I remember some time ago, when I was helping to look after a certain group of children, one of them came running up with their head buried in their hands and tears flowing down their face. Apparently he’d been hit in the face with a ball, and he said amidst the tears (quote), “I’m so angry, I’m gonna get him.”
I tried to advise that perhaps revenge wasn’t the best approach, and have you ever considered forgiveness. Just in case I was under any illusion that my words were making much difference to the mind of the child, as one of the other boys ran passed he said, “I think it was that one, oh I’m gonna get him!”
Well, that may be in many ways a small version of what often happens to us in a much larger way.
One of the ways adults act like children is when it comes to friendships.
Our friends probably no longer snatch our toys or hit us, but they can sometimes do things which hurt a whole lot more than that.
Have you ever had a close friend who you’ve spent a lot of time with turn against you and slander you behind your back or gossip about you to friends? It stings so much.
Have you ever known someone who seemed to be a believer and you shared your life with them, but they have since turned away from Christianity and no longer want anything else to do with you? It’s so confusing you can hardly work out which way is up.
Maybe it’s a spouse who has deserted or just become disinterested. Maybe it’s a child who has rebelled or disappointed. It leaves that sickening feeling in the stomach every time you think about it.
It hurts to have friends, and sometimes it really hurts. That’s the very thing David is dealing with in this Psalm.
Who are David’s enemies? See Psalm 52 (Doeg the Edomite), 54 (Ziphites), 56 (Philistines), 57 (Saul).
Now, worse than that, in Psalm 55 David is betrayed by a friend.
In the first eight verses David expresses his deep anguish. Look at the strong language he uses:
V2,I am restless in my complaint and I moan.
Vv.4,5,My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me; horror overwhelms me.
The anguish David is experiencing is all consuming. Every part of his life seems to be affected by it. He can’t escape from it, although he’d love to.
So he exclaims, in vv.6-8, Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; 7 yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; 8 I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.
Just get me out of here!
Has that ever been you? Maybe it’s you right now. “If I just go to sleep I’ll wake up in the morning and it will be all better” you tell yourself.
Or maybe you’ve said to yourself say, “Boy, wouldn’t it be good just to go back in time before any of this ever happened. Or to go forward in time to when it’s all over.” You would give anything or do anything to get out of this situation.
“Maybe if I drink enough, or take enough medication, then I’ll escape.”
Well, that’s the anguish that David’s experiencing here in this Psalm. That’s what he’s feeling in the depth of his soul.
David then continues to explain the cause of his anguish. Why does he feel this way so deeply?
In v9-11, there’s wickedness all around. David casts his eye around the city of which he’s king, the city that is to be devoted to the glory of God, and he sees nothing but wickedness.
Look at the words he uses in these three verses: “violence,” “strife,” “iniquity,” “trouble,” “ruin,” “oppression,” “fraud.” The wickedness here 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.
Now that would be bad enough.
We might look around today and see wickedness, the way people blatantly reject God and his ways. Not just disregard, but go out of their way.
However, there’s something even worse for David.
What do you think it might be?
V12, 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.
It’s not that this time. This time it hurts here (heart), like all his enemies combined could never do.
The real problem, the real cause of his anguish is this: it is that he has been betrayed, stabbed in the back by a close friend.
V13-14, But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. 14 We used to take sweet counsel together; within God's house we walked in the throng.
This person is described as the one who has betrayed him. This is the reason that David feels the anguish that he’s feeling. David had known this person. He had loved this person, whoever he is in these verses. He had shared his life with him. He had spent time with him. He says that he was a close friend. He had sweet counsel or fellowship with him. They worshipped God together… they went to ROCK and Granite together, they were in the same small group!
Now, however, he has betrayed him. Now this person has turned against David and has participated in the wickedness of his enemies. The one who had been a dear friend once to him was now sinning grievously and had turned his back on David.
It’s not just David who’s been the victim of this man’s treachery.
My companion stretched out his hand against hisotherfriends (v20); he violated his covenant. He took advantage of their trust, he abused their friendship.
V21,His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.
‘Fried chicken phenomen’ – buttery, oily things can look so good, but in reality are so bad and the cause of much pain in the heart.
