Romans 12:19-21 by Robert Dean
"Just wait. You're going to pay for hurting me!" Have you ever fantasized about some really nasty ways to get even with someone who has treated you awful? Listen to this lesson to learn that God has promised to handle all the wrongs committed against us. His justice may not come just when we want it to or in the exact way we want but we can be assured He is working behind the scenes on our behalf. Hear several illustrations of times when God worked out justice in the Old Testament. Be shocked to learn that instead of seeking our own vengeance, we can love our enemies, treat them kindly, and be rewarded by God.
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:58 mins 19 secs

Vengeance, Justice, and Impersonal Love
Romans 12:19-20

We are in Romans 12, beginning in verse 19. Tonight we'll finish up Romans 12. Next week we'll get into Romans 13 dealing with some other issues. We're coming back again to the topic of love as it runs as a thread through the next two or three chapters. It's mentioned again in the 13th chapter. Then the 14th chapter deals with the issue of doubtful things and it talks about the law of liberty and the law of love. Then in chapter 15 it's talking about bearing one another's burdens. Of course that's related to loving one another. So in the next three chapters this is the thread that runs through and ties them together in a lot of ways.

Romans 12:19 says, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath {of God,} for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord." As we look at Romans 12:19 it connects back to verse 17 where Paul had challenged them by telling them to repay no one evil for evil. This thread dealing with how we react when people do bad things to us or we are victims from other people's bad decisions, in some case intentional decisions, is one that runs through this section. As I pointed out when we started in Romans 12:9 that even though love is in the background of several of these verses it's still there. This passage is not really an exposition but this is more bullets of different mandates, different principles that should govern the behavior of any believer.

So we come to Romans 12:19 we have this challenge to believers telling us not to avenge ourselves. The key idea here that's mentioned twice is translated as the word avenge in the beginning of the verse and then vengeance is mine which is a quote that comes from the Old Testament in Deuteronomy also uses the same verb EKDIKEO. Now vengeance is one of those words we need to talk about a little bit. For most of us we think of vengeance as personal vindictiveness, that an individual has been treated or believes they have been treated poorly so they want to get back at the person who has somehow insulted them, somehow offended them, and somehow maltreated them. Whether it's justifiable or not, it's motivated by a self-centered desire out of the sin nature and a mental attitude sin with a desire to be the one to inflict justice on this person who has done something egregiously unjust.

We need to look at these words because that's not exactly the sense we have in the passage we're talking about. The verb EKDIKEO in the Greek means first of all to procure justice for someone or to grant or to give justice. So it is a word related to the application of justice, whether human or divine. It's not necessarily a concept of personal vendetta. Second to inflict an appropriate penalty for wrong done, to punish or to take vengeance for someone. ARomans-138b.mp3nd then the third meaning is to carry out one's obligations in a worthy manner or to do justice to someone. Those are the meanings of the word EKDIKEO.

Some of you are thinking that's certainly seems far removed from the concept of vengeance and I think part of this is because we don't really have a good clear understanding of the concept of vengeance. So I looked this up in the Oxford English dictionary and vengeance means a punishment that is inflicted or retribution that is exacted for an injury or wrong. Now that can relate to either something done by the judicial system or by the individual. When it's done by an individual out of a motive of subverting or going around the judicial system that's when it's the wrong kind of vengeance. When in the right sense, i.e. what is exacted by courts it is not a negative word, although I think in everyday usage I think that's what we normally think of when we use the term vengeance.

I looked it up in four or five dictionaries and that's basically the meaning, depending upon the context of how we use it. So we have to think about it. We're not to avenge ourselves. The idea there is that we're not to take justice into our own hands and subvert the normal processes of the judicial procedure of police investigations, charges in court, and trial before a jury. We shouldn't take justice into our own hands as opposed to the Lords' hands.

But you see the next phrase is a contrast and says, "But rather give place to wrath." Now what does that mean? The word wrath is the Greek word ORGE, which is commonly used to refer to God's executing justice in time in human history. This is exactly what we've seen in the book of Romans when we look at how this word is used. If we turn back to the very first chapter of Romans in Romans 1:18 we read, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness."

