Psalm 55 -

The Agony of Betrayal

 

For the director of music. With stringed instruments.

A maskil of David.

1Listen to my prayer, O God,

do not ignore my plea;

2hear me and answer me.

My thoughts trouble me

and I am distraught

3at the voice of the enemy,

at the stares of the wicked;

for they bring down suffering upon me

and revile me in their anger.

4My heart is in anguish within me;

the terrors of death assail me.

5Fear and trembling have beset me;

horror has overwhelmed me.

6I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!

I would fly away and be at restó

7I would flee far away

and stay in the desert; Selah

8I would hurry to my place of shelter,

far from the tempest and storm."

9Confuse the wicked, O Lord,

confound their speech,

for I see violence and strife in the city.

10Day and night they prowl about on its walls;

malice and abuse are within it.

11Destructive forces are at work in the city;

threats and lies never leave its streets.

12If an enemy were insulting me,

I could endure it;

if a foe were raising himself against me,

I could hide from him.

13But it is you, a man like myself,

my companion, my close friend,

14with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship

as we walked with the throng

at the house of God.

15Let death take my enemies by surprise;

let them go down alive to the grave,

for evil finds lodging among them.

16But I call to God,

and the Lord saves me.

17Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress

and He hears my voice.

18He ransoms me unharmed

from the battle waged against me,

even though many oppose me.

19God, who is enthroned forever,

will hear them and afflict themó Selah

men who never change their ways

and have no fear of God.

20My companion attacks his friends;

he violates his covenant.

21His speech is smooth as butter,

yet war is in his heart;

His words are more soothing than oil,

yet they are drawn swords.

22Cast your cares on the Lord

and He will sustain you;

He will never let the righteous fall.

23But You, O God, will bring down the wicked

into the pit of corruption;

Bloodthirsty and deceitful men

will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in You.

 

Once again, in this psalm, David prays for Godís help in a time of trouble. We are not given in this psalm, or in the inscription, the occasion that prompted these prayers, but we know that at the root of the trouble was the betrayal of a close friend. This would suggest that the occasion of the psalm was when Davidís trusted counsellor, Ahithophel, betrayed David and joined with Absalom, Davidís own son, in rebellion (see II Sam. 15:12). When we encounter passages in the Bible about betrayal, we should pay special attention, for there is a great possibility that the passages contain a prophetic reference to Judasís betrayal of Jesus, since "the volume of the book" is about our Lord Jesus Christ.

David cries out to God: "Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the wicked, for they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger" (vss. 1-3). As Jesus promised, "In this world, you will have trouble" (John 16:33). "We shall never be done weeping and praying till we are done with earth, and have passed to the enjoyment of God" [Plumer, on vs. 1]. And at the first sign of trouble, the wise, godly man will turn immediately to God in prayer, as does David.

On the occasion of this psalm, David was quite upset: "My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me" (vss. 4-5). Even the most godly of men face fear, as evidenced here. "It is not a thing inconsistent with godliness to be much moved with fear in time of danger; natural affections are not taken away in conversion, but sanctified and moderated" [Dickson, on 5]. Even Jesus sweat drops of blood. Yet it is somewhat of a surprise that David, who fought lions and bears, who slew Goliath, experienced such a strong feeling of fear: "Horror has overwhelmed me." Thanks be to God that we can turn to Him in times of trouble! "The godly have an advantage above all natural men: for when natural strength and courage fail them, they have nothing behind; but the godly have faith in God, to open a fountain of fresh supply of wisdom, courage, and strength to them, when all natural parts fail them; for, David being now emptied of natural strength, hath wisdom and strength to go to God, and the hope of heart to be helped by Him" [Dickson, on vss. 4-5].

In his fear, Davidís desire, rather than face his trouble, was to flee from it: "I said, ĎOh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at restóI would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and stormí" (vss. 6-8). Yes, it would be nice to have "wings of a dove" at our beck and call, to get us out of trouble whenever we face it. And yes, God could provide such a thing. He could whisk down a chariot of fire, at will, to help us escape. But God prefers, in the vast majority of cases to rescue us in far more natural ways. He more often chooses to walk with us through the trial, rather than fly us over the trial. The Israelites had to pass through the Red Sea, rather than be whisked over it.

Absent "wings of a dove", David prays for God to handle his enemies: "Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city. Day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it. Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets" (vss. 9-11). David prays for God to "confuse the wicked" and "confound their speech", so as to take away the ability of his enemies to cooperate in their evil, just as God did at the Tower of Babel.

There was something about Davidís enemies that was especially distressing to him: "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God" (vss. 12-14). His enemy was once a close friend. "None are such real enemies as false friends" [Spurgeon, on vs. 12]. It was especially upsetting to David that this enemy was a fellow worshipper with him, "with whom [he] once enjoyed sweet fellowship as [they] walked with the throng at the house of God." There are few things more disturbing than when we enter into serious conflict against brothers and sisters in the Lord. This, of course, should not happen to true believers, for believers should always strive to be Christlike, and Christ is the Prince of Peace. In Davidís conflict, his adversaries were clearly not walking with the Lord. They were acting on their own behalf, not on behalf of the Lord.

Davidís feelings of being betrayed caused him to pray an especially wrathful prayer: "Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave, for evil finds lodging among them" (vs. 15). Davidís malice for his adversaries was injecting itself in his prayers. Possibly we, as outsiders looking in, would suggest that David pray for the repentance of his enemies, rather than their destruction; however, how do we know how we would act in the same situation, as our enemies ruthlessly sought to destroy us? And certainly, David, in this situation, was in the right; and just as certainly, Davidís adversaries (if they were Absalom and Ahithophel) deserved severe judgment.

For Davidís adversaries "evil finds lodging among them", but David avoids evil by constantly seeking God in his troubles: "But I call to God, and the Lord saves me" (vs. 16). "The Psalmist would not endeavour to meet the plots of his adversaries by counterplots, nor imitate their incessant violence, but in direct opposition to their godless behavior would continually resort to his God" [Spurgeon, on vs. 16]. In the midst of his troubles, David found time for fervent prayer at least three times a day: "Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and He hears my voice" (vs. 17). "If our poor, frail bodies need refreshment from food three times a day, who that knows his own weakness will say that we need not as frequent refreshment for our poor frail spirits?" [Plumer, on vs. 17].

As often happens in Davidís psalms, he recalls past deliverances by God, and these recollections strengthen him in his faith that God will come through for him again: "He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. God, who is enthroned forever, will hear them and afflict themómen who never change their ways and have no fear of God" (vss. 18-19).

David is convinced of the bloodguiltiness of his foes, their treachery amplified by their feigned friendship: "My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords" (vss. 20-21). The contrast between Davidís own righteous behavior in the situation versus the wickedness of his foes convinces David that God will take his part: "Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall. But You, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in You" (vss. 22-23). Oh, praise be to God that we can "cast our cares on the Lord." May we ever fervently seek Him in times of trouble. May we walk in His ways, and not be corrupted by the sins of the wicked who battle against us, so that in righteousness we can seek His help, and trust in Him for deliverance.

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