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 a perfect hatred: I count them my enemies. Psalm 139: 21, 22.
An important question submitted by one of our readers reads as follows: "When asked what is the greatest commandment, the Lord said, 'Love the Lord your God . . . ,' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' This being the case, and neighbor meaning anyone who is in need and crosses our path, how can David say what he does in Psalm 139: 21, 22, and Jesus say that we are to hate even our family members?"
The reader understands correctly both the command to love God and our neighbor, and David's statement in Psalm 139. It is true that these two statements are not so easily harmonized. Some have even suggested that Psalm 139 must be understood in the light of its being written in Old Testament times when revenge, hatred of one's enemies, and fierce destruction of the foes of Israel were characteristic of the times; but our Lord gave us the commandment of love as the governing principle in the new dispensation.
But this will not do. Two objections at least can be raised against such an interpretation. 1) Such an interpretation violates the unity of God's Word, brings disharmony between the Old and the New Testaments, and destroys the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture. 2) The command to love God and our neighbor is found already in the Old Testament Scriptures as the rule for Israel's life (Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18).
Before I get into the question itself, let me quote a passage which explains the nature of love and will serve as a basis for my answer. The passage was written by Herman Hoeksema. It is part of an explanation of Mt. 5:44, 45, which passage was quoted in support of the doctrine of common grace. You may find the quote in Ready to Give An Answer, pp. 72, 73. The book is published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association and can be obtained from the address at the top of this pamphlet (there is a charge for the book).
Referring to Mt. 5:44, Hoeksema writes: "The Lord admonishes His people that they shall love their enemies. Now, love is not a sentimental feeling or emotion or affection. It is, according to Scripture, the bond of perfectness (Col. 3:14). It is therefore the bond between two parties or persons who are ethically perfect, who seek each other and find delight in each other because of their ethical perfection, and who, in the sphere of ethical perfection, seek each other's good. It is in this true sense that God is love.
"However, it stands to reason that, in the case of loving our enemies that despitefully use us, curse us, and persecute us, love must needs be one-sided. There cannot be a bond of fellowship between the wicked and the perfect in Christ. To love our enemy, therefore, is not to flatter him, to have fellowship with him, to play games with him, and to speak sweetly to him; but rather to rebuke him, to demand that he leave his wicked way, and thus to bless him and to pray for him. It is to bestow good things upon him with the demand of true love that he leave his wicked way, walk in the light, and thus have fellowship with us. If he heed our love, which will be the case if he be of God's elect and receive grace, he will turn from darkness into light, and our love will assume the nature of a bond of perfectness. If he despise our love, our very act of love will be to his greater damnation. But the cursing and persecution of the wicked may never tempt the child of God to live and act from the principle of hatred, to reward evil for evil, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
It is within that context of the meaning of love that we must explain Psalm 139:21, 22. There are, therefore, several points which we must notice.
1) Psalm 139 speaks of hating them that hate God and that rise up against Him. We hate God's enemies, not our enemies. We must, as Jesus points out, love our enemies and pray for them. Or, to put it a little differently, we must not hate anyone because of an attitude they assume towards us, or because of what they do to us. Our concern must be for God, the honor and glory of His name, and the righteousness of His cause.
It is well to remember this, for it is very difficult. We are, generally speaking, worried about ourselves: our name, our reputation, what happens to us personally, and how we can "get back at" those who do bad things to us.
2) The hatred which Psalm 139 requires of us is defined in the text itself in two expressions. The first is "Am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?" That is, our hatred of God's enemies is expressed in a deep sorrow over the blasphemies and calumnies raised against God. That sorrow is not hidden in our hearts while we are in our inner closets pondering these matters. That sorrow is expressed to those who are our neighbors.
The second expression which defines that hatred is this: "I count them my enemies." This is, quite obviously, the very thing that is implied in Herman Hoeksema's analysis of love. We cannot and may not enjoy fellowship with those who hate God. Even while we love them, we must count them our enemies. That is, we may not enjoy fellowship and communion with them.
This is completely in keeping with other parts of Scripture. I refer to James 4:4 as an example: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."
I must make one more remark about this passage in Psalm 139. But that must wait until our next issue.
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 1
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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