He was deliberately manipulating people with his cool words, getting them onside until their guards were dropped and then attacking.
Doeg I can bear with. The Ziphites, well that’s one thing. Give me Goliath any day, because this is just a whole new level.
It’s one thing to suffer from illness, it’s one thing to suffer from loss of property. It can be another thing altogether when someone close lets you down, disappoints, deceives.
How do you deal with that when it’s so personal and so close it feels like there’s nowhere to escape from it?
A number of options I suppose. You could:
Get revenge – write some nasty things about them on Facebook
Become resentful and bitter – never trust again
Run away and pretend – by going shopping or drinking alcohol
How does David deal with it?
Well, David deals with it by praying.
V16, But … I call to God.
As much as there is great solace in that activity itself, and a sermon in its own right on that topic, I want to look beyond that and see the God to whom it’s worth praying.
Not only does David pray, but David has a God to whom it’s worth praying and that makes all the difference. We see at least two things about God, from this Psalm, which help us to persevere through the difficult times – not be removed from them, but get through them.
David has a God to whom it’s worth praying
V18, for many are arrayed against me. God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old.
What does that mean?
That is, God is the one sitting on the throne of this universe ruling and reigning. God is on the throne, just like he always has been, enthroned from of old, and just like he always will be.
God is the one calling the shots. He’s the one running the show here.
The many who are opposed to David are not running the show. The friend who has betrayed him is not calling the shots – as much as it might seem like it; he’s being so manipulative and he’s getting away with it. People think he’s terrific but he’s just awful. It looks like he’s the one controlling the scene with his oily, buttery speech.
No, no, David knows better than that: God is enthroned forever.
Where is God in the tough times? The same place he is in the good times – reigning on his throne.
For David, knowing that the Lord reigns makes a huge difference.
John Piper says, “I am persuaded that the vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church. The most common and unknown diagnosis for troubled lives is starvation for the greatness of God. There are worldly remedies, but they are both shallow and short-lived.
What we need most is to be told that Jesus is great and greatly to be praised. We need to be reminded with tales of wonder that Jesus has triumphed over every foe. We need to hear cries above every crisis, ‘your God reigns!’”
If God’s not supreme, there’s no point praying to him or asking him to give ear.
If God’s not calling the shots, there’s no point calling to him.
If God’s not in control, there’s no point casting your burdens on the LORD. You may as well save your breath for something else.
There’s another fact about God that makes him someone to whom it’s worth praying. It’s the answer to this question:
Ok, God’s sovereign, but what does he do with that sovereignty? What’s the outcome of God’s sovereign actions? What are the implications for us, if anything?
Well, not only does God control but...
David, switching to the second person, either he just wants to talk to himself for a verse or is anticipating others will read or sing this psalm, he urges in v22,Cast your burden on the Lord.
Cast your burden on the Lord and (for) he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
For those who belong to the Lord, for those who are God’s children there is absolute certainty that ultimately we are and will be safe with him.
It is because he’s absolutely sovereign, that what he permits is what he gets, what he doesn’t permit will never happen. You can literally bet your life on it.
It’s not like the parent who says, “I don’t permit you to pick on your sister” and then the next day the sister gets picked on, albeit with consequences for the one doing the picking on.
When God says, I will never permit the righteous to be moved, he doesn’t mean, “this is how I’ll always like it to be.” No, no, he will never permit the righteous to be moved, means the righteous will never be moved.
I call to God, David says inv16. Why? Because the Lord will save me.
How did David know this?
He only had half the picture didn’t he? He knew this because he had promises, promises that pointed forward to something coming, something better, something else, someone else.
He knew he was ultimately unmovable in the Lord, and he only had half the picture.
We, however, living this side of Jesus, have the blessing of knowing the full picture, or certainly a much fuller picture.
For God to save a people for himself it cost him the precious blood of his very own son. Having now done that He’s not going to say, “I couldn’t be bothered, I think I’ll let them go.” Or “oops I forgot, sorry.” That would just be ludicrous to think that.
The investigation of Madeleine McCann, the girl who’s been missing for over 13 years now, was in the news again last week with perhaps some new evidence.
