The Righteous One’s
Response to a Sense of Betrayal

a brief study of Psalm 54, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 9 May 2008

Betrayal is one of the most painful experiences that a person has to endure. Those of us who have experienced it would understand the intense pain and bewilderment that comes with it.

Psalm 54 is about betrayal. It was written at a time when David was experiencing betrayal from some people he thought were his friends. He was being pursued by Saul and had gone to the wilderness of Ziph to hide out with some of his men. While he was there, David and his men, no doubt, sought to be of service to the people there, such as protecting them from raiders, etc. But the men of Ziph were apparently unappreciative. They went to Saul to report to him that David was dwelling in the woods in their midst (1 Sam 23:14-20). Saul and his men went down to pursue David and was about to close in on him when the LORD intervened by sending the Philistines to invade the land, and Saul had to deal with them.

David moved on to the wilderness of En-Gedi. But later he returned to the wilderness of Ziph again. And again the Ziphites squealed on him and Saul came again after him (1 Sam 26:1-3).

David must have been deeply grieved. It was apparently upon this second betrayal that David wrote this psalm. If this is so, then the last verse of this psalm is probably referring the first instance when God delivered him just when Saul was closing in on him and his men.

But whatever the case might be, one thing is sure. This psalm is not just a personal poetry of grief. It was inspired by the Spirit of Christ for the church to sing. This is highlighted in the title of the psalm in which we are told that it was assigned to the Chief Musician to be used in formal worship.

And it is not difficult to see how this psalm could easily have been taken up by the Lord Jesus Christ as He began to sense a growing opposition to His ministry, which made it more and more dangerous for Him to minister in the open (cf. Jn 11:8).  This sense of opposition, even from those who were once His followers and those who were helped by Him (Jn 6:66), no doubt translated into a sense of betrayal, which would culminate with the betrayal of Judas Iscariot (cf. Jn 6:71).

The betrayal of Judas Iscariot will be addressed in the next psalm, but so clearly does this psalm lead us to the Lord that it is appointed for liturgical reading on Good Friday in some circles. Good Friday is the day that Rome and most traditional churches commemorate the Lord’s death. We commemorate the Lord’s death at the Lord’s Supper.

But is this psalm primarily about David and only to be applied secondarily to Christ and Christians? Or is David merely a type whose experience reflected what our Lord experienced in the Passion Week? I believe it is the latter. I believe this psalm reflects the anguish of our Lord as He suffered betrayal. For this reason, all believers united to Christ may use this psalm whenever we experience betrayal of some sort.

Let’s take a brief look at it.

This psalm has two obvious stanzas separated by the ‘Selah.’ In the first stanza, David (and the Greater David) cries unto the LORD for help against those who have risen against him. In the second stanza, he acknowledges the Lord’s past and future helps.

1. Prayer For Help

1  Save me, O God, by thy name, and judge me by thy strength.

“Save me, O God, by thy name!” Does this not remind us our Lord’s petition in His high priestly prayer?

 “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” (Jn 17:11b)

But what does it mean to be kept or saved by the name of God? To understand what it means, we must understand that the name of God is really a short hand which refers to all the perfections of God—be it His wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

When the Lord cries, “Save me… by thy name,” He is really appealing to the Father to exercise His wisdom, power and goodness, etc for His deliverance. And so He adds, ‘judge me by thy strength’ or ‘vindicate me by thy might.’

In times when we feel betrayed, we feel that we can no longer trust man or look to man. This is so because man is imperfect. Man fails, he sins, he is foolish, he is weak, he is selfish. Because we can see and hear fellow men, we tend to rely on them. But when we experience betrayal, we realise that only the LORD can help us. He alone is reliable. He alone can vindicate us.

So David and the Lord cried out:

2 Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. 3 For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them.

The Ziphites and men of Saul rose up against David. Judas and the Jews rose up against our Lord. Most of these were strangers to our Lord and to His gospel.  Were they not strangers to the gospels, God would be before their eyes and they would not persecute the righteous.

But since they did, it is clear that nothing was going to stop them from their wickedness. No amount of talking and persuasion would help. Only God could help.

What then shall we do when we feel the betrayal of man, but to cry out unto the LORD? He will hear us. He will comfort us and He will deliver us.

But let us not stop at prayer, but rather, learn to praise Him as our LORD does in the second stanza of this psalm.

2. Praise for the Helper

4 Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul. 5 He shall reward evil unto mine enemies: cut them off in thy truth.

God is perfectly righteous and just. He will help the righteous. He will defend those who are unjustly treated by his enemies. He will render evil unto the wicked. He will demonstrate that truth will prevail.

The Jews who clamour for the blood of the Lord should be the friends of the Lord as they were His covenant people. Instead, they became His enemies. They hated Him and loved neither truth nor righteousness. God eventually cut them off and transferred the blessing of the covenant to the Gentiles.

Today, this promise holds. God is the helper of all who are united to Christ, who are on His side, who would uphold His soul in prayer were they witnesses of the Lord’s persecution.

Do you feel yourself slandered and betrayed, beloved brethren? Seek not your own vindication, for the more you try, the more likely you will sin against the LORD. So leave it to the LORD. He will see to it that justice be done for Christ’s sake.

What was true for our Lord will be true for you. And so let your response to a sense of betrayal be as our Lord’s response rather than one of defeat and loss.

What is our Lord’s response? It is in the final two verses:

6 I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O LORD; for it is good. 7 For he hath delivered me out of all trouble: and mine eye hath seen his desire upon mine enemies.”

David could have written this as he reflected on how the LORD delivered him out of trouble the first time the Ziphites betrayed him.

But these words have a timeless significance. Our Lord must have taken them in His lips in perfect anticipation of His deliverance at the resurrection.

We may take these words with the same hope. Our Lord was fully vindicated, so we too will be fully vindicated. Shall we wait for the day of full vindication before we worship the LORD?

No, no; the sacrifice of Christ is complete, and He rose from the dead. Victory is secured for us. Justice is sure. Vindication for God’s children is a matter of when, not if.

Shall we not, therefore, in anticipation worship the LORD freely? Let us offer unto the LORD the calves of our lips. Let us praise Him in sincere hope that He will do what is right and will one day deliver us fully from all our troubles.


Our Lord, when faced with a sense of betrayal and opposition from those who might have benefited from His ministry, did not take matters into His own hands by dealing with them. Instead, He committed His grief to His father, and looked to Him in praise knowing that He would vindicate Him and deliver Him out of His troubles. Shall we not learn to do likewise? Amen.

—JJ Lim