Theme: The Psalmist’s Personal Anguish
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
There is a significant difference between the setting of the two earlier psalms of betrayal and this one. In Psalms 52 and 54 David is in the wilderness fleeing from his enemy Saul, a low point in his career, while in Psalm 55 he is apparently established in Jerusalem, his capital city. This must mean that Saul is dead and that David is now king. We would expect this situation to be good. David’s troubles should be over. But we find that this is not the case and that David is as much troubled in his ascendancy as he was when a fugitive.
In fact, the pain of these verses (vv. 1-8) may even be greater, for this is strong language. David begins by saying that he is “distraught” (v. 2) and in “anguish” (v. 4), and the words increase in intensity after this. The “terrors of death” assail him (v. 4). “Fear and trembling” beset him. “Horror” overwhelms him (v. 5).
In verses 6-8 we find something new. The writer is so distraught by what he finds around him that he is thinking how wonderful it would be to escape from his troubles. We have not seen anything like this before in David’s psalms. He has been fearful before. He has anguished over evil. But always he has seemed ready in God’s power to confront the evil boldly. Nowhere before has he expressed a wish to escape his trouble, to fly away and be at rest: “I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.’”
What is happening? Why do we find this new element? In my opinion what we have here is the weariness that comes to a valiant warrior or worker late in life or at least after the passing of youthful battles and triumphs. When we are young we do not expect life to be easy, and if we are energetic, we tackle problems with optimism and with our full strength. We achieve certain victories too. But as life goes on we find that the problems we thought we had overcome earlier are still around. The company we work for is still in trouble. Our taxes are still high. The murder and felony rates have not declined. Our children continue to cause trouble. In addition, we are getting older and therefore have less energy to cope with these or any other problems. We find ourselves thinking how nice it would be merely to fly away and escape them.
Many do, of course, at least if they have sufficient money to retire and travel. That desire makes the tourist industry flourish. But it is not always possible to escape things—David did not have “the wings of a dove”—and God does not always give us leave to leave either, especially if the problems we face involve continuing responsibilities on our part.
At this point the psalm becomes a lesson to us in steady perseverance, particularly perseverance in middle or late age. Perseverance is one of the virtues God looks for in his children.
How does the setting of Psalms 52 and 54 differ from Psalm 55 concerning David himself?
What is the new element regarding David’s distress? Why might David feel this way?
Application: Can you identify with David in this psalm? Have you ever been betrayed by a close friend? How can this psalm help you to persevere as you study David’s response?