How could David, a man “after God’s own heart,” hate others? How could his statements of disdain be included in the worship of God, who is love?
There are a number of songs in scripture that are called “imprecatory.” [Imprecatory Praying: The Mercy of Destruction] These Psalms are a call for God’s judgment on people. These Psalms were always a mystery to me as are three particular Psalms of David where he expresses his “hatred” for enemies.
The Depravity of Man
A difficult concept for Christians to grasp is the depravity of man. Every man (and woman) is born in sin…in fact conceived in sin according to David in Psalm 51:5. This is not difficult to see in our world. There is the sense that we live on a level playing field when it comes to depravity. We are all sinful and capable of great sin. If we truly know our hearts, we realize that God has saved us from incredible evil. We do not act upon half the wicked ideas our hearts develop.
Knowing we are broken should keep us humble and gracious to others.
However, we also have differing experiences with evil. Some evil is different. As individuals, people stand before God with greater and lesser evil. We see men tell bold-faced lies (and refuse to acknowledge it) and are baffled by it. We see men clearly seek after only their own good (with no apology) and are deeply troubled by it. There are Hitlers and Stalins and Bundys. Though every sin is an affront to God, there is a hierarchy of sin in its destructiveness. And there are those who are especially good at really bad stuff and have greater culpability as Jesus says:
And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. [Luke 12:47-48 (ESV)]
We are shocked and surprised by these destructive individuals, especially when these people are Christian pastors or leaders. They profess faith, preach Christian ethics, and yet lie and abuse.
It is our befuddlement that allows abusive individuals to continue. We think, “How could he ever do such a thing to his wife…or employee…or children?” We are paralyzed by the duplicity.
As noted in other blogs, humility is evidence that God is at work in the eradication of our sin (sanctification). But, there are men (and women) everywhere that are so rotted to the core, they seem to have no humility and do not respond to God’s common grace. They live to manipulate others. They live to control others to their own benefit.
Though Psalm 26 does not call for God’s judgment on evil people, as do the imprecatory Psalms, King David expresses his hatred for them. Hear King David’s words:
1 Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
test my heart and my mind.
3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in your faithfulness.
4 I do not sit with men of falsehood,
nor do I consort with hypocrites.
5 I hate the assembly of evildoers,
and I will not sit with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands in innocence
and go around your altar, O LORD,
7 proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,
and telling all your wondrous deeds.
8 O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells.
9 Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
10 in whose hands are evil devices,
and whose right hands are full of bribes.
11 But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground;
in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.
“I hate the assembly of evildoers.” This was a man who knew God’s love. He was humble enough to admit his sins. He knew the depravity of all men. He loved the people for whom he was given charge to the point that he chose particular discipline from the Lord for his sin so the nation, Israel would not suffer. [1 Chronicles 21:17]
We might be tempted to suggest this “hatred” was an anomaly.
Why would he openly proclaim his hatred of evildoers? Scripture is interpreted in the context of the rest of scripture and we should not place too much emphasis on an anomaly for the formation of doctrine. However, within the scriptural context there is plenty of hate.
David says in another Psalm [Psalm 31:6], “I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD.” Or consider Psalm 139:21-22: “Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”
What was David’s deal? David does not back off as the Psalms progress. His statements are with conviction and finality. There are no apologies. It is complete (תַּכְלִית) hatred. Perfect hatred. David’s hatred is not an anomaly.
A OT God of Wrath?
Is David’s view peculiar to Old Testament ethics where God is portrayed as a “God of wrath.”
On this view, David is simply following his God, who was wrathful in the Old Testament. Jesus then updated things – brought the love of God to earth. He got to the heart of the matter by saying hatred is as sinful as murder (Matthew 5:21-26). But, not until then was hatred considered a breaking of the sixth commandment.
However, the Old Testament does speak to the heart. Consider Leviticus 19:17a: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart...” And God is by no means any more a God of wrath in the Old Testament than new (compare Exodus 19:3-6 and Acts 5:1-11).
David knew his scripture. This was not just an Old Testament rash statement by him. There must be something biblical about hate in this broken world where we are normally called to love others.
Is it possible that in our likeness of God we are at times called to hate as He hates?
In the next Psalm, number 140, David carries on with his theme. He says,
Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps. [Psalms 140:1-3 (ESV)]
David makes it very clear, these evil men are really bad! He heaps judgment upon these individuals who plan evil things. They not only “plan” the evil, they continually do it he says. Their tongues are evil. He says, they set traps. These are not friends who periodically say something inappropriate.
Our God is most certainly a gracious and forgiving God. He is long-suffering and gentle. Yet, when one of His created beings refuses to acknowledge the works He has done to redeem a people for Himself, God condemns that person to eternal suffering. He is against those who oppress others (Exodus 3:9, 22:21, Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:14). His people are always called to side with Him and the oppressed.
Unlike God, we are not able to declare a person forever unredeemable. He knows the hearts of all men and has the power to regenerate them – change their very nature. Where God can and does change hearts, regenerating, and sanctifying them, we will never be able to do such wondrous things. We do not know whether a person will turn to the Lord or not.
Therefore, are we to refuse judging other men? But, there truly are people who are so destructive, the only way for them to stop is for others to bring an end to their works of evil. Maybe this is the kind of hatred of which David is speaking?
You and I are sinful. We are culpable for our lies and mean tongues. We need the forgiveness of Jesus and his payment for our sin on the cross. But, these people are so destructive to others, it is necessary to judge their evil in our earthly ways – by church and civil courts, self-defense, and personal rejection. No more coddling. No more cheap grace. We need to care for the oppressed more than for the oppressor.1
In fact, our loyalty to God and that care for the oppressed may look very much like hatred for the oppressor. [Luke 14:26]
As we care for the oppressed and call for justice on the abusive and toxic individual it will look like hatred to others. But, that care and call are expressions of love for God and neighbor.
The words of David are difficult for me, a Christian taught for many years that hatred is always wrong. The words I have written are an expression of my belief that there is something missing in my understanding of hatred in scripture. Maybe a better theologian than I can shed some light on this rather dark and difficult path.
1 Lundy Bancroft told me recently, “I’m not opposed to attempts to help abusive people change, I’m just bothered at how that goal keeps eclipsing the needs of victims/targets, and eclipsing the need to impose meaningful (read; unpleasant) consequences on the perpetrators.”