Now if we think of wrath in sort of a way in which people use it in everyday sense, we think of wrath as an emotional outburst, an emotion-driven anger. But that's not really the sense that it's used when it's used in a judicial context. We don't have a picture of God throwing an emotional tantrum in heaven. Now there are a lot of theologians and some pastors who will look at the phrase "the wrath of God" and they will try to use this to demonstrate that God has emotion. This is a problem. I think it's a two-fold problem. First of all we're trying to impute to God human emotion, which is a real problem. And the second problem is that we don't understand the figure of speech when we talk about wrath in terms of justice.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to think of some idioms we use when we talk about going to court. Someone gets arrested for speeding, doing ninety miles an hour in a forty mile an hour zone and they appear before the judge and they get a $2,000.00 fine and they have to do a number of hours of community service. The person will say that judge threw the book at them. That's an emotive metaphor. The judge may have been extremely dispassionate. He may have been objective. He may not have gotten emotional whatsoever. He certainly didn't literally pick up a book and throw it at the speeder. It is simply an idiom to express the intensity of the punishment. It really says nothing about the literal nature of the emotional status of the judge.

We might also hear someone say that the "anger or wrath of the court was felt" by the speeder. Again, it doesn't necessarily mean that the judge was angry. It doesn't mean the judge was emotional. It doesn't indicate that at all. It is simply a figure of speech that we use to express the extreme nature of the penalty against the offending party. This is the way the wrath of God is used in Scripture.

 I remember a scholar we all know and love had written a paper to try to defend emotion in God. I challenged him in this because I told him that the wrath of God is simply an anthropomorphism. He said, "How can you say that?" I said, "It's worse than that. You didn't look at the Hebrew. The Hebrew is actually an anthropopathism." Now an anthropomorphism is when you attribute something about human physiognomy to God in order to communicate something. We talk about the eyes of God going to and fro on the earth, or being held in the hand of God. God doesn't have eyes like we have eyes. He doesn't have a hand. We have other phrases, such as the arm of God. Well, arm represents strength. Hand represents strength as well as grip so that's what these figures of speech are expressing. They're using a human form to express something about God. It doesn't mean God has a hand, an arm, a head, eyes, and nose but they're used to express something. In the Hebrew, for example in Hebrew thought, emotions are often expressed by references to bodily parts.

The Greek were the same way. The word in Greek for mercy is SPLANCHNON which has to do with the bowels. The same kind of thing is going on in Hebrew, having to do with the bowels when someone is upset or angry or something like that. The literal meaning of the idiom that's used in Hebrew if someone gets angry is that their nose burns. So when you read in the Hebrew that God was wrathful with Israel it doesn't have a literal word for wrath in the text. It says that God's nose burned against the Israelites. See that's an anthropomorphism. An anthropopathism is when you ascribe a human emotion to God that He doesn't actually possess in order to express or teach something about God. So an anthropomorphism is to use a human body part which God doesn't actually possess in order to communicate something about God's plan or purpose and an anthropopathism is to use a human emotion that God doesn't possess in order to again communicate about God's plan and purpose. So from the Old Testament we read that God's nose burned.

Well, God doesn't have a nose so right away we know it's not literal. He doesn't have a nose that burns. A burning nose means that someone is getting emotional and upset and losing their temper and they're getting red in the face and their nose is getting red and so that's the meaning of anger or wrath. So God is not a God who looks up and when someone does something sinful He doesn't just get all upset. First of all, God is omniscient so for billions and billions of years into eternity past God has always known that Israel would commit idolatry at the foot of Mount Sinai while Moses was up getting the Ten Commandments. God didn't just learn about this when the event happened in time. He's known about this forever. So, question. If God has known about it forever, has God been eternally angry with Israel for that event? No. It's an expression of His justice, the outworking of His justice.

It's the same as we have in Romans 1:18. I covered this back when we went through Romans 1. This expresses the justice of God, the outworking of God's judgment on sinful human beings. It doesn't mean God is literally losing His temper and is angry but He is giving full expression to His judicial condemnation of a particular event. So that's what has happened here. We're not to have revenge but we are to allow God to work out the judgment. That's what is written and the verse explains the principle from the Old Testament, "Vengeance is mine. I will repay," says the Lord."

The word for vengeance is the same word we saw just a minute ago from EKDIKEO and it means the ultimate execution of justice belongs to God. He is the One who repays. The word for repay there is ANTAPODIDOMI which means to pay back or recompense or in a judicial sense it means to bring about the penalty for someone's actions that are disobedient to the law. Now this is very similar to what we find in the Old Testament passage. The quote here in Romans 12:19 comes from Deuteronomy 32:35 where God says, "Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them."

The Hebrew word here for vengeance is naqam which again is defined or translated as take vengeance, avenge one's self, be avenged and be punished. Actually it has the same connotation ad the Greek word. This is how it's translated. It's again the concept of taking a judicial action from the justice of God. So it's not a personal vendetta or personal vindictiveness. This is one of those areas where someone reading the Scripture here could easily get the wrong idea and come to a wrong conclusion that God is just this vindictive God. That's because of a failure to understand either the meanings of the English word in the dictionary where its primary meaning is bringing about punishment or bringing about justice for disobedience. That's the same idea in the Hebrew word.

So let's look at a couple of examples from the Old Testament. Most often what we see in the Old Testament is that vengeance or naqam is an execution of the justice of God. God is the One who rules the universe. He is the judge who oversees human history and we're to, as Peter says, "cast all our care on Him." We're to put it in the Lord's hands.

Now a question that may come up is, "Well, what about when someone does wrong? When someone commits a crime? Do we just pray about it?" God established government. He established law and of course, that's the procedure we're to utilize. We're to utilize the structure and the format that God has set up for handling these kinds of things. Beyond that, we put it in the Lord's hands. So if someone commits a crime against us, or someone defrauds us, or someone commits other act against us, if it's not possible to take this into a courtroom to find justice, then we have to put it into the Lord's hands and let the Lord take care of it. It's not up to us to go out and execute justice on someone who has committed a crime or some sort of offense against us.

When we look at a couple of Old Testament examples, even though most of the time in the Old Testament, it is God who is the One who is executing justice, or naqam, we do have a couple of passages where God delegates that responsibility to individuals. Let's look at Numbers 31 where we're dealing with a problem that has come up with the conflict between the Israelites and the Midianites. Numbers 31:1 says, "Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered to your people." This was right before Moses departed at Mount Nebo. Then Numbers 31:3 says, "Moses spoke to the people, saying, "Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD'S vengeance on Midian." Then he goes through and describes what they're to do.

In Numbers 31:7 we read, "So they made war against Midian, just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian along with the {rest of} their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed." This is at the tail end of the episode where the Midianites were using Balaam to try to bring a curse against Israel. But the point that we're seeing here is that this is an execution of justice that is directed by God.

 It's not petty vindictiveness which springs from an attitude of selfishness where an individual has been personally offended or hurt. We're going to see more about this as we go through the Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings. We're going to come to a passage in a couple of weeks where the Lord talks about turning the other cheek. That is, that if someone slaps you on the cheek you should turn the other cheek. That's another one of the verses in the Sermon on the Mount that's been used as a justification for pacifism. The problem is that as we go through the Sermon on the Mount we're discovering that a lot of these things are related to figures of speech.

Slapping someone on the cheek? What in the world do you think that means? Do you think there was a problem in Israel of people walking around and slapping other people on the cheek? Just walk up to some, like Jeff, and just slap him on the face? You think that's what's going on? No. Slapping someone on the face was an idiom for being offended and so what the Lord is talking about is that if someone offends you, turn the other cheek. In other words, don't be someone who is easily offended and whenever you think you're being slighted you use that as an excuse to get back at someone else. It's not a problem of violence. That's not what the issue was at all. It was a problem of mental attitude. That's what's going on here.

There's a petty or personal vindictiveness that people get into because they think that so-and-so is taking advantage of them and their whole issue is not in doing what's right. The issue is on getting back at someone and taking care of self and protecting self to the point where I'm making sure that I'm going to be sure that everything right will be done with regards to my own possessions and my own reputation.

But vengeance here has to do with the execution of justice in war. Because the Midianites had violated Israel's sanctity at this point Israel needed to engage them in war. This was the just action that God commanded against them. When we get to the end tonight, we're talking about impersonal love where I ended last time. This is love. Love always works in conjunction and in conformity with God's justice and His righteousness. We have such a twisted view of love today, a view that says love is always kind. We define it narrowly in sentimental ways. Yet God recognizes that if you love the victim, you will punish the criminal. Now some people will say, "That's not being very loving to the criminal." But it is showing love to society at large to punish the criminal and it is showing love to the victim to punish the criminal. We distort things too easily and we come out with a shallow, distorted concept of what love is.

