31 Jul 2017

Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount & the ‘Old Testament’: You Shall Hate Your Enemy

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Contemporary Ethics, Deuteronomy, Discipleship, Exegesis, Jesus, Love, Matthew, Preaching


I worship, serve, praise, and call Father, the very same God that Jesus of Nazareth did. This God has not changed. He did not become a Christian when Jesus was born, when he died nor when he was raised from the dead.

God did not suddenly “become a Christian” between Malachi and Matthew 1. God is the same today as God was at Creation, at the gracious calling of the pagan Abram, at the loving rescue of faithless Israel, at the astounding promises made to the adulterer David. The One Jesus prayed to, as “Abba,” is Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus came because of Yahweh’s love, Yahweh’s grace, Yahweh’s will. John 3.16 preaches the love of Yahweh, the God of Israel (Jesus does love us but John 3.16 is not about his love but the Father who gave out of love, Yahweh).

This bedrock truth is so frequently overlooked, minimized and outright distorted by disciples of the Messiah. Disciples (because of preachers) frequently contrast the “spirituality” of the New Testament with the “physicality” of the Old Testament; the “love” of the New Testament with the “hate” of the Old Testament; the grace of the New with the law of the Old. These perspectives are often purveyed with no effort to justify them at all.

Assumptions abound. But Jesus preached the revelation of the God of Israel. The New Testament writers did not make the assumptions many do today but proclaim the oneness of God of Israel and the Father of Jesus; the oneness of the people of God in the Hebrew Bible with the people of God in the NT and they do this on every page of the NT.

Love Your Neighbor; Hate Your Enemy

No better example of these misunderstandings are how people view the Sermon on the Mount. But the Sermon on the Mount is, ironically, the very place to go to show that Jesus is not doing anything but bringing people back to the Bible. We may think of the Sermon as a “restoration movement.” No better text to show this than Mt 5.43.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

Jesus follows this up in v.44 by grounding our action in God’s, “FOR your Father in heaven makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, etc”

There is not a single verse in the entire Hebrew Bible, or its translation into Greek, that says the former but there is plenty of support for the latter as we will see.

Gentile Christian interpretation of the “Old Testament” is often filtered through centuries of anti-semitism. There is no more classic example than with these verses. If and when expositors acknowledge that Leviticus 19.18 commands love for neighbor they will try to minimize that with the claim that Moses limits “neighbor” to a fellow Israelite. Therefore Jesus is tightening the screws on the Torah. Most of these simply ignore that in the immediate context, verse 17 states that hate “in your heart” is forbidden. Again those who note this, claim the OT is inferior because it speaks, again, of fellow Israelites.

Moses, however, in no way limits love to fellow Israelites, even in the same chapter of Leviticus. We read in verses 33-34

When an ALIEN [non-Israelite] resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; YOU SHALL LOVE THE ALIEN AS YOURSELF, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

This is explicit language from Moses. But Moses is not done. He reduces Israelite obedience to two things in Deuteronomy. In fact, as the Prophet that was like Moses would do, Moses grounds our obedience in the character of God himself.

So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? ...”

1) circumcise your heart

2) “you shall also LOVE THE ALIEN, for you were aliens in Egypt

This is explicitly rooted in the character of Yahweh,the God of gods,”

who “LOVES THE ALIEN providing them with food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10.12, 16, 18-19).

Jesus not only brings us back to Leviticus, but to Deuteronomy 10 in the Sermon on the Mount. What surprises people is that caring for the alien (non-Israelite) is one of the most frequent commands in the “Old Testament.” Along with widows and orphans, it is in fact the pure religion of the Old Testament. We love, not hate, because Yahweh loves and blesses. Jesus adds his “Amen” in Matthew 5.43ff.

Blessing, Not Hating 

The Torah, then, requires that we bless those who are our enemy. This naturally flows from what we have seen in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We will not ignore these texts as has been done so many times.

Exodus 23.4-9 speaks of both attitudes and actions regarding those who might HATE ME. If I encounter “my enemy’s” means of making a living (ox, donkey) because it has been lost or strayed away, I have the moral obligation collect the animal and bring it back to my enemy. If I see the donkey of the one who “hates me” … even if I do not want to … (the text recognizes the anti-human nature thrust of this command), I “must help.” Lets quote the text.

When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free … You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23.4-9).

The sages applied these words in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy to not just rescuing my enemies means to make a living, but I must bless him or her when they have no means to even eat. So Proverbs states,

If your ENEMIES are hungry give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink …
the LORD will reward you” (25.21-22)

And we are not to even rejoice when calamity befalls the one who makes themselves our enemy,

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls
and do not let your HEART be glad when he stumbles;
lest the LORD see it and it displeases him
(Pr 24.17f; see what Job claims in 31.29-30)

I have to love my enemy by bringing his/her means of living back. I must even feed my enemy according to the Hebrew Bible. I must bless my enemy, doing nothing could mean death.

Roland Worth has written a very perceptive study on the OT roots of Jesus’s most famous sermon. It is an essential resource.

Even in times of actual war (Note that Joshua is one of the most abused books in the Bible but what it says about war was never viewed as normative in Israel nor in any Jewish thinking) these texts seem to apply.

In 2 Kings 6 we read the famous “open the eyes” of the servant text. But what is forgotten is directly related to our theme. Elisha prayed for the opening of his servant’s eyes and for the blindness of the Arameans. They are blinded and lead into the city of Samaria. In the city their blindness is lifted. The king suggested slaughtering the enemy soldiers (6.21). But Elisha said, essentially, you did not capture them by any means of war and you will not kill them. Instead of slaughtering their enemies the Israelites,

set before them food and water so that they may eat and drink

It was not mere rations given to the enemy either. It was not just enough to stay alive. The Hebrew Bible declares,

So he prepared for them a GREAT FEAST” (6.23).

Can you imagine the USA doing this to the enemies held in Guantanamo Bay, how many would be up in arms about the great treatment of our enemies!

And then the Israelites set the enemy’s FREE!!! (6.23)


When Jesus said, “you have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy” he is not talking about anything whatsoever in the “Old Testament.” It is the case, though, that God’s People have always sought to circumvent this teaching of Scripture down through the centuries. Like the man in Luke 10, religious people have compartmentalized who gets God’s love through us. In the Old Testament the enemy is our neighbor. The alien is the same as the citizen. God loves the alien and cares for them … We are to do so as well.

Jesus is not correcting Moses. In fact, Jesus declares the words of Moses in Leviticus 19.18 (the very text many declare Jesus is correcting) as the second Greatest command (Mt 22.34-40).

Jesus is preaching Moses in the Sermon on the Mount, to people who want to quantify and regulate God’s love to people we deem worthy. But Jesus simply said, God is the same today as he was when he loved the aliens and dared to tell us to do the same through Moses.

Moses essentially says, some one may view themselves as my enemy, but as one redeemed by Yahweh, I am the enemy of no one. Jesus said, Amen!


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