What Did God Mean When He Said ‘Vengeance Is Mine’?

It’s the sort of thing we expect a vigilante to say in a violent action film. But this promise "vengeance is mine" was first spoken by our Creator, the Author of our story. We are not to repay or vindicate, as God has given more righteousness than we could ever deserve. 

Contributing Writer
Updated Oct 09, 2023
What Did God Mean When He Said ‘Vengeance Is Mine’?

Moses was the scribe, but God authored the words “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

This is God’s promise and His law, given first in Exodus and a second time here. Deuteronomy is a reminder of the covenant that God made with His people.  The word ‘Deuteronomy’ is ‘eleh ha-devarim’ in Hebrew” meaning “‘these are the words.’” 

Moses is preparing to pass the baton to a new generation of Israelites led by a next-generation leader, Joshua. Moses is reminding the people to remain faithful to the one true God and His laws. The Lord has fed them and provided water in the desert. And now, knowing he will soon die and not see the Promised Land, Moses rebukes the people:

For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!Deuteronomy 31:27

In Deuteronomy 32, referred to as ‘The Song of Moses,’ Moses sings to God and the phrase “vengeance is mine” is first recorded here in Deuteronomy 32:35. It is a promise Moses claims for himself and his people. He continues with: In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” The LORD will vindicate his people... 

Later, Paul quotes this verse to the Christians in Rome to emphasize the point that they should not “repay evil for evil.” (Romans 12:17)

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/metamorworks

What Does ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ Mean?

A dictionary definition of “vengeance” leads us to “retribution” or “repayment.” Strong’s Hebrew Concordance explains that the word used here—naqam—means “avenged, quarrel, vengeance."

Paul would have used the Greek which is “ekdikēsis” or “vengeance, vindication.” “Vindication” is a little different, meaning “acquittal, clearing, exculpation, exoneration.”

When we see these two definitions side-by-side, we can take the phrase to mean:

1.  God punishes the wicked.
We are not to exact punishment on behalf of God for His honor: He will satisfy His own wrath. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah out of vengeance for their iniquity. He withheld vengeance from Nineveh when Jonah preached truth to them and they turned to God.

2. We are saved to offer mercy not vindication.
Thanks to the Gospel, we do not receive retribution (vengeance) from God for our sin. If someone hurts us, we must not become absorbed in proving who is right (vindication). 

Applying 'Vengeance Is Mine' (Deuteronomy 32:35) To Our Lives

God’s Old Testament law tells the people how to deal with criminal behavior and certain sins such as adultery and murder, yet we are told not to take vengeance. How can this be? And should we never take a case to court to clear our name if we are slandered or abused?

I think we can clear up this confusion by asking: how far would you go in order to be “right?” What motivates your actions? Is it a desire of the flesh? Or is it righteous anger?

There is no one righteous, not even one.Romans 3:10

The only way to righteousness is “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22). If we are saved by grace, then grace has set us free from punishment, but also from condemnation under the law.

The contrast of this freedom with our former depravity should make us acutely aware that we are not owed anything by God, yet He already bought our freedom at the cross. We have no right to receive earthly honor, but if that’s what we want, then if we are honored on earth we “have received our reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2).

Ideally, we will let God avenge His people when they suffer for Christ and we won’t seek vindication from the world. His glory is all that matters, and “before all the people I will be glorified” says the Lord (Leviticus 4:3).

deuteronomy 32:35 vengeance is minePhoto Credit: ©Sparrowstock

Other Translations of Deuteronomy 32:35

Vengeance is mine, and recompense, At the time when their foot shall slide: For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things that are to come upon them shall make haste. (ASV)

Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly. (ESV)

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. (KJV)

It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them. (NIV)

Most versions use the words “vengeance” and “recompense,” what is known as “pay back” in today’s vernacular. I love how both the NIV and KJV begin with God: “To me” and “It is mine.”

The Word starts with God and everything that is His returns to the Lord.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.Romans 11:36

What Other Verses Talk about Vengeance

Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 in his letter to the Romans. He has been teaching them not to “repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:17-18).

His perspective on “vengeance” stems from the Greek “vindication.” So he is counseling us not seek to be made right in the eyes of others...to concentrate on God’s glory, not your own.

In Psalm 73:18, we discover that God will ensure the Psalmist’s enemies are defeated: “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.” 

Hebrews 10:30 tells us “the Lord will judge His people.” 

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.Matthew 7:1

How Is 'Vengeance Is Mine' Misused Today?

We have a tendency to want justice for ourselves; to be treated fairly. Our society spends a lot of time talking about “rights” but these, for the Christian, are merely self-centered expectations.

God has never told us we will be treated fairly on earth.

In fact, we don’t get what we deserve. We live under grace and not the law (Romans 6:14).

We are better off under grace than under “human rights.” John Piper once preached, “Our rights are to belong to Jesus, to stand justified before a holy God, to own everything and inherit everything, to love our enemies, to return good for evil, to treasure Christ above all things” which are “blood-bought rights. They cannot be secured for us by laws,”

Everything else, Paul wrote, “is loss.”

Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ.Philippians 3:8

A Prayer for a Heart Free of Vengeance

Father, I confess that I sometimes want everyone to know when I am right and someone else is wrong. I want to be vindicated. Lord, help me to place all of that aside in favor of the one true treasure which is Your Sovereign grace. Help me to care nothing for the approval of this world and to care only for You and the rights You have given me; inheritance of the kingdom as an adopted child. Teach me to do everything for Your glory. In your Son’s precious, perfect name, amen.

The cross was unfair. A sinless man went to Golgotha and died so that all repentant sinners could be saved. The resurrection was God’s vindication of Jesus in a sense. By His resurrection Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father and demonstrated His mighty power over Satan and sin. And, where we deserve judgement and vengeance, God instead gave us something better than vindication—we receive justification.

If there are times when you think it matters to be in the right, remember that the only sinless man bought an inheritance for us by His own blood.  Even if you face injustice today which cannot be remedied here on earth, God’s gift of grace is eternal while worldly honor will perish.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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