Scripture: Psalm 139
Key verses: (21-22) 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.
Reflection: It’s kind of like being in the middle of the most beautiful wedding reception you have ever attended until the uncle that needed a buffer between himself and the bar stands up and blesses the bride and groom in a slurry, blurry, profanity laced way that manages to offend and upset everyone present and for generations to come. Does this sound familiar? I don’t know about the weddings you attend, but it feels a lot like the psalm today. To hate with a perfect hatred? Impressive. Frightening too, but an insult for the ages nonetheless.
Psalm 139 is absolutely gorgeous, unparalleled in its tenderness and intimacy — to be known is the central, core theme of this scripture. But why upset the mood with such vitriol like the passage above? Arguments made to suggest that these difficult passages are an insertion, part of another now lost psalm, are understandable but textually bankrupt. The passages don’t sound like the rest of the psalm but they belong there according to the author.
The word hate in Hebrew doesn’t convey the passionate emotion we associate with the word. For our spiritual ancestors, the word can have several meanings and often meant to sound more like a position, an action. To hate can mean to love less, neglect, not prefer. It’s still not a positive word per se, but it is not a furious, ugly word either.
To hate is to create distance and the psalmist (who is the one hating here, not God) wants to be distant from those who do not love God, who do not love or live in ways that are just, merciful, or kind (remember what the Lord requires in Micah 6). By hating, the psalmist is declaring loyalty, stating his position and orientation in life. He is choosing to be with God, to turn toward God.
To love, the opposite of hate, is to have no distance; love calls you to stand close and with and face to face. To ask yourself what and who you love is also to ask yourself what are you turning from, what do you need to let go of, to walk away from in order to embrace the way, the life, the mercy, the knowledge, the intimacy, the love, the God that calls you to?
O loving God,
to turn away from you is to fall,
to turn toward you is to rise,
and to stand before you is to abide forever.
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Augustine of Hippo
Author: Derek Macleod
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].