If someone were to ask me, “What is the most vivid biblical illustration of the destructive nature of revenge that you can think of?” I think my answer would be, ‘The narrative of Samson and the Philistines.’ For the most part, the entire narrative has these two parties going back and forth at one another until it leads to both Samson and thousands of Philistines being killed.
The world celebrates these kinds of stories.
I can remember before becoming a Christian watching movies where a person who had lost his wife, or family, or good friend, went on a revenge spree that lasted the entire movie, and that guy was ‘the good guy’ who ‘executed justice.’ Leaving aside the fact that worldly entertainment does not take into account God’s instruction concerning this subject, “Do not avenge yourselves…Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19), often times those cinematic productions dramatically failed to communicate or illustrate the way in which vengeance often destroys both parties. And if it doesn’t destroy both parties, the cycle can often go much further than either party probably thought it would.
This is ‘case in point’ with Samson and the Philistines.
In the opening verses of Judges 15 Samson visited his wife with a young goat in what appears to be an attempt at reconciliation (see chapter 14 for why reconciliation was needed). Granted, a young goat might not seem all too romantic to you and I but it was a common present in the Ancient Near East (cf. Gen. 38:17). To his surprise and chagrin he came to find that her father gave her away in marriage to his best man (Jdg. 15:2). Now, I don’t think anyone would dispute that what Samson must have endured in that moment felt absolutely horrible; but nonetheless, his reaction is a classic example of overreacting to the extreme.
He went out and caught three hundred foxes, tied them together in pairs via their tails, stuck torches in between the tails of each pair, and then let them loose in the Philistine vineyards, groves, shocks, and standing grain (vs.4-5).
This was a catastrophic economic disaster for the people of that Philistine region.
And with that – the cycle began.
The Philistines, in an act of vengeful anger, went and found Samson’s ‘almost wife’ and her father and they burned them both. (vs.6)
When Samson found out they did this he said, “Since you would do a thing like this, I will surely take revenge on you and after that I will cease” (vs.7). Notice – Samson’s plan was to “take revenge” and then, after that, “cease.” We don’t have to read too far past verse seven to see it didn’t happen that way.
It rarely does.
In what we imagine to be a fit of rage, Samson “attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter” (vs.8a).
Then the Philistines employed the help of the people of Judah, particularly, to give Samson into their hands (vs.9-13). That didn’t work out too well for them and Samson answered back by killing a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (vs.15).
You get the idea…
The cycle, in some way, shape or form, did not end until Samson was eventually killed, along with a multitude of other Philistines.
Most likely, you are not struggling with ‘revenge’ in the same way that Samson struggled with revenge. Maybe your revenge looks like giving the cold shoulder to someone you’re either angry with or disappointed with; maybe it looks like gossiping about someone who mistreated you; maybe it looks ‘better’ or ‘worse’ but either way, you and I are called, not only to avoid seeking revenge, but to follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus and bless those who have wronged us.
May you be exhorted to avoid being cold and apathetic towards those who have knowingly or unknowingly offended you, and instead, may you pursue love from a sincere heart by the grace of God.
As it is written,
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Pet. 3:9)
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:17:21)
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. (1 Thes 5:15)