The shadow of betrayal
The psalm is a maskil. Ultimately, we don’t know what a maskil is. The best idea we have is that the word maskil is associated with the word "wise" or "skilled." In the times of the ancient Hebrews, wisdom could apply to anything. You could cook wisely (some might still say that is the case). You could play a harp wisely. It meant was that you were good at your craft. Since David gave the first two books of psalms to the priests to be used in worship, I tend to think that this subtitle was added by the priests. It was an instruction for a priest that wanted to assign this psalm to a singer or harpist. They had to be good.
This psalm is focused inward. David is pleading for relief. He is so distressed that it is affecting him physically. He is restless. Some translations say he is moaning. His distress is so deep it affects him like grief. I picture a man so upset that he is pacing and if not weeping, groaning meaningless noises.
• Has someone died? No.
• Has his nation suffered disaster? No.
• Has a family member been harmed? No.
He has an enemy, and his enemy has done him deep damage. The damage he has done is not physical. His enemy has done something that can inflict far more damage than any violence:
• He has spoken hatefully
• He has looked with anger
The degree to which this enemy’s anger and contempt has been expressed has done something we would never expect. It has made David afraid.
• Saul has killed his thousands, David his ten thousands
• The man who killed a hundred men to pay his bride price
• The boy who was man enough to face down Goliath
David is afraid. He is terrified. He is afraid for his life. David’s life has been in danger many times, but this time, the fear is so deep that it has led him to desire something no warrior like David would easily admit. He would like to run away.
How many of us have not felt like David?
• If I was only a bird, I would fly away from this person and never come back
• I would go somewhere he would never find me
• I would fly out to the loneliest place I could reach, someplace I could hide and be safe
I would flee far away and stay in the desert
Think about that. The desert is not a place to be trifled with. I remember being in the desert with a guy who was taking me to homes to talk to some of the people there. I guess we did not go far. I did not pay attention.
• There are no landmarks
• There is no water
• There is no road
• There is only sun and sand
When we were done, I asked him where I was going. He said, "over there." It was high noon, so I didn’t even know which direction he was pointing. I didn’t know how many dunes I would cross before I saw a building I recognized.
He knew where he was, but I had no idea how far "over there" was or if I could find my way home. I wasn’t about to take chances asked him to take me.
Of course, David knew some of the tricks and how to find shelter, having run from Saul for many years. So he is saying, I would rather face the desolation of the wilderness and live off the land than face this enemy.
David is crying out for help
Notice the allusion to Babel. "Confound their speech." When God confounded the speech of the people at Babel, they had no choice but to abandon their plans and disband. David sees not just a person, but a conspiracy. Look at the images:
• Prowling the walls
• Threats and lies in the streets
This conspiracy is hiding in the alleys and lurking in the courtyards. It walks softly and whispers. It is behind every corner with a knife or a club.
Who is this enemy?
Now David reveals it. His revelation tells us why he is upset.
• If it was just an open opponent hurling insults, he could take it
• If it was just some foreigner with a weapon ... no problem
But verses 13 and 14 show it is not just fear that is driving deeply into his heart, it is the pain of betrayal.
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.
Psalm 55:13-14 (NIV)
His enemy is his friend
This man was one of David’s advisors. Who is closer to a king than his advisors? This was a person who was with David when he went to the Tabernacle to worship. A person that David feels a great deal of connection with. A person he shared secrets with.
No wonder David suffered such pain. No wonder he was so terrified. This was not just any friend, it was a man who knew the way he worked. This was a person who knew him inside and out.
In our country, a cabinet member, one of the president’s closest advisors, takes an oath of office to uphold the constitution. In ancient times, this oath was made swearing loyalty to the king. This is the covenant that David says his friend has broken.
• David’s confidence has been broken
• His trust has been violated
• His innermost intimacy has been exploited
• His safety has been shattered
• His life is in danger
This time was a great dilemma for David. His own son had staged a revolt. His closest family and friends were not to be trusted. Any other citizen who had tried this would be killed on site for treason, but David had a highly developed sense of loyalty. He would not even kill his enemies if it violated a righteous duty or his word. How could he kill his family or friends?
So David prays that God will take care of it for him. David said, "God who is enthroned will hear them and afflict them." Verses 15-19 develop the idea that David is relying upon God to handle this for him. He is not praying that they will be spared, but he is praying that God will spare him from the harm they plan and from striking them himself.
But in the end, this is a psalm of trust
This is not the trust a person has for another, but the trust that David has in God. We can look to how David found trust, and how we can find it:
David does not deny his pain
The language in this song is almost heartbreaking to read. David is agitated and weeping; frightened and hurting. He is even somewhat vengeful, though he is content to let God handle it.
There is no point avoiding the truth with God. We may try to put on a happy face with others, but God knows what our heart looks like. David went ahead and spoke his out. It is ok to explore your deepest pain with God. He is there, He cares, and He has all the time in eternity to listen to your hurt.
David is still in the middle of the problem
hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught (Psalm 55:2 (NIV)
Some psalms are written in the tranquility of the aftermath of trouble. They reflect on God’s deeds and the psalmist gives thanks. Not this one. The trouble is still afflicting David. We get the image of David hunkered down behind a rock, perhaps under a scraggly tree and writing this song between his tears.
Don’t wait to trust God in reflection. That is not trust, it is spiritual damage control. Begin while you are distraught to pray.
David states his petition
Trust starts with a void. We trust a chair to suspend us over the void created by the legs of the chair. We trust our loved ones to fill the void of loneliness in our days. David asks God to repay his enemies.
This is ok.
We may struggle as New Testament believers with David’s plea for God to kill them. Rightfully so; Jesus calls us to a higher standard. However, the feelings of vengeance that we experience have an appropriate outlet. That outlet is not taking payback into our own hands, but placing it in God’s. Most of the time, of course, the betrayal we experience does not involve death deserving issues. That does not eliminate the pain. And it does not balance the scale of justice.
God loves justice more than we do. He wants more than anything for everyone to turn from their sin and to trust Him for forgiveness and ultimate resolution. He also knows the end from the beginning and He knows that everyone will not take this road. In the final analysis, He wants to see right done.
But ultimately, justice is His, not ours.
It is significant that David’s most common discussion of the death of the wicked is general in nature. He highlights God’s punishment of the wicked almost a reassurance for himself that God takes care of the wicked without human interference. Only once does David wish death on his betrayer, and then he asks that his death be as much a surprise to him as his betrayal was to David.
• David puts his safety in God’s hands
• He puts his vindication in God’s hands
Can you trust God for justice and balance? If we trust Him for salvation, having exacted our justice on His own Son, how can we not trust Him to be just in all things? Forgiveness is the highest goal of trusting God’s sovereignty. Giving up our bitter need for revenge is the first step.
David declares his trust
This is how David ends the Psalm of course:
But as for me, I trust in you.
But David’s declaration goes deeper than a single statement. His trust is shouted in the 5th stanza, beginning with verse 16. His declaration is in the present and in the past. God:
• Saves him
• Hears him
• Ransoms him
So his trust is based on God’s performance in his own life. It is not an abstract to David, it is immediate help in battle.
I think that this is a mark of spiritual maturity. It is an instinctive impulse to blame pain you can’t understand on a God you can’t understand. But if we are to stand as humans, something above animals, then we must rise above instinct. There is nothing noble about reducing ourselves to knee jerk reactions. We all know from our friendships that it is loyalty in crisis that counts the most. Loyalty in peace is easy.
Declare your trust. Don’t just complain about the problem to others, but tell them that you are trusting God to solve it.
Finally, David invites others to trust God
Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall. (Psa 55:22 NIV)
Even in his dark hour when there is no evidence of safety, David calls for others to trust God. He is saying, "we are in the dark together, let’s walk the bridge of trust together."
Admittedly, these things do not always conclude the way we would like them to. Jesus knew what it was to be betrayed by a close friend. He did not try to stop Judas or take His own vengeance on him, but trusted God to do so. Like Ahithophel, Judas died of suicide, but Jesus did not survive his betrayal.
• Our friends may betray us
• Our family may abandon us
• Our closest loved ones may exploit us
• Life may serve us a poisoned dish
David knew what it was to eat that food and so did Christ. The attack of enemies, both known and unknown will hurt us all.
But David says, "God is saving me now, He has saved me in the past, and I will trust Him to continue doing it. My fate and my enemy’s fate are not in my hands, they are in God’s. I will trust God to do what is best for me and for my enemy. Beyond all that, I will invite any who will, to walk this bridge with me.
Jesus didn’t survive his betrayal, but He rose from the dead. And David lived to continue his reign. His son Solomon took the throne behind him, and became the wisest man ever. His line eventually led to the birth of Christ, the redeemer of all who will come to Him.
David’s trust was not misplaced. Yours will not be either. Do this:
Take a block of time and remember specifically the event that caused you pain. Recall not just the event, but how it made you feel. Consider also what you would do to the person who caused the pain if it was possible and right.
Then phrase the whole thing as a prayer. Give it to God and say the words of David:
But I call to God,
and the LORD saves me.
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
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 them— Selah
men who never change their ways
and have no fear of God. Psalm 55:16-19 (NIV)
There is a world of difference between grumbling about problems and trusting God for His closure and praying with others about it. When the subject of your pain comes up with others, invite them to trust God with you for resolution.
It is vitally important that in our dark times, we cast our cares on God. As Peter says, He cares for you.