Hating the Haters of the Lord
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.
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
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
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
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
"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.
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.