Psalm 55 is a psalm penned by David that deals with what can be one of the more painful experiences that people endure in life. David is dealing with the betrayal of a close friend. But David has not been betrayed by just any close friend, but by someone “with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God” (Psalm 55:14). It is an extremely emotionally painful experience to have someone with whom you put your trust break that trust and turn against you. It is even more painful when it is one of our brothers or sisters in Christ who breaks this trust. David has been betrayed by another child of God, with whom he had shared worshipping the Lord. In this psalm we will look at how David deals with this betrayal and make some applications for ourselves.
I. The Psalmist’s First Discourse (1-11)
A. Call to God (1-2a)
- David begins this psalm by pleading to God to hear his words and listen to his prayer. The beginning of verse two declares, “hear me and answer me” (NIV). Immediately we see in this psalm that David is not simply complaining or bemoaning the things he is enduring in this betrayal. Instead, David is going to make requests of God and asks for God to answer his petition.
- It seems that David feels abandoned by God from his words in verse 1: “Do not hide yourself from my supplication” (NRSV). There is no doubt that when such dramatic tragedies and painful situations arise, we feel that God has left us and that God is no longer on our side.
- We must be reminded of the important lesson David has taught us repeatedly throughout the psalms he has written: turn to God first. When something happens in life that is hard to deal with and burdens our souls, we need to be sure to speak to God first. David has the right inclination to take his pain to God and make his requests know to him, rather than complain or curse God for what has happened.
B. David’s distress (2b-8)
- This first discourse by David describes the emotional and mental distress he is feeling. David says, “I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked” (NRSV). What an accurate description for what is happening when going through a great amount of suffering! This is especially true when speaking about when someone who is a close friend puts the “knife in the back.”
- David says in verse 4: “My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me.” One can hardly understand the feelings that David is expressing. Look at the word pictures that David gives to describe his desperate situation: anguish, terrors, fear, trembling, and horror.
- The horrors that David is facing are so terrible that he wishes “O that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (NRSV). In fact, David says that he would flee far away and stay in the desert, to a place of shelter far from the tempest.
- David feels like he needs to run. I know we all have these kinds of feelings. Sometimes we think that going away or starting at another place would make things better. But it is not possible to run from our problems. In fact, many times trying to run makes things worse. Why? Things can be worse because your problems did not go away, but your support group of friends and Christians are gone because of the move. Most problems are not a matter of geography, but a matter of emotional pain. David could have fled, but that would not resolve the pain he is experiencing due to the betrayal of his friend. But David feels the reaction that we all feel: run. Just move away, go to a different place believing a change of location will make everything better. David desires an escape from the terror around him.
C. Plea for judgment (9-11)
- David calls upon the Lord to take action. The ways of his enemies are extremely wicked. In verse 9 we read that the city is full of violence, strife, iniquity, and trouble. Oppression and fraud are found in the marketplace. David tells the Lord that people are cheating other people in the marketplace. The city is a horrible scene of evil.
- Therefore, David calls upon God to confuse and confound their speech. This judgment request is likely a reference to the tower of Babel where God confounded and confused the languages of the people who worked together to make a name for themselves. In the same way, David is calling upon God to disrupt the plans of the wicked so they cannot accomplish their goals.
II. The Psalmist’s Second Discourse (12-19)
A. Pain of betrayal (12-15)
- In verse 12 we come to the heart of the problem and the reason why David is experiencing such deep pain. “It is not the enemies who taunt me—I could bear that.” These are not just simply strangers who are attacking David nor are these people acquaintances. The person who is causing the pain is a close friend. In fact, he is a companion and with whom David has spent good times together.
- Perhaps the most devastating part of this cry is the knowledge that it is not just a close friend who has betrayed David, but it is someone with whom they have shared time worshipping the Lord. David says, “We walked in the house of God with the throng.” The betrayer is another person who is a disciple of God. Losing friends can be painful as it is, but it is worse when a close Christian friend turns against you as an enemy. Now the person attacks you with words, slanders your reputation, and desires to see you ruined.
