I wrote a song paraphrasing Psalm 139, and encountered some difficulties that modern worship music writers face. In particular, verses 19-22.
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
The psalmist writing this had no problem juxtaposing the two ideas of extreme hatred on one hand and extreme wonder and delight on the other. Yet nowadays we are uncomfortable with this juxtaposition. I tried my best to “translate” the language, and more subtly communicate the nature of these verses.
I grieve to hear your enemies speak hatred, Lord, of you.
Long though they scheme with ill intent: their days are numbered too.
Did this paraphrase go too soft? “Grieve”, rather than “hate”? Or are we so unaccustomed to the language of hatred that our modern sensibilities cannot cope with discerning what things we would be right to hate? Have we all become cossetted “Songs of Praise” people?
Perhaps our issue is that the psalmist is intentionally hating people. He hates people who have set up themselves against the living God: those who writhe in the light of God’s glory and resent his divine rule. He is not simply hating “the part of people that hates God”. He is hating the person, because the person is wholly defined and defiled by this hatred. The enemies of God have rejected God’s every advance, even in the very cross of Christ. If they will not submit to grace, they will eventually submit to God’s wrath. But the certainty is that they will submit.
The psalmist acknowledges that he himself must be searched by God. He recognises that he himself needs to have sinful ways rooted out of him, because they are incompatible with the everlasting way.
This psalm serves as a warning. While we live in these last days, God still extends the hand of grace to his enemies. He offers forgiveness. Therefore we should not exact judgement on people who are currently enemies of God because they may yet receive grace and forgiveness at the foot of the cross. (and by this, I do not mean that we shouldn’t be willing to call sin “sin”.)
When it comes to God’s enemies, we must devolve ultimate judgement to God. The church should be willing to discipline our brothers and sisters in Christ, exemplifying the psalmist’s desire to be made pure by “searching”. But enemies of God have no desire for purity or holiness. We will identify more with the psalmist as we obey our call to offer them God’s grace even as they deride it. They desire to remain king of their own domain, and for God to leave them alone. But as we learn to delight in God’s holiness, we will perhaps learn to delight in the justice of knowing that their days are numbered, too!