Was Jesus’ commandment to his disciples to love their enemies in Matthew 5:43 intended to be understood literally?
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ESV
If so, is this a departure of God’s character in the Old Testament, which constantly visits the enemies of Israel with punishment and destruction and even sometimes commands the Israelites to destroy their enemies?
Consider, for example, how God sends his spirit upon Samson to bring death and destruction against the Philistines (Jdg 14:19; 15:15; 16:30), arch-enemies of the Israelites. Did Jesus expect his followers to love their "Philistines", or treat them as Samson did?