- Notice the sharp words of David concerning this person in verse 15: “Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts” (NRSV). David has no trouble desiring severe judgment come upon them. We see a couple important lessons from this response of David. First, we cannot overlook the wickedness of a person simply because they are a “Christian friend.” We are not talking about a person who makes a mistake. David says the person has evil in the home and in the heart. We are talking about the person who makes a calculated decision to deceive, to sway the hearts of the people, to slander, to cause ruin, and bring pain. They want to inflict harm on you. David says to God, “let death come upon them”
- But, the second lesson we learn is that David left these things in God’s hands. David did not become a vigilante and try to bring death on his betrayer. David’s plea is for God to bring death upon them for their actions. There are people who have done things to me in my life and have exhibited this kind of evil in their hearts that I can honestly say to the Lord, “I hope they burn for what they have done.” They deserve judgment for their evil. I can pray to God to bring justice upon the evildoers. David has been afflicted severely by close friend who is acting with evil in his heart. David calls for judgment.
B. Reliance on God (16-19)
- David now speaks directly about his reliance upon God. David says, “But I will call upon God, and the Lord will save me.” While feeling abandoned at the start of this prayerful psalm, David realizes that God is listening and God will act on his behalf. Verses 17-18 show David’s confidence in the Lord: “I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice. He will redeem me unharmed from the battle that I wage.”
- This shows us one of the reasons why we are to be perseverant in prayer. Prayer is not only a petition to God but also a way to mold our faith. Continual prayer helps us change our exasperation to dependence on God. Talking to God helps our souls become relieved and have rest as we know that God is listening and will respond for us. God will do something because these who have harmed David “do not change and do not fear God” (vs. 19; NRSV).
III. The Psalmist’s Third Discourse (20-23)
A. The character of the betrayer (20-21)
- This companion of David’s has violated a covenant of friendship that exists between two people. Notice that David points out that the violation of the covenant was from the words that were said. In verse 21 David says the covenant was violated “with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.”
- David points out that this person’s words seemed to be flattering. The words of this person seemed to be righteous and innocent. But they really were not. The speech is as smooth as butter but the heart was intent on war. The words seemed to be as soft as oil but behind the words were drawn sword ready to wound.
- It is imperative that we realize the damage that the tongue can cause. Remember the words of James, ” And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell ” (James 3:6; NASU). We can sever our relationship with God because of our tongues. Are we so naïve to think that our words cannot destroy friendships? While we may forgive the person for their error, the tongue can alter a relationship and completely end a relationship. There is only so long that a person can be under fire from someone’s tongue before they will not be able to be in fellowship with that person. I believe this is exactly what David is describing concerning his companion. Years may go by the pain may not dissipate.
B. Confidence in God (22-23)
- David concludes by reminding himself and teaching others to place their burdens on God during these troublesome times. God can sustain us through a turbulent time as this and will never allow the righteous to be moved. There have been times in my life where people attempted to run my name through the mud. These supposed Christians rallied other churches and preachers to attempt to have my father and I (who were preaching together) run out of town. It is demoralizing and depressing to have a member of your own congregation turn on you and bring every weapon they can against you. Especially when you have spent many late nights around their dining room table enjoying each other’s company, eating food together, and play games. It is crushing when such a close friend turns against you.
- But God will sustain you. God will get you through it. Eventually, these charges blew over and have been almost forgotten by all the people who were stirred up by this troublemaker. Eventually a resolution will come and your faith and integrity will be stronger for going through the terrible ordeal.
- David also relies upon God to take care of the evildoer. God will cast them down into the lowest pit. The psalm ends, “But I will trust in you.” Justice does not come immediately against those who try to destroy us. But we have confidence in the promise of God that they will be cast down.
One cannot help as they read this psalm to think of Jesus as he also was betrayed by a close friend, Judas. We do not always think of Judas as a close friend. But Jesus was with Judas and the other apostles for more than three years. There were many times when Jesus was alone with his apostles, sharing with them the intimate details concerning the kingdom of God . We need to remember that Jesus has gone through the pain of betrayal. He knows our pain and wants us to cast our burden on him.