Does the Old Testament teach us to love our enemies, or hate them?

SermonAs Christians, all of us have read or heard the famous “Sermon on the Mount” and have most probably read Christ’s teaching on “Loving our enemies as well as our neighbor”. All of us know of “Loving ones Enemy” as a New Testament teaching. So much so, that many believe that the Old Testament taught one to “love ones neighbor” but “hate ones enemy”, while Christ taught that one should love the enemy just like the neighbor. But it is interesting to note that this was not a new teaching, as we see this idea that our Messiah taught clearly stated in the Old Testament.

Let’s look into the idea of “loving your enemy” and the origins of this teaching written in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Exo 23:4,5  If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.
Pro 25:21  If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
Pro 24:17  Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:
Pro 29:10  The bloodthirsty hate the upright: but the just seek his soul.

The above verses of Scripture, show how God commands through Moses that everyone should love & help ones enemy not even permitting an enemy to fall into loss. God’s Word is clear that we should not turn away from providing for our enemies in need, and not even be glad when he or she is in trouble. We should even seek to bring him/her to the free Salvation our Heavenly Father provides.

But what was Yeshua(Jesus’ true name) referring to when he said “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy”? Some read Mat 5:43 and conclude that Yeshua is talking about an “old teaching” written in the Old Testament. But nowhere in the Old Testament would we be able to find such a teaching of “hating your enemy”.

Context of the teachings at the Sermon on the Mount
The “you have heard” – “but I say to you” teachings of Messiah start off at Mat 5:21. One needs to read only a few verses before, to understand the context of His teaching.

Mat 5:17-20  Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

So what is the context of His teaching, of “you have heard” – “but I say to you”? Notice the Scribes and the Pharisees mentioned just before His teaching. Notice how He says that whoever breaks the least of the Commandments or “teach” men to break them will be least in God’s Kingdom. Yeshua was talking about the Scribes & Pharisees of His day, who had taught a perverted version of God’s Word/Scripture (Old Testament). We have studied all about the teachings of the Pharisees in depth, in a previous post. But it is sufficient to say that Pharisees were going against God’s Word by their own “Traditions” also known as the “Oral Law”. Yeshua was teaching the crowds that had gathered around at His feet, that “they had heard” (from the teachers of their time – who were the Scribes and Pharisees) it being said “you shall love your neighbour, and hate your enemy”. But Yeshua was teaching them the proper Old Testament idea of “Loving even ones enemy”.

The “Sermon on the Mount”, just like all of Yeshua’s other teachings were rooted in God’s Word. He never spoke of Himself, but all that was the Word of God (Joh 7:16,17, 14:24). “Loving ones neighbor” was directly from the Scriptures (Lev 19:18) just as “Loving ones Enemy”. We should stop being biased against the Old Testament Scriptures and start reading it without preconceived notions, so that we can see it for what it is – God’s Word, which was confirmed by, and through, Yeshua – our Messiah.

18 thoughts on “Does the Old Testament teach us to love our enemies, or hate them?

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  3. Scottt

    You say, “nowhere in the Old Testament would we be able to find such a teaching of ‘hating your enemy.'” I see you put “hating your enemy” in quotes. Do you mean to say those exact words are not found in the OT, or that teaching is not found? If the former, you could also say that nowhere in the OT does it say “love your enemies.” If the latter, if you’re saying the teaching of hating your enemy is not found, that’s just not true. Psalm 15 essentially says, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? … [He] who despises a vile man but honor those who fear the Lord … He who does these things will never be shaken.” If we can equate “a vile man” with an enemy, then I think we have a basis for the OT teaching Jesus may have been referring to.

    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Scottt,
      The point of the study was to show that God never expected anyone to hate their enemies or that this was a normal teaching in the Old Testament. When I wrote “hating your enemy”, I was referring to the thought. Meaning God never commanded Israel to hate their enemies.

      On Psalm 15, I believe that the Psalmist is not saying “people who hate their enemies will abide with God and never be moved”. The psalmist is making a comparison between people who fear God and people who despise God. The people who abide with God and are never moved (according to the psalmist) honor the people who fear God and hold the people who despises and reject God as worthless.
      Just in case you think I am reading these things into the text, you can check the meaning of the word “a vile person – H3988 – ma’as” and “contemned – H959 – bazah” in a Hebrew Lexicon.

      I think the whole thought of Yeshua(Jesus) teaching a new way is misguided, as He started by saying “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil”. The word “Fulfill” didn’t mean the end of the “Law & Prophets” but a clearer/richer/fuller teaching. This is apparent once again when you check the original Greek for Fulfill – G4137 – playroo. Compare Rom 15:19 where Paul says “I have fully preached(G4137)” the gospel.

      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

      1. Scottt

        I’m a little confused. You begin and end your response as if you’re disagreeing with me, but in the middle where you address Psalm 15, it sounds like you’re agreeing with me. For you said that the “people who abide with God and are never moved (according to the psalmist) honor the people who fear God and hold the people who despises and reject God as worthless.” Here it sounds like we’re on the same page. If not, can you clarify what you meant there? For to me, holding someone as worthless sounds pretty much the same as despising them, which sounds pretty much the same as hating them. Maybe your point is that holding them worthless is not as extreme as despising or contemning them? If so, though I don’t know Greek, but comparing different translations, I see most translators prefer “despise,” while not one that I found uses “worthless.”

        I too am hesitant to say that Jesus is teaching a new way. I too lean more towards your view of His fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. So as I’m sure you can imagine, trying to reconcile Ps 15:4 with Mt 5:43 is proving to be a good challenge, hence my finding your site.

        One extra thought on this matter. While there are a few places that seem to speak directly about God’s hate towards people (Ps 3:5; 11:5; Jer 12:8; Mal 1:3/Rom 9:13), this is the only place I know of that seems to directly calls us to hate people (though Rom 12:9 could be another place). Interestingly, Mt 5:43 (and it’s parallel in Lk 6:27, 35) is also the only place I know of that directly calls us to “love” our enemies. Yet the one teaching gets buried while the other becomes one of our most prized teachings. I know there are many places where we are told to do good to our enemies, but not to love them. Do you know of any other passages that teach us to “love” our enemies? Anyway, I see 3 options here: (1) decide that Jesus’ words abrogate David’s words, (2) hold both as true at the same time, or (3) exercise caution in dealing with both Jesus’ and David’s words, recognizing them as unique teachings, and try real hard to figure this stuff out!

      2. rameshdesilva Post author

        Dear Scottt,
        What I meant was that I do not believe Despise – H959(bawzaw) is the same as hate -H8130(Sawnay). I believe the psalmist is comparing opposites where people who fear God are honoured, but people who reject God are considered worthless. It is important to also note that the psalmist could be speaking of people who will dwell with God, to be people who have no part in people who reject God, but ones who fear Him.

        I have mentioned some of the places that tells us to practice love towards all, in my post. Not too sure whether there are more instances.

        I believe Yeshua would never change or disagree with the words of the psalmist. A simple example is where He quotes Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34. in verse 35 He says that the verse cannot be destroyed/annulled/broken. This means He agreed with the Psalms and believed each word to be the supreme Word of God.

        I believe that scripture cannot disagree with scripture, so I would hold both as true at the same time.

        Speaking of hate, a good instance where the psalmist speaks of hate is in Psalms 139:21,22. This maybe the perfect hate which God speaks of, when He speaks of Hating evil and people who love evil. This maybe the same hate that Yeshua showed towards the money-changers in the temple precinct. We should love all, but not evil. We should hate nothing, but evil.

        Coming back to psalms 15, as you mentioned, Paul’s words in Rom 12:9
        agree with the psalmist. We should abhor/detest evil

        I hope i have not made things much more complex.

        Be a blessing to everyone around you!

  4. richard pittenger

    I’m a Christian but I do not think that all the Muslims coming should continue. I see lots of people in this nation who are homeless needs not met, jobless etc! but thisGov. keep bringing Muslims here and are providing their every need. I think if we can’t take care of those already here why are we taking more? I was asked doesn’t your Bible say love your enemies I don’t think I dislike them I don’t think they should keep coming here. there are other ways that the Gov. could help these people. God put people in their nations for a reason. my thoughts about this I don’t think it shows I dislike them. please help me to understand. Thank you

    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Richard,
      I cannot comment on decisions made by Governments… but I do understand your point of view. Having an opinion about immigration is not the same as hating a person. In the land of Israel under the rule of God at the time of Moses to the time of the kings, people from all nations could settle down, as long as they adhered God’s Law. The nations of our day does not have the same rules and laws, and we have to respect it and work towards change through legal means, if you feel strongly about the issue.

      We should not consider Muslims our enemy. They maybe misled when it comes to the belief we have, but they are still God’s children as are all othe peoples from around the earth. If it is God’s Will, He may save some of them… We should definitely not hate them as a whole, or consider them our enemies, even though there are some muslim sects which are misled to hate us back.

      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

  5. John Bratincevic


    See K&D for your answer on Psalm 15:4 – the man who is allowed to dwell on God’s holy hill despises HIMSELF. He is humble and repentant. As you will see in K&D this is not simply a Christian reading – it is a Hebrew one, from ancient Jewish scholars. Gill, Clarke, and The Cambridge Bible commentary also mention this translation as a possibility, though Cambridge doesn’t agree with it.

    I will also point out that H959 (the word in Psalm 15:4) means to utterly despise or hold in contempt, and is never used of God’s attitude towards any person. It’s only used once of Him at all, in reference to idols (Psalm 73:20).

  6. rene

    would you able to direct me to a teaching or explanation of the text “…let the dead bury their dead.” thank you

    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Rene,
      It was puzzling to me to hear Yeshua talk to this son who lost his father so sternly… so, as you, i wondered why he said such a thing. My understanding is that it was connected to the “traditions of the fathers/elders” known also as the “oral law” – As you probably know the oral law took precedence in 1st century jewish society (washing of hands, pots, etc)… these laws are still guarded by the Orthodox Jews of today. And it is customary even today, that there be 3 mourning periods for a deceased loved one in jewish families. These are called the “shiva”(seven day mourning period), “shloshim” (thirty day mourning period) & “avelut” (twelve months of mourning done only for parents). In the “avelut” period , mourners avoid parties, celebrations, theater and concerts. For eleven months of that period, starting at the time of burial, the son of the deceased recites the mourner’s Kaddish(hymn from prayer book) every day. this is customary. Now, we cannot be sure that this was the exact custom in the 1st century… But if there were such practices, it would explain Christ’s answer to the son who wanted to bury his father. He was asking for time to mourn the father according to tradition. And Yeshua understood (like David in 2Sam 12:20-23) mourning for a dead person was useless… hence – let the dead bury the dead. Note: the word translated as “bury” here is the Greek word “thapto” which means celebrate funeral rite.

      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

  7. Johnny

    Very Nice! I really liked your explanation and learned from the people who commented and were answered! God Bless

  8. Timothy kays

    I have come to believe that it takes perfect love to fulfill Gods commandments but the only One who demonstrated perfect Love and was able to fulfill Gods laws was Jesus Christ. It is because we are in no way able to demonstrate perfect love we break Gods commandments even if we broke the least one its the same as we broke them all would be guilty of sin and damming us to hell. Therefore we all need the saving grace of Jesus Christ the free gift of Gods perfect Love.

    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Timothy,
      Agreed. One who is perfect in Love will never break God’s Commands. We are not perfect in Love, but we must strive to be like Yeshua. And when you Keep His Commands You abide in His Love.
      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

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  10. Steve Brudney

    The Pharisees were the sages of the people. The Oral Law was part of the function of the Pharisees which was to help people how to apply the Law in new and ambiguous situations. Today many use “Pharisee” to mean “hypocrite” which is a very sad state of affairs. If one wants to understand the Pharisees, one must do more than adopt the New Testament point of view.


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