I think Sir Francis Bacon had the right idea when he wrote, “Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out. . . . Certainly, in taking revenge a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing over it, he is superior, for it is a prince’s part to pardon.”1 If you have spent much time around someone who is eaten up with the desire for revenge, someone nursing an attitude of resentment, you know how tragic a thing it is. These folks are walking containers of poison. That’s because resentment never resolves itself; resentment corrodes anything it touches, breaks containment, and eventually kills its host. And to make things worse, innocent bystanders become victims of collateral damage when the pressure builds beyond control and suddenly explodes.
Take note of the first two lines in the preceding verses. They hold a clue as to the origins of resentment:
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles. (24:17)
The term rendered “enemy” means, literally, “hater” or “one who hates.” This person has either harmed you in the past and has not repented or continues to take every opportunity to harm you now. Obviously, the proverb counsels against delighting in that person’s downfall even though the temptation is great to see such misfortune as poetic justice. That desire, however, reveals a heart of bitterness and resentment that would take its own revenge if given the chance.
The next proverb explains why we must release this resentment and avoid taking pleasure in the pain of one who caused us harm:
Or the LORD will see [our attitude] and be displeased,
And turn His anger away from him. (24:18)
When we fail to release our grip on resentment, we usurp God’s role as the Supreme Judge of all people. By delighting in the downfall of our enemy, we accept that calamity as justice, and the focus of God’s anger shifts away from the one who sinned against us and instead shines on our own sinful attitude. In that moment, we lose the moral high ground.
It’s possible that revenge is your own personal daily grind. If so, trust me: you have a lot of company in that struggle. It is an ailment common to the majority of humanity. There isn’t a culture in which revenge hasn’t left its scars—but that doesn’t excuse it! This is the week to expose revenge in all its ugliness. Like a poison that will eventually turn a healthy person into a walking corpse if it is ignored, this toxin must be neutralized or disposed of . . . the sooner, the better.
- Francis Bacon, “Of Revenge,” The Essays, or Counsels, Civil and Moral of Francis Bacon, ed. Samuel Harvey Reynolds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1890), 34.
From Living the Proverbs by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Worthy Inspired., an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.