Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Hating the Haters of the Lord
by Prof. David Engelsma
Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies (Ps. 139:21-22).
To say that the attitude expressed in the text is unpopular with Christians to day is an understatement. There is simply no place in present-day Christianity for the sentiments found here. We must love everyone; we may hate no one.
Does a notable heretic arise in the church, overthrowing the most basic doctrines of the Christian faith and gaining adherents to his lie? We must love him and not hate him. Does someone openly walk in gross disobedience to the law of God? We must love him and may not hate him. Is there a cult that practises the vilest immorality and that shamelessly blasphemes the name of God? We must show love to them and may not hate them. So it is said and so many firmly believe.
It seems that nothing is unchristian except hating someone and no one is hated except the man who hates the evildoer. On everyone's lips are the words: "Love your enemies," as if the Bible said nothing more than this.
As regards this and similar passages of Holy Scripture that teach the saints hatred of some men, such passages are simply ignored. If someone has the courage to raise these passages, what the passages teach is dismissed.
Some say that these passages belong to the Old Testament, as though the life of the Old Testament saint was not the life of Christ and as though the New Testament did not require the very same attitude of the New Testament Christian. Others reject these passages as uninspired. Some dare to say that our text and the passage in Psalm 137 that speaks of the blessedness of those who dash the little ones of Babylon and similar passages are merely the unsanctified, personal feelings of the writer, not the inspired word of God.
In the end, those who are determined to hold the position that the Christian should hate no one must come to this conclusion, namely, that all these passages are not inspired. The seriousness of this is that it is an attack on Scripture. Our feelings are allowed to contradict the plain testimony of the Word of God.
Apart from all other considerations, the folly of this is plain with regards out text. Psalm 139 is a beautiful and well-known Psalm. In the opening verses, it confesses that we cannot flee from God. In the closing verses, it calls upon God to search the believer and to know him. Are we then to suppose that the Spirit inspired David in all that precedes and all that follows the text but that He failed David in verses 21-22?
It is of great importance that we heed the Word of God in our text (for this is what it is-not the word of David). We must not be seduced by the popular notion that we may hate no one. This is the inspired Word of God and, as such, it sets forth the experience and the calling of every child of God.
It is a sore evil in the church that there is no hatred for anyone. Why do they not hate those who hate the Lord? There is a reason for this and the reason is the sad spiritual condition of the church today. Since they hate no one, neither do they count anyone their enemy; and if the wicked is not an enemy, he is a friend, a friend of the church. And this destroys the churches today.
The Character of This Hatred
The hatred of the text is real hatred. It is to regard someone with loathing, as a disgusting person, and to will his destruction. Hatred is the exact opposite of love and love is to have delight in someone to wish him well. Hatred in the text is not lesser love. Such an explanation is a popular way of evading Scripture's teaching that God hates some men and we do also. Try to read the text this way once, substituting "love less" for "hate." Immediately, you sense the utter folly of such an explanation.
The hatred of the Psalmist for certain men is the same as the hatred of those men for the Lord and their hatred of the Lord is not "lesser love" but real hatred. What the Psalmist means by this hatred is brought out in what follows: "and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?" His being grieved with these men explains his hatred of them. The word translated "grieved" is even stronger than our version would indicate. The word means "loathe," so that we may read the text, "Do not I loathe those that rise up against thee?"
This is how the word is translated, for example, in Ezekiel 20:43: "and ye shall loathe yourselves in your sight for all your evils that ye have committed." To loathe someone is to regard him as disgusting and to abhor him. Only if hatred is real hatred does it follow that you count the one whom you hate as your enemy. You do not count for an enemy one whom you love with a lesser love but one whom you hate. And the Psalmist concludes in verse 22: "I count them mine enemies."
This hatred, according to the text, is a "perfect hatred." Perfect hatred is not, as is commonly supposed, a hatred uncorrupted with sin, a holy hatred. This is true, of course. Our hatred of the wicked must be holy. It must not be contaminated by sinful passions such as envy, desire of revenge or the like. The text makes plain how the hatred of which it speaks is holy and how it remains holy. Nevertheless, this is not what is meant by "perfect." Perfect hatred is hatred that is thorough, complete and extreme. It is not half-hearted hatred. We see those whom we hate as completely disgusting and we firmly regard them with abhorrence. We will their destruction, their eternal destruction, as God reveals this to be their just punishment in His Word.
"Is this right? Is this Christian?" you ask. We must let the Psalmist himself answer the question. The Psalmist shows that, in taking this attitude of hatred, he is perfectly confident that he is right with God, that he is pleasing to God. He is criticised today for being unspiritual here. But he breathes the confidence that his spiritual condition is good. For the confession that he hates some men appears in a question that he asks of the Lord: "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee?" He asks this question of the Lord as a man who is sure that Lord will find this praiseworthy in him. In the very next breath, he invites the Lord to search him, whether there be any evil way in him. He is supremely confident that in hating the wicked he has the full approval of the Lord.
Beyond all doubt, Scripture here teaches that hatred of the wicked by the child of God is part of his holy life in the Spirit and not some gross iniquity. Therefore, one who cannot present himself before the Lord as hating those who hate God is in the wrong and displeases God. He has a serious defect in his spiritual life. The trouble is that so many fail to acknowledge that God hates some men. Hatred of another is condemned as such, because men believe that God loves all men and hates no man. But hatred as such cannot be condemned as evil, for God hates-God hates some men. Romans 9:13 teaches that God hated Esau. Psalm 5:5 teaches that God hates "all workers of iniquity." God's hatred of some men is clearly brought out in the verses that precede our text. Verse 19 says, "Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God." This is the most extreme expression of hatred: God will kill them, not only temporally but also eternally. God loathes them and wills their destruction. This is little heard of in the church today. It is all but ignored. At the same time, the truth of eternal punishment of hell is silenced. God hates and, since He hates, hatred is not an evil thing.
The question is: Whom do we hate and why do we hate? The object of our hatred is persons, flesh-and-blood persons. We hate not just the sins of wicked people but the people themselves. A notion that passes for wisdom is that we must love the sinner but hate the sin. Men even say this of God. Now it is true we must hate sin. It is even true that our hatred of certain persons stems from our hatred of their sins. But it is not true that we hate only the deeds of men and not the men themselves, anymore than it is true of God that he hates sins only and not sinners. God, after all, is going to cast sinners into hell, not only sins. You simply cannot so easily separate the person and his sins. A man's sins cling to him and stain him, unless they are washed away by the blood of Jesus. The text does not say, "Do not I hate the sins, O Lord, of those that hate thee?" But it says, "Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies" (Ps. 139:21-22).
These are persons who hate God. They loathe God and will God's destruction. As much as in them lies, they try to accomplish His destruction also. They rise up against God, according to the text, that is, they go to war against Him as enemies. How do they do this? The preceding verse shows: "For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain." They blaspheme God, curse and swear, oppose His truth and worship. Especially do they despise and attack His Christ and the gospel of Christ. The text uses the covenant name of God, Jehovah. These men hate Jehovah as He is revealed in Jesus. They rise up against God by violence against their neighbours. Not only do they break the first table of the law but they also break the second table. Verse 19 calls them "bloody men." They are violent rebels against the authority of their parents, of the state and of the employer. They are cruel deserters of wives and children. They are thieves and robbers. They are slanderers and backbiters-they have bloody tongues. In short, they are men, women and children who do not believe or obey the law. They are the wicked, the impenitent wicked.
Note well, however, that it is possible that they be pleasant people in the judgment of men-courteous, helpful, decent, friendly. But they hate God. Note too, that they may be next-door neighbours, a parent, a child or some other close relative. Of such, of all such, the believer says, "I hate them; I hate them with a perfect hatred." The description of those whom David hates is at the same time the ground of his hatred of them.