Sometimes you'll hear liberals come along who say that the God of the Old Testament is just a mean old vindictive God. He just wants the Jews to kill everybody. It's not like the loving God of the New Testament. Well, the loving God of the New Testament is the same God as the God of the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament recognized that love punishes as well as embraces. There's a time for one and a time for the other. Knowing the difference is wisdom.

Taking vengeance on the Midianites is an expression of God's love for Israel. They needed to execute punishment on the offending party. That's something this country doesn't factor in whenever it thinks about any kind of military action, or even judicial action. It never thinks of it that way. Another passage comes out of Joshua 10:13 where we see the battle with the Amorites and the sun stood still. This is the long battle that's taking place. It's gone on all day long and the sun is setting and so Joshua has prayed to the Lord to do something in order to allow them to have victory over their enemies. They're battling with Amorites. The Lord caused a miracle to take place, for the sun to stand still over Gibeon and as the sun stood still, it gave the people time to finish the battle and completely destroy the enemy. And so we read in Joshua 10:13, "So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies." So they were executing justice upon their enemies. That's what the word means. It was a just battle. So again we see that God delegates responsibility and delegates authority for justice to various human institutions.

Now there are two passages that bear on what is being said in Romans in terms of the prohibition against personally taking the law in one's own hand. Leviticus 19:18, "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 the LORomans-138b.mp3RD." Notice how the focus is really on the mental attitude. Let me connect this back to the Sermon on the Mount. At the end of Matthew 5 we're focusing on this section where Jesus is contrasting God's view of righteousness which goes to the root of the issue in terms of the mental attitude behind an action. It's not just the superficial action. So Jesus addresses this is saying, "You have heard it said that you shall not commit murder but I say to you that you should not have hatred in your heart towards someone." See the Pharisees had created a superficial view of murder, that murder was simply a prohibition against the physical act of murder but you could commit all kinds of mental attitude sins of hatred and thinking about revenge and other things, and that was just fine. They created a superficial view of the application of the Law. But even in the Old Testament, it wasn't to be a superficial approach. The Pharisaical interpretation of the Law was not correct and Jesus contrasts His view with the Pharisaical view. This is what happens when Jesus says, "You have heard it said". And then He gives what the Pharisees have said and then he points out what He says which is the correct interpretation of the Mosaic Law.

So here in Leviticus 19:18 we read, "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 the LORD." The grudge there is the mental attitude sin that lies behind the overt sin. The worst sins are not the overt sins. They may have worse consequences but the worst sins are the mental attitude sins that motivate the external sins. But that doesn't mean that the mental attitude sin is not a sin and just as wrong or destructive to the soul of the individual. If someone thinks about murder all day long but they never act on it, in terms of society that's a great thing because nobody is being killed. But in terms of sin, it has a horrible effect on the soul of the individual and will have terrible consequences in his own life and in his own mental attitude and his own spiritual state. But it's better in a relative sense to have the mental attitude sin than to have the overt sin but in terms of its sinfulness in relation to the righteousness of God, it's just as much a sin.

See the contrast in Leviticus 19:18 as a positive command: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." So the neighbor is the one who has done something wrong to you. This is the person who has done something that has offended you, something that has insulted you, or something that has injured you terribly. Maybe it has caused great damage in your life. It could be any kind of abuse. It could be the kind of abuse of a parent to a child. This could include emotional abuse. It could include sexual abuse. It could include all manner of terrible things that one human being can do to another but the command is that you should not take vengeance. Take it before the courts. Put is before the throne of grace and God's justice and let Him deal with it but don't you try to enact vengeance on your own.

 Instead, what's your personal responsibility to the person who has injured you so terribly? Your responsibility and my responsibility is to love them as I love myself. That can't be done apart from God the Holy Spirit. This is why when we look at the passage dealing with the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:20-22, the first fruit of the Spirit is love because five verses earlier you have a quotation from Leviticus 19:18 that we're to love our neighbor as yourself. How do we do that? Then in the next verse in Galatians Paul says walk by means of the Spirit and you won't fulfill the lust of the flesh. If you walk by the Spirit you won't fulfill the lust of the flesh which in context dealing with Leviticus 19:18 is to enact vengeance on someone. Now that doesn't mean you don't want justice. It means you're going to initiate justice in a court of law and you're going to let a court of law handle it. If the court of law fails, then you're going to let God handle it and put it in His hands. Now let's skip to Deuteronomy 32:35 where God says, "Vengeance is Mine, and retribution," So God is the One who is ultimately going to bring that about. But God doesn't always bring that about in the way we like or in our timing. Sometimes it won't be brought to final justice until the end times.

