The Book of Psalms

Wednesday: Betrayed by a Close Friend


Theme: Bad Times in the City
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
Having unburdened himself of his troubled inner feelings, the psalmist now turns to the wicked who are wreaking havoc in the city. His description of this evil is in words people who live in cities in our day can readily understand (vv. 9-11).
We might have thought from David’s reference to “the enemy” in verse 2 that he was concerned about the hostile nations that surrounded the Jewish kingdom. But now we discover that the enemy is not without but within. The psalmist is saying, as Pogo said in one of the best-known Pogo cartoons, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” These verses personify six vices in three pairs of two each. Violence and strife prowl about on its walls. Malice and abuse are within the city. Threats and lies never leave the streets. It is a grim picture, because we know that these are not just forces in themselves. They are present because wicked people are present, and these wicked people are within the gates. They are us.
That is what is wrong with the cities of America, of course. We want to blame our problems on the environment or government programs or the lack of government programs. But the problem is not “out there.” It is within. The problem is that we are sinners, and this means that there will never be a substantial improvement in the moral state of our cities (or the country as a whole for that matter) until there is a deep moral improvement in America’s people. And that happens in only one way. It is by revival, by a people rediscovering God. There is nothing America needs so much at the present time as a Holy Spirit-produced revival and reformation.
But until that comes we can at least pray that evil will be frustrated and the doers of evil confused. This is what David prays for in verse 9, asking God to “confuse the wicked” and “confound their speech,” using words deliberately reminiscent of the confusion God brought upon the builders of the tower of Babel (cf. Gen. 11:1-9). God does it too. Thank God, he does. We would be many times worse off if evil people could actually get their acts together and work in harmony against the righteous instead of fighting among themselves, as they habitually do.
It is possible to see verses 12-14 as an extension of the psalmist’s description of the evil in Jerusalem. But it is better to see it as a return to the revelation of his own anguish and pain. In fact, like a trained psychologist probing deeply for the root of his pain, David explores his own heart and reveals that what is bothering him most is that his own close friend has betrayed him. The friend’s betrayal is part of the general evil, of course. If this is a reference to the days of Absalom’s rebellion, it might even greatly have contributed to it. But more than this, the betrayal is the root of David’s personal pain and his understandable desire to run away from what is hurting him and be at rest.
How well he knows himself and how well he describes the situation: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him.” David had endured and hid before. Once, when David was fleeing Jerusalem, Shimei, a noted enemy, cursed him from the hillside, crying, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel. The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned.” But the king did not allow his men to retaliate by killing Shimei. He said, “My son, who is of my own flesh, is trying to take my life. How much more then, this Benjamite!… It may be the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today” (2 Sam. 16:5-14).
David bore Shimei’s cursing well. But here in this psalm this was not Shimei, an enemy. This was his companion, his close friend, one with whom he had enjoyed sweet fellowship, a person in whose presence he had worship at the house of God. It is no revelation to say that it is those who are closest to us who hurt us most. Spurgeon said, “None are such real enemies as false friends.”4
Study Questions:

What evil does the psalmist see?
Describe what genuine revival and reformation look like?

Application: Knowing the sin that is in our own hearts, pray for the spiritual awareness and holy desire to honor the “golden rule” in our treatment of other people around us.
4C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 448.

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