“And he came to the men of Succoth and said, ‘Behold! Zebach and Tsalmunna, of whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebach and Tsalmunna now in your hand that we should give bread to your weary men?’ So he took the Elders of the city and thorns of the wilderness and briers and he taught the men of Succoth in them. And he tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.”
“Vengeance is mine!” declares our God. Yet, oftentimes God uses ordinary powers and events to bring about his vengeance, whether she-bears, famines, or armies. In this case, it is the latter. The men of Succoth and of Penuel denied Gideon and his soldiers basic sustenance and sent them on their way out of fear. A simple act of kindness they did not give.
And for that sin, God wields Gideon and his 300 as a tool of punishment upon the peoples of these two cities. The first are punished through the punishment of their Elders — the leaders of the city. The second had their fortifications torn down (the tower) and had the men of the city killed either in battle or by execution. In either case, the penalty is great as their sin was great (by failing to offer food to Gideon’s men, the people of the city were in essence, aiding the kings of Midian).
In the end, we are left with the question of justice. Was Gideon in his right to take vengeance out upon these people? The answer is yes because Gideon (as we discussed above) is acting as an agent of God — a Judge and as a political leader. Thus, while you and I do not have the authority to take vengeance into our own hands, in cases such as this, governments do have the right to act in such a fashion.
The question to ask is how one applies this to the church, for the church is a government in the life of the people. The difference, though, between the church government and the civil government ought to be more or less obvious; while the civil government’s primary sphere of authority are worldly matters, the church’s primary sphere of authority are spiritual matters. I use the term “primarily” in recognition of the fact that spiritual affairs influence the worldly actions we take and worldly events can affect our spiritual well-being. Thus to say “primarily” indicates the sphere in which the authority originates while also acknowledging the areas of overlap. Thus, for example, the notion of justice originates in the realm of spirituality and is applied in the world around us.
Thus, the primary way that the church exercises justice is through church discipline. In the mildest sense, this is found in the teaching and the preaching of the Word along with the admonitions of the Elders. When people become contentious and, like the men of Succoth or Penuel, are being destructive to the church body, at times the church must remove one from fellowship, essentially giving the person over to Satan in the hopes that such will bring about a repentant life.
The problem is that very few churches practice such, or if they do, very few practice it well…they become vindictive rather than offering loving oversight of the body. Many church leaders are afraid to practice this aspect of church government for fear of offending someone out of the church, but fear of offense brings about compromise and compromise (at least in spiritual matters) always brings about a slippery slope into the realms of apostasy…a short survey of church history will illustrate that truth.
One final note. There is a time for church leadership to act, like Gideon, as the hand of judgment of God. This may sound odd to our ears, but this would be the case when it comes to false teachers and those leading the flock away from the Truth of God’s word. Wolves in sheep’s clothing like this are found in cults, health-wealth/prosperity preachers, and in those who blatantly compromise the truth to chase after the things of this world. Against such foes as this, church government too is given a sword, one which divides the soul and spirit, joint and marrow, and against which no creature can stand. Such false peddlers of “another gospel” are enemies of God and of men and have had their destruction foretold in ages past. They feed themselves and starve the people who follow them, handing out bits of truth mixed in with brimstone and filth. Their punishment will be eternal and they will go to their father, who is the devil. And faithful shepherds will guard the flock against such as these.