Help From the God Who Hates (Psalm 5)
Does God hate anything? Does God hate anyone? If you were to ask the average person, the answer would be a resounding and emphatic “No!” Despite the fact that passages like Romans 9:13 explicitly state, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (emphasis mine), the concept of God’s anger toward people is among the most objectionable of Christian doctrines to modern man. The average unbeliever simply will not tolerate the notion that his Creator has wrath—holy hatred—toward sin and sinners. The one true God of the Bible, the God of both love and hate, is unacceptable in the minds of many. That’s because a love-only god is the current idol du jour. Yet, even among professing believers, divine wrath is often seen as an antiquated, unsophisticated, doctrinal leftover from a tribal religion long ago. In utter self-righteousness, mankind will have nothing to do with this kind of God. As R.C. Sproul once cleverly remarked, a sermon more accurately reflecting modern sentiments would be entitled, “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners.”
But the reality is that God’s hatred toward people is not only real, it’s quite relevant. In fact, it was King David who recognized the importance of God’s anger, and expressed this importance in a prayer—preserved for us in Psalm 5. As David found himself in an exceedingly difficult situation, he called upon help from the God who hates.
The Need (Psalm 5:1-3)
Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Consider my groaning.
Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God,
For to You I pray.
In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice;
In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.
Following on the heels of Psalms 3 and 4, Psalm 5 expresses the lament of David in what is likely the same historical situation—the revolt of David’s son Absalom (cf. 2 Sam. 15-18). Feeling threatened by his son and other co-conspirators, David knew that he was exceedingly helpless to remedy the situation. Thus, he called upon the one who was truly able to come to his aid: Yahweh. As we try to identify with David’s “groaning” (a Hebrew word speaking of a low-volume murmur), it’s difficult to know whether it was his emotional pain or his physical pain that would be most troublesome in that situation. After all, not only was his relationship with his son strained, but he was literally on the run for his life. In fact, when David found out that Absalom was trying to usurp the throne, David told his servants, “Arise and let us flee, for otherwise none of us will escape from Absalom. Go in haste, or he will overtake us and strike the city with the edge of the sword” (2 Sam. 15:14).
Whatever the case may be, David’s prayer began with many notable characteristics: it was direct (“O Lord” in verse 5:1a), vulnerable (“consider my groaning” in verse 5:1b), humble (“my King and my God” in verse 5:2), prioritized (“in the morning” in verse 5:3a), and expectant (“eagerly watch” in verse 5:3b). In just these introductory words, David was inspired by the Holy Spirit to leave us with a template for an authentic and vibrant prayer life.
It is the final characteristic, expectant prayer, that is worth further consideration. James 1:6-7 teaches us that we ought to pray in full confidence that God can meet our needs, and 1 John 3:21-22 explains that confidence in prayer is actually a sign of genuine conversion. David certainly reflected these attributes in his prayer. But that raises an important point: if we are to pray and expect God to answer our prayers, that means we must know something about the God to whom we are praying. After all, if you don’t know anything about the character of God, how would you know what to request?
For example, when a child comes to his father and asks for something (i.e. a gift or a favor), there are several characteristics of the father that the child knows in advance, that serve as the basis of the request. The child knows that his father will listen to him, that his father is gracious, that his father is dependable, and that his father is able to meet the need. If the child didn’t believe those characteristics to be true, he likely would never consider making his request known.
This same paradigm was true of David and his heavenly Father. And in this case, David asked for God’s help on the basis of an aspect that many today deny: God’s hatred.
The Basis (Psalm 5:4-7)
For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness;
No evil dwells with You.
The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes;
You hate all who do iniquity.
You destroy those who speak falsehood;
The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.
But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house,
At Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You.
Before getting to his actual request, David first extolled the nature of his God, and in particular, the indignation of God toward wicked men. He knew that God is not like an overindulgent grandfather who casually winks at sin and rewards it with candy. Rather, God’s eyes are too pure to approve evil (Hab. 1:13). He hates the ways of the wicked (cf. Prov. 15:9), the thoughts of the wicked (cf. Prov. 15:26), and even the religious deeds of the wicked (cf. Prov. 15:8). As David said, “No evil dwells with You,” and, “The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes” (Psa. 5:4), truths that will become frightfully evident when Jesus one day says to false converts, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:22).
