to those hating you; and pray for those abusing and persecuting you, (Matthew 5 GLT)
I think we all find that one difficult to abide by but we need to remember that God does indeed love those who He punishes to chastise them as they too are His children, not just the faithful ones.
Punishment for Blasphemy
Now this is a section I had not expected to be writing when I started this quest. So, let us go back to my earlier thought that Jehovah Himself can be the victim of a man’s crimes, especially the crime of blasphemy:
12 And they put him under guard, that it might be declared to them at the mouth of Jehovah.
13 And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying,
14 Bring out the reviler to the outside of the camp. And all those who heard shall lay their hands on his head, and all the congregation shall stone him.
15 And you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, When any man curses his God then he shall bear his sin.
16 And he who blasphemes the name of Jehovah dying shall die. All the congregation shall certainly cast stones at him. As [to] the alien, so to a native, when he blasphemes the Name, he shall die. (Leviticus 24 GLT)
The Law on blasphemy is treated as a capital offense and therefore warrants the maximum punishment of death in this life (the first death) as does the killing of a man. Now in these following verses is the reason that I paused to consider offenses against God Himself:
31 Because of this, I say to you, Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven to men, but the blasphemy concerning the Spirit shall not be forgiven to men.
32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, not in this age nor in the coming [one]. (Matthew 12 GLT)
So how does this compare to the Old Testament scriptures on blasphemy. Well, our understanding of God’s justice, even for capital offences, is that even if guilty souls suffer the ultimate penalty in this life they can, nonetheless, gain remission from the second death if they demonstrate genuine contrition to the Holy Spirit. The implication of the above verse is that no such remission is to be granted and they will suffer the second death for the full thousand years for blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
There are other questions that these two verses pose. Why is Jehovah not mentioned? I can only reach the conclusion that blasphemy against the Father is already adequately covered by the Law which still stands. Why is blasphemy against Christ not deemed to be a capital offence? The answer to this is relatively simple for a Lords’ Witness to explain. While Christ walked the earth, he was a non-Adamic man possessed by the spirit of the archangel Michael. Consequently, prior to His ascension He was not divine, as opposed to how our Trinitarian friends would have it (ref. The Trinity paper); therefore the sin of blasphemy did not apply to Him. Why is the punishment for blaspheming the Holy Spirit so much worse than that of blasphemy against Jehovah Himself? I think the answer to that lies in the following scripture:
26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins,
27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries.
28 A man that hath set at nought Moses law dieth without compassion on [the word of] two or three witnesses:
29 of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
30 For we know him that said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. (Hebrews 10 ASV)
From these verses, I think blasphemy of the Holy Spirit can only be committed if one knows that there is a Holy Spirit which that one has been baptised into. So, I think this most severe of punishments is reserved for 1NC (and possibly and worryingly 2NC) saints, kings, priests, lords and ladies who reject their baptism. This is arguably, the same punishment meted out to the demons: the long haul in Gehenna for railing against their privileged knowledge of the divine. I think these following two verses would prove this latter point by comparing the fate of two blaspheming 1NC saints with that of Satan:
19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1 KJV)
This contrasts with the LW understanding that, otherwise, early parole is allowed from Gehenna as described in Introduction  What the Hell is Gehenna? Why does God permit Demon Possession? Universal Salvation: God will save each and every one of us and I quote:
'Early Resurrection from Hell
7 Raising up the lowly [humble] one from the very dust [the first death]; He exalts the poor [spiritually] one from the ashpit itself [the second death], (Psalms 113 NWT)
God's love always triumphs over his righteousness and releases those from punishment. In fact all punishment is made temporary by love. God The justice of God is proportionate and therefore finite. But his love is disproportionate, and in fact infinite. God will resurrect people out of Gehenna once they have learnt what they need to learn. If you learn the lesson quickly you will be released quickly.'
Vengeance belongs to Jehovah and not to His people. However, God instituted what was almost certainly the first human-run judicial system on the planet. Beyond the Law, however, we then have the New Covenant principle of loving our enemies, not just our brothers. Whilst a difficult principle for most of us to follow, it clearly amplifies our need to overcome our immediate urge for personal justice, thereby handing all such matters over to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
I started this paper to compare vengeance with punishment as far as the scriptures were concerned. Part-way through its writing, I thought the catchy title of ‘Crime and Punishment’ might better suffice. However, when I discovered that, to God, punishment equates with vengeance, the original title ‘Punishment and Vengeance’ far better suited both the purpose of this paper and its major discovery. Punishment is vengeance that needs to be carried out in an unemotional, just and impartial way.
I also started this paper with the expectation of looking at the punishment of men for crimes committed upon their fellow man. However, in all this, we see that God also considers Himself to be a victim of the crime of blasphemy. In these cases, God seeks retribution in His own name. Amen.