The Ground of This Hatred
The reason for David's hatred of these men is their hatred of God. We may read the text this way: "Do not I hate them, O Lord, because they hate thee? Do not I loathe them, because they rise up against thee?" This comes out even more strongly in the original Hebrew. Literally, we read: "Is it not so, them that hate thee, O Jehovah, I hate?" Their hatred of God is put first in the text, as the cause of our hatred of them. Therefore, there is nothing carnal, nothing selfish and nothing "personal" in our hatred. It is not due to any injury that they did to us. Even though in their hatred of God they probably cursed, mocked and hurt us, it is not what they did to us that explains our hatred. We are not being vindictive in hating them. The reason is this only: they hate God. Thus, our hatred is a holy hatred.
We must be sure of this. It is so easy to corrupt our hatred with personal and carnal motives. In this light, we can see how our hatred for God's enemies is to be harmonized with our calling to love our enemies. In Matthew 5 and Luke 6, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. We read in Matthew 5:43-44: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." We must not hate our enemies but love them. These are people who bear a personal grudge against us. But they are people who are also our enemies for Christ's sake, for they persecute us.
It might seem that there is conflict between Psalm 139 and Matthew 5, between our calling to hate God's enemies and our calling to love those who persecute us. This is, in fact, the position of those who say that we may never hate anyone. They view Matthew 5 as contradicting Psalm 139 and they use Matthew 5 to set Psalm 139 aside.
We hold, however, that the two passages do not contradict each other. Both are Scripture and both must be true in the life of Christ's disciple. There is harmony between the passages, and the harmony is this: We love men who are our enemies but we hate men who are God's enemies. This can be one and the same person. Insofar as a man hates, curses and harms me, I love him and I show this by doing acts of kindness to him. Inasmuch as the same man hates God and opposes him, I hate him and count him my enemy. The trouble often is that we do opposite: we readily hate our personal enemies but go on loving those who hate God.
The ground of our hatred of some men is their hatred of God. Ultimately, the ground of our hatred of them is our love of the God whom they hate. Our hatred for those who hate God is an aspect of love-love for God. We love this God. We love him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. Our love for God, by grace, is a "perfect" love, that is, a thorough, complete, extreme love. We love Him as the only God. We love Him as our maker, as verses 13-16 of this Psalm confess. We love him as Jehovah, the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Because we love Him, we hate those who hate Him. This is the high spiritual plane that the Old Testament saints stand on in our text.
Would God that the church today stood so high. Why is it that so many, today, can love those that hate God? Is it not because they themselves do not love God as they ought? Who cares, really, about God? Who cares, really, about God's name? Who cares, really, about God's commandments? The child of God hates those who hate the God he loves. He loathes those who loathe the God he adores. He wills the destruction of those who will the destruction of the God he blesses. He is an enemy to the enemies of the God who is his friend.
The Expression of This Hatred
We express our hatred of those who hate God by counting them our enemies. So we read in verse 22: "I count them mine enemies." This is an act of the believer. Those who hate God may still feign friendship with us. They may even seem to seek our friendship. But we, on our part, refuse that friendship and regard them as our enemies. We make this known to them also: "Depart from me therefore, ye bloody men," we say to them, according to verse 19. We have no communion with them. We do not help them in their wicked course of life. We condemn them and their evils.
This applies to the church. The church may not have communion with God's enemies in the World Council of Churches. Nor may the church help the ungodly in their lawless, revolutionary enterprises, whether financially or morally. The question of Jehu the seer to King Jehoshaphat, when Jehoshaphat had leagued himself with apostate Ahab, applies here: "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord" (II Chron. 19:2).
Nor may the believer personally include the wicked in his fellowship, in his family visits, in his games and in his festive meals. There may be contact, but it consists of the admonition, "Repent!" This holds even though the wicked is a close relative. All should know-including my parents, my children and my wife-that for them to leave God is to leave me; to become God's enemy is to become my enemy. Did not Jesus say in Luke 14:26: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." We have friendship with those who are friends of God. This is the implied teaching of the text. They are not necessarily the nicest personalities. They may even sometimes treat us unkindly. Nevertheless, I count them my friends. Those who love God, I love. Those who bless God, I bless. Those who are friends of God shall be friends of mine.