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In all of Scripture, David was one of God’s most favored servants. He was also one of the most tested and tried of all His servants, and there is a connection between the two conditions. It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of heaven, we are told, and this does not mean that we are carried to glory on a litter covered with rose petals. It means something else entirely.
“Give ear to my prayer, O God; And hide not thyself from my supplication. Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise . . .” (Ps. 55:1-23).
Summary of the Text
We are not told the circumstances of this psalm, but from the description, it may have been after the revolt of Absalom, and the treachery of Ahithophel. The psalmist begins by pleading with God to really hear him (vv. 1-2). His complaint concerns the slanders of his enemies (v. 3). The slander and the malice behind it have not left him unaffected; he is really shaken (vv. 4-5). If he had the means to fly away from it all, he would fly straight to the wilderness (vv. 6-8). He then asks God to intervene, and overthrow them and their impudent plots (vv. 9-11). David would have been able to handle it if an enemy had done this, but this was a treachery that struck really close to home (vv. 12-14). David prays for God’s judgment to fall upon this treachery (v. 15). As for David, he will trust in God (v. 16-19). His foes are the way they are because they do not fear God (v. 19). This lack of fear for God results in a life of treacherous flattery (v. 20-21). David turns to exhort himself (and others) to trust in God (v. 22). The sovereign God is God over traitors as well as everything else. The distinction between the one who betrays and the one who trusts is a sharp distinction (v. 23).
Arguing the Case With God
There is a vast difference between complaining about God, which is terrible, and complaining to God, which He welcomes. We should all know what happens to those who murmur, complain, moan, and grumble. Their bodies are scattered over the desert. But the alternative to this is not Stoicism. David here “makes a noise” (v. 2). Lay out your case. Reason it through. Don’t pray like you were a block of wood. If you do, then you will get answers to prayer of a kind that would satisfy a block of wood. The Psalms teach us to sing, and to pray, and to argue rightly. The faithful servant in prayer does not want to “say the right words.” He wants an audience. He wants his prayers to be heard. Your goal should be to learn how to offer prayers that cannot be refused. As John Bunyan put it, it is better that your heart be without words than that your words be without heart.
Courage and Fear
Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is doing what you are called to do, despite your fears. This psalm is clearly messianic in its direction and intent. David had his Ahithophel and Christ had His Judas, both of whom ended by hanging themselves. Both David and Jesus dealt with treachery. And both dealt with fear. Here David speaks of trembling, fear and horror (vv. 4-5). The Lord Jesus sweat drops of blood in His anguish (Luke 22:44). The Lord Jesus did not confront the cross with passive indifference, but rather with obedience, which is a very different thing. Jesus faced the effective work of His traitor with strong crying and tears (Heb. 5:7), but He faced it.
Buttered and Battered
In the words of Spurgeon, David was buttered with flattery and battered with malice, and from the same source. You butter something up when you want to devour it. This man who had betrayed David was smooth in his words, as smooth as butter, but war was in his heart (v. 21). His speech was softer than oil, but at the same time that same speech was a drawn sword (v. 21). This was someone who had been close to David, who had worshipped together with him (v. 14). David says He could have handled it if it had been someone who was supposed to be hostile. Never forget that Judas was dear to Jesus.
When you are reading the story of Scripture, and you are reading the story of the Church, and you are reading the story of your life, remember that treachery is archetypical. A servant is not greater than his master. Something can be a kink in the story without being a kink in the Story. God uses traitors to advance His kingdom. After all, He used a traitor to save the entire world (Acts 4: 27-28).
In Broad Daylight
David, who was king in the city, nonetheless saw evil taking root in the city. He wanted God to act in order to destroy their machinations, for he had seen violence and strife in the city (v. 9). Mischief is in the midst of it; sorrow is in the midst of it (v. 10). David knows this because they go about on the walls “day and night.” This indicates two things. One is that their plotting is ceaseless—they tirelessly work toward their corrupt ends. It also indicates that they are willing to advance their agenda in broad daylight. They cook up some mischief, and then come out onto the Capitol steps and hold a news conference to brag about it. Someone with David’s insight can see what they are doing, but for most people they offer one thing for public consumption, and behind closed doors you find the “wickedness,” the “deceit,” and the “guile” (p. 11).
God Will Judge
When the judgment of God falls, the wicked will be destroyed (v. 9). They will fall, suddenly, under the force of one blow. They will fall backward, down into death and Sheol (v. 15), for wickedness is in their dwelling, and in their midst. The schemers and climbers and plotters and all such progressives, are climbing up a rock face, an endless climb with no top, and Hell below them. There will come a time when they cannot hold on, and must let go. And they will fall backward, and take their place among the helwaru, to use an old Anglo Saxon word. Contrary to popular opinion, Hell is not a travesty of justice; Hell is nothing but justice. All the excuses, all the smooth words, all the rationalizations, all the slanders, will burn away in an instant, and nothing will be left but the justice of it.
Mischief in the Midst of It
We are not supposed to over-engineer our understanding of the city. We call upon our leaders to confess that Jesus is Lord, and to govern as though He is Lord. We confess that there is no alternative to this that can result in salvation for us, and for our people. There is no salvation without a Savior. But in order to be blessed by this Savior, we must call upon Him. We do not get to be like an embarrassed teenager who wants a ride to school in the family car, but who does not want to be seen with the family car. Well, which way do you want it?
We rest upon God alone. He will deliver us. As has been forcefully pointed out, God can intervene with means, with various means, and apart from means. Absalom was hanged without a rope, and Ahithophel was hanged with one.