If you look at news portals these days, the war in the Middle East takes up a lot of space.
You must have heard about it. Hamas supporters have invaded Israel and shot civilians and also kidnapped them.
These people also attacked a youth festival and murdered 260 people between 20 and 40.
It shocked me and it still shocks me.
Now there is talk of revenge. The Israeli prime minister has announced a crackdown on Hamas. "Every Hamas member is a dead man."
And now Gaza is totally blockaded by Israel, no electricity, no water, no food imports. I don't know what it's like on the Egyptian border.
More than two million people live in the Gaza Strip and almost half are under 18. In terms of area, the Gaza Strip is not even half the size of Hamburg.
In 2005, Israel left the Gaza Strip and evacuated all settlements there, handing over control to the Palestinian authorities.
In 2006, Hamas won the parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories and after back-and-forth there was a civil war where Hamas drove Fatah out of the Gaza Strip. Since then, Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip and Fatah the autonomous territories in the West Bank.
There was always fighting and attacks from Gaza and Israeli counter-attacks.
Hamas has very often misused civilians as shields, which has certainly led to civilian victims in Israeli counter-attacks. In addition, many raw materials and resources imported into the Gaza Strip were also used for rocket production and tunnel construction. According to Wikipedia, over 60,000 tonnes of concrete, actually for civilian buildings, have been used for tunnel construction since 2012.
By the way, there have been no elections in the Gaza Strip since 2006.
That was some information about the situation there, you probably already knew most of it.
How do you deal with that? I have to admit that I really feel aggression when I hear this. In my personal opinion, Israel is clearly in the right. I can also understand these thoughts of revenge expressed by various Israeli politicians. But it doesn't matter at all what I think about the situation. I am far away and have no influence on the situation down there.
And it should not be the subject of today's debate which action by the Israelis is the right one. We have no influence on this and we, who are far away, should not presume to judge.
Let us rather look at our own little world in which we move and in which we have influence.
How do we personally deal with such thoughts of revenge?
Revenge thoughts in the Bible
We do find thoughts of revenge in the Bible. There is a list of so-called vengeance Psalms (Psalm 35; 52; 55; 58; 59; 79; 109; 137). Some of them are against other people who have done evil to the psalmist, e.g. Psalm 35:8; NL
Some of these Psalms also ask for protection from the enemy, others simply wish the plague on them, so to speak, e.g. Psalm 55:16; NL:
Sometimes there are also thoughts of revenge in general against evil people (Psalm 58:4-9; NL):
Now and then disaster is also linked to one's own mistakes, e.g. in Psalm 79:6-8; NL
Here, the desire for revenge is connected with one's own recognition of sin and the request for forgiveness. In the Old Testament, Israel's disaster was not infrequently justified by turning away from God. But I would never allow myself to make such a judgement today. Generally speaking, I cannot attribute external misfortune to the misbehaviour of a people, whether it is a raid like the one in Israel or a natural disaster like the one in Afghanistan. Once we are in heaven with God, then perhaps in retrospect we will understand some things or recognise how it was all connected.
There are also two vengeance Psalms where the psalmist also wishes evil on the children of the evildoer. The worst is in Psalm 137:7-9; NL:
I shudder when I read something like that. Unfortunately, it was not uncommon for children to be murdered in such wars, and the Israel of that time also suffered such things from time to time. And in retaliation, one wants the other to experience the same or even a little more.
The Old Testament "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" is already a containment of personal revenge, so that one does not go beyond what has been suffered and thus trigger a spiral of increasing revenge.
Assessment of the thoughts of revenge
How do you deal with something like that?
If you read commentaries on these vengeance Psalms, there are different interpretations.
Some say the authors prophetically anticipate God's judgement.
Others write that such desires for vengeance were appropriate for the Old Testament period, but no longer for the New.
Still others interpret that the psalmist is describing what sinners deserve, without any personal desire for revenge. I find this statement somewhat silly.
The most plausible idea seems to me to be that these authors really felt this and expressed it. These are not instructions for action, but in the Bible texts true human nature becomes visible again and again, and the desire for revenge is unfortunately part of it. Nevertheless, these Psalms are also God's Word, if we believe in the inspiration of the Bible by God. The feelings and the personality of the biblical authors are nevertheless often visible in the text.
But what becomes clear in all these statements, some of which are strange, is that God is being asked for vengeance.
One always imagines the Old Testament as being violent, vengeful, etc., but even then there were commandments pointing in the other direction, e.g. Deut. 19:17, 18; NL:
That is simple. But how do we deal with such thoughts? Here, at least in v.18, it seems to be a bit limited to one's own people, but that is already difficult enough. After all, the neighbour is close by.
Dealing with thoughts of revenge
How do we deal with this now?
I would like to look at a few verses from Romans 12. From verse 9 onwards, general instructions on how to live together in the church begin. In Romans 12:16-18; NL then comes:
These are quite reasonable statements that are a good basis for living together. Hardly anyone will contradict that.
But then it gets interesting (v.19-21):
We actually find here the connection to the vengeance Psalms mentioned earlier, namely that God is responsible for vengeance.
Revenge and thoughts of revenge are apparently seen as something normal here, but where one is supposed to stay out of it when it comes to implementation. On the contrary, one is even supposed to do good to the enemy somehow.
I don't think this is about naivety towards the enemy, but if he is in need, if he is hungry and thirsty, help him.
Actually, this looks quite logical, but no one is so rational that he simply implements this text. And the enemy will certainly not be ashamed in every case either, but he too is a human being on whom good things he experiences often do not pass by without consequences.
Literally, it does not say ashamed here either, but:
"and you will heap burning coals on his head".
That is an image that is well understood.
This is actually one of the goals of a Christian's life, and we can't just do it on our own. We cannot control our feelings just like that, we need Jesus Christ and the change through him so that we can really manage to give up thoughts and desires for revenge to God and seek the good.
In thoughts of revenge, one is often trapped and unfree. And when you take revenge, you often create unwanted collateral damage.
Our minds and our experiences know this, but without Jesus Christ we can only overcome these thoughts with difficulty. Of course, this involves learning to forgive, just as we have also experienced forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And that can be the basis for such behaviour.
How to implement this biblical text on a political level, I don't know. I find it hard enough to implement in my personal life, so I will not presume to offer solutions for major political conflicts, especially not for current war scenarios.
- We have looked at the Hamas attack on Israel as an introduction, which has triggered the desire for revenge in many. But let's look at the area where we live and have influence: How do we deal with thoughts of revenge?
- We have looked at some of the vengeance Psalms in the Bible. We find thoughts of revenge there, against people who have done you wrong, against evil people in general, and also extended desires for revenge against the family of the evil-doers.
- Vengeance was also placed in these Psalms as a petition to God.
- Even according to the Old Testament, revenge is not really thinking, but you are allowed to unload it on God.
- God declares himself alone responsible for vengeance and our mission is to even help the enemy in time of need.
- Do not let evil overcome you, but overcome evil with good!