One report I saw said that the British government alone have spent over £12m.
Assume she’s still alive, and imagine if they were now to find her.
What would they do? Do you think they would leave her alone in some room while they held a press conference? If they’re even only half sane, they’d never let her out of their sights again. Of course you wouldn’t.
Do we somehow think that God, who is sovereign and who spent infinitely more than we can imagine to rescue and redeem and adopt us, will lose us or forget about us or drop us? Friends, it’s just not possible. It’s not possible.
Jesus says in John 10:28-29(speaking about his own sheep) “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”
Well, so what?
Why did knowing that God controls and that God keeps make such a difference for David?
Why did it mean, for David, in the midst of such anguish, he didn’t need to wallow in despair? Or why did it mean he didn’t need to try and get even with the person that hurt him, or try to convince himself that he was the most mistreated person on the face of the planet, or try and get rid of the problem or try to forget about the problem by drowning himself in alcohol or surrounding himself with the world’s goods?
Does it make any difference to know that in Jesus you are safe forever? Does it make any difference to know that God controls and keeps, is sovereign and sustains? Does it make any difference to know that you can no more be lost than Jesus can be lost?
-> It means you don’t need to be living purely in response to the way people treat you on any given day. This person was kind to me so I’m happy. This person didn’t talk to me or didn’t acknowledge me so now I’m going to mope around.
We can be the people we ought to be, even in the difficult situations, because in Jesus, God already approves of us and loves us, so perfectly, so completely nothing can change that. We don’t need to live for or on the approval of others.
-> It means we don’t need to live in bitter isolation in the face of disappointment. “But I’ve mucked it up so badly in my relationships to a terminal point, maybe I’ll do that with Jesus?”
Not possible. While you might doubt the love of someone close to you (well you may not doubt you might know they’re against you), you never need to doubt Jesus’ love.
-> These things make all the difference when there is so much that works against us. Imagine a list of all your enemies. That is, people or things that would take you away from Jesus if they had half a chance. What would you include?
Our hearts accuse us, and our sins seem as though they will destroy us, either the sins before we became a Christian catching up with us or the sins after we came to Jesus, unbelief still living in us.
Friends fail us or betray us, children disappoint us, and spouses hurt us. Other people oppose or belittle us. Diseases wreck our bodies, and thoughts crush our minds and hearts. Satan and his cronies do their utmost to destroy us.
When Jesus said John 10:28,29 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” do you think he knew what was going to be on that list? Of course he did, more than we ever will.
When he says “no one, nothing can take them out of my hand or my Father’s hand” do you think that he knows how powerful all those forces are? Of course he does, he himself experienced the worst of all of that.
When he said “my Father is greater than all” do you think he really knew how much greater his Father’s power is? Of course he knew, he’d been with him for all eternity.
He tells us these wonderful truths to free us from despair, needing revenge, escapism, that “woe is me I’m always the victim” mentality.
God tells us these things so that even if or when those who are close to you hurt you, you’ll know that it’s not the end nor can it ever ruin the end, and you can live and stand for him with joy.
Cast your burdens on the Lord, because he controls and he keeps. These things make a huge difference, so let’s pray.
Our heavenly father, we confess too often we have been the one who has hurt others and abused friendships to varying degrees. So we pray forgive us for such actions. Cause us, as much as we can, to make right what we have wronged, to seek restoration and healing if that be necessary for Christ’s sake we pray.
And Father, on the other hand, it might be that there are some here who can relate strongly to the anguish of this psalm in one way or another. So, we thank you that you are a God who is sovereign. We thank you that this world is not being run by sinners or by Satan, but by a good and trustworthy God. And we thank you for the absolute assurance of our position in Jesus, that although sin and Satan tug and pull on us, and our grip on him is weak at best, he will never lose his grip on us. Thank you that in Christ we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins.
Through your Son, we ask, fill us with a greater vision of you, giving us a greater delight in you, enabling us to cast our burdens on you, and showing us more of the big things, so that even through the tears there might be rejoicing and much glory given to you through your son our Lord Jesus Christ. And we ask these things in his name and for his sake, amen.
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