Hands of God

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. O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
~ Deuteronomy 32:35, Psalm 94:1

For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.
~ Isaiah 59:17

To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
~ Isaiah 61:2

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
~ Romans 13:4

And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats.
~ Ezekiel 34:17

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
~ Matthew 10:28

But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
~ Hebrews 10:27

For our God is a consuming fire.
~ Hebrews 12:29

An Exposition on Hebrews 10:30-31, by John Owen.

Οἴδαμεν γὰρ τὸν εἰπόντα , ᾿Εμοὶ ἐκδίκησις , ἐγὼ ἀνταποδώσω , λέγει Κύριος . Καὶ πάλιν , Κύριον κρινεῖ τὸς λαὸν αὑτοῦ . Φοβερὸν τὸ ἐμπεσεῖν εἰς χεῖρας Θεοῦ ζῶντος .

Hebrews 10:30-31 . For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

There is in these verses the confirmation of all that was spoken before, by the consideration of what God is in himself, with whom alone we have to do in this matter, and what he assumeth unto himself in this and the like cases; as if the apostle had said, ‘In the severe sentence which we have denounced against apostates, we have spoken nothing but what is suitable unto the holiness of God, and what, indeed, in such cases he hath declared that he will do.’

The conjunction γάρ denotes the introduction of a reason of what was spoken before; but this is not all which he had discoursed on, on this subject, but more particularly the reference he had made unto their own judgments of what sore punishment was due unto apostates: ‘Thus it will be with them, thus you must needs determine concerning them in your own minds; for we know him with whom we have to do in these things. Wherefore the apostle confirms the truth of his discourse, or rather illustrates the evidence of it, by a double consideration:

1. Of the person of him who is, and is to be the sole judge in this case, who is God alone: “For we know him.” And,

2. What he hath assumed unto himself, and affirmed concerning himself in the like cases; which he expresseth in a double testimony of Scripture. And then, lastly, there is the way whereby our minds are influenced from this person and what he hath said; which is, that “we know him.”

The first consideration confirming the evidence and certainty of the truth asserted, is the person of Him who is the only judge in this case. I confess the pronoun herein is not expressed in the original, but as it is included in the participle and article prefixed, τὸν εἰπόντα , “him that saith,” who expresseth himself in the words ensuing; but it is evident that the apostle directeth unto a special consideration of God himself, both in the manner of the expression and in the addition of these words, λέγει Κύριος , to the testimony which he writes immediately: ‘If you will be convinced of the righteousness and certainty of this dreadful destruction of apostates, consider in the first place the Author of this judgment, the only judge in the case: “We know him that hath said.”’

Obs. 1. There can be no right judgment made of the nature and demerit of sin, without a due consideration of the nature and holiness of God, against whom it is committed. “Fools make a mock of sin;” they have no sense of its guilt, nor dread of its punishment. Others have slight thoughts of it, measuring it only either by outward effects, or by presumptions which they have been accustomed unto. Some have general notions of its guilt, as it is prohibited by the divine law, but never search into the nature of that law with respect unto its author. Such false measures of sin ruin the souls of men. Nothing, therefore, will state our thoughts aright concerning the guilt and demerit of sin, but a deep consideration of the infinite greatness, holiness, righteousness, and power of God, against whom it is committed.

And hereunto this also is to be added, that God acts not in the effect of any of these properties of his nature, but on a preceding contempt of his goodness, bounty, grace, and mercy; as it is impossible that sin should come into the world but by the contempt of these things. Antecedently unto all possibility of sinning, God communicates the effects of his goodness and bounty unto the creation; and in those sins which are against the gospel, he doth so also of his grace and mercy. This is that which will give us a due measure of the guilt and demerit of sin: look upon it as a contempt of infinite goodness, bounty, grace, and mercy, and to rise up against infinite greatness, holiness, righteousness, and power, and we shall have a view of it as it is in itself.

