Beyond Revenge

July 11, 2023

“Abba, did King David really want God to punish his enemies? Is that what we should do?”

My ten-year-old boy has the rare gift of asking the obvious questions that are so important and so difficult to answer. This zinger came after reciting Psalm 70:

Let those who seek my life be frustrated and disgraced; let those who wish me harm, fall back in shame. Psalm 70:3

It certainly does seem like David is being vindictive. But was he?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that David seeks the ultimate failure of these enemies and their shame and humiliation, not out of vengeance, but rather so that these cruel Israelites would repent. Often, it is only the shock and humiliation of defeat that brings one to introspection and to change his errant ways.

Another possible interpretation is that David asked for the wicked to be punished because when the wicked face punishment, it showcases the glory of God, as it reveals His unwavering justice and ensures that evil does not escape retribution. One of the most difficult questions for a God-fearing person is, ‘Why do wicked people prosper while good people suffer?’ It is easier to see God in this world when things turn out “the way they should.”

While there are many answers to this question, and the truth is impossible to determine, in some cases not punishing those who sin is actually what brings God’s glory into this world. This was clear in Moses’ response to God’s threat to destroy the nation after the sin of the Golden Calf. While the people were clearly worthy of destruction, Moses convinced God otherwise.

Let not the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that He delivered them, only to kill them off in the mountains and annihilate them from the face of the earth.’ Turn from Your blazing anger, and renounce the plan to punish Your people. Exodus 32:16

Moses’ argument was that if God punished the Hebrews accordingly, the other nations would see this and think it meant that God was capricious or unable to bring them into the land of Israel as He had intended to do.

Similarly, David’s desire for God to punish his enemies was not coming from a place of malice or a desire for revenge. David was praying that God’s glory would be revealed by punishing the enemies of His faithful servant.

A similar idea is found in the Talmud’s account of Choni the “Circle-Maker”. During a difficult drought, the people approached Choni, a known righteous man, and requested that he pray for rain. Confident that his prayers would be answered, he instructed the people to bring their clay Passover ovens into their houses lest they be damaged by the rain that would surely come as a result of his prayers.

Choni went off alone and prayed but no rain fell. He drew a circle on the ground and stood in its center.

“Master of the Universe,” he prayed. “Not on my merit should you do this. But Your children turned to me because I am like a member of Your household. I swear by Your great name that I’m not moving from inside this circle until You have compassion on Your children!”

A light rain began to fall.

“That’s not what I asked for,” Choni prayed. “I asked for rains to fill the cisterns, trenches, and reservoirs.”

The rains started coming down in torrents.

“That’s not what I asked for,” he prayed. “I asked for rains of goodwill, blessing, and generosity.” A proper rain began to fall…

Shimon son of Shetach sent a message to Choni: “If not for the fact that you are Choni, I would have issued a decree of ex-communication against you. But what can I do against you, who nags the Almighty and He fulfills your wish like a child who nags his father and his father fulfills his wish.”

Based on God’s reluctance to answer Choni’s prayers, it seems the people were not worthy of having proper rainfall. Choni’s plea was that God should bring rain lest the people see his prayers go unanswered and mistakenly learn from this that God does not listen to the prayers of the righteous.

While David’s plea for his enemies’ downfall may seem vindictive, it was motivated by a desire for their repentance and a revelation of God’s justice.  However, there are instances where withholding punishment can also bring glory to God in the case of Moses’ plea to spare the Israelites after their sin. Similarly, the story of Choni the “Circle-Maker” teaches us about the power of persistence in prayer and the potential misunderstanding that may arise if God does not fulfill our requests. Ultimately, our prayers should not be driven solely by a desire for personal gain or revenge, but by a genuine fear of Heaven and a sincere devotion to serving God. We must remember that our actions and prayers should always strive to bring God’s glory into the world.

Eliyahu Berkowitz

Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz is a senior reporter for Israel365News. He made Aliyah in 1991 and served in the IDF as a combat medic. Berkowitz studied Jewish law and received rabbinical ordination in Israel. He has worked as a freelance writer and his books, The Hope Merchant and Dolphins on the Moon, are available on Amazon.

Eliyahu Berkowitz

Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz is a senior reporter for Israel365News. He made Aliyah in 1991 and served in the IDF as a combat medic. Berkowitz studied Jewish law and received rabbinical ordination in Israel. He has worked as a freelance writer and his books, The Hope Merchant and Dolphins on the Moon, are available on Amazon.

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