Reading: Psalm 139:19-22
If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.*
Wild flowers — photo by David Kitz
As much as I love the psalms of the Bible, there are some psalms, or verses within psalms that I would just like to skip. I wish they weren’t there. Today’s reading from Psalm 139 is a prime example. The author’s words are filled with venom. Why are they even in the Bible? (Please bear with me.)
Passages like today’s reading are particularly troubling in light of Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament. In his great Sermon on the Mount, he gave us this teaching: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Reconciling today’s reading from Psalm 139 with Jesus’ words makes my head hurt. Jesus calls us to an incredibly high standard—God’s standard. God shows kindness and love even to the unrighteous. They like us receive both sunshine and rain. Let’s face it, when someone hurts me, my default position is to hurt them back. That’s the natural human response. That’s the way it has been since the beginning, and the world is full of lasting scars—intergenerational scars because of it. Wounded people have been busy hurting other wounded people as hate builds on hate in the home, at work and internationally.
But Jesus came to interrupt that corrosive cycle. He asks us to counter that hurt—that slight—that injury with love. Now that’s truly revolutionary. It’s a revolt against the status quo of hatred that has poisoned human relations in our country and the world. Has someone gone out of their way to hurt you? Retaliate with an act of love. That’s what Jesus is saying.
Is that hard? Absolutely. It’s much easier to respond like the author of today’s reading from Psalm 139. So why is this portion of Psalm 139 in the Bible? Maybe it should be redacted—blacked over like a secret government file.
In reality, Psalm 139 like all the psalms, began as someone’s personal prayer—their personal interaction with God. They are pouring out their heart before God. It’s a heart that has been wounded by others. Should they bottle up those feelings and never express them to God? Of course not. We need to pour out our hurts to God. He alone can heal and change that wounded heart.
Response: LORD God, you know all my hurts. I bring them before you. Pour your love into me, so I can love my enemies. Show me the way forward. Jesus, you forgave even those who killed you. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you changed your default position from hate to love? How can we make that change?
* NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, COPYRIGHT ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 BY BIBLICA
Volume II of Psalms 365: Develop a Life of Worship and Prayer by award-winning author David Kitz is available now. For a closer look at Volumes I and II click here.