We may be surprised at David’s response in this section of the psalm. It seems to be unchristian and we might be tempted to say that his words reflect an Old Testament attitude that has been superseded by the teachings of Jesus about loving one’s neighbour. Yet such an idea seems to suggest that God’s ways in the past were wrong and that he changed his mind. So I think we need to look for another interpretation that would retain the unity of the Bible’s message.
One way to interpret this section is by considering David’s role in God’s kingdom. We tend to see him as a songwriter because that is how we use his material. Or we see him as the ancestor of the Messiah and are aware that God made a covenant with David about his Descendant. Yet we should remember that David was a God-appointed king who had to rule on God’s behalf and punish those who broke his laws. David was a very competent king, but he was not an omni-competent one. David was a righteous king, but there were many situations in which he failed to bring about the kind of situation of righteousness that God desired. And I would suggest that in this section David is praying for God to bring about that perfect society. The psalmist’s thoughts about God have reminded him that God has the ability to do so.
It may have been the case that David wrote this psalm during a time when a group of men were rebelling violently against his rule and saying that he was not God’s chosen king. Such rebellion was not only against David personally, it was also an attempt to destroy God’s kingdom on earth. David knew that he was God’s choice for the role of king and he could not tolerate any attack against it. It was not merely a personal attack against someone they may not have liked; it was a wilful rebellion against the Lord, and David prayed therefore that they would be stopped by God. The fact is, when people oppose God we have to say that we are against them. We have to make sure that our motives are right, that we have what David calls here ‘complete hatred’, that our opposition to them is because we are wanting God’s kingdom to come. We then pray that God would deal with them.
David seems to be aware that it was possible for his sense of anger at those who opposed God to become sinful. So he prays that God would search his heart and mind and deal with any sinful attitudes that were there. We should observe how David regarded such attitudes – they were ‘grievous’, which is an emotional word. Clearly David realised the horror of sin. Sometimes we can be almost casual and matter-of-fact in our descriptions of sin. But all sin is horrible and ugly, and our personal sins should grieve us, as should all other sins.
David’s prayer does not stop with a request to discover sin. He also wants to live a holy life, to be led in the way everlasting. Such a description suggests that the life of heaven begins on earth, not in the sense of its perfection, but in the sense of its direction and aspirations. It is a request to walk forever with the God who knows all about him and who has planned all his days, even the ones yet to be known in the eternal world.