Loving One’s Enemies: Only a New Testament Command? 6 Examples of Old Testament Commendations and Mandates for Mercy


I often hear folks say that the NT God is gracious and merciful, whereas the OT God seems vindictive and wrathful. The heretic, Marcion, would be proud of such modern sentiment. I won’t adjudicate all of scripture in showing continuity of God’s wrath in the NT and God’s mercy in the OT, but do offer this small sampling of texts to show that love for one’s enemies is mandated and commended in the OT.

1. Lamech’s lust for vengeance is seen as wicked (Gen 4:23-24):

Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”

2. Joseph showed a remarkable spirit of forgiveness towards his brothers (Gen 50:15-21):

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

3. The property of an enemy was to be returned (Ex 23:4-5):

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.

4. Elisha fed the Aramean army (2 Kgs 6:21-23):

As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.

5. Jeremiah instructs the exiles to the seek the welfare of the city and to pray for it (Jer 29:4-7):

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

6. Proverbs, which was the catechism for Israel’s ethics, commends the following (Prov 25:21-22):

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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