Furthermore, David explicitly stated “You hate all who do iniquity” (Psa. 5:5). Contrary to popular belief, God does not merely “hate the sin but love the sinner.” He hates both. Despite the fact that many people believe in a universal, equal love of God toward all people, the Bible simply does not teach such a thing, and could not state it in clearer terms. Instead, those who “do iniquity,” sinning as a life-long habit to their grave, are actually the objects of God’s hatred.
Dr. John MacArthur explains:
We know from Scripture that God is compassionate, kind, generous, and good even to the most stubborn sinners. Who can deny that these mercies flow out of God's boundless love? Yet it is evident that they are showered even on unrepentant sinners. I want to acknowledge, however, that explaining God's love toward the reprobate is not as simple as most modern evangelicals want to make it. Clearly there is a sense in which the psalmist's expression, "I hate the assembly of evildoers" (Ps. 26:5) is a reflection of the mind of God. "Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against Thee? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies" (Ps. 139:21-22). Such hatred as the psalmist expressed is a virtue, and we have every reason to conclude that it is a hatred God Himself shares. After all, He did say, "I have hated Esau" (Mal. 1:3; Rom. 9:13). The context reveals God was speaking of a whole race of wicked people. So there is a true and real sense in which Scripture teaches that God hates the wicked.
And in reality, this truth should not be as shocking or surprising to people as it is. After all, God does not simply cast sin into the lake of fire, but sinners (cf. John 8:24, Rev. 21:8). Ask yourself this: “Is the lake of fire, the eternal place of destruction and judgment, the outpouring of God’s love, or God’s hatred?” It’s obviously the latter, and the terrifying truth is that the lake of fire will be a place in which sinners will suffer the eternal hatred of God without any relief of the mercy they once enjoyed (cf. Psa. 145:9, Matt. 5:45). As David said, “You destroy those who speak falsehood” (Psa. 5:6). The anger we feel toward evil and evil-doers (for example, toward those who mistreat children or take advantage of the elderly) simply pales in comparison to the righteous indignation God has toward them. And that hatred will come to its fullest expression in the day of judgment.
At the same time, those who are the recipients of God’s love ought not to think that they had anything to do with meriting it. After all, everyone is born guilty and sinful, rightly deserving nothing but utter abhorrence from God. For that reason, it is the love of God that really should be the surprising attribute. The fact that God chooses to set His special, redemptive love upon any sinner at all is precisely why it is referred to as “grace.”
In reference to the statement “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” found in Romans 9:13, Dr. James White says the following:
The point is that even though—and I have said many times—if what bothers you about Romans 9:13 is “Esau I hated,” if you really understood the depth of your own sin and the holiness of God, what would blow you away about Romans 9:13 is not “Esau I hated,” it would be “Jacob I loved.” And I suggest to you if “Esau I hated” bothers you, you don’t understand the holiness of God. And you don’t understand the deadness of man in sin. And you do not understand how absolutely repugnant the sinner’s heart is to a holy God. What should amaze you is “Jacob I loved,” not “Esau I hated.”
David expressed precisely this truth in the next line of his Psalm: “But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house, at Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You.” Far from being self-righteous, David knew that it was only by God’s abundant “lovingkindness” (the first use in the Psalms of the well-known Hebrew term hesed) that he could enter into the place of worship to God. Only by receiving the righteousness of God through faith could David be fit for proper worship in what he referred to as a “temple.” Although Solomon’s building of the actual temple wouldn’t occur for many years after this point in David’s life, David used the word “temple” to refer to God’s tabernacle (cf. 1 Sam. 1:9), just as later writers used the word “tabernacle” to refer to God’s temple (cf. Jer. 10:20).
Simply put, the difference between sinners who are rejected by God and sinners who are reconciled to God has nothing to do with the sinner himself, but everything to do with the redemptive grace of God in Christ Jesus.
The Request (Psalm 5:8-10)
O Lord, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes;
Make Your way straight before me.
There is nothing reliable in what they say;
Their inward part is destruction itself.
Their throat is an open grave;
They flatter with their tongue.
Hold them guilty, O God;
By their own devices let them fall!
In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out,
For they are rebellious against You.
