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David’s Hating the Wicked

Psalm 139

Scripture citations are to the NIV-UK, unless noted otherwise.

For the reader’s convenience we reproduce the entire psalm at the end of the article.

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Q Psa. 139: 19-22 reads:

 

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! 20 They speak of you with evil intent; Your adversaries misuse your name. 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? 22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.

 

How are we to understand this passage? Are David’s feelings of hatred contrary to God’s spirit of love and mercy?

 

A In the earlier verses of Psalm 139 David extols the omniscience of Jehovah, marvelling at the extent to which the All-Knowing can read the thoughts of his heart. For no matter where he may be, he is seen and known by the God of heaven, in the desert or the depths of the sea, in daylight or black of night. Why, God even knew David’s ‘bones’ when he was ‘embroidered’ (Leeser) in the womb, as yet ‘unformed’ (vs. 13-16). The Psalmist finds all this stupefying – too much to comprehend; he is transported with admiration and reverence.

 

Now, he is struck by way of contrast with the state of the ‘wicked’ – the ungrateful and irreverent who hate his God. His indignation rises within him. As a lover of righteousness – though not himself always righteous in practise – David contrasts the unblemished character of God with the vicious souls who hate his God. Should he not hate them in return? And here we come to vs. 21, 22 above. Indignant at these who despise the Holy One, the impulsive David vents his anger. (The King James Version renders his words as ‘perfect hatred’ – that is, complete, total – nothing held in reserve.)

 

Now, in a subsiding of his passion, perhaps thinking he has gone too far in his outburst, he appears to mollify his mood. Uttering the prayer of a sinner submitting his innermost thoughts to Divine scrutiny, David calls on the Omniscience he has praised in the foregoing verses to settle the matter for him (vs. 23, 24; italics added):

 

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts [cares]. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

In this confession we see David’s humility and his teachableness, willing and eager to be corrected, qualities for which God declared him ‘a man after my own heart’ (1 Sam. 13: 14; Acts 13: 22).

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Psalm 139

(NIV-UK)

 

1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand – when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

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