Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee?

You know the biblical passages on personal retaliation. They are as radical today as they were in the 1st-century. Jesus, are you serious that when someone injures me, I am not to injure him in return (Matthew 5:38-48)? Paul, you don't really mean that I should return a blessing when I'm insulted, do you (Romans 12:14-21)? Desire for vengeance is the natural response when I am wronged...and maybe even more so when a family member of mine is wronged. 

Fifteenth-century theologian Marsilio Ficino says, “If you attempt to be avenged, you will suffer a second and third injury, and through your desire to destroy the other man you will destroy yourself.” He then makes a brilliant analogy between striking back in vengeance and the sting of a honey bee. When a honey bee is provoked, he responds with a sting. But, at least in the case of most human offenders (those with allergies may be the exception), the sting causes very little injury. The bee, on the other hand, not only leaves his stinger in the victim but loses part of its abdomen and digestive tract in the process. In effect, the act of the sting kills the honey bee. He becomes a kamikaze pilot but with far less success.       

One of the saddest narratives in the Scriptures is the downward spiral of the life of King Saul. Though he stood head and shoulders above the crowds in stature, his soul shrank into miniscule ruin. And while his downfall was already set in motion, what literally drove him insane was an envy of God’s new anointed one…a pimple-faced teenage shepherd boy who had won over the favor of the populous (1 Sam. 18:5-9). So Saul takes on the role of VICTIM. And once you’ve cast yourself as “victim” in the grand drama, you must identify the one who has victimized you…the reason for your problems. So without consulting the mirror for any blame, Saul marches guns blazing after David, thrusting his spear at him as if the tip was an almighty hand pointing the accusing finger. And he spends years chasing after this once beloved son-in-law and national hero with a thirst for payback that will never be quenched. In the process, he even slays a city of priests (1 Samuel 22) and desperately turns to a “spirit medium” (1 Samuel 28), one of the very people he had banished from the land.

David feigned madness (1 Sam. 22:12-15). Saul found madness – a self-inflicted variety. And it led to his death in battle with a vengeance hunger left unsatisfied. He was the honey bee whose sting had little power in the end.

Have you been provoked? Do you feel like a victim in need of revenge? Consult King Saul and ask him where the vengeance road leads. Trust the only One whose understanding of JUSTICE is infinite. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Vengeance may be necessary in order to have justice. But let it be the divine vengeance...not your own. With all due respect to boxer Muhammad Ali, I don’t really want to go out…stinging like a bee.


To His Glory,


Caleb Cochran 

Preaching & Outreach Minister

Rockville, MD


Photo credit: macropoulos / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND