Bible Study Theology

Psalm 5 Does God really hate evildoers?

This is a psalm that challenges our paradigm of how we often view the world.  Are we ready to reckon with the fact that according to Psalm 5:5, God “hates all evildoers”?

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (Psalm 5:4-6)

What in the world does this mean?  How are we to understand this?  What are the implications of this for our relationship with others?

The first thing we should say is that according to many, many other scriptures, this includes all of us.  Just consider Romans 3:10-20.  We are all evildoers.  We are all God’s enemies.  Therefore, the only way that we can “enter God’s house” is through the “abundance of his steadfast love”.  The psalm goes on to say:

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me (Psalm 5:7-8).

As the psalm continues, in vs. 9-10, we see David’s expression of the paradigm given in vs. 4-6.  David does not desire that those whom God abhors be absolved of their guilt.  He actually requests that God would “make them bear their guilt.”  He asks God to “cast them out” because of their rebellion.

For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you (Psalm 5:9-10)

What are we to make of these verses?  How should we pray this same psalm?  It is the Word of God!  Shall we overlook it and just conclude that to pray in such a manner is incomprehensible to us?  Actually, I think that might be a good way to respond.  Let me explain:

If we have trouble praying according to a certain scripture because it seems in our minds to contradict other biblical truths, then we should be careful not to discard those other truths in favor of the scripture we are seeking to follow.  If we cannot pray from a pure heart with no doubts asking God to “cast out” evildoers, then we should refrain and simply ask God to give us insight into what he is revealing of himself here.

That said, here is my best understanding of how we  can reconcile these strong verses with those verses that talk about God’s love for sinners and his lack of pleasure in killing the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11).  What we are asking God to do is to not forgive sin where there is no repentance from that sin (see also Psalm 7:12).    This is why he says, “let all who take refuge in you rejoice…”

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield (Psalm 5:11-12).

David asks for salvation, joy, protection, love, blessing, and favor for ALL who take refuge in the Lord.  Our prayers for evildoers, then, should be that God would graciously bring them to repentance.  We should pray that God would give them a heart that flees to him for refuge.  May God give my non-believing friends a heart that loves his name and exults in Christ Jesus.

Only when we let verses 4-6 sink in to our hearts can we begin to understand the depths of God’s love and grace.

Bible Study Theology

Genesis 32:22-32 What does it mean to “wrestle with God”

The following post is a letter I wrote to a friend a couple of years ago. This is actually a re-post, but I am currently reading Genesis in my devotional time and wanted to share these insights with some who may not have read them when I initially posted them…

Dear Allan,

I’ve been meditating much this week on Genesis 32 and Jacob’s wrestling with God. This is a fascinating passage with so much that I don’t understand in it. Two days in a row last week I sat with V after our devotional times and discussed this story at length. I won’t try to reproduce the whole conversation, or the development of my thinking on the passage, but let me share some of my conclusions since they relate very closely to this subject of waiting on God that we have been corresponding about.

Is this story about prayer

First of all, I have read many different commentators on this passage and all of them use as a starting point that the passage is primarily to teach us something about prayer. While I think the story has some implications for prayer, I don’t think it is primarily about prayer but about Jacob’s relationship with God. I also spent a good deal of time comparing the passage to Hosea 12:2-6 which mentions this event in the context of the nation of Judah.

The context of the story is definitely that Jacob had a need (Esau’s impending attack) and that he had prayed to God for deliverance (vs. 9-12). I don’t think there is any doubt that Esau was coming with the 400 men with the intention of destroying Jacob and his family. SOMETHING happened, though, to completely turn Esau’s attitude around, so that he was favorably disposed to Jacob when he met him. Those of the “prevailing prayer” school would say that Jacob “prevailed” in prayer with God and received the asked for deliverance. According to this line of thinking, Jacob’s wrestling with the angel was a vivid symbol of his perseverance in the prayer that is recorded in vs. 9-12.

(The strongest Biblical support for this idea of prevailing prayer I think comes not from this passage, but from Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18. Other passages might include Moses’ intercession for Israel that moved God to relent from destroying them.)

One of the problems with this interpretation however is simply that Jacob was not praying but wrestling! He appears to not even know that the man is a possible source of blessing until the morning hour when his hip is touched and he then asks for the blessing. So to say that he was wrestling to “get something” just doesn’t fit.

Could this story be about brokenness before God?

Another interesting point is that it does not say that Jacob wrestled with the man, but that “a man wrestled with him.” I picture the angel as being the one who initiated the encounter. (although grammatically, that interpretation is not required, I think it will bear out as I continue).

When the angel puts Jacob’s hip out, it is apparent that he is the stronger of the two and could have easily won the encounter at any point. When he puts out the hip, it is God’s way of showing Jacob that he is not strong enough to win. The angel is bringing Jacob to a place of brokenness. What is to be made then of the observation that “…the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob…” I think the angel is God’s representative bringing Jacob to a place of brokenness, and this phrase does NOT mean that the angel had been trying desperately to win, but couldn’t. RATHER the phrase is pointing out that this is the reason for dislocating the hip: Jacob’s stubborn refusal to quit, and his determination to keep on in his own strength.