Turn with me now to Isaiah where we're going to look at a couple of passages that also deal with God's vengeance, or God's justice, but in these passages we're going to see that they don't take place until the ultimate fulfillment of the wrath of God which is at the end of the Tribulation period. Isaiah 63:1, "Who is this who comes from Edom…" Edom is the area that is west of the Jordan River. Today it's part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Edom is an ancient kingdom. Herod the Great was an Edomite. They're descendants of Esau who was apparently ruddy complexioned with red hair so he was named Edom which has a connotation of red. "Who is this who comes from Edom with garments of glowing colors from Bozrah?" Now this is the Lord Jesus Christ as the conquering Messiah coming back from having rescued the Jews in the area around Petra.

The next trip I take to Israel we're going to go to Petra and spend a whole day hiking around being able to see all the things there. It's an enormous, enormous area and it's protected by all of these rock formations and all of these hills. This is a place where tens of thousands of people can hide. What's interesting is in the ancient Nabatean Kingdom that was there built all of these various buildings out of the rock of the mountains and then in order to capture rain, they hollowed out the inside of the mountains into huge cisterns, huge caverns that will hold a hundred or two hundred thousand gallons of water. When you go down into the souk which if you've seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade you saw the picture at the end when they get on their horses and ride up the souk as they leave. That exterior was taken going into Petra. Down both sides of that canyon wall they carved out what I would describe as basically a gutter that's about 18 inches wide and it's scooped out and it runs the entire length of the souk which is a couple of miles to capture the water runoff so if they get a half or even a quarter inch of rain all that rain that would run down would be captured in those gutters and would run all the way down to the base and then into the cisterns inside the mountains. So with a very small amount of rain they could capture several hundred gallons of water. And because modern man likes to restore some of these antiquities they have been restoring these water channels and cisterns in Petra. I think that God is probably just chuckling about that because this is preparing things for the end times because when you see the survivors of Israel escape to that area all of these water systems are going to have been rebuilt and reconstructed so they'll hold water. Pardon the pun. This will be an area where God will protect them.

So that's what this passage in Isaiah 63:1 is talking about, that the Messiah comes back to rescue the Jews who have been hiding in the mountains in the wilderness of Edom. He destroys one army of the Antichrist there. That's why His garments are dyed with blood. There are other passages that also indicate His blood-soaked garments. This verse continues, "This One who is majestic in His apparel, Marching in the greatness of His strength? It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save." So he is coming to bring about vengeance.

 In Isaiah 63:2 we read, "Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press?" These are blood-soaked garments. He says in Isaiah 63:3-4, "I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment. For the day of vengeance was in My heart, And My year of redemption has come." "Peoples" here refers to the Gentiles, the army of the Antichrist. The day of vengeance is when God brings about His final judgment on the Gentile nations, the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and on Satan. The phrase, {"And My year of redemption has come" is talking about Israel when this is finalized.

Isaiah 63:5 says, ""I looked, and there was no one to help, And I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; So My own arm brought salvation to Me, And My wrath upheld Me. I trod down the peoples in My anger And made them drunk in My wrath, And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth." All of this is hyperbolic imagery to express the extent and the severity of the judgment that falls upon the Gentiles when the Messiah comes back when He brings about justice. There's that word we're looking for, "the day of vengeance [naqam]." Now another passage we can go to is in Isaiah 61:2. This is a well-known passage quoted in Luke's Gospel by the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 4:17-21. The Lord is asked to read from the Parashah which is the Scripture reading that day in the synagogue.

It's no coincidence that the Lord shows up that day. In every Sabbath in every synagogue in the world they're reading from the same portion of Scripture. So He read there this section in Isaiah and the Lord only read down to the first line of verse two. He stopped there. Isaiah 61:2, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD" He rolled up the scroll and He sat down. Look at the next verse. He did that because up to 2a, that fulfillment is at the 1st Advent. The rest of it is fulfilled in the 2nd Advent.

