What Are Other Ways to Rebuke?
A Few chapters ago, I mentioned rebuke. I took a brief detour at anger, to establish that anger is not in and of itself sinful. Now we can look at rebuke and see how it was done in the Bible. A quick search of the Bible online shows 89 instances of the word “rebuke.” That would be translations of ga’ar (most commonly), yakhach, and ribh in the Old Testament. We will also see the translation of the word “epitimao” in the New Testament. We’ll also see the word “elegcho.”
This list probably isn’t extensive. Also, I don’t know Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek. All of this research is done online looking as closely as I can in the time I give myself to write these words.
Some of the times the word “rebuke” appears is more about rebuke than a demonstration of it. They are warnings or requests that one be rebuked or rebuke someone. One example of this is in 1 Chronicles 12:17, where some mighty warriors came to pledge themselves to David. David basically says, “If you’re here to help, great, but if you’re trying to trick me, I pray God rebukes you for it.”
Because scenes like that are more warnings or requests, we’ll set those aside and only look for actual demonstrations of rebuke.
My studies of the Bible (small and brief though they are), have revealed in my opinion four types of rebuke.
The most common type of rebuke I’ve found is a conviction or an announcement of grievance. Just tell a person what they have done wrong and/or how that wrong made you feel. We see men do this in several instances of the Bible, but God himself does this also.
“After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.’” (Job 42:7)
This is a great example of this type of rebuke because it both states the wrong (“You have not spoken of Me what is right … “) and expresses how that made God feel (“My anger burns against you … “)
It is loving to rebuke. Convicting a person of what they’ve done to you and expressing your feelings (in love and truth) is not wrong, but a valid, Biblical course of action only a fool would scoff (Proverbs 9:8)
The next style of rebuke is slower. I actually recall several other examples of this throughout Christ’s ministry, but a lot of those examples aren’t stated overtly as rebukes. This style of rebuke is to allow the wrong doer to expose himself. The one overtly stated example of this is in 2 Samuel 12:1-15. David had just arranged the death of Uriah to cover up adultery. Here Nathan comes and tells David about two men, and how one man who had many sheep stole from a poor man who had only one.
Sure enough, David lashed out in anger and condemned that man. It was only then that Nathan revealed that David himself was the man. That rebuke came with a stern punishment, another form of rebuke in itself. However, there are several examples of Christ Himself placing people in position to convict themselves. That rebuke can often bring people to repentance. I find it interesting that there is only the one overt expression of the word, and even that is in a header, not actual scripture. (Headers, chapters, and verses weren’t any part of original manuscripts.) Still, this is a powerful tool to one who uses it wisely.
I know I’ve just hinted at punishment, but stick with me for a minute while I discuss the third type of rebuke. Punishment is a slippery slope, and I want to give that a bit more context. I also want people to see the other forms first (and there’s a reason for that, too).
The third form of rebuke is to hold back or deny action. You see, we don’t have to wait for someone to do wrong. We can prevent that wrong if it is in our power. It took some study, but I found this method to be true because there were times when people were denied or tried to deny one from taking action.
“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:11)
“The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 20:31)
It bears mentioning that I’ve only seen one instance of someone holding another back and it not being overridden, Malachi 3:11. This is because man often tries to hold back one doing what is right. It is possible to hold one back from sin (2 Timothy 4:2), but you must be working to prevent sin. The example in Malachi is a promise from God. Still, if you see someone about to sin, you don’t have to wait for them or watch them do it, nor do you have to wait for someone to harm you.
In each of these examples, the rebuke was verbal. The characters are telling other characters to stop or be silent. None of the examples I’ve seen that fall under this form of rebuke are physical or violent. That may be coincidence, but I don’t think that should be taken lightly. A stern warning against action can go a long way to helping a person resist temptation.
So, now we come to the final, most extreme form of rebuke. I mentioned punishment in the last chapter, and I still see that pattern holding true. The right of rebuke in the form of punishment is reserved for God Himself and those he places in authority.
Each time punishment is used to rebuke people in the Bible, it is God acting as sovereign ruler. In 2 Samuel 22:16, in a prayer to God, David states (and later quotes himself in Psalm 18:15) that things are laid bare at His (God’s) rebuke.
Hezekiah describes a time of pain and disgrace as a day of rebuke. (2 Kings 19:3)
A more overt example may be Psalm 9:5, “You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.”
I can’t stress enough how firmly I believe that punishment is reserved to specific people God places above us to enact his chosen punishment. It is His right to rebuke us in this way, and His alone. This is something someone more experienced and trained than I am may be able to help me understand differently, but in the time I’ve been studying, I’ve only ever seen the right of vengeance, punishment, and wrath belonging to God, and the Bible overtly says as much in passages like Romans 12:19.
That leaves us mortals who aren’t in positions of authority (to one degree or another) three other ways to rebuke, and we should. If we rebuke those who wrong us (and more importantly, God), we have an opportunity to gain our brother. More importantly, we have the opportunity to turn this person away before God evokes his right as sovereign judge to punish the wrong doer more sternly.
For those who are interested in my notes, I left a number of them below. They all have Biblical examples where the word “rebuke” is used. I imagine some may want to study this themselves. The references are there for your review if you wish.
Convict. Speak of wrong and how it made you feel
(1 Samuel 2:22)
(2 Samuel 19:1)
Allow the wrong doer to expose himself (and punish)
(2 Samuel 12: 1-15)
Hold back (prevent action)
(1 Timothy 5:20)
Punishment (All of these were from God. Rebuke as a punishment is from God, and it’s usually Biblically bad.)
(2 Samuel 22:16) Poem. States that things are laid bare at his rebuke
(2 Kings 19:3) (punishment is a rebuke)
(1 Chronicles 16:21)
(Psalm 18:15) (a quote of 2 Samuel 22:16)
For our panel: Are there other ways to rebuke I haven’t been able to find examples of? What can we do if the one we rebuke refuses? Are we obligated to remain near one who grieves us constantly? Do you have story about a time you’ve had to rebuke someone and how it went you’d like to share? How many times are we obligated to rebuke someone? Yes, we’re taught to forgive as God forgave, but does that also mean we must constantly rebuke a person for the same transgression over and over?