Jacob’s whole life story to this point is one of wily deception in an attempt to make things work out in his favor, by his own strength. He had constantly sought to manipulate events. (for example, the stew for Esau, deception of Isaac, getting Laban’s flocks by the striped branches, and now the gifts for Esau). His whole life had been a “wrestling in his own strength.” God was now bringing him to a point of seeing that he was unable to win, and was about to be destroyed by Esau.

When Jacob’s hip is put out, he realizes his combatant’s superior strength and appeals to him for a blessing. He, as the weaker, asks the stronger for help. It isn’t clear if he was specifically asking the man to intervene in the Esau affair–probably he wasn’t, he just knew that he needed this man’s blessing.

At this point, the story is really strange because the hip incident surely showed that Jacob was powerless to detain the angel, and yet the man clearly acts as though Jacob IS detaining him further when he asks to be let go. What an amazing picture of our depending on God in faith, when it is really HE who is holding on to US. This is the point of the story where it comes closest to the persistent widow principle.

When the angel changes Jacob’s name, he names him, “strives with God.” It is interesting that this is seen as a positive thing. He has gone from being the “deceiver” to being the one who “strives with God.” His “prevailing” is also positive. I researched this word and there isn’t much mystery to it. It just means “to win”. Jacob wins! But HOW does he win? How does he prevail? Is it by forcing God’s hand and getting the blessing through his own perseverance? He wins by being broken.

Notice that in v. 30. Jacob does NOT name the place, “I have striven with God and won”, but rather, Peniel, or “face of God.” Jacob doesn’t bask in his victory, he marvels that he has seen God and continues alive. He is recognizing that the man had been God’s angel and that the man could have killed him. He has received grace, and he knows it.

When Esau arrives and is favorably disposed, I think Jacob knew that it was not because of his gifts, but because of the blessing he had received from the angel. The next chapter concludes with Jacob building an altar that is called El-Elohe ISRAEL, (his new name).

Hosea 12, a parallel passage

Going to Hosea 12, I find further support for this interpretation of the event.

The Lord has an indictment against Judah
and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
he will repay him according to his deeds.
3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
4 He strove with the angel and prevailed;
he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
and there God spoke with us—
5 the Lord, the God of hosts,
the Lord is his memorial name:
6 “So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God.”

V. 2 starts out by pointing out Jacob’s sin. This can refer to the sin of the nation, or to the sin of the man (Jacob) who represents the nation. I don’t think the following verses are a description of this sin. The sin has been described previously to v. 2. Vs. 3-6 now explain to Israel, the nation, how they should act in view of the indictment that the Lord has against them and his promised punishment. Jacob’s life is an example to them of what they should do.

Verse 3 shows the contrast between the person that Jacob was from his birth (a deceiver who “grasps the heel”), and the person he was after being re-named by God (“in his manhood he strove with God”). Verse 4 describes the striving with God and is crucial to understanding Genesis 32. “He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor.” Jacob’s “striving” was a weeping and seeking of God’s favor. This phrase captures so perfectly the brokenness of Jacob. He is weeping. He sees his need. He calls out to God for grace (favor).

Moving on in v. 4, it mentions God speaking at Bethel. If you look at this event in Gen. 35:9-10, you see that it also refers to the name change from Jacob to Israel. So this phrase is re-emphasizing Jacob’s victory in his striving. In v. 6 the application is drawn to the nation: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” The application of Jacob’s example is for them to OBEY the Lord (hold fast to love and justice) and to wait. V. pointed out to me the great contrast there is here between “waiting” and “struggling”. The nation is not to struggle as Jacob struggled, but to be broken as Jacob was broken, manifesting this brokenness in obedience and humbly waiting upon God, looking to him for his blessing.


Here is the great irony of this event: Jacob “won” by being beaten. I see Jacob’s “prevailing” as analogous to Abraham’s faith. His name, Israel, memorializes his holding on to the angel and asking for a blessing, and yet the whole story shows that the blessing would have never come had God left Jacob to continue on as he had been going. He would have vainly tried to assuage Esau’s rage with the gifts and then been decimated by him. God in his grace encountered Jacob, wrestled him to a place of seeing his weakness and asking for a blessing that he probably didn’t even fully understand what it would be.

So, can we just decide to wrestle with God in prayer about something? I don’t think so. But there are moments where God in his grace comes to us and humbles us so that he may bless us. The active part that we play in these encounters is revealed by Hosea 12. When we go to the Word and the Spirit shows us our sinfulness and our justly deserved judgment, we ask him for grace (v. 4–weep and seek his favor), repent (v. 6–“return, hold fast to love and justice”) and then “wait continually for him” (v. 6).

If we are faced with a great need to pray for, could it be that we would even pray all night, not as an attempt to get something from God, but recognizing at the outset that we are seeking to say to God by our extended praying that we are waiting upon him? We can say to him, “Lord, we are broken, we know we can’t meet this need through our own strength, nor can we earn anything from you by praying all night, but we are humbly seeking your favor. Break us further if there is any continuing self-reliance. We look to you for a blessing that we may not even fully understand.”

I can’t remember a time that I prayed all night for something, and my discipline in fasting is lacking also. I offer this interpretation humbly, recognizing that there are many in the “prevailing prayer” school who may have so much to teach me about waiting upon God. May the Lord give me wisdom to apply these insights to my own life.



Ephesians 3:14-21 Knowing a love that surpasses knowledge

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Here is a brief recap of my study thus far of this prayer for the Ephesian believers:
Like some people who like to read the last chapter to see if the book is going to be good, I started near the end of the request-portion of Paul’s prayer to see where he was heading. The end result of Paul’s prayer, should God in his grace grant it (and he will because he inspired it!) is that we are “filled with all the fullness of God.” This phrase points to the completion of God’s work in us as he forms in us his very image and we become like him in all his moral perfection and beauty. Wow!

But how will he get us there? Paul prays first that we will experience the love of Jesus for us as the Holy Spirit reveals to us in our inner being that we are loved by him. This experience of Jesus’ love has a rooting and grounding effect in our lives. But here is where things start to really rev up!

There is more to a plant than the root and there is more to a building than the foundation. Having experienced Christ’s love through the indwelling Holy Spirit, there is still infinitely more yet to be experienced. The root is going to blossom into a full-grown plant someday and the building will one day be complete.

Here is where some of the teaching on the fullness of the Holy Spirit often leads people astray. Some believers put so much emphasis on the initial experience of being filled with the Spirit and the experience of Christ’s love for them in that moment, that they forget that it is only the beginning! It is only the root! Paul goes on to pray…

“…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…”

Paul knows that to reach our goal of being filled with all the fullness of God, we need to have a constantly renewed experience of the love of God. In the words of C.S. Lewis in his final book of the Chronicles of Narnia…. “Further up and further in!”

Commentators do not all agree on what the four dimensions mentioned in v. 18 refer to, but I think the best interpretation takes them as referring to the love of Christ mentioned in v. 19. After all, what is the “breadth” of God’s love? What is its length? What is its height and its depth? Can it be measured at all? How does one measure the love of the Father in sending his Son to take the penalty of death that we as a rebellious race deserved for our sins? None of us has grasped the dimensions of God’s love that was displayed toward us at Calvary. As v. 19 says, it “surpasses knowledge

We can’t fully grasp God’s love because we have never seen the depths of our sin. We may believe that Jesus died for bad people, or even for really bad people or even really, really wicked people, but we have no idea what is in our hearts apart from the grace of God. This has been a long-term search for me personally. I want God to show me the depths of my sin so that I can more fully appreciate what Jesus did for me.

We can’t fully grasp God’s love because we can’t fully see the infinite glory of God. We have no idea whom we have scorned in turning away from God to follow our own ways. If we knew, truly knew, the God we reject every time we sin, we would fall on our faces and call for the mountains to fall on us. And we would see so much more clearly the condescension of his love in saving us through the sacrifice of his Son.

Let me backtrack a bit and talk about two important words in the text that support my premise that what Paul is asking God for in this prayer is that we might experience God’s love for us in Christ. In v. 18, he prays that we may be able to “comprehend” the love of God. And in v. 19, he prays that we may “know” the love of Christ. The word translated “comprehend” is a strengthened form of the verb “to grasp” and means to “fully understand” The word translated “know” can mean simply “to understand” but it often is used to denote a knowledge by experience–a knowledge of things as they really are.

Paul certainly is not just praying that we will have an intellectual and theological understanding of the love of God. Word studies aside, the context cries for an understanding of these verbs as relating to an experiential knowledge of the love of God. Besides, how else (other than experience) can one know something that “surpasses knowledge”? Paul desires that we will have an ongoing, deepening, broadening, lengthening experience of a reality that we will never exhaust–the love of Christ.

I have a theory regarding the words “with all the saints” that I would like to throw out for your consideration, and if anyone is still reading by this point, perhaps you could leave me a comment with your take on this interpretation (I haven’t found it in any commentary).

Could it be that Paul prays that the Ephesians will be able to comprehend “with all the saints” because he knows that it is only in heaven that all the saints will have this experience that he writes about in verses 18-19? In other words, only in heaven will this prayer be answered fully, and it will be answered for “all the saints.” We will all be filled up to all the fullness of God as we experience the love of Christ flowing to us with the same intensity with which it flows among the members of the Trinity, and that for all eternity.

It is a glorious thought, and I could write a lot more about this glorious prayer, but I have other responsibilities beyond writing for a blog!

So let me conclude this four-part study of this wonderful prayer with this comment: Pray this prayer for yourself and for the believers you fellowship with and for all of us as God’s children. Pray that God would grant us all the faith to believe that by His Spirt indwelling us we can have fellowship with Jesus that is even more intimate than the apostles experienced when they were walking with Jesus in the flesh. Believe that God wants to bless you with this kind of closeness and intimacy with Jesus, and no matter what your experience or lack of experience has been in the past… he is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…”