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What does it mean to execute great vengeance (Ezekiel 25:17)?

execute great vengeance
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Every once in a while, a song, book, or film will quote a passage of Scripture and get people thinking about what the passage actually says and means. One such passage is Ezekiel 25:17, in which God says, “I will execute great vengeance” (ESV). This verse was referenced by Samuel L. Jackson’s character, ignoble hitman Jules Winfield, in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction. In one memorable scene, Winfield uses a paraphrase of the verse before firing his 9mm Star Model B at one of his targets. Winfield misquotes and misapplies the verse, but Tarantino’s inclusion of the line provides occasion for an examination of what the verse actually says and means.

Repeated nearly twenty times throughout Ezekiel’s prophecy is God’s purpose that “then they will know that I am the Lord [Yahweh].” Many in Israel had turned their backs on God and disregarded the covenant that God had made with them through Moses. Ezekiel records God’s judgment on the people of Israel, but he also assures them of God’s grace and the restoration He would provide for the people one day in the future (e.g., Ezekiel 37).

But Israel was not the only people who had failed and sinned against God. In fact, roughly six hundred years later, the apostle Paul reminds his readers that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that everyone needs to look to Jesus to find justification and redemption (Romans 3:24). In Ezekiel’s prophecy God describes the near and far future for Israel and also the future of the other nations that had sinned against God. In Ezekiel 25:15–17 God pronounces judgment against the Philistines because they had acted in revenge and tried to destroy Israel completely (Ezekiel 25:15). God says that He would cut off and destroy all the peoples—even the remnant—of Philistia (Ezekiel 25:16). God adds that “I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them” (Ezekiel 25:17, ESV).

God would make Himself, His justice, and His righteousness known to all the peoples who had fought against Him, and the Philistines were no exception. He would execute great vengeance on them as recompense for their mistreatment of the people of Israel. Ezekiel 25:17 is emblematic of God’s judgment and wrath and illustrates how He holds nations accountable for their actions. The Philistines had worshiped other gods (Judges 10:6), yet God allowed them to continue to exist. He even used them as an instrument of His judgment on Israel (Judges 13:1). But when the Philistines went too far, hating (Ezekiel 16:27) and seeking to utterly destroy Israel, God pronounced judgment and promised to execute great vengeance.

It is important to note that the great vengeance of God was directed at the nation, the land, and the people in general. The land would be emptied (see Zechariah 2:5). So, while the Philistine nation would cease to exist because of the national idolatry and its evils against Israel, but God would express His love for all individuals, especially in the substitutionary death of Jesus to pay for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2).

Vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12:19). When God judged the Philistine nation as He had promised, the scattered people who could trace their lineage to that nation would know that He is the Lord—they would have seen firsthand that He is a God who can and will execute great vengeance. They would also know, by their very survival, that He is a gracious God.

Because of God’s great vengeance, Philistia lost once and for all its opportunity to be a nation. That history should serve as a caution to any nations who share the guilt of the Philistines.

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What does it mean to execute great vengeance (Ezekiel 25:17)?
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This page last updated: December 1, 2022