by Grace Hunter

 “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 sons 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV

But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15 NIV

Jesus again begins a section of His sermon with, “you have heard that it was said”. Then he goes on to quote what the law in Leviticus 19:18 actually says, together with telling His disciples what this principle is in the Kingdom of God.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18 NIV

Did you notice? The instructions in Leviticus do not say, “hate your enemy”. The phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” is found in many places throughout the New Testament: Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, and in James 2:8. But, “hate your enemies” is not in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or in Deuteronomy. However, similar  attitudes are found in various places in the Psalms. Usually, these views are presented as hating enemies of God.

If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
Psalm 139:19-22

David is having a conversation with God in this Psalm. David reflects a common attitude in Israel — that he hates God’s enemies and adversaries. Jonah, one of God’s prophets, displayed a similar attitude toward the Ninevites (Assyrians). Both David and Jonah displayed a frustration with God’s patience toward His enemies. But another phrase — like a golden thread throughout the Old Testament — is one found in Jonah 4:2b.

I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

Similar phrases are found in Exodus 34:6-7, Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13.

So even though many in Israel had the attitude of hating their enemies (that was perhaps even taught by rabbis and scholars), God had been known as a God who was slow to anger, who was compassionate and patient, even with His enemies (as in Jonah 4:2). Once again, Jesus is teaching His disciples what His Kingdom looks like and how His Kingdom works. Think about the implications of this for your own life as you read through and pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Note. To access scripture links that don’t appear in the email version, read the web version in your browser.