Conservation of Vengeance
I’m sure you recognize the object in the picture above, but can you put a name to it? It’s known as “Newton’s Cradle”. Other than doctors’ offices and old-time parlours, they are hard to come across these days. Despite their rarity, most of us remember how they work. The outer ball gets dropped and the collision transfers energy to the end of the line where the last ball ricochets into the air. The contraption is a demonstration of the conservation of energy and it works because all of the balls are made of metal. Once the first collision takes place, it can go on and on, back and forth, until finally the cycle is broken by friction.
Judges 15 demonstrates to us a different type of conservation – conservation of vengeance. Samson and the Philistines are both hard, unyielding objects unwilling to back down. The force of one act of violence creates the energy for retaliation from the other side – Newton’s Cradle of vengeance. Samson follows the example set by Lamech way back in Genesis 4:24 where he says,
“…I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”
Radical Response to Vengeance
The prophet Ezekiel foresaw a better way, a way in which the cycle of violence and retribution could be broken, when we would be given hearts of flesh instead of stone (Ezekiel 36:26). Jesus would be the one to fully unpack what Ezekiel prophesied.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Instead of reacting to violence with hardness, we react with softness. The beauty of this teaching is that it breaks the cycle of violence and retribution so pervasive in Samson’s story. Deuteronomy 5 played an important role in mitigating revenge-fuelled crime in Israel’s history, but there were always limitations intrinsic to its enforcement. The new command has no such limitations. It transcends communities and cultures.
To go back to our original illustration, replace one of the metal balls with one made of soft sponge. The sponge will absorb the impact and prevent the collision energy from spreading. After one hit, the cycle is broken. This is what we are called to do: absorb the impact by taking on soft hearts. Make no mistake, it will hurt, it will be uncomfortable, and it may change the shape of us, but it’s the radical response to vengeance that Jesus asks of us.
Samson followed in the footsteps of Lamech, retaliating seventy times seven. Playing on the words of Lamech, Jesus turns the table in Matthew 18:22, calling on us to forgive seventy times seven. Allowing the Holy Spirit to turn our hearts to sponge is the only way to absorb the blows we receive and break Newton’s Cradle of vengeance.