Psalm 55 – Trusting God Against a Treacherous Enemy
The title of this psalm is To the Chief Musician. With stringed instruments. A Contemplation of David. The psalm describes a time of some kind of rebellion or power struggle against David, and a key leader in the struggle was a trusted associate who betrayed David. The city is dangerous because of the rebellion, and David cries out to God. Most commentators fit this psalm to Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 15-18) and the trusted associate as Ahithophel. Parts of this psalm seem to fit Absalom’s rebellion, but some parts don’t. It’s hard to imagine David wishing Absalom to hell (Psalm 55:15) when he didn’t even want him to die. It may be that the events connected with this psalm are unrecorded in the sacred history of the life of David.
A. Fear: David describes his trouble.
1. (1-3) Misery in oppression.
Give ear to my prayer, O God,
And do not hide Yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and hear me;
I am restless in my complaint, and moan noisily,
Because of the voice of the enemy,
Because of the oppression of the wicked;
For they bring down trouble upon me,
And in wrath they hate me.
a. Do not hide Yourself from my supplication: We sense in David’s prayer that he felt God was distant, as if He were hiding from David. He asked God to attend to me, and hear me. David believed he could face almost anything with the strong sense of God’s presence and pleasure.
i. “In that dread hour when Jesus bore our sins upon the tree, his Father did hide himself, and this was the most dreadful part of all the Son of David’s agony.” (Spurgeon)
b. I am restless in my complaint, and moan noisily: At the beginning of this psalm, David had little peace. He was restless, complaining, and moaning; and his moans were noisy. He needed help from God.
i. “What a comfort that we may be thus familiar with our God! We may not complain of him, but we may complain to him.” (Spurgeon)
c. They bring down trouble upon me: David was troubled by the voice of the enemy (this psalm seems to emphasize the singular instead of several enemies) and the oppression of the wicked. They hated David and caused great trouble for him.
i. They bring down trouble upon me: “They tumble it on me, as men do stones or anything else upon their besiegers, to endamage them; so did these sin, shame, anything, upon innocent David, to make him odious.” (Trapp)
2. (4-8) Fighting fear.
My heart is severely pained within me,
And the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me,
And horror has overwhelmed me.
So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
Indeed, I would wander far off,
And remain in the wilderness. Selah
I would hasten my escape
From the windy storm and tempest.”
a. My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me: The stress of this crisis did cause David mental anguish, increased by the real danger of death. All this made David tremble in fear and feel that horror has overwhelmed me.
i. Severely pained: “His heart is palpitating like a woman in labor.” (VanGemeren)
ii. The terrors of death: “I am in hourly expectation of being massacred.” (Clarke)
iii. “He can do nothing but groan or moan. His heart ‘writhes’ in him. Like an avalanche, deadly terrors have fallen on him and crushed him. Fear and trembling have pierced into his inner being, and ‘horror’ (a rare word, which the LXX [Septuagint] here renders darkness) wraps him round or covers him, as a cloak does.” (Maclaren)
iv. Clarke noted what a natural and true description this is of the steps that lead to overwhelming horror. “How natural is this description! He is in distress – he mourns – makes a noise – sobs and sighs – his heart is wounded – he expects nothing but death – this produces fear – this produces tremor, which terminates in that deep apprehension of approaching and inevitable ruin that overwhelms him with horror. No man ever described a wounded heart like David.” (Clarke)
b. Oh, that I had wings like a dove: David wished he could just escape this terror-filled situation and remain in the wilderness. It is likely that David wrote this under the stress and intrigues of power once he came to the throne. He longed for the simpler days when he repeatedly saw God’s faithfulness in the wilderness.
i. “An old writer tells us it would have been more honourable for him to have asked for the strength of an ox to bear his trials, than for the wings of a dove to flee from them.” (Jay, cited in Spurgeon)
c. I would hasten my escape, from the windy storm and tempest: If David had the wings of a bird he would simply escape from his present problems. Most people can identify with David’s longing.
i. “Like a dove; which being fearful, and pursued by birds of prey, flies away, and that very swiftly and far, and into solitary places, where it hides and secures itself in the holes of the rocks, or in some other secret and safe place; all which fitly represents David’s present disposition and desire.” (Poole)
ii. “It is some comfort to us to know that there are spiritual giants who have had this urge, whether they have succumbed to it like Elijah (1 Kings 19:3ff.) or withstood it like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:2; 10:19).” (Kidner)
iii. David wanted to simply escape – but he did not. “So the psalmist’s wish was but a wish; and he, like the rest of us, had to stand to his post, or be tied to his stake, and let enemies and storms do their worst.” (Maclaren)
B. Fury: David asks God to deal with his enemies.
1. (9-11) Destroy them, O Lord.
Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues,
For I have seen violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around it on its walls;
Iniquity and trouble are also in the midst of it.
Destruction is in its midst;
Oppression and deceit do not depart from its streets.
a. Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: From the repeated reference to the speech of his enemies (verses 3, 9, 11, and 12), we sense this was some kind of whispering attack on David that was serious enough to endanger his life. Here he prayed that God would divide those who spoke evil against him.
i. Many see an allusion to the confusion of tongues at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). “His prayer is perceptive, and a lesson to us: he remembers how God dealt with Babel (55:9a), another arrogant city, by exploiting the inherent divisiveness of evil.” (Kidner)
ii. If this psalm is connected to Absalom’s rebellion and Ahithophel’s treason, the answer to the prayer is recorded in 2 Samuel 17:1-23 when there was a division of opinion among Abasalom’s adivsers Ahithophel and Hushai.
b. I have seen violence and strife in the city: The attacks against David may have begun with words but did not end with them. People walked the city day and night causing trouble for David. The crisis at hand was not merely a problem for David, but for God’s people in general.
i. “The city, the holy city had become a den of wickedness: conspirators met in the dark and talked in little knots in the streets even in broad daylight.” (Spurgeon)
c. Destruction is in its midst; oppression and deceit do not depart from its streets: The instability and intrigue made the whole city unsafe.
2. (12-14) A reflection on the bitterness of a friend’s betrayal.
For it is not an enemy who reproaches me;
Then I could bear it.
Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me;
Then I could hide from him.
But it was you, a man my equal,
My companion and my acquaintance.
We took sweet counsel together,
And walked to the house of God in the throng.
a. For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it: David refers to a specific person who speaks against (reproaches) him. This was someone once aligned with David who nevertheless exalted himself against David.
i. “None are such real enemies as false friends.” (Spurgeon)
b. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance: The unnamed man was a partner and friend to David. They helped each other with advice (took sweet counsel together) and went to the house of God together.
i. “The psalmist feels that the defection of his false friend is the worst blow of all. He could have braced himself to bear an enemy’s reviling; he could have found weapons to repel, or a shelter in which to escape from, open foes; but the baseness which forgets all former sweet companionship in secret, and all association in public and in worship, is more than he can bear up against.” (Maclaren)
ii. We don’t know exactly when this happened in David’s life – if it was before or after his sin with Bathsheba and cover-up murder of Uriah. Yet the connection of David’s words here with his sin against Uriah is stunning. “What David was unwittingly describing in this moving passage was also the essence of his own treachery to Uriah, one of his staunchest friends (2 Samuel 23:39).” (Kidner)
3. (15) Asking God to take vengeance.
Let death seize them;
Let them go down alive into hell,
For wickedness is in their dwellings and among them.
a. Let death seize them; let them go down alive into hell: This remarkably strong statement from David shows how dangerous the man was to the peace of God’s people and how deeply he had wounded David. It was a strong prayer, but it was a prayer that left vengeance to God, and David refused to take vengeance himself.
i. “The phrase, let them go down to Sheol alive, is a clear echo of Numbers 16:30, where Moses had called for proof that in resisting him the rebels of his day were resisting God.” (Kidner)
b. For wickedness is in their dwellings and among them: David called upon God to bring such a severe judgment because the wickedness was so deeply ingrained in them.
i. “It seems significant that David does not specifically mention his former friend in this malediction. In fact, he seems to have distinguished between his enemies, who are cursed here, and his former friend in the previous section, who is not cursed.” (Boice)
C. Faith: Finding rest in God.
1. (16-19) Confidence in God despite the attacks of the enemy.
As for me, I will call upon God,
And the LORD shall save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I will pray, and cry aloud,
And He shall hear my voice.
He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me,
For there were many against me.
