O God, if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers! They blaspheme you; your enemies misuse your name. O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you? Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you? Yes, I hate them with total hatred, for your enemies are my enemies. – Psalm 139:19-22 ESV
Having opened his prayer by expressing his awe and wonder at God’s involvement in his life, David suddenly switches direction. Knowing that God created him, cares for him, knows everything about him, and sees him when he sits down or stands up, David takes his latest problem to the Lord. He opens up with God about his need. Evidently, David was under tremendous pressure from those whom he considered wicked and described as murderers. Not only were these people enemies of David, they were enemies of God and misused His name. David expressed his loyalty to God. Because these people hated God, he hated them. These are strong words and seem to stand in such stark contrast to the opening verses of David’s prayer. The word “hate” seems so strong, especially for those of us who have grown up on a steady diet of preaching and teaching that focuses on the love of God. But David seemed to believe that God Himself hated these people and he was obligated to hate them as well. It is important to note that David’s hatred for them was based on their opposition to God. Yes, he was evidently under attack from them as well, but it would appear that it was because of his position as God’s appointed king of Israel. David was constantly surrounded by those who hated him because they hated God. And his hatred for them was based on their hatred for God. These people stood against the things of God and the people of God. They were enemies of God.
David was clearly under the impression that God hated evil and those who commit evil acts. “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers” (Psalm 5:5 ESV). “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5 ESV). David’s son, Solomon, included this sentiment in his collection of proverbs: “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV). It makes us uncomfortable when we read that “God hates”. But we tend to interpret the word “hate” using our own sinful definition. Our hate is mired by sin. It is selfish and self-centered. It is unholy and unrighteous. But God’s hatred is always righteous. His nature opposes all that stands opposed to Him. And yet, we know that God loves. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). God hates, but God loves. God must stand opposed to everything that opposes Himself. But He must also love. Only He can do both righteously and justly. We seem capable of doing one or the other, but not both. God’s wrath stands against all those who have sinned and rebelled against His holy will. They are condemned and their sin is punishable by death. But God expressed His love for them by sending His Son to die for them. God knew that their rebellion could only be solved by the sacrifice of His own Son. God’s wrath was satisfied by His own love.
When we read of David’s hatred for his enemies, which he expresses throughout the Psalms, it sounds so harsh. And because David was a man, his hatred was sometimes far too one-dimensional. He lacked the ability to love those he hated. He brought a human perspective to the equation that limited his ability to express love for those who hated God. He simply wanted to see them eliminated. And while God’s holiness and righteousness requires Him to deal harshly with sin and all sinners, His love provided a way to redeem and restore those who were under His wrath. David could only see the wrath. He could only comprehend elimination, but not restoration.
It is interesting to note that when Jesus was preparing to send out the twelve disciples on their own, He warned them, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). Yet He was sending them out with His message of repentance and restoration. They were going to be hated, but He was expecting them to heal the sick, bring release to the captive, share the news of His coming and love those who hated them. We must stand opposed to all that stands opposed to God. We must hate what He hates. But we must always remember that God is ultimately about restoration. We live in a world that stand diametrically opposed to God and all that He stands for. We are enemies of this world. And yet, we are to show the love of God by sharing the message of Jesus Christ with them. It’s a love-hate relationship that only the Holy Spirit can help us hold in balance. We cannot afford to love this world or the things of this world. We cannot construe love of sinners to mean acceptance of their sin. We cannot tolerate what God hates. But we must always remember that the solution to sin and the hope for sinners lies in the love of God as expressed through the death of His Son. I can stand against those who hate God and yet lovingly share with them God’s solution to their problem. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48 ESV).
David hated the enemies of God. He hated those who stood opposed to God. In his mind as a warrior-king, he could only see one solution: their complete annihilation and elimination. But God had a better plan. He was going to bring His Son, through the blood line of David himself, and provide a means by which His love could be displayed and His wrath against all sin satisfied. We live on this side of the resurrection. We know that God’s wrath was real. It resulted in His own Son’s death. But we also know that God’s love is real, because it provided us with forgiveness from sin and release from our condemnation. So while I may be justified in hating what God hates, I must also be willing to love as I have been loved.