It seems that in modern evangelical circles, we hear a great deal about the love of God, but not so much about the expression of that love as it comes in the form of vengeance on our enemies. The “fire and brimstone” preachers of yesteryear have given way to a nebulous, soft-handed “God loves you no matter what you believe.”
However, the God of the Bible does not have a nebulous sort of love that ignores those who hate Him. If we are to address this question (specifically, “How does God treat the enemies of His People”), we must look at how God’s enemies are treated in the Bible.
To begin with, we know God has mercy to those who keep his commandments, and he also forgives sins against him (pending repentance and subsequent obedience). But we also know that those who repeatedly show their hatred for God are not only judged, but their children are as well.
For I , Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me… (Deut. 5:9b)
Then, of course, there are myriads of blessings listed for the righteous. Shortly after the giving of the law in Deuteronomy, in true covenant fashion, comes the rewards and penalties. In Deut. 28:15ff, we get the punishments for disobedience, and some of them are pretty harsh.
And then, in the great handbook of Christian life, the Psalms, we have what are called the Imprecatory Psalms.
Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137 and 139 are just a few of the many places in the Psalms (and Scripture overall) where the wrath of God is called down upon our enemies.
The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. (Ps. 58:10)
Let his days be few, let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, his wife a widow. (Ps. 109:8-9)
Do I not hate them, Yahweh, who hate you? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? (Ps. 139:21)
Many evangelicals quietly sweep these verses under the rug. They cite Matt. 5:44 as proof for this blatant ignorance of Scripture.
My response to that is, it’s all the inspired Word of God: to judge any part based on one’s opinion is textual criticism, and it’s blasphemy. You can attack me for that if you want, but the one thing we must hold fast to is the inerrancy of Scripture.
We know that both of these things (loving enemies and rejoicing at justice) are commanded in the Bible.
We also know that the Bible does not contradict itself in any place, being the Sovereign Inspired Word of God.
Therefore, these things do not contradict each other in any way. How? The answer is not clear, but we can start from the (true) assumption that they are perfectly compatible.
I believe that some primary keys to understanding this apparent dilemma lie in Isaiah. This book of prophetic imprecation is full of indictments against those who have oppressed the poor and widow. This is one of the most heinous sins in the Old (and subsequently New) Testament.
The Messiah is the one who is going to show mercy to the poor and widows and bring the sword against their oppressors. The immediate fulfillment of this was King Hezekiah; ultimately, of course, it’s Jesus Christ.
Jesus quotes from the imprecatory Psalm 69 quite a bit during his ministry.
The other side of this is that we know death is never the end. Very often (i.e., always), death is required before repentance/resurrection. The wicked are judged for their sins, and the hope is that this judgment, harsh though it may be, turns their hearts to God.
Of course, this also requires a truthful view of predestination and foreordination, so it’s easy to see how our more charismatic brethren become confused over this.
Very often the wicked are spoken of as if they’d always been destined for judgment. They are “stricken from the Book of Life,” and never referred to as anything but “the wicked” or “those who hate You.” As Protestants, we know this is exactly the case. They are predestined to be wicked, and thus predestined to fall under God’s wrath. (I won’t discuss predestination here.)
Another thing to consider is the subject of the hatred of the wicked. I just quoted from Ps. 139, where it states “those who hate you.” That group of people is who these curses are directed against. This is not David’s personal vendetta.
Remember, David is a covenant (federal) head of Israel. He is a representative of God. Disrespect to the crown constitutes disrespect to the Authority who granted that power, God (this is something we would do well to keep in mind).
These enemies are enemies of God, and therefore our enemies. They hate him and his purposes. Because we are God’s children, that makes them our enemies as well.
When someone attacks a man, he is not honor-bound to seek retribution. But when his family is attacked, he has a God-ordained duty as the protector of that family to seek justice. That may come in many forms, and does not always include vigilante-type justice, but some sort of protective retribution is commanded in that case.
And that’s what God is doing for David, and for us. We are his family. We are his children and the Bride of his Son. When we are attacked, he wreaks vengeance. Because of that, we rejoice because we have a protector. This is why God is the protector of the orphan and widow: they have no earthly protection, so God will provide for them and pass judgment on their behalf.
In conclusion, there is a very real sense in which we cannot love each other without hating the wicked in the right ways. And in some senses, loving the wicked sometimes means asking that they be rendered unable to do any more wickedness.
The haters of God and of God’s people will always be brought low. God is our great Defender. And we need to be singing the Psalms and asking for his protection in all things.