In the Scriptures the word “hate” has several shades of meaning. It may denote intense hostility, sustained ill will often accompanied by malice. Such hate may become a consuming emotion seeking to bring harm to its object. “Hate” may also signify a strong dislike but without any intent to bring harm to the object, seeking instead to avoid it because of a feeling of loathing toward it. The Bible also employs the word “hate” to mean loving to a lesser degree. (Ge 29:31, 33; De 21:15, 16) For example, Jesus Christ said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own soul, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lu 14:26) Obviously Jesus did not mean that his followers were to feel hostility or loathing toward their families and toward themselves, as this would not be in agreement with the rest of the Scriptures.
God’s law to Israel stated: “You must not hate your brother in your heart.” (Le 19:17) One of the requirements for one presenting himself as an unintentional manslayer and seeking to gain safety in the cities of refuge was that he had not held hatred toward the one slain.
Hate One’s Enemies? Jesus’ counsel to love one’s enemies is in full harmony with the spirit of the Hebrew Scriptures. (Mt 5:44) Faithful Job recognized that any feeling of malicious joy over the calamity of one intensely hating him would have been wrong. (Job 31:29) The Mosaic Law enjoined upon the Israelites the responsibility to come to the aid of other Israelites whom they might view as their enemies. (Ex 23:4, 5) Instead of rejoicing over the disaster of an enemy, God’s servants are instructed: “If the one hating you is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”
The idea that enemies were to be hated was one of the things added to God’s law by the Jewish teachers of tradition. Since the Law directed that the Israelites love their neighbors (Le 19:18), these teachers inferred that this implied hating their enemies. “Friend” and “neighbor” came to be viewed as applying exclusively to Jews, whereas all others were considered to be natural enemies. In the light of their traditional understanding of “neighbor” and in view of tradition that fostered enmity toward the Gentiles, it can readily be seen why they added the unauthorized words “and hate your enemy” to the statement in God’s law.
The Christian, by contrast, is under obligation to love his enemies, that is, those who make themselves personal enemies. Such love (Gr., a·gaʹpe) is not sentimentality, based on mere personal attachment, as is usually thought of, but is a moral or social love based on deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty, and propriety, sincerely seeking the other’s good according to what is right. A·gaʹpe (love) transcends personal enmities, never allowing these to cause one to abandon right principles and to retaliate in kind. As to those who oppose his Christian course and persecute him, doing so in ignorance, the servant of God will even pray for such that their eyes might be opened to see the truth concerning God and His purposes.
Proper Hatred. Nevertheless, under certain conditions and at certain times it is proper to hate. “There is . . . a time to love and a time to hate.” (Ec 3:1, 8) Even of Jehovah it is said that he hated Esau. (Mal 1:2, 3) But this cannot be attributed to any arbitrariness on God’s part. Esau proved himself unworthy of Jehovah’s love by despising his birthright and selling it and hence also the divine promises and blessings attached thereto. Moreover, he purposed to kill his brother Jacob. (Ge 25:32-34; 27:41-43; Heb 12:14-16) God also hates lofty eyes, a false tongue, hands that are shedding innocent blood, a heart fabricating hurtful schemes, feet that are in a hurry to run to badness, a false witness, anyone sending forth contentions among brothers, in fact, everyone and everything standing in complete opposition to Jehovah and his righteous laws.
What kind of hatred must servants of God cultivate?
In true loyalty to Jehovah, his servants hate what and whom he hates. (2Ch 19:2) “Do I not hate those who are intensely hating you, O Jehovah, and do I not feel a loathing for those revolting against you? With a complete hatred I do hate them. They have become to me real enemies.” (Ps 139:21, 22) But this hate does not seek to inflict injury on others and is not synonymous with spite or malice. Rather, it finds expression in its utter abhorrence of what is wicked, avoiding what is bad and those intensely hating Jehovah. (Ro 12:9, 17, 19) Christians rightly hate those who are confirmed enemies of God, such as the Devil and his demons, as well as men who have deliberately and knowingly taken their stand against Jehovah.
While Christians have no love for those who turn the undeserved kindness of God into an excuse for loose conduct, they do not hate persons who become involved in wrongdoing but who are worthy of being shown mercy. Instead of hating the repentant wrongdoer, they hate the wicked act, yes, “even the inner garment that has been stained by the flesh.”
Avoiding Improper Hatred. Upon becoming Christians, persons who formerly hated one another do so no longer. (Tit 3:3) The one hating his brother is still walking in darkness, and any claim on his part to be a lover of God would really be a lie. Hatred of one’s brother is tantamount to murder.
Sentimentality can cause one’s view of love and hate to get out of balance, as was apparently true of David in connection with his son Absalom. (2Sa 18:33; 19:1-6) Thus, too, “the one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.”
By respecting the privacy of others and showing loving consideration, a person can avoid unnecessarily making himself an object of hatred. Hence the advice: “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman, that he may not have his sufficiency of you and certainly hate you.”