Surely you can’t pray that?

Surely you can’t pray that?

The book of Psalms is a wonderful book for many reasons. It is the songbook of the Old Testament people of God, containing the full range of human emotions poured out to God. Many appreciate sections that speak of God’s love, his shepherding, and his protection like a fortress. And yet, amid these types of encouragements, we find sections like this one from Psalm 139:

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!

 20 They 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?

22 I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. (Ps. 139:19-22 ESV)

This kind of thing often disturbs us. Surely you can’t pray that, right? Can we really say that we hate those who hate God?

This is by no means the only psalm that says something like this, and this is also not the most extreme example you could find (for that, Ps 137:8-9 is a better candidate). Why are these sections here? How do they help us to understand God, to understand Jesus, and to live rightly in God’s world? Here are some ideas:

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God is just and cares when the world is unjust. The world, in so many ways, is not what it should be. When God’s people see the wickedness of the world, this should be something we pray about. Come, Lord Jesus, is another response to understanding how broken our world is.

It is right to be angry at sin

God is furious at rebellion against his rule. All of us deserve eternal judgement from God. If that is the case, and we strive to be more like Jesus, that must mean that sin has to bother us too. Not just when people sin against us, but when people disrespect God. This should lead us to prayer.

If we are concerned with the glory of God, we will naturally be concerned about those who care nothing for the Creator.

Jesus encouraged his disciples in the Lord’s Prayer to pray “Hallowed be your name”. We want God’s name to be respected and honoured, and the converse is that a lack of respect for God should bother us. Again, this needs to lead us to prayer.

This is a prayer for God to fix the problem.

David was a man of action, but there is nothing in Ps 139 that says he is going to attack others for their hatred of God. He is leaving this up to God. He is expressing his anger but leaving the action to God.

In the light of other passages, we must pray for our enemies and be active in evangelism.

We are told elsewhere to pray for our enemies, to live such good lives among those who hate us, and to do all we can to bring people into the kingdom of God. It is the contrast with these passages that makes passages like the one from Psalm 139 so striking to us. Ps 139 is not the whole story. We should hate sin, and be angry that people are rejecting Jesus, and that should lead us to pray for justice as well as work for their good. We want to be active in telling people about Jesus and living a good example among them. If all we have is anger and judgement at those who don’t trust Jesus, we have half the picture, and we are missing the compassion Jesus showed to sinners.

Make no mistake; this is a hard passage. It is always best to try to unpack passages like this to see what it is that upsets us, and what we can agree with. We who know more of the plan of God than David did can resonate with his emotion, but can also act and pray with the compassion our Lord showed towards us.