Betrayal, Psalm 55

snowy boy and girlWe trust friends and family members to protect us and promote our best interest. But sometimes the people we trust betray us.

The psalms pulse with prayers for deliverance from persecution. Usually this comes from “enemies” or “wicked” men. But Psalm 55 describes the trauma of betrayal.

Like many other psalms, it begins with a plea for mercy. But this extended request becomes a bit more specific than most:

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
    and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
    I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy,
    because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
    and in anger they bear a grudge against me (Psalm 55:1-3, ESV).

This enemy is noisy. The wicked are oppressive. They drop trouble like a crushing hammer blow. And they bear an angry grudge.

Verses 4-8 convey the vivid image of a dove flying away from terror to find refuge:

My heart is in anguish within me;
    the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
    and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

The trauma creates great anxiety within the psalmist’s soul. His description sounds like a full-blown panic attack. Anyone who’s had one knows how desperately you long to escape. The psalmist desperately desires to be free from both the raging anger of the attacker and the resulting personal tempest of terror.

This prayer takes a slightly imprecatory turn, asking God to act, and describing cultural sin that sounds very modern:

Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;
    for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around it
    on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
    ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
    do not depart from its marketplace (9-11, ESV).

Imprecatory requests in the psalms never ask God to permit personal revenge. They always request divine action. And the object is never only personal enemies, but those who strive against the Lord. The above verses depict urban strife and violence around the clock, in the city and suburbs, in economics and commerce.

From the general context of diving petition and urban turmoil, the speaker switches gears to directly address the betrayer:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
    within God’s house we walked in the throng.
Let death steal over them;
    let them go down to Sheol alive;
    for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart (12-15, ESV).

The writer pounds nails into the betrayal coffin: “you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend” (verse 13). This was not a mere acquaintance; this was an intimate friend. A wise counselor who gave good advice. An apparent fellow believer who walked beside him at worship. What a horrific betrayal! No wonder the psalmist calls on God to bring an end to the evil.

What will the psalmist do in the meantime? Will he work behind the scenes to bring about their destruction? Will he seek vengeance? No. He’ll cry to God and trust in him.

But I call to God,
    and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
    I utter my complaint and moan,
    and he hears my voice.
He redeems my soul in safety
    from the battle that I wage,
    for many are arrayed against me.
God will give ear and humble them,
    he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change
    and do not fear God (16-19, ESV).

Betrayal demands continual cries to the Lord. We must depend completely on him to sustain us through the trauma and make it right in the end. God will hear the pleas of the righteous and will humble the pride of the wicked.

But we can’t stop thinking about the deceit speech of the betrayer:

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
    he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
    yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
    yet they were drawn swords (20-21, ESV).

This friend violated trust. His smooth-as-butter speech and his soft-as-oil words cloaked a naked sword.

What can we do in the face of such horrendous betrayal? Only this:

Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved (22, ESV).

Such a burden is impossible to bear. You must cast it on the Lord. He will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to slip from his grip or be shaken from his sure foundation.

The wicked, however, face an entirely different future:

But you, O God, will cast them down
    into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
    shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you (23, ESV).

God will cast them down into the pit of destruction. He will cut short the lives of men who shed blood and practice treachery. What are we to do?

Cry to the Lord, wait on his will, and trust completely in him.

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