The Book of Psalms

Thursday: Betrayed by a Close Friend


Theme: Destruction for the Wicked
In this week’s lessons we learn how David moves from great anguish and pain over his betrayal, to a settled confidence in God’s care.
Scripture: Psalm 55:1-23
Verse 15 seems to stand alone. It is the low point of the psalm and is a prayer or wish in which David longs for the destruction of his foes. The language is important because, just as verse 9 uses words that deliberately recall the confusion of speech at the building of the tower of Babel, so here the throwback is to the destruction of Korah and his followers in the days of Moses. On that occasion “the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community” (Num. 16:31-33). David is referring to this unprecedented destruction in the words of verse 15.
But why? Why the vehemence? J. J. Stewart Perowne explains it by his friend’s betrayal: “To have trusted, and to find his trust betrayed; to have been one with a man in public and in private, bound to him by personal ties, and by the ties of religion, and then to find honor, faith, affection, all cast to the winds—this it was that seemed so terrible, this it was that called for the withering curse.”5
That may be, of course. But it seems significant that David does not specifically mention his former friend in this malediction. In fact, he seems to have distinguished between his enemies, who are cursed here, and his former friend in the previous section, who is not cursed.
What is important is that a turning point comes with verse 16. Earlier the writer had called on God. The psalm began, “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me” (vv. 1, 2). But that was uttered out of the writer’s anguish. Here the tone is different. In these words the psalmist explains that when he calls on God, as he has just done, the Lord actually hears him and saves him. He explains his experiences of God’s grace in three moving phrases: “the LORD saves me” (v. 16), “he hears my voice” (v. 17) and “he ransoms me unharmed” (v. 18). Because of this past experience of God’s grace, which he has remembered, the psalmist knows that God will destroy the enemies that still confront him and will deliver him from them (v. 19). This is faith, of course. It is the point we come to when problems are honestly faced and brought to God.
And brought to God again and again, I should add. For that is the point of the alternating structure of the psalm. There are psalms that are a short fierce statement of concern, thrown up to God in quick desperation. But this is not one of them. This is a prayer in which the psalmist unburdens himself of his anguish, describes the terrors he is facing, reflects on the evil of his foes, asks God for help, and then persists in laying the same things before God again. In other words, this is a lesson in perseverance. It is also an illustration of how such persevering prayer first changes us, strengthening our faith, before God intervenes in response to change our desperate situation.
Study Questions:

What is the significance of verse 16 in this psalm?
What is taught through the psalm’s alternating structure?

Reflection: Describe how persevering prayer changes us. Give thanks to the Lord for how he is at work in your life, even in great difficulties.
5J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 439.

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