It is certainly true that David loved his enemies, even going so far as to pray for their salvation and to urge them to repent, as in Psalm 4: “Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:5). But to those who refused to repent, David recognized that God’s hatred was the only attribute in which comfort could be found. Those men whose “inward part is destruction,” and whose “throat is an open grave” (assessments of all mankind as listed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:13), would one day be held guilty for their crimes (cf. Psa. 5:10). At a time when David was suffering grave injustice, it was the future hope of divine justice that gave him the relief to carry on. Thus, he prayed an imprecatory prayer against these men, asking that God would let their wickedness be brought back upon them (“By their own devices let them fall!”), and entrusting them to the Lord for punishment.
It is again at this point that modern man so often recoils in horror. Pray for the destruction of others? Such a sentiment stands in stark opposition to the sentimental beliefs held by many today. Yet, even the New Testament offers words of condemnation toward people. Consider 1 Corinthians 16:22, in which Paul said, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.” Or, Galatians 1:8, in which Paul said, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” In fact, in 2 Timothy 2:14, Paul reflected almost the exact perspective of David, saying, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.”
Far from being personally vindictive, imprecatory prayers offered in the right spirit are the means by which the saints of God express faith that their persecutors will be prosecuted. And it is actually the hatred of God, expressed in eternal wrath toward the unrepentant, that frees believers to love their enemies in this life. Romans 12:19-20 sums it up perfectly: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Believe it or not, God’s hatred empowers the believer’s love. When you know your enemy will one day experience God’s wrath, you can withhold your own. A proper view of God’s hatred will enable you to walk in righteousness, just as David requested (cf. Psa. 5:8).
The Praise (Psalm 5:11-12)
But let all who take refuge in You be glad,
Let them ever sing for joy;
And may You shelter them,
That those who love Your name may exult in You.
For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Lord,
You surround him with favor as with a shield.
Finally, David expressed the corporate joy and praise that results from a right understanding of God’s retributive justice. All who understand what will happen to the unrepentant will “be glad” and will “sing for joy” (Psa. 5:11). Again, it is not sadistic praise born out of a personal vendetta, but is instead a celebration that evil will be addressed and peace will reign victorious.
Charles Spurgeon articulated similar thoughts concerning this Psalm:
Joy is the privilege of the believer. When sinners are destroyed our rejoicing shall be full. They laugh first and weep ever after; we weep now, but shall rejoice eternally. When they howl we shall shout, and as they must groan for ever, so shall we ever shout for joy. This holy bliss of ours has a firm foundation, for, O Lord, we are joyful in thee. The eternal God is the well-spring of our bliss. We love God, and therefore we delight in him. Our heart is at ease in our God.
It is no wonder then, that at the second coming of Christ there will be this kind of praise: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her” (Rev. 19:1-2, emphasis mine). The “loud voice of a great multitude in heaven,” as described by the Apostle John, is not only praise for salvation, but also for righteous retribution.
Although believers will suffer in this life (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12), David knew that God’s favor of salvific grace surrounds His people like a “shield” (from a Hebrew word referring not to a small shield that might be used for hand-to-hand combat, but for the large full-body shield that could protect an advancing soldier from projectiles). Having died for His people on the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ took upon Himself the weight of divine justice, subsequently granting all who believe in Him the righteousness of God that shields them from the eternal wrath that the unrepentant will face. Praise to God is the only logical response to such amazing grace. Hallelujah!
Sleep in Heavenly Peace
Perhaps God’s hatred still seems off-putting to you. That’s probably an indication that you have never been chased by bloodthirsty murderers, as David was. Despite the fact that a non-persecuted church should be an oxymoron (cf. John 15:20), the reality is that many professing believers of industrialized nations today enjoy a life of relative peace with the world, especially when they silently accommodate the world’s morality. It’s no wonder, then, that many simply can’t fathom how God could ever hate such “nice” unbelievers.
But those who faithfully proclaim the truth, enduring the resultant oppression, know better.
After all, while it is absolutely true that the Christian ought to hope for, and do all that he can, to see even the vilest of sinners saved, the reality is that evangelistic efforts won’t go on forever—nor would you want them to. In order for the new heaven and new earth to be the place of blissful rest, joyful peace, and eternal safety that Scripture describes it as, God must deal fully and finally with the wicked. Thus, like David, your hope for everlasting comfort is found not only in God taking care of your sins, but in God taking care of the sins of others. Once you come to understand the relationship between divine justice and heavenly peace, you can sleep well, knowing that those who oppose you, and the Gospel you proclaim, will not stand triumphantly forever (cf. Psa. 5:5). One day you will get help from the God who hates.
 R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), 180.