At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, And let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, And he turn away his wrath from him” (Prov. 24:17–18).
We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the New Testament introduces a radically new ethic for the people of God—as though the Sermon on the Mount were to be thought of as some kind of grand innovation. But loving your enemies is to be found in both testaments. “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again” (Ex. 23:4). Love is to be defined as treating someone lawfully, and doing so from the heart. It is most certainly not defined by the feelings we may or may not be entertaining at the time. Our feelings should not be entrusted with anything, and most certainly not with the task of defining our most fundamental duties.
There was no greater act of love ever performed in this sorry world of ours than the death of Jesus Christ for your sins and mine. But Jesus did not go to the cross on an emotional high. The night of His arrest He tried to get out of it repeatedly, but all while entirely submitted to His Father. Many of us, when we attempt to love others, are attempting to do it even better than Jesus did, and this accounts for our failures and frustrations.
So there is such a thing as judgment from God in both testaments
“And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.” (2 Kings 1:10).
And when Jesus and His disciples were denied lodging in a Samaritan village, the disciplines responded biblically, or so they thought.
“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village” (Luke 9:54–56).
But it would be false to conclude from this that judgment is found in the Old Testament and mercy in the new. Both are found in both.
In this passage of Proverbs, the reason given for not gloating when your enemy stumbles and falls is that you don’t want God to let up. You want the judgment to continue, and so you take care to keep your own corrupted motives out of it.
In Romans 12, we are told to “give place” to wrath. We are not to take vengeance ourselves (Rom. 12:19), but this is not because vengeance is wrong. Vengeance is not wrong—rather, vengeance is the Lord’s. So we treat our enemies with grace, and this is leaving room for God’s wrath—and just a few verses down we see that the cops are God’s deacons of wrath (Rom. 13:4). It is the responsibility for Christians to step aside in order to let the blow fall. If the blow is one of judgment, we can say amen. If the blow is of the kind that transforms enemies into friends, we can rejoice in that. God is dealing with it all, and we are to show the kind of grace that heaps coals of fire on the head.
This is why imprecatory psalms are so important. In imprecatory psalms, we are turning the whole thing over to God. Psalms of imprecation are not a biblical version of sticking pins into voodoo dolls. We don’t use biblical passages as our way of cursing our personal enemies. We are confessing that we are not usually up to the task of cursing anyone, and so we transfer the whole matter to God. And if we see that God has arisen, and is answering the prayer, we should remember this passage, which amounts to remembering to stay out of it.