Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the LORD, O my soul. Praise ye the LORD.
Psalm 104:35 (KJV)
Sinners – Love the sinner, but hate the sin. Isn’t this how we’ve come to understand it? Shouldn’t we have compassion and patience toward those who are sinful and work with them in love to bring them to Yeshua? Well not according to David, or should I say, not according to most English translations of this specific verse (NIV, NASB, NRSV, ESV, etc.).
This psalm is such a beautiful description of YHWH’s authority over creation. The perfection of everything is reflected upon by David as he writes. But here in the final verse he remarks about sinners and prays that they are consumed from the earth. Where’s the love, compassion, and patience in that? How did we go from beauty to condemnation so quickly?
Well, again, Hebrew can be tricky. To help clarify, let’s review a historical exchange between Rabbi Meir and his wife, Beruryah.
On one occasion, her [Beruryah] husband, Rabbi Meir, was very disturbed by a band of cutthroat brigands who had invaded their neighborhood. He became so exasperated with them that he prayed his interpretation of Ps 104:35, “May the sinners be annihilated.” He based his reading on the root word for “sinners” in Hebrew, which is chata; the plural for is chotaim. His saintly wife pointed out a mistake in his reading of the text which, at that time, was printed without vowels and therefore open to more than one translation. Whereas he read chotaim, “sinners,” she argued that the proper reading should be chataim, “sins.” Rabbi Meir agreed with her exegetical interpretation: he should pray Ps 104:35 with the correct translation, “Let the sins be annihilated.” His prayers were answered and the troublesome neighbors repented.
Meet the Rabbis, Brad H. Young (p.188)
Another mistake of the vowel. Now David’s psalm flows all the way through the end. Authority over creation and beauty is concluded with a remark about that which spoils His work – sin. Even man can become beautiful without sin rotting away in him. If God can be long-suffering so that all may repent, then why don’t we take a page from His book? Surely evil needs to be pruned from our lives, but maybe cutting off the sinner doesn’t need to be the first step. Maybe we can love the sinner, but hate the sin.