Chris and I were talking a few months ago about where we thought God was taking us. I thought that it would be good for us to spend time in some Psalms of Lament, having no idea what was in store for us in the coming weeks.
If you ever want a demonstration of total depravity, volunteer at a preschool and watch about seventy children for an hour every week. I heard this story recently. A woman had a young child run up to her with his head buried in his hands and tears flowing down his face. When she asked what was wrong, the child told her that one of the other children, one of his friends, had hit him in the face with a ball. And then he looked up at her and said, “Oh, I am so angry with him. I’m gonna get him.”
The woman took that as a cue to give a little explanation on a Christian response to events that make you angry, and said, “Well, revenge really isn’t the proper way to respond in a situation like this, and you ought to go and you ought to have some forgiveness.” In case she was under any illusion that her words were making much difference in the mind of that young man, he quickly said as the boy ran past him, “I think it was that one. Oh, I’m gonna get him!”
We laugh at a story like that, but it is in many ways a microcosm of what often happens to us in a much larger way. Our friends might no longer hit us in the face with a ball, but they can sometimes do things which hurt a whole lot more than that.
Maybe you’ve had a close friend who you’ve spent a lot of time with and shared many special moments with turn against you, slander you, and gossip about you to friends. Maybe you’ve know someone who appeared to be a believer and you worshiped with them and shared your life with them, but they have since turned away from the faith and no longer want anything to do with you. Maybe there is a husband or wife, the closest of any earthly union at all, who has had an affair or deserted you. Maybe you have a child who, when she was little, would draw you pictures and say how much she loved to be with you, but now that she is older, has rebelled against you and hasn’t said a kind word to you in years.
It hurts to have friends, to have loved ones turn on us. And it is that very thing that David is dealing with in this Psalm. In Psalm 55, David is betrayed by a friend. Here he experiences the anguish of desertion by one who was close to him.
How do we respond in these types of situations, where we are under pressure to respond or react? Three points: 1) Deep Anguish (1-8). 2) A Betrayer (9-15). 3) Confidence and Trust (16-23).
- Deep Anguish. (1-8)
David says in verse 2, “I am restless in my complaint and I moan”; and in verses 4-5, “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.” This is the type of anguish that is all consuming. It rocks you to the core.
David’s chief problem in these verses is not intellectual difficulty. No, he hurts in the bowels of his being. The Bible knows something of the depths of human experience.
He reaches that experience which only comes at the rarest of times. He exclaims in v. 6, “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. I would hurry to find shelter from the raging win and the tempest.” David wants to escape.
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever said, “Maybe if I just go to sleep I’ll wake up in the morning and it will be all better.” Or maybe you say, “Boy, I wish I could go back to last week before all this happened.” That is the anguish that David is experiencing. That’s what he feels deep in his soul.
But notice the most important verse in this section, because it sets this anguish of David in its proper place. David begins: “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! Attend to me, and answer me.”
We live in a fallen world and these experiences of anguish that David is feeling are experienced by believers and unbelievers alike. This world hurts. We see this in a thousand ways every day.
The difference between the godly and the ungodly is found in verse 1: the godly person brings his anguish, despair, and distress immediately before God. The ungodly seeks to do any number of things with that distress. They might wallow in their despair, or try to get even with the person that hurt them, or convince themselves that they are the most mistreated person on the face of the planet, or try to get rid of the problem or forget about the problem by numbing themselves with alcohol or drugs, or surrounding themselves with the world’s goods.
There are a thousand different things that people try to do to get rid of the anguish and distress that they feel in their hearts. But David shows the response that the believer MUST have. The godly must seek to gain an audience in heaven and an answer from his God.
When our tears flow, and they must, they must always be attended by our prayers. These two must walk hand-in-hand, never without the other. Taking our anguish, the anguish of our soul, to God in prayer is the first and necessary step when we feel that anguish in our hearts.
It’s the necessary step to responding in a godly way. Are your cries of anguish, when you feel like David, when you want to fly away like a dove – are your cries of anguish, first of all, brought before the throne of the living God?
- A Betrayer (9-15).
David now describes his betrayer. Here is the cause of his anguish. Why does he feel this so deeply? He describes in broad terms the wickedness that he sees in the city. David looks around him and he sees nothing but wickedness. Look at the words he uses in these 9-11: “violence,” “strife,” “iniquity,” “trouble,” “ruin,” “oppression,” “fraud.” Adequate words to describe our cities, too!
The wickedness that David sees is an affront against him as the king over God’s people and it’s an affront against God and His reign over His people. This isn’t the world – this is the church.
But it’s not only this wickedness that causes David to feel this way. (12), “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.” Much of what is happening in the world today can be dealt with rather easily. I can cancel my subscription to the newspaper, stop watching television, and get off social media, and I could hid myself rather easily from the current goings on.
The real problem, the real cause of his anguish is much, much deeper. He has been betrayed, he has been stabbed in the back by one who was a close friend. He describes that relationship in verses 13 and 14. These sting when you read them. “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.”
This is why David feels such deep anguish. This isn’t somebody else, somebody he doesn’t know. He knows this person. He loved this person. He shared his life with him. He spent time with him. They were close friend. He had “sweet counsel” with him and even worshiped God with him. I can envision the Songs of Ascent, that we looked at a few years ago, being sung together as they processed up Jerusalem. But now he has betrayed David. Now this person has turned against him and participated in the wickedness of his enemies. The one who had been a dear friend was now sinning grievously, and turned his back on David.
So I’ll ask again, have you experienced this? Have you had a close friend, a parent, a child, a sibling, or a spouse do this to you? Maybe we should ask, Have I done this to someone else? You have shared your life with them; you have had with him or her what seemed to be an unbreakable connection; and then, for some reason which you cannot explain, that fellowship was broken. That is the pain David is feeling. You can hear his deep affection for this person. He is not talking in slanderous terms here, but someone he loves dearly.
So David in verse 15 leaves his betrayer with the righteous judgment of God. He recognizes the wickedness that is in this world, and he leaves it to God’s righteous judgment. This is important for us to understand here. This is not a personal desire for revenge when he says, “Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive; for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.” This is not a gut reaction of sinful revenge on the part of David. David told us he was betrayed by a friend, one friend. Notice what he is asking God to do. Judge the wicked. He’s not saying, “Get that guy because he was really mean to me.” He is leaving him in the hand of God, in the hand of a just God who deals with wickedness as it deserves. We often take things into our own hands and seek to exact revenge. We’ll talk about that in a moment. But he leaves it in God’s hands. “God, you be just and holy.” We saw that all throughout Revelation. God will ultimately bring his judgment on the whole earth, so we can rest.
III. Confidence and Trust (16-23).
David makes an assertion of confidence and trust in God. Verse 16 is a turning point in this Psalm, because David comes to the only resolution for the depth of his anguish, and that is in the grace of God. “The Lord will save me” (v. 16); “He hears my voice” (v. 17); “He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage” (v. 18).
His only hope is in his God. It is to God he must go. It is only God who can both care for him and can give to him sweet rest. So his confidence in his God mounts through these verses.
And lest he forget why this anguish exists – it is not as if he is saying, “I just won’t remember that any more – he comes back to that again in 20-21. He gives one last description of his betrayer. (20-21) “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.” We’ll talk a lot about words through these songs of lament. Words hurt, sometimes more than sticks and stones.
But then in verse 22 he comes to what we might call “the final resting point of this Psalm.” “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
Here is the resolution to all of David’s anguish, all of his hurts, all of his longing to understand. Here is where David lands. That’s the resolution to this. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.”
That word for burden is very broad. It is saying, ‘Cast your appointed lot; Cast all of your situations; cast all of your anguish; cast all of your cares; cast all of your grief on the Lord, and He will sustain you.’ David has come to see the right response for the godly man: Give it all to God. I use those words very carefully. That is NOT a “Let go and let God.” That is a lie. David is laboring. What is he laboring in? He is laboring in prayer with his God over this. We ought to be like Jacob, who wrestled with his God. He is striving with his God.
Note the words that are used in this beautiful statement. It is not “Cast your burden on the Lord, and you will never have any more burdens.” It is not “Cast your burden on the Lord, and you will never again feel anguish or grief.” It is not “Cast your burden on the Lord, and your heart will never feel weighed down again.” Rather, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.” You can take confidence in that. This is a promise given to you in the word of God. When your heart is in the type of anguish that David’s is, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” This is something we can rest on – it is solid ground.
Then in verse 23 David leaves it to God to deal with injustice. It is not him, it is God. “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.” Again, not a personal vendetta against his betrayer, but against wicked men. We should have in our prayers God’s justice – and if he displays his justice, there will be pain in the world. Then he adds: “But I will trust in you.” This will be a common theme throughout these Psalms.
So what does this mean for us? David’s experience is one that touches most of us. A person you love and cared for has deeply hurt you. When this happens, we are often tempted to respond in one of two different ways. Neither are good ways. The first response is to feel self-pity. It is very easy to feel sorry for yourself about the burden you’re called to bear, and to turn inward and let that anguish consume your heart, to let it gnaw away at who you are. And this often will keep gnawing at you and will lead to despair and depression. Inevitably, that is where it will go. That’s why we ought to be Barnabases, which means son of encouragement. We ought to season our speech with words that build up and not destroy.
I grew up in the 70s with the bumper sticker that said, “I don’t get mad – I get even!” We’re tempted to get even, with is the second way we respond. Sometimes this is small. We just want that person who has so deeply hurt us to experience a little bit of what we feel. So we might not talk to them, or we might not really listen to them or care for them. We’ll seek to do something that in a subtle sort of way will make them experience just a little bit of what we have felt. We like to get even.
When a spouse deserts or a child rebels against you or a friend turns on you–how should we respond? We are to respond in the way that David does, to come to that resolution to which he comes, “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you.”
That is the first place that you must go. We can’t come to it on our own, we have to come to it through our God, with the Spirit in our lives. Don’t deal with it in the way that the world deals with it. They feel the same agonies of distress and anguish in their heart that you feel, maybe more, for they do it without hope. They try to deal with it in all of these different ways. But your response MUST be this: To cast your burden on the Lord and to trust what He says in His word, in His promise, that He will sustain you in the midst of it. Just as he would sustain three men in a fire who would not bow their knee to an idol. He will sustain you. The point of that story is not that God rescued them from the fire. It didn’t matter whether God rescued them or not – they would trust their God to carry them through. His infallible word is trustworthy. He has said it; it is true.
One last thing. This isn’t just about the Christian’s experience. If you’ve come to the place where you are saying, “Well, this is all really nice. I just need to try harder,” you have missed the whole point. We can’t do this! I’m sure you all remember who the great Psalm singer is! And it is not David, it is not the sons of Korah – it is Jesus! In an even more profound way it speaks of Christ’s experience. Jesus, the One who fulfilled the throne of David, experienced this Psalm.
On the night in which Jesus ate the Last Supper with His disciples, the night before His crucifixion, he went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, and there poured out his soul before his Father in heaven. During that time He felt anguish, a depth of experience that we won’t begin to ever know, as He looked to that next day and what He knew was coming upon Him, when He would bear the sins of this world and suffer abandonment by His God.
He was in His hour of deepest need. Luke tells us that “his sweat became great drops of blood.” Then at the end of that time when He was with His disciples, in that hour of greatest need He tells them, “Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” I’m sure that Jesus was thinking about Psalm 55.
Then Mark says, “And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs…” Judas, one of His twelve disciples. Judas, the one whom he had shared intimate moment after intimate moment the last three years. Judas, who he had discipled and cared for.
Judas, who was one of those who, with the other disciples, was sent out two by two to proclaim the gospel. It was Judas who earlier that same evening sat down with Jesus at that Last Supper, that Supper which signified more than anything else the fellowship that a person has with his Lord. Judas, who walked up to Him at that time and in a mockery of friendship said, “Rabbi,” and kissed Him. And by that very kiss, he betrayed him, stabbed him in the back, delivered him over to be crucified.
Jesus experienced all of this in a more profound way than any of us ever will or ever have. And yet, during those moments, he threw himself upon these verses. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” And he went that next day to the cross of Calvary. He continued in his path and trusted in his heavenly Father that the righteous will never be moved. And of course, he rose from the dead and ascended on high.
When we, like David, cry out, “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! Attend to me and answer me,” because we feel the anguish in our souls that David felt, we have at that moment, bringing that very prayer before the throne of Almighty God, Jesus, who experienced this type of betrayal from a friend.
He knew what it was to cast himself and his burden upon the Lord. Do you not have confidence that God will answer Your prayer? Isn’t this an encouragement to us this day to take ourselves and our anguish and the pain that we can feel in a situation such as this, to take it to God and to trust in Him and to know that the righteous will never be shaken?
Some practical things. I scroll through my Facebook feed, and my first thought is, “RRRR!” I don’t know if you feel that way, but I do. But I can scroll on by. I don’t engage. Facebook is the last place on earth you should be doing that. We have to stop hiding behind our little walls and lobbing mortars at others. We have to stop. Some of the most vile and heinous things I’ve seen there have been written by Christians. We have to stop.
The Psalms not only force us to be real with God; they also force us to rest in God. The Psalms are to be read in light of redemption. Carl Trueman says:
The Psalms seldom leave us in lament. Yes, we are to be real with our emotions. But Psalm 55:22 also encourages us to “cast [our] burden on the LORD”. Whether it is a psalm of confession, lament, or praise, the worshipper is always encouraged to lay his hope on the LORD. Psalm 55 echoes many other psalms that begin with the brokenness of humanity but end with a steadfast trust in the Lord.
Ultimately, our hope is realized in the finished work of Christ. As the Psalms call us to hope in God they exhort us to rest in what Christ has accomplished. There is no other place in which we can find ultimate rest.
Are you resting in God or in something else? Life in a broken and rebellious world is difficult. The Psalms call us to not only be real with our suffering, but also to cast our burdens upon the Lord. Are you doing both? Do you have a tendency to minimize suffering under the guise of “trusting in God”? Or do you have a tendency to focus on suffering at the expense of trust?
The Psalms are the songbook of the redeemed. Anyone can sing songs. Anyone can lament. But only those that trust in Christ experience the full force of their beauty. This is because only believers in Christ Jesus know the One who is the hope to which the Psalms point. The Psalms cry out to unbelievers to find hope in God. More specifically, they call unbelievers to trust in David’s Lord. For believers, the Psalms give a voice to our story of redemption. They call us to be real in everyday life and to hope in the Lord.