The authors of various psalms often say that they hate their enemies and call on God to punish them and destroy them (e.g. Psalm 139:19-22, Psalm 140:9-11). How do we reconcile this and Jesus’ command to love our enemies? If love is the thing that we’re going for, how do we interpret and apply these imprecatory Psalms to our lives?
Very cool question. It is easy to look at the New Testament and simply discard the Old. After all the New Testament is in many ways more straightforward, but Jesus said He wasn’t coming to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). Looking to the Old Testament to compliment, reinforce, and add layers to what we read in the New Testament is a good idea.
One of the best thing about the Psalms is the raw honesty. The Psalms are often written by people who are tired, overwhelmed, scared, and at the end of their rope. The honesty and realness in them is amazing. It makes sense that the writers have negative emotions about their enemies. If you don’t have some hatred towards someone, they are not really an enemy, that’s kind of what the whole enemy thing is about. Look at the two passages you mention, there is no plotting or revenge, there is only venting feelings to God.
In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus says that instead of hating loving your neighbors and hating your enemies, you should love and pray for your enemies. The word He uses that is translated “love” is a verb. The definition of the original greek word “agapao” is “to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly.”
In a way, the Sermon on the Mount is a crash course in what it means for Jesus to be the king of your life. He uses the phrase “you have heard it said” to start many of the sections in Matthew 5. He is stating how people have been interpreting the law for generations so that He can contrast that with what He actually means. We have a case of that here.
If Jesus is the king of your life, you will put His commands of how to treat people above your emotions. That doesn’t mean you are not allowed to have feelings. David is a good example. God instructed Him not to kill Saul, the king who was persecuting and hunting him. Many of David’s darkest psalms were written when Saul was pursuing him to kill him. David vented about Saul and how he despised him, but- when he had the opportunity to kill him, he didn’t, because God’s command was more important than his feelings.
Jesus does not forbid us from having feelings. Any feeling you have, you can and should take to God in honesty. Then, listen to what He tells you to do next, even if it isn’t what you feel like doing. That is what is critical to your walk.
-Matt from The Bridge