“Don’t gloat when your enemy falls, and don’t let your heart rejoice when he stumbles, or the Lord will see, be displeased, and turn his wrath away from him.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
It is satisfying to see someone who deserves justice get it. When someone has been wronged, we love to see them get what is right. Conversely, when someone has done something wrong, we love to see them get their due punishment. This is part of what made movies like Home Alone such a hit. A couple of bad guys got what was coming to them in deliciously hilarious fashion. But, while justice delivered is satisfying (and should be so), there’s a line here that we are wise to not cross.
Let me see if I can sketch out the line like this: In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus brought up the subject of loving your neighbor. This was a command in the law in Leviticus 19:18. It sits in a context of a series of instructions of how the Israelites were to treat one another in their communities.
As a general rule, this is something we can handle—especially when “neighbor” is defined as someone who is like us. After all, we tend to live with and near people who are like us. They look like us. They come from roughly the same socioeconomic background. They do the same basic kinds of activities. And the list here goes on. Showing practical love—which the Israelites basically understood in context as doing good to and for them—to someone like this is fairly easy. We see ourselves in them and are doing for them like we’d have them do for us. Piece of cake.
The challenge comes when we’re no longer talking about someone who looks like us. It’s harder to think of these folks as “us.” We’re much more inclined to think of them as “them.” They are the other. For these folks—folks in whom we cannot easily see ourselves—we have a natural animosity. We start treating them as the enemy. They treat us this way too. Loving them is a non-starter. After all, why would we want to advance the interests of someone whose interests are not only different from, but may actually run counter to ours?
As a result of this line of thinking, which is rarely formalized in any kind of a way, this command to love our neighbor gradually developed a corollary: Hate your enemy. Work for the detriment of those who are not like you. This is part of advancing your own interests since theirs are opposed to yours. They are not part of your tribe and your tribe must be protected and advanced at all costs. Tribalism is entirely natural to our world. At the same time, where it exists, it acts as a giant impediment to meaningful forward progress for a larger society. More importantly, this isn’t the vision God has for us to flourish as people.
If Leviticus pointed us to broaden our vision of a tribe from just our family to those who are generally like us, what Solomon wrote here took us the next step forward. We may have enemies, and their interests may be opposed to ours, but our attitude toward them shouldn’t be one of vindictiveness. While we may not cheer their advancement, neither we shouldn’t cheer their detriment. We shouldn’t delight at their harm. This is something that God doesn’t like. He’ll go so far as to let up on them if we do this.
Okay, well, what should we do instead? Because celebrating our enemy’s fall is natural. After all, if he falls, we can rise. Jesus would take us the rest of the way forward: Love him. Pray for her. Do good to them. They may be our enemies, but our goal should be to treat them the way God treats His own enemies (a category that included us at one time). And how does God treat His enemies? He sent His Son to die for them as an expression of His great love for them and so that they can become fully who He made them to be. That’s our standard.
So then, if you have any enemies, here’s where you can start your thinking toward them: Don’t delight in their harm. Then, you can begin working your way—with the Spirit’s help—toward loving them as Jesus does. Then you’ll find that, eventually, you won’t have any enemies. That sounds like a pretty nice place to be.