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David's Plea: Psalm 55

Comfort in Hard Moments  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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At St Georges we want to work steadily through the whole Bible in our preaching. That means over time we’ll cover the hard to accept, the hard to understand, the hard to relate to parts of the Bible, as well as the easy.
Over time, that will give us confidence in God’s word, as we’ve considered it all, and seen how it holds together, why it’s there. That will give us appreciation for all that God has said, and why he’s said it. And as we do so, we’ll hear God’s agenda not ours, for we preach the whole Bible, not our selected bits. Today, we read Psalm 55, you may have noticed, some of it is hard to relate to, perhaps hard to accept. I’m talking especially of verse 15, where David prays
Psalm 55:15 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them.
It’s really a curse on his enemies. And we can find this hard to relate to . For if we’ve been around the Bible, we’ll know Jesus was against cursing our. in Matthew 5:43, he said,
Matthew 5:43–44 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
We might remember that Paul teaches in Romans 12:14
Romans 12:14 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
So we have this challenge today, how to integrate Scripture with Scripture. But not just an intellectual challenge, it’s an emotional one too. For most of us have never been in the kind of situation David is in, in this psalm. Where David has been betrayed by a close friend, who is now his enemy, so he David now fears for his very life. So he can say in verse 12,
Psalm 55:12 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide.
Psalm 55:13 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend,
Psalm 55:14 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshippers.
It’s this betrayal has led to his fear of death, verse 4
Psalm 55:4 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me.
And most of us have never faced this, genuine fear of death because of a betrayal. But it’s still good that we study it. For we are called to empathy with others, there are those around the world and, yes some in our church, yes many Christians, who will feel connection with David’s circumstances here. And our Lord Jesus had similar circumstances, so it is worth our focus. As we come today to the second week of four series on our comfort in hard moments.
But to get us into this headspace for it, I want to read you a troubling story. From an organisation called Open Doors. The content is a little distressing. The title is, this is what your faith can cost you in India:
This is what your faith can cost you in India
(Open Doors)
When Preetha* woke up, the first thing she felt was pain – pain all over her body. Slowly her eyes adjusted. A bright light buzzed above her. The smell of disinfectant filled the room. She was in a hospital. She knew this might happen.
Preetha was visiting a woman from church, Vinita*. Vinita’s husband was at work, but she had their baby girl with her. Preetha and Vinita prayed together, drank tea, and took turns holding the baby. Then Preetha heard a commotion outside, as though a mob was surrounding the house. “Where are the Christians?” she heard one man yell. Suddenly, a group of men barged through the door. Within seconds they filled the small house.
It seemed to happen so fast. The mob started smashing everything in sight. Preetha watched in horror as one of them grabbed Vinita’s baby and threw her on the ground. Preetha rushed forward to pick her up, but one of the men caught Preetha by the arm. He was holding a metal rod and lifted it high above her head. Preetha held up her hand to try and stop the blow. Then everything went dark.
Vinita sat next to Preetha in the hospital with the baby in her lap. Thank God, the little girl had somehow survived without serious injury.
Preetha wasn’t so lucky. Her injuries were life-threatening. But even in the hospital, doctors turned her away because of her faith. Sitting at her bedside, Preetha’s son said to her, “I don’t know what we’re going to do. The doctors are saying they won’t treat you because we’re Christians.”
Preetha had been left to die. But then the Church stepped in. And Christians rose up to help Preetha.
It’s important to grasp that the Bible gives outlets for emotions like the ones Preetha would be feeling at that point. There are real enemies she has, perhaps a personal betrayal, for who told her attackers she was there? And she’s targeted specifically for following Jesus ‘Where are the Christians’, they had yelled.
And I want us to empathise for a moment, how a cry to God might come at that point, for justice. How someone might cry out, ‘Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them.’ That is, our relatively secure circumstances are part of the reason verse 15 feels foreign to us. So let’s not rush to take this psalm away from a woman like Preetha.
But we do need to understand the sentiments here in context. It’s not just anyone who is praying this psalm. It’s David. The title is part of the original Hebrew: For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David. The fact that it’s David, makes a difference to how we should read it and apply it, as we’ll see.
So it’s about David, but it doesn’t tell us exactly when in his life. Traditionally, it’s understood as from the time when his son Absalom rebelled against him, and his trusted advisor Ahithophel sided with Absalom over David. I think that is the context. So Ahithophel was advising how to kill David, and how to strengthen the hands of the people against David. Even though he was David’s former advisor.
Whether or not that’s the precise context, David is making a plea for his life in verses 1-4:
Psalm 55:1 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea;
Psalm 55:2 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
Psalm 55:3 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger.
Psalm 55:4 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me.
He is distressed because of what his enemy is saying, verse 2. His heart is in anguish within him. So he wishes that he could fly away from the danger, verses 5-7:
Psalm 55:5 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.
Psalm 55:6 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
Psalm 55:7 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
I would flee far away and stay in the desert;
When personal threats are so overwhelming, we can desire to leave our life behind. Even if that means leaving responsibilities behind, as David would here. The most common way Christians end up feeling like this in Australia, it seems to me, are instances of domestic violence and threats of the same. And I want you to know, there are women in our church who have suffered such violence in at some stage in their life, those who have fled from it, in one case with a quite miraculous escape.
So let me say, just in case this isn’t clear: The Bible in no way defends or authorizes husbands being violent with their wives. In no way should husbands be leaving their wives so scared that they might pray like this. Rather, we husbands should be loving our wives as Christ loved the church, as Ephesians 5 teaches. I do think the Christian wife could rightly flee from a violent husband who has been physically abusing her. We can rightly be supporting women in such circumstances.
But for David, it was a close friend betraying him, that was the foe rising against him. Verse 13:
Psalm 55:13 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend,
David is distressed. But in the end, he’s not crushed. Because finds his comfort in God himself, in God’s character. Notice what’s implied and taught about God in the psalm. First that God will listen, that a plea to him is worthwhile.
Psalm 55:1 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea;
David assumes that God can hear and act, so he asks, he tells God the issues, he tells God how he feels. For he knows God isn’t just a big genie in the sky granting wishes. He’s a Father with whom we should relate. So here’s the model of David, pouring out his concerns to God, verse 2,
Psalm 55:2 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
Verse 5:
Psalm 55:5 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.
Have you done that lately? Expressed your emotions to God? I can easily have a shopping list of prayers, a shopping list of people I’m praying for. I’m sad to say, I rarely pray like David does here. Pouring out emotions. Maybe that’s because I’m not big on expressing my feelings and emotions. I’m the stereotypical bloke in a way. But this is an encouragement, that God wants to hear these things, we are helped by telling him, of our distress.
Yet David not only says how he feels, he also asks for action: Verse 9.
Psalm 55:9 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words, for I see violence and strife in the city.
He is confident that God will act in judgment against the violent and those who make strife, that he will confuse the wicked. And that God has the power of death in his hands: So can surprise people with death, and has power over the realm of the dead, v 15.
Psalm 55:15 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them.
But while he believes in and asks for judgment, he also knows that God saves, verse 16,
Psalm 55:16 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me.
More than that, he knows there is eternal protection from God, which he declares in verse 22:
Psalm 55:22 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.
Verse 22 is the conclusion of the psalm where David makes application not just to his own situation, but to anyone who will hear him. These eternal words of comfort then are for everyone.
The righteous will never be shaken, because God will not allow it. You can see the essence of how one gains righteousness in the final sentence:
Psalm 55:23 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
But as for me, I trust in you.
Trust in God, trust his promises, trust his Son, and we will never be shaken. Without God, without his promises, without his Son, then we are the wicked, those who have not had our sin dealt with.
There’s something amazing about being with someone you know is the anchor, who will protect you, who is powerful in the situation. I remember going on my first and only ever time canyoning in the Blue Mountains. I was invited by my flatmate Andrew, who provided everything – the drive there, the wetsuits, the lilos, the abseiling gear. So he drove the 90 minutes plus to get there, got us all out into the canyon, which was a solid descent with all we were carrying. Then we were in this fantastic canyon, with pristine water, beautiful landscape. And lying on the lilos in the water was grand, floating downstream. It was of course freezing cold. Even in my 20s, I got freezing cold like an old man. I loved the start and the middle, the company, the river, the views. By the end, I just wanted to get out so I could get warm again. These days, I’ve even embraced the oodie at home so I don’t get cold. But that’s another story. We got to the end of the canyon, and Andrew set up the carribenas, clipped them into the socket in the rock, that he found for us, made sure our harnesses were right, and we got ready to abseil out.
At that point, there was no heading back. We couldn’t have paddled the lilos back up the stream. There was no ‘side of the river’ to walk back up. It was high cliffs on both sides. Water all through the middle. So we had to trust Andrew and his gear and his know-how. And it worked out well. We came out shivering but safe, and thankful for our guide. Abseiled down, and eventually got warm.
So it is with God. We might be struggling in various ways. We might even have threats of violence from a close companion. That’s especially the time to be thankful we have a reliable powerful eternal safe leader to turn to, in God.
Many Australians haven’t leant on God, because we feel so safe. With our health care and superannuation and all the rest. But we’re not eternally safe or safe in this life without God. God’s showing that to us now in this pandemic. We are more like Preetha, desperately needing help than we are like Andrew, the giver of help. So lean into God, tell him your emotions and requests, and he will save you.
But I need to finish by saying something about these prayers of cursing here and in other psalms:
We need to understand this: The psalms are not first of all the prayers of everyman or everywoman, they are first of all prayers or songs that point us to the King of Israel. In Psalm 2, one of the introduction psalms, the Son of God is another name for the King of Israel. And it’s said of the king of Israel,
Psalm 2:12 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
[…]
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
So the psalms teach us that above all, if you want to be blessed by God, not God’s enemy, then submit to the King of Israel.
That’s why David, the king of Israel can pray as he does, let death take my enemies by surprise. For the enemies of the King of Israel are God’s enemies. And that is all the more so today, when Jesus is the eternal King of Israel. Those who are Jesus’ enemies are God’s enemies. Sadly, tragically, those who are opposed to him, their evil will find lodging among them, it will sit with them even in death, for he is the only one who can take it away from us eternally.
That is, we are not to take the prayer of verse 15 on our own mouths, and direct such prayers at our enemies. We could direct them at Jesus’ enemies, but we can’t assume anyone will remain an enemy of Jesus all their life. They like us can turn at any time to Jesus, and find forgiveness.
So the King of