What do I do with Psalm 139: 19-22

Nathan Klahsen   -  

Psalm 139:19–22 (ESV): Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!

O men of blood, depart from me!

  They speak against you with malicious intent;

your enemies take your name in vain.

  Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

  I hate them with complete hatred;

I count them my enemies.

A few weeks ago I preached on Psalm 139. I’ve been reflecting on it and even had a brother confront me on what I said. To get this out in the open, I really don’t think I expounded the text well or spent the time in that verses that I needed to. Something that I am all too familiar with is that I too am fallen and even though I seek to be careful with my words, I often am not. So let me seek to do better by these verses in Psalm 139.  There’s these verses that aren’t exactly ones that we memorize or use as our life verse, but they are in the Bible and all of the Bible is God’s Word, breathed out by Him. They are difficult, and, again, I didn’t take the time that was needed to fully explain them. So, now I will attempt to do better.

These verses are hard to wrap our minds around, but they are in the Bible. So what do we do with them? How do we interpret them? Do we skip over them? Or do we say something like “these verses are not true to God’s character”? Or maybe we say that the God in the Old Testament is different than the New Testament. These verses are tough as we bring them through a lense of the 21st Century.

When we look at Psalm 139: 19-22, we are looking at verses that are in the category of “imprecatory psalms,” which include other psalms Psalm 5:10; 10:15; 28:4; 31:17–18; 35:4–6; 40:14–15; 58:6–11; 69:22–28; 109:6–15; 139:19–22; 140:9–10. What “imprecatory psalms” do is call down divine curses and express hatred for the enemies of God. Imprecatory psalms communicate a deep yearning for justice, written from the point of view of those who had been mightily oppressed. For the world we live in, and what we see on the news or maybe have experienced ourselves, Psalms like this are needed.  Theses psalms remind God’s people of the promise of divine vengeance: “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7–8; cf. Revelation 19:2)

For the world we live in, and what we see on the news or maybe have experienced ourselves, Psalms like this are needed.

So, what do we do with that passage? King David, who wrote this psalm, is speaking under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  David is really foreshadowing the Messiah and Judge, who has the right to call down judgment on the enemies of God. We need to remember a very important thing though: This is not personal vindictiveness. It is a prophetic execution of what will happen at the last day when God casts all his enemies into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). Really, this psalm and others like it point to the blazing holiness of our God.

It’s hard to think about God’s holiness. He isn’t like us nor does he think like us. Our God is an infinite God who cannot be packaged up in shallow, man-centred ideology. He has a love for sinners (Matt. 5:45), but also a hatred (Ps. 5:4-6). The notion that, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner,” is not the full story that the Bible writes for us. Psalm 5 is in the Bible after all which says, “You hate all who do iniquity” (Ps. 5:5). There’s a reality that we need to wrestle with which is that God doesn’t send sin to hell, but the sinner. At that moment, at the end of time, at the judgment, God opens the book and enacts justice upon sinners who committed sin, not sin (Rev. 20:11-15). This is why the gospel is so good. God himself steps down from his throne to pay the price for our sin that we could not possibly pay. God takes the punish for our sin. We sinned. We deserved the punishment from a just God. Yet he provides the payment for that sin, rebellion. Our response is to repent of that sin, to turn from it, and believe in this gospel. That’s it. It’s truly beautiful. And when we truly understand what God has done for us, it should guide us in how we not only treat other Christians, but those who aren’t Christians.  So where does that leave us with this hard Psalm and others like it?

This Psalm doesn’t say everything that the Christian is suppose to think when it comes to sin. Sin simply messes everything up and we need to walk in wisdom as we navigate the many situations we find ourselves in. But with God, there are no contradictions, He doesn’t forget what he said in one book and another.  He is not like us as we try to accurately recall stories or things we said.  Steve Lawson on this passage has said, “We have a love-hate relationship with the world.” Think of passages like: Col. 4:5-6, Gal. 5:14, Matt. 5:44-45.  Passages like this tell us that we can’t be people of hate, but also knowing that we can’t be people that are okay with sin. In fact, I can’t be okay with their sin and still desire for them to know Jesus, to know the Gospel. The Gospel tells us the desperate state we are in and how much we need a Saviour, and Jesus is the only Saviour.  There’s a tension that needs to be held, which I didn’t do very well in my sermon.

Passages like this tell us that we can’t be people of hate, but also knowing that we can’t be people that are okay with sin.

It’s important to remember that we do not do the final assessments of someone eternity; God does the final assessments, we can’t and shouldn’t because of our corrupt nature. Yes, God will deal with the sinner who reject Jesus as his or her Saviour, but we are told to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us, and return good for evil. As John Piper says, “This is our vocation by faith. Let us tremble and trust God, lest we fail, and find ourselves on the other side of the curse.” Even in the following verses of this Psalm, King David is quick to apply the holiness of God not just to those outside, but himself inside. May we not be self-righteous people. A true spirituality not only causes me to hate the evil in this world as God sees it, but also causes me to pray what David prays: Psalm 139:23 (ESV): “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” As I love my enemies, pray for those who persecute me, and return good for evil.

Here are some other great articles and videos that may be worth your read on this Psalm and this idea is God’s hate: