Question: Psalm 58:10-11 suggests that revenge is acceptable to God, yet Proverbs 24:17-18 suggests the opposite. Is revenge acceptable to God or not?
Here are the two verses in question:
Ps. 58:10-11 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. Then men will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
Prov. 24:17-18 Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.
“Revenge” conjures up images of someone filled with rage and hatred getting even with whoever has done that person wrong. But according to the dictionary, the word “revenge” means to punish someone in return for wrongdoing, injury or insult. Technically, it means to deliver justice. Given that definition, “revenge” is not really what is at the heart of Proverbs 24: 17-18. That passage has to do with a mean-spirited attitude, so it cannot be used to argue for or against God’s attitude toward revenge.
Ps. 58:10-11, however, accurately describes vengeance from the biblical viewpoint of God punishing those who do evil. A close look at the passage reveals four key players: the “righteous,” who have been wronged, the “wicked,” who committed the wrongdoing, the “men,” who are witnesses of the event, and God, who acts as judge. In this scenario it is God who judges the actions of the wicked and, as a result, those who witness it all come to the conclusion that God is just and fair for punishing those who abused the righteous.
As for the righteous in this verse, they are “glad” because justice has been served. They have been avenged by God who has seen the injustice done to them. As grotesque as it sounds to our ears that the righteous “bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked,” that is simply a very real description of a battlefield where the victory has gone to those who were wronged. The righteous are not glad because they are ankle deep in blood; they are glad because God saw to it that the good guys won! The blood is evidence of His victory over evil. God has exercised justice.
So even Psalm 58:10-11 does not suggest that revenge is acceptable to God in the common use of that word. What it does teach is that God is just, and He is the avenger of the righteous when they are wronged. This verse should be a source of great comfort for those who have been rescued from the life of wickedness and who have come to faith in Jesus Christ:
1Pet. 4:3-5 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.