God will hear, and afflict them,
Even He who abides from of old. Selah
Because they do not change,
Therefore they do not fear God.
a. As for me, I will call upon God, and the LORD shall save me: David abruptly switched from praying for destruction to declaring calm confidence in God. It’s a further indication that he was able to leave his crisis – and his enemies – in the hands of the LORD, who would save him.
i. “The Psalmist would not endeavour to meet the plots of his adversaries by counterplots, nor imitate their incessant violence, but in direct opposition to their godless behaviour would continually resort to his God.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “If I read the text aright, we here have David talking to himself; and what we are to endeavor to do is, to talk to ourselves, just as David talked to himself.” (Spurgeon)
b. Evening and morning and at noon I will pray: David’s confidence in God was rooted in sincere dependence on God, demonstrated by constant prayer. Together all this gave David the confidence in God to say, He shall hear my voice.
i. “The Hebrews began their day in the evening, and hence David mentions the evening first.” (Clarke)
c. He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: David felt that his soul had been rescued (bought out, redeemed) from turmoil and crisis and into peace. The battle continued (there were still many against him), but his soul was in peace.
d. God will hear, and afflict them, even He who abides from of old: David was confident that the eternal God would answer His prayer.
e. Because they do not change, therefore they do not fear God: The sense of they do not change is somewhat obscure. It likely refers either to the idea that they do not change for the better, or they have not had to change because of adversity.
i. “Their not having ‘changes’ is closely connected with their not fearing God. The word is elsewhere used for changes of raiment, or for the relief of military guards. Calvin and others take the changes intended to be vicissitudes of fortune, and hence draw the true thought that unbroken prosperity tends to forgetfulness of God.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Most of those who have few or no afflictions and trials in life, have but little religion. They become sufficient to themselves, and call not upon God.” (Clarke)
2. (20-21) The treachery of David’s enemy.
He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him;
He has broken his covenant.
The words of his mouth were smoother than butter,
But war was in his heart;
His words were softer than oil,
Yet they were drawn swords.
a. He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him; he has broken his covenant: David’s unnamed enemy was also treacherous, breaking peaceful relationships and breaking agreements with others.
b. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: Using repetition and vivid images, David showed how dishonorable his unnamed enemy was. In contrast we see how honorable David was in not specifically naming the man.
3. (22-23) Confidently leaving the matter in God’s hands.
Cast your burden on the LORD,
And He shall sustain you;
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
But You, O God, shall bring them down to the pit of destruction;
Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days;
But I will trust in You.
a. Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you: There are few greater burdens to bear than a one-time friend who becomes a treacherous and dangerous enemy. David knew that even this was a burden that God could and should bear.
i. “God imposes burdens, to see what we will do with them. We may carry them to our undoing, or we may cast them on Him for his blessed countenance.” (Meyer)
ii. “The word burden is too restrictive: it means whatever is given you, your appointed lot (hence in New English Bible, ‘your fortunes’). And the promise is not that God will carry it, but that he will sustain you.” (Kidner)
iii. He shall sustain: “The experience of suffering was not taken away from the servant of God, but he was sustained, and so made strong enough to resist its pressure, and through it to make his service more perfect. This is how God ever sustains us in the bearing of burdens.” (Morgan)
iv. “If I cast my burden upon the Lord, what business have I to carry it myself? How can I truthfully say that I have cast it upon him if still I am burdened with it?” (Spurgeon)
b. He shall never permit the righteous to be moved: David had hope and confidence because he was persuaded that his fate did not rest in the hands of treacherous men. God was still Lord over all, and God had the final word on whether the righteous would be moved or not.
i. Morgan noted the movement in this psalm from fear to fury and now finally to faith. “Fear leads only to desire to flee. Fury only emphasizes the consciousness of the wrong. Faith alone creates courage.” (Morgan)
c. You, O God, shall bring them down to the pit of destruction: The faithful God would not only help and establish the righteous, He would also bring down those bloodthirsty and deceitful men who caused so much trouble among God’s people.
d. But I will trust in You: The psalm appropriately ended with David’s focus upon God, not his enemies. He would trust in Him and not be disappointed.
i. “The I is emphatic, dismissing the preoccupation with the enemy. In effect, there are two parties involved, not three. ‘As for me, I will trust in the Lord.’” (Kidner)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org