The next line in Isaiah 61:2 reads, "And the Day of vengeance of our God." What day is that? That's the day we just read about in Isaiah 63 when the Messiah comes to rescue Israel and the final execution of God's judgment against all evil in human history. So vengeance is the domain of God. It's the execution of His justice against evil. Sometimes this happens in our life when we can see it. Most of the time it will not happen until the Lord's 2nd coming and then later at the Great White Throne which executes judgment.

Now in Romans 12:20 we get an application from this. If we are not to avenge ourselves, if we are not to take it out on the party which has offended us, if we're to let God execute His judgment, His wrath, and His timing in His place, then what are we supposed to do? This is where it gets difficult. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." You have to be nice to that sorry son of a whatever! Now this is another very interesting passage. This is a quote from Proverbs 25:22-22, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you."

Now how in the world are we to do this? Let's think about some illustrations of Scripture that might apply. Again, we find one in the Old Testament. So let's go back and turn to 2 Kings 6, which focuses on the ministry of Elisha. Elijah was toward the end of 1 Kings. Elisha's ministry covers the first part of 2 Kings. Chapter 6 has to do with the military threat of the Syrians against the Northern kingdom of Israel. We read in 2 Kings 6:8, "Now the king of Aram [Syria] was warring against Israel; and he counseled with his servants saying, "In such and such a place shall be my camp. The man of God [Elisha] sent {word} to the king of Israel saying, 'Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Arameans [Syrians] are coming down there.' The king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God had told him; thus he warned him, so that he guarded himself there, more than once or twice."

It's nice having a prophet who has a direct ear to God so he can find out what the enemy is doing and warn you not to go into an area where there will be an ambush. This really bothered the King of Syria because he thought someone in his camp had betrayed him and warned off the King of Israel. He had had this perfect ambush set up and all of a sudden, the King of Israel doesn't take his troops that way. "Now the heart of the king of Aram was enraged over this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, 'Will you tell me which of us is for the king of Israel?'" He's asking where the traitor in their midst is. "One of his servants said, 'No, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom'." You can't hide from God. God's telling Elisha what you're saying and that's the leak. "So he said, 'Go and see where he is, that I may send and take him'."

At this point the Syrians surround the area at Dothan where Elisha and his servant are located and the servant looks out and sees they're just surrounded by the armies of Syria. Now things look really bad at that point. There are a lot of times in our lives when we look out and whatever our problems are they're insurmountable, they're overwhelming, and we're just surrounded by them. We don't look at things from God's viewpoint. This is what happened with Elisha's servant. He's just not looking at it with the eyes of faith. He doesn't understand that this is God's plan and God's purpose.

Just because it looks like they're outnumbered when God is on your side, you're never outnumbered. The servant is pushing the panic button and in 2 Kings 6:15 he says, "Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, 'Alas, my master! What shall we do?"" In 2 Kings 6:16-17 Elisha says, "So he answered, 'Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' Then Elisha prayed and said, 'O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see. And the LORD opened the servant's eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha'."

When the servant looked out he saw the armies of the Syrians and he also saw the armies of the angels, the hosts of God, which were surrounding the armies of the Syrians. So he realized that the angels of God outnumbered the Syrians about 10,000 to 1 and there really wasn't much of a problem anymore. 2 Kings 6:18 continues, "When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, 'Strike this people with blindness, I pray.' So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha…" After they were blind Elisha told the Syrians that this wasn't the way to go. This wasn't the right place. '… Follow me and I will take you to the person you seek.' So Elisha led the Syrian army into the heart of the Northern kingdom of Israel at the ancient city of Samaria, later rebuilt by King Herod. It's a remarkably huge, huge kingdom, capital of the Northern kingdom and then all of a sudden God took the blinders off of the Syrian army, they were now surrounded by the army of Israel.

Now look at what happens in 2 Kings 6:21, "Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, "My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?" Here's a situation. Your enemy is now in your grip. You, under every law of warfare that's ever been devised have a great opportunity to wipe them out and to completely annihilate the army of Syria. What does Elisha say in 2 Kings 6:22, "He answered, 'You shall not kill {them}. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them that they may eat and drink and go to their master'."

Elisha is following the principle that if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he's thirsty, give him something to drink. This is Israel's lifelong enemy, the army of Syria. Constantly they've been seeking to destroy and control the Northern kingdom. There's always been a state of hostility between the northern kingdom and Syria, just as today you have this situation in Israel where there's continuous antagonism and war and hostility and terrorisms from the Arabs toward the Jews. This would be comparable today to bringing all the worst terrorists together into the heart of Jerusalem. It would be the great idea to slaughter them and the prophet says not to slaughter them but to feed them and send them home in safety.

This is one reason why the Israeli army holds themselves to a higher standard of accountability. Not that they haven't made mistakes. They're sinners and there have been problems here and there. But the standard they hold themselves accountable to is this kind of standard: that they want to go the extra step to protect their adversary. This comes from the ethic they derive from the Old Testament.

This is the same ethic that's for us. We have the Holy Spirit. We are to do the same thing. Now the explanation that's given at the end of Romans 12:20 is where we get into some interesting and uncertain hermeneutics. There's almost universal agreement what this means but we just don't know exactly how we get there in terms of the idiom. The first time I ever heard this verse quoted it was quoted out of maliciousness. If someone has really treated us badly we need to treat them good so they'll feel really bad about it. We'll heap coals of fire on them. You want to make someone feel bad, if they've treated you badly, you just treat them nicely and then they'll feel bad. It catches the thrust of this to bring the enemy to repentance. But the idea is not the sense of just being nice to someone so they'll really feel bad about being mean to me.

This may refer to an Egyptian ritual in which a person showed repentance by carrying a pan of burning charcoal on his head. This was mirrored in some of the other cultures so this would again be talking about an idiom that carrying coals of fire on your head was something a penitent would do in order to show they have repented of their hostile attitude. So that is just the point that if you're kind to someone it may bring them to a change of mind, and that's better than killing your enemy. So that would be the point. Treat them in goodness and kindness even though they do not deserve it.

So that brings us to the last verse in Romans 12:21, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." The word for overcome is that word we studied many times before in Revelation and many passages, the word from NIKE, the noun where we get the brand name Nike meaning victory. It was the name of the Greek goddess of victory so this verb NIKAO indicates having victory or being conquered by something, so it should be translated to not be conquered by evil. Don't let your sin nature conquer you but instead conquer evil with good. It's pretty straight forward but it's just difficult to do. When someone does evil to you as Paul says earlier, "Do not repay evil with evil". We see the same things quoted in the Old Testament.

Proverbs 20:22 says, "Do not say, 'I will repay evil; Wait for the LORD, and He will save you'." It's not our responsibility to take justice into our own hands. We are to put it before the Throne of God in prayer, cast all of our cares before Him, and He will sustain us.

Proverbs 24:29 says, "Do not say, 'Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work'." We have a higher standard. We're going to treat that person in terms of what's best for them. That's what the Bible speaks of when it talks about loving your neighbor as yourself.

Proverbs 24:17 states, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles." So this gets to the heart of the matter (no pun intended); it gets to the real issue which is mental attitude.

We can take our enemy to task. We can take him to court and have him thrown in jail. We can go into battle with the enemy and kill the enemy but we are not to do it with an attitude of personal joy and vindictiveness. We are not to let our heart be glad when an enemy stumbles. It would be better for him not to stumble but to come to repentance. We are not to take joy in the pain of others. Why? Proverbs 24:18 "Or the LORD will see {it} and be displeased, And turn His anger away from him." That attitude of personal vengeance displeases the Lord because it is counter to His justice. If we get in the way by trying to execute our idea of repayment and justice then the Lord might, according to this verse, relinquish the wrath He would bring upon that person for what they have done. So by getting involved and getting in God's way rather than intensifying the misery on the person who has offended us, it might cause God to relinquish His punishment on the individual and they end up getting off scot free because we have failed to stay out of the situation and leave it in the hands of the Lord.

Okay, next time we're going to come back to Romans chapter 13 and we're going to deal with the important issue related to government and the role of the Christian to the government. This is important, especially today, because we are faced with a government that through its bureaucracy becoming more and more antagonistic and hostile to Christians. So how are we to handle that? Again we need to look at what Paul says in Romans 13 and we'll look at some other passages such as Daniel 1 and how Daniel and his friends handled it when they were living in a pagan, hostile environment. That's how we are. We need to think more in terms like Daniel and his friends and less in terms of some sort of posse that's sent out to right all the wrongs and to change the government with some sort of overthrow. That is not the focal point of chapter 13. So we'll come back and begin Romans 13 next time.