Home » Hebrew Word Study: HATE (SANE)

Hebrew Word Study: HATE (SANE)

by Dr. Eitan Bar
6 minutes read

We all do wrong, and Psalm 5:5 says about God: “You hate all who do wrong!” So, does this mean God hates us all?

Unfortunately, today some modern fundamentalist preachers use the word “hate” in the Hebrew Bible to teach that God hates mankind. For example, perhaps the most influential reformed theologian of our time, R.C. Sproul, wrote:

We always say the Cliché, “God Hates the sin, but he loves the sinner.” That’s nonsense! The Bible speaks of Him abhorring us, and that we’re loathsome in His sight, and He can’t stand to even look at us!

Likewise, on his YouTube sermon, “God Hates the Sin and the Sinner,” popular reformed pastor Tim Conway explains his views of the gospel like this:

All of mankind are children of wrath. We are objects of the hatred of God by nature. We don’t deserve His love… God is not unjust to hate mankind. Because mankind is a hateful thing by nature. It ought to be hated.

Similarly, Wyatt Graham, a director of The Gospel Coalition, defines the gospel in this way:

Jesus bore divine wrath at the cross for our sake and so protected us from it. This act implies that God hates humans since he would have poured wrath upon humans if not for the work of Christ’s cross.

Marco from Reading, Pennsylvania, wrote to ask reformed Baptist pastor John Piper. The question was answered by Piper in the “Ask Pastor John” podcast: “Pastor John, what do you make of the saying, ‘God loves the sinner, but hates the sin?’.” John Piper’s answered:

It is just not true to give the impression that God doesn’t hate sinners by saying, ‘he loves the sinner and hates the sin.’ He does hate sinners.

Piper then went on quoting Psalm 5:5-6 to biblically back up his claim.

Likewise, pastor Mark Driscoll preached to his congregation the same motif:

The Bible speaks of God not just hating sin but sinners… Psalm 5:5, “You,” speaking of God, “hate all evildoers.” God doesn’t just hate what you do. He hates who you are!

And David Platt wrote:

Does God hate sinners? Listen closely to Psalm 5:5-6: “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; You hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors.”

The logic of these fundamentalist preachers in quoting Psalm 5:5-6 goes something like this:

  1. Those who sin are sinners.
  2. Everyone sins.
  3. God hates sin.
  4. Therefore, God hates everyone.

Practically speaking, fundamentalist preachers believe that every cute newborn, every sweet toddler, and every child playing in your neighborhood’s park – God hates them.

On the surface, Psalm 5 contradicts verses like John 3:16, which state that “God so loved the world.” (John 3:16). In “world,” John is speaking about the people in the world, not the waters and soil. So, what John is saying is, “God so loved the sinners.” But in Psalm 5, God seems to hate sinners. How do we reconcile the two?

The terms “love” and “hate” bear significant emotional weight in contemporary English language. “Hate” frequently conjures up imagery of violence, death, and fury, while “love” is often used to express intense positive emotions. People commonly use these words to describe highly charged relationships. However, the understanding and interpretation of “hate” in Biblical Hebrew diverge from these modern usages.

Psalm 5

When interpreting Hebrew Bible scriptures, we must take into account a few things. First, unless you are an Israeli, you most likely read a translation in a language other than Hebrew, the language of the Hebrew Bible. Biblical Hebrew has only so many words, so most Hebrew words have multiple meanings. Also, words change their meaning over time.

Second, it is always essential to understand the broader context. Hebraist scholar, Mitchell Dahood, explains that Psalm 5 is about the “repudiation of false gods when one was accused of idolatry.” Similarly, VanGemeren, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, says Psalm 5 is about God distinguishing himself from other gods:

Whereas other religions brought together good and evil at the level of the gods, God had revealed that evil exists apart from him.

So, with this context in mind, more accurate than “God hates us all” will be to say that God hates idol worshippers.

Remember, the pagans around ancient Israel would not only steal office pens and lie about how nice your dress looks today. They would burn their babies in the fire as a sacrifice for their idols. The pagans were cruel and evil. So, it is them, in this context, that God hates. But this isn’t even the main problem with how some fundamentalists use Psalm 5:5-6.

“SANE” = Avoid, Reject, Deny, Ignore

The Hebrew Bible mostly uses ‘SANE’ (hate) as a synonym for ‘reject’ or ‘avoid.’ According to the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible:

The pictograph is a picture of a thorn, then is a picture of seed. Combined, these mean “thorn seed.” The thorn, (the seed of a plant with small sharp points) causes one to turn in directions to avoid them.

In Romans 9:10-13, Paul clearly speaks of “hate” in a matter of election. God chose Jacob yet rejected (“hated”) Esau. So biblically speaking, to hate someone is to reject or avoid them. To deny your intimacy and blessings from them. If a woman hates her husband, she pushes him away, avoids him, and leaves him. On the other hand, if she still cares for him — loves him — she will argue loudly and get upset with him. You go to battle over the things you cherish most.

Anger doesn’t equal hate; apathy and distancing do. We get angry when we care. When we hate, we turn indifferent and let go.

This is why Paul says, “No one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body.” (Ephesians 5:29). We all know people who hate (emotionally) their body or parts of it. I hated mine when I was a fat kid with zits on my face. But as we just established, biblical hate is not about emotions or feelings of detestation. Paul was saying that no one is avoiding/rejecting their body. We indeed eat when we are hungry and don’t avoid going to the toilet when our body asks us to — even if we emotionally “hate” how we look or something about our body.

Similarly, we should read “Esau I have SANE.” It’s not that God wished for him a violent and painful death (in fact, he lived a long life), but God avoided/disregarded Esau, choosing Jacob instead.

Likewise, we should read Psalm 5:5-6. God avoid-reject the idols and those who worship them – these are the evildoers. The evildoers are such because they worshipped these pagan gods and performed the evil rituals involved. God rejected idols because they made Israel do things like burn their babies alive.

The bottom line is that God may “hate” by withdrawing blessings and protection from people, rejecting their appeals, or avoiding them. However, he loves even the greatest of sinners. I know it for a fact – because I am one!

The understanding that to hate means to reject, ignore, or avoid is the only way these words of Jesus would make any sense:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

Love would not demand you “hate” (in the modern sense of it) others or your family because that would no longer be love. Besides, Jesus thought we should love everyone, our enemies included. So obviously, to “hate” your parents cannot mean hate in the modern sense of despising them. Jesus wanted his disciples to choose him over their families. Not to loathe them.

As a Jew, I had to experience Luke 14:26 when my Jewish mother first found out I believed in Jesus. She demanded I stop believing in him, and I had to reject her demand, choosing to follow Christ instead.

To summarize, ‘SANE’ can metaphorically be described the same way darkness or cold can. Just as darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of warmth, so is hate. When you reject, avoid, or ignore someone, you hate them. When you don’t want to sacrifice for a person, you hate them. God avoided the pagan evildoers, but he loves sinners.

This article was an extract from my new small book,
Lost in Translation: 15 Hebrew Words to Transform Your Christian Faith.

You may also like:

Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist