The Righteous One’s
Response to a Sense of Treachery

a brief study of Psalm 55, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 23 May 2008

Psalm 54 was about betrayal. David was betrayed by the Ziphites when he was being pursued by Saul. But the betrayal experienced by David when he wrote Psalm 54 is small compared to what he experienced when he wrote Psalm 55. Compared to what he experienced in Psalm 54, what he experienced here is treachery.

Psalm 55 was apparently written by David at the time when his favourite son Absalom rose against him. That was bad enough. But to make matters worse, one of his best friends and counsellors, Ahithophel, cast in his lot with Absalom and was advising him on how to defeat his father! What could be worse?

It was under such a dark cloud over his soul that David wrote this Psalm.

But make no mistake, this Psalm is not just a song of personal lament, but it was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and appointed to the church for our singing in worship.

Andrew Bonar puts it well when he says:

“We may read these strains as expressing David’s feelings in some peculiar seasons of distress, and as the experience of Christ’s Church in every age; for we find much, very much, that accords altogether with humanity in a state of intensely stirred emotion, and affection wounded to the quick. Yet still it is in Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, that the Psalm finds its fullest illustration. He was the soul that was stirred to its lowest depth by scenes such as are described here.”

When our Lord told His disciples about His betrayal by Judas Iscariot, He spoke of it as the fulfilment of Scripture:

“I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me” (Jn 13:18)

He is quoting Psalm 41:9. Psalm 41 was written, apparently, under the same circumstance as Psalm 55. So the ‘familiar friend’ referred to in Psalm 41:9 is none other than Ahithophel, who is referred to as “a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance” in verse 13 of our text.

We have no doubt, therefore, that Psalm 55 finds its fullest fulfilment in Christ.

This Psalm can be divided into 3 parts plus a conclusion. Each of the three parts begins with a prayer or petition, followed by explanations or arguments supporting the request.  In the first paragraph (v. 1-8) we have a Plea out of Sorrow; in the second paragraph (v. 9-14) we have a Request out of Anguish; in the third paragraph (v. 15-19) we have an Imprecation out of Indignation and finally (v. 20-end) we have a Conclusion out of Sympathy.

Let’s look at the gist of each of these paragraphs.…

1. A Plea out of Sorrow

1 Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication. 2 Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise…

Like David, our Lord experienced deep sorrow when He was betrayed by a trusted friend. Yes, Judas Iscariot, was a trusted disciple. I believe our Lord as the God-Man was not omniscient unless He chose to be. And it appears to me that while He knew that one would betray Him at the beginning of His ministry, He chose not to know who he was until towards the end of the three years. This was perhaps the reason why Judas was appointed as the treasurer of the band.

When it was eventually revealed who it was, oh what sorrows must have filled our Lord’s heart? Our Lord, we must remember, is fully man even as He is fully God.

His heart was “sore pained within him” (v. 4); and no doubt a sense of ‘fearfulness and trembling’ (v. 5) came upon Him.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed with great drops of sweat upon His forehead as He cried out unto His Father, ‘If it be possible, take this cup away from me…’

It is not inconceivable, therefore, that He thought in the words of verse 6, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.”

Is this not how we sometimes feel too? When the storm is brewing, oh what temptation fills our hearts, but to fly away, to “escape from the windy storm and tempest” (v. 8) and “remain in the wilderness” (v. 7). Oh how often I had felt like that, and how intense the feeling, especially in recent times.

I thank God that I am not alone. Our Lord suffered the same sense of betrayal of friendship—though at a level I could never comprehend. When friends leave me, I know I am partly at fault, but when Judas betrayed the Lord and when His disciples forsook Him, it was not because of any wrong in Him at all.

But in that our Lord suffered the same grief, I know He understands and He will intercede for me as I cry unto the Father in the same way as He did.

But now, in the second paragraph of our text, we see our Lord’s request of the Father against those who had risen against Him.

2. A Request out
of Anguish

9 Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.…

When David wrote these words, he must have been thinking about the counsel that Ahithophel was giving to Absalom. As he saw the lawlessness, chaos and destruction in Jerusalem in the aftermath of the uprising of his son, his heart was filled with anguish. He knew that if he allowed it to continue, it would be disaster in the land.

And so he desired of the LORD that he might confuse the rebels and make their plans of none-effect, just as he confounded the tongues of the people when they tried to build the tower of Babel.

This prayer was all the more urgent because the man who was advising the king was one who was close to him—who knew him well, and knew his weaknesses. This is what verse 12-14 is about.

Indeed, from the historical accounts, we see that had God not confused Ahithophel’s counsel through the counter-suggestions of Hushai, then Absalom would have defeated David.

Our Lord would have prayed the same prayer. Judas knew where He would be, His betrayal would be effective unless the Father intervened.

But we must understand that His prayer was always qualified with, “Yet not as I will, but thy will be done.”

And so both their prayers were heard, but in a different way. David was delivered from Absalom. Our Lord was delivered to be crucified according to the will of the Father.

But I thank God for the example for how they prayed for deliverance, for thereby I am also encouraged to pray for deliverance when I know that I have been unfairly plotted against.

But personal deliverance is not the only thing to be prayed for in such circumstance, so we see thirdly in this Psalm…

3. An Imprecation out
of Indignation

15 Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.… 

When tumult arises against the anointed of the Lord, it is not only a matter of personal dispute. It is an affront against God, for the anointed is the Lord’s representative.

So Absalom and Ahithophel’s rebellion is a rebellion against God. So Judas’ betrayal was a betrayal against God. Their sin indicates that they have no fear of God (v. 19). If they fear God, they would not have fought against the Lord’s anointed.

I don’t think David liked Saul; but he feared God, and therefore he refused to touch Saul, for he was the anointed of the LORD.

Those who fear not God and would rebel against Him deserve not only to be confounded by the LORD, but also to be dealt with severely by the LORD.

Even as God hears the cries of the righteous and delivers them, He will punish those who refuse to repent of their ways. “Because they have no changes” (v. 19) simply means, “because they repent not.”

As a servant of the LORD who has many faults in myself, I must confess that I dare not use imprecations against those who shown disregard for the office that the Lord has vested upon me.

But I thank God that as our Lord had prayed, I know He is deeply concerned when troubles arise in His church; and I know that He will see to it that for His name’s sake, good will come out of the trials we experience.

Beloved and children, do not be discouraged when you see politics and disregard for the church and her authority. As our Lord was forsaken, so His servants must experience the same. So Demas forsook Paul, and so throughout the ages, the servants of the LORD face departures and rebellions.

4. A Conclusion out
of Sympathy

20 He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: he hath broken his covenant.  21 The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.

David thought Ahithophel was his friend; the Lord thought that Judas was his friend; Paul thought that Demas was his friend. Every servant of the Lord who ever experienced similar trials thought that those who turned against him were their friends when in their hearts there were other thoughts.

Throughout the ages the experience of the Psalmist has repeated itself. There will be covenant-breakers or those who care not for their vows. They will speak peace when there is war in their heart. They will speak smooth words which are laced with poison.

What should those who are afflicted by such troubles? Our Lord comforts with the words, verse 22—

22 Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.

The apostle Peter is probably paraphrasing this verse when he exhorts us:

“[Cast] all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Pet 5:7)

What is the context in which Peter used those words? He used it in the context of the pain and sorrows that comes through the anguish of church politics.

Peter reminds us of the devices of the devil to disrupt peace and to devour whom he may. The ancient serpent who provoked Absalom and Ahithophel to rebel and Judas to betray the Lord and Demas to forsake Paul is still at work.

But we need not be afraid. So long as we are seeking to walk with the Lord, we may cast our burdens upon Him and He will sustain for He will never suffer the righteous to be moved.

So trust in the Lord, beloved brethren and children. When men for whatever reason treats you in an unchristian way, do not give in to the temptation to respond in the way they did. But seek to respond in a righteous way, and the Lord will see to it that your name be vindicated and His glory is upheld.


Not everyone in our midst tonight will experience the kind of betrayal that David and the Lord experienced. But some of us will, no doubt, feel like flying away like a dove from all the troubles we face—whether at work, at home or in church. If this is the case, this Psalm is for you too. Pray for deliverance as the Lord did. Trust the Lord to do that which is right. Leave it to Him to vindicate. Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. Amen.

—JJ Lim