October 5, 2021
Rev. Dr. Janet K Sweet,
Psalm 55: 1-151 Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
2 hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
3 because of what my enemy is saying,
because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.
4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
5 Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
7 I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;[c]
8 I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
9 Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.
11 Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.
12 If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers.
15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
for evil finds lodging among them.
DevotionMatthew Henry once wrote that “prayer is a salve for every sore and a relief to the spirit under every burden.” However, David is not simply seeking relief through prayer in Psalm 55. Instead he is seeking deliverance from his enemies. In this passage, David reveals his anguish at the behavior of a friend with whom he once enjoyed sweet fellowship. He can’t believe this friend is now speaking lies and untruths. He is overwhelmed by their deceit. Though no one wants to be betrayed by an enemy, it is a bit easier to swallow than to be blindsided by a friend. How could a companion, a close friend, be the one spreading malice and lies? This is not how friends should act! A friend’s betrayal is so deeply wounding.
Prayer is a salve that relieves some of David’s deep anguish. Yet the problem remains that he has been betrayed by a trusted friend. There is nothing more painful than finding out a friend has been attacking our character or abilities behind our back. When we hear that a friend is doing this we can only say, ‘why?’ Didn’t we eat together? What about that trip we took not long ago? Didn’t we have a deep bond?
We can empathize with David because betrayal by a friend can occur at any season in our life. When we’re younger these betrayals may seem harmless in nature. Just think for a moment about when you were a child. You came into the lunchroom to sit with your friend and he didn’t save you a seat. He borrows money for a soda and doesn’t pay it back. Perhaps the friend decides to play with someone else at recess. We are upset but life goes on. However, when we are older, a friend’s deceit can be devastating. I am aware of someone who broke up her best friend’s marriage. I can only shake my head and wonder how someone can rationalize such behavior. There are friendships lost today over dishonest business dealings where one friend is left with the debt and the legal issues. I’m sure you can think of a friend who did not show up when you needed them or a time when a friend was silent and did not defend you.
We do not know exactly who David is talking about in Psalm 55, but it is speculated that it is his son Absalom’s rebellion. David’s pain may also come from the remembrance of his sin in the matter of Uriah. Whatever has triggered his pain has also made him a man of sorrows. David has momentarily relinquished his bold, fearless, persona to become very human and deeply emotional. He has lost his strong front of being a warrior and become simply a man in anguish. One can only ask: where are his friends and family to comfort him? Can’t they speak words of hope or peace into his dilemma?
David instead turns to God. He believes God will hear his complaint and answer his prayers. David isn’t looking for relief or simply a salve. He wants some decisive action to happen that will resolve this mess. He wants God to act immediately. Though he may wish he had the wings of a dove to fly away, the reality is that he is a man who must face his enemies. David is initially fearful, yet God will enable him to act decisively. In the end, David successfully fends off Absalom’s attempt to seize his kingdom.
Today we read this passage with the confidence that God is with us even when friends don’t act like friends. Tomorrow is another day. We pray God will give us discernment whenever we are choosing a friend so we can avoid trusting someone who is not really a friend.