What do we do with the apparent delight that certain scriptural writers had in the death of their enemies?
Take for example Ps 137:9-"How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock." And what about the hatred expressed toward those enemies? "Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies" (Ps 139:21-22). And another Psalm reads, "You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me, and I destroyed those who hated me. They cried for help, but there was none to save, even [they cried] to the Lord, but he did not answer them. Then I beat them fine as the dust before the wind; I emptied them out as the mire of the streets" (Ps 18:40-42).
Justice calls for delight. We can always rejoice that God is carrying out his justice, without mistake or sinfulness on his part. But even with that said, it's still a little puzzling to me, in light of teachings like "love your enemies," that there are passages that celebrate the calamity of others. I trust that such tough prayers and psalms (Ps 18:40-42;137:9; 139:21-22) are also a part of God's infallible and inerrant Scripture and that they teach us accurately about God.
Although the Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ez 18:23, 32), and he is good to all, even the evildoer (Lk 6:35), he does celebrate as his justice prevails over Satan and wicked people: Ps 94:1-2, 23 and 135:6 and Dt 28:63 (and a host of other passages).
In The Pleasures of God, John Piper helps us understand the issue:
". . . The death and misery of the unrepentant is in and of itself no delight to God. God is not a sadist. He is not malicious or bloodthirsty. Instead when a rebellious, wicked, unbelieving person is judged, what God delights in is the exaltation of truth and righteousness, and the vindication of his own honor and glory" (Portland: Multnomah, 1991, 66-67).
If Piper's right, there is reason to rejoice when a wicked person dies. And passages like Ps 18:40-42 and Ps 137:9 and Ps 139:21-22 (quoted above) give us a picture of believers celebrating God's triumph.
Below, I've included several thoughts about passages that celebrate (or else call for) the destruction of their enemies.
1). With joy, we can embrace the Lord's ways even when it includes the destruction of his enemies. This idea pertains not only to the issue of capital punishment, but also to hell itself. See 2 Thes 1 where Paul encouraged believers with the prospect of their persecutors' destruction in hell. This doesn't mean that we rejoice when people go to hell, but it does mean we can trust that God is just. We celebrate that he knows what he is doing and that he is trampling his enemies (Mic 4:13, Zep 3:12, Rev 19:1-2). When good times come our way, we should praise God. When tragedy comes our way, we should praise God. We praise him not because we find our delight in those circumstances, but because he is worthy of praise at all times. So it is when God's justice manifests itself over his enemies. We rejoice in God not the situation.
2). The Psalmist was taking his matter to the Lord, which is the right place to take it (Ps 108:12). What better way could we deal with our difficulties, hatred, anguish, and fear than to take them to God?
3). The Psalmist was celebrating the Lord's triumph over His enemies (Ps 108:13). This victory wasn't just a matter of personal vengeance but God's glory. God deserves all glory, so it is right to rejoice when we see his glory prevailing.
4). The Psalmist and others in biblical times had clear commandments from God about who to destroy and when. Thus they had reasons to be sure when they celebrated the destruction of their enemies. You and I might not always feel confident that we're celebrating for the right reasons, but perhaps there could be situations where our delight would be appropriate.