Obs. 2. Under apprehensions of great severities of divine judgments, the consideration of God, the author of them, will both relieve our faith and quiet our hearts. Such instances are given in the eternal casting off of multitudes of angels, on their guilt in one sin; the woful sin of Adam, and the ruin of his posterity, even of those who had not sinned after the similitude of his transgression; the destruction of the old world by a universal flood; as in the fire and brimstone that God rained from heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah; in the final rejection of the Jews, and the dreadful overthrow of the city and temple by fire; in the eternity of the torments of impenitent sinners. In all these things, and others that seem to have any thing of the same kind with them, we shall need nothing to give the most full satisfaction unto our souls, if “we know him who hath said, Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”

Secondly, This consideration is confirmed by a double testimony, wherein God assumeth unto himself that which will give assurance of the punishment of apostates. And we may consider, concerning these testimonies,

1. The apostle’s application of them unto his purpose;

2. The force that is in them unto that end.

1. They are both of them taken from Deuteronomy 32:35-36. ‘But in that place they seem absolutely to intend vengeance and judgment on the adversaries of his people, to make a way for their deliverance; but here they are applied unto the final destruction of that same people, namely, the Jews, without hope of deliverance.’ I answer,

(1.) That it is usual with the apostle in this epistle, and all other writers of the New Testament, to make use of testimonies out of the Old without respect unto the particular cases and designs which they were originally applied unto, but with regard unto the truth and equity contained in them; whereon they are equally applicable unto all cases of a like nature. ‘Thus,’ saith he, ‘God declares himself with respect unto his stubborn enemies; whence a rule is established, that he will deal so with all that are so, who are in the same circumstances with them of whom we speak.’

(2.) What God speaks concerning his enemies, and the enemies of his people in covenant with him, is applicable unto that people itself when they absolutely break and reject the covenant. So was it done by these apostates, who thereon came into the room and place of the most cursed enemies of God and his people. And therefore God will be unto them what he was unto the worst of those his adversaries.

(3.) That which God properly in that place assumeth this title unto himself upon, is the cruelty and rage of those adversaries in the persecution and destruction of his people: and shall he not act in like manner towards them who murdered the Lord Jesus, and persecuted all his followers?

Wherefore, whatever frame of mind in God is represented in the Scripture, as unto his indignation against the worst of sinners and his adversaries, is fully applicable unto these degenerate apostates.

2. The first testimony in the original is, לִי נָקָם וְשִׁלֵּם , “to me vengeance and recompence;” which the apostle renders” by ἔνδικος μισθαποδοσία , to the same purpose. Recompence is the actual exercise of vengeance. Δική , ἐκδίκησις , “vengeance,” is the actual execution of judgment on sinners according unto their desert, without mitigation or mercy. It is an act of judgment; and wherever mention is made of it, God is still proposed as a judge, it being a just retribution, on the consideration of the demerit of sin as sin.

(1.) This vengeance God appropriateth the right of unto himself in a peculiar manner, as that which no creature, in its full latitude, hath any interest in. See Psalms 94:1-2. For it respects only sin in its own formal nature, as sin against God.

(1.) Though men may inflict punishment on it, yet they do it principally on other accounts. Whatever is of vengeance in punishment is merely an emanation from divine constitution.

(2.) No creature can have the just measures of the desert of sin, so as to give it a just and due recompence.

(3.) The power of the creature cannot extend to the just execution of vengeance, sin deserving eternal punishment.

(4.) Pure vengeance, as vengeance, is not to be intrusted with our nature; nor would any man be able to manage it, but would fall into one excess or other, unto the ruin of his own soul. Wherefore God hath reserved and included all vengeance unto himself, and all just, final retribution for and unto sin. Although he hath allowed infliction of punishment on offenders, in order unto the government and peace of the world, in magistrates and public persons, yet as unto vengeance, as it denotes giving satisfaction to ourselves in the punishment of others, it is forbidden unto all persons, both private and public. God, in executing vengeance, gives satisfaction unto his own infinite holiness and righteousness; which makes it holy and just. Men cannot give satisfaction unto themselves in punishment but it is unto their evil affections; which makes it useless and unjust. Hence David blessed God that he had kept him from avenging himself on Nabal. For there is no vengeance but what is exerted by a man’s self, in his own case and cause: the judgment unto punishment is for others. Wherefore the formal reason of the appropriation of all vengeance unto God is, that God alone can judge and punish in his own case, and unto his own satisfaction. “He hath made all things for himself, and the wicked for the day of evil.”

(2.) In this appropriation of vengeance unto God, there is supposed and included that indeed there is vengeance with God, which in due time he will execute: “I will repay, saith the Lord.” He doth oftentimes exercise great patience and forbearance, even then when vengeance might justly be expected and is called for: “How long dost thou not avenge our blood?” This commonly adds unto the security of wicked men, and they learn to despise the threatening of all the judgments of God which they have deserved, 2 Peter 3:3-7; Ecclesiastes 8:11. They are ready to conclude that either vengeance doth not belong unto God; or that it shall be executed when and where they are not concerned. But in all these cases God hath fixed a determinate time and season for the execution of deserved vengeance. Hence he calls it “the year of vengeance,” and “the day of recompence;” so here, “I will repay it, saith the Lord.”

This being so, God having said that vengeance belongeth unto him, and that it is due unto provoking sins and sinners; that it is in his power, and his alone, to inflict it when and how he pleaseth, and that he will certainly do so, in the assurance whereof the apostle adds that word, “saith the Lord,” he will repay it; it evidently follows, that in his appointed season, the day and year of vengeance, such horrible provoking sinners as were those treated of must fall under the most severe punishment, and that for evermore.

The second testimony, taken from the same place, is of the same importance with this, “The Lord shall judge his people.” In Deuteronomy it is applied unto such a judgment of them as tends unto their deliverance. But the general truth of the words is, that God is the supreme judge, “he is judge himself,” Psalms 50:6. This the apostle makes use of, concluding that the righteousness of God, as the supreme judge of all, obligeth him unto this severe destruction of apostates: for “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” shall not he who is judge in a peculiar manner of those that profess themselves to be his people, punish them for their iniquities, especially such as break off all covenant-relation between him and them.

Obs. 3. A due consideration of the nature of God, his office, that he is “the judge of all,” especially of his people, and that enclosure he hath made of vengeance unto himself, under an irrevocable purpose for its execution, gives indubitable assurance of the certain, unavoidable destruction of all wilful apostates. All their security, all their presumptions, all their hopes, will vanish before this consideration, as darkness before the light of the sun.

Obs. 4. Although those who are the peculiar people of God do stand in many relations unto him that are full of refreshment and comfort, yet is it their duty constantly to remember that he is the holy and righteous judge, even towards his own people.

Lastly, The ground of the application of these testimonies unto the present case, is that knowledge of God which they had unto whom he spoke: “For we know him.” ‘You have the same sense of God, his holiness and truth, as I have; and therefore it cannot be strange unto you that he will deal thus severely with apostates: you know who he is, how infinite in holiness, righteousness, and power; you know what he hath said in cases like unto this, namely, that “vengeance is his, and he will repay:” wherefore it must be evident unto you that these things will be as they are now declared.’

Obs. 5. The knowledge of God in some good measure, both what he is in himself and what he hath taken on himself to do, is necessary to render either his promises or threatenings effectual unto the minds of men.

Hebrews 10:31 . “( It is ) a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

The apostle in these words winds up his whole argument against the wilful despisers of the gospel, taken from the nature and aggravations of that sin, with the severity of the punishment that will certainly befall them that are guilty thereof. And these words are, as an inference from them that go immediately before, so a recapitulation of all that he had spoken to this purpose. ‘Let men look to it, look to themselves, consider what they do; “for it is a fearful thing,” etc.’

There are three things in the words:

1. The description given of God with respect unto the present case; he is “the living God.”

2. The event of their sin with respect unto him; it is a “falling into his hands.”

3. The nature hereof in general, “it is a fearful thing.”

First, In what sense God is called the “living God,” and with respect unto what ends, have been declared on Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 9:14. In brief, this title is ascribed unto God principally on two accounts:

1. By way of opposition unto all dead and dumb idols, those which the heathen worshipped; and which are graphically described by the psalmist, Psalms 115:4-8; as also by the prophet, Isaiah 44:9-11, etc. And,

2. This is to impress upon our minds a due sense of his glory and eternal power, according as we are called to trust in him or to fear him. Life is the foundation of power. He who hath life in himself, who is the cause of all life in all other things that are partakers of it, must be the only spring of infinite power. But God is here called “the living God” with respect unto his eternal power, whereby he is able to avenge the sins of men. Indeed, it calls to mind all the other holy properties of his nature, which are suited to impress dread or terror on the minds of presumptuous sinners; whose punishment is thence demonstrated to be unavoidable. He sees and knows all the evil and malice that are in their sin, and the circumstances of it. He is the “God that liveth and seeth,” Genesis 16:14. And as he seeth, so he judgeth, because he is the living God; which also is the ground of holy trust in him, 1 Timothy 4:10.

Obs. 6. This name, “the living God,” is full of terror or comfort unto the souls of men.

Secondly, The event of the sin spoken against, as unto its demerit, with respect unto God, is called “falling into his hands.” The assertion is general, but is particularly applied unto this case by the apostle. To “fall into the hands,” is a common expression with reference unto any one falling into and under the power of his enemies. None can be said to fall into the hands of God, as though they were not before in his power. But to fall into the hands of God absolutely, as it is here intended, is to be obnoxious to the power and judgment of God, when and where there is nothing in God himself, nothing in his word, promises, laws, institutions, that should oblige him to mercy or a mitigation of punishment. So when a man falls into the hands of his enemies, between whom and him there is no law, no love, he can expect nothing but death. Such is this falling into the hands of the living God; there is nothing in the law, nothing in the gospel, that can be pleaded for the least abatement of punishment. There is no property of God that can be implored. It is the destruction of the sinner alone whereby they will all be glorified.

There is a falling into the hands of God that respects temporal things only, and that is spoken of comparatively. When David knew that an affliction or temporal punishment was unavoidable, he chose rather to fall into the hands of God as unto the immediate infliction of it, than to have the wrath of men used as the instrument thereof, 2 Samuel 24:14. But this appertains not unto our present purpose.

Thirdly, Hereof the apostle affirms in general, that it is φοβερόν , a “fearful, dreadful thing;” that which no heart can conceive, nor tongue express. Men are apt to put off thoughts of it, to have slight thoughts about it; but it is, and will be, dreadful, terrible, and eternally destructive of every thing that is good, and inflictive of every thing that is evil, or that our nature is capable of.

Obs. 7. There is an apprehension of “the terror of the Lord “ in the final judgment, which is of great use unto the souls of men, 2 Corinthians 5:11. It is so to them who are not yet irrecoverably engaged into the effects of it.

Obs. 8. When there is nothing left but judgment, nothing remains but the expectation of it, its fore-apprehension will be filled with dread and terror.

Obs. 9. The dread of the final judgment, where there shall be no mixture of ease, is altogether inexpressible.

Obs. 10. That man is lost for ever who hath nothing in God that he can appeal unto, nothing in the law or gospel which he can plead for himself; which is the state of all wilful apostates. Obs. 11. Those properties of God which are the principal delight of believers, the chief object, of their faith, hope, and trust, are an eternal spring of dread and terror unto all impenitent sinners: “The living God.”

Obs. 12. The glory and horror of the future state of blessedness and misery are inconceivable either to believers or sinners.

Obs. 13. The fear and dread of God, in the description of his wrath, ought continually to be on the hearts of all who profess the gospel.

Herein, by this general assertion, the apostle sums up and closeth his blessed discourse concerning the greatest sin that men can make themselves guilty of, and the greatest punishment that the righteousness of God will inflict on any sinners. Nor is there any reaching of either part of this divine discourse unto the utmost. When he treats of this sin and its aggravations, no mind is able to search into, no heart is able truly to apprehend the evil and guilt which he chargeth it withal. No one can express or declare the least part of the evil which is comprised in every aggravation which he gives us of this sin. And in like manner concerning the punishment of it, he plainly intimates it shall be accompanied with an incomprehensible severity, dread, and terror. This, therefore, is a passage of holy writ which is much to be considered, especially in these days wherein we live, wherein men are apt to grow cold and careless in their profession, and to decline gradually from what they had attained unto. To be useful in such a season it was first written; and it belongs unto us no less than unto them unto whom it was originally sent. And we live in days wherein the security and contempt of God, the despite of the Lord Christ and his Spirit, are come to the full, so as to justify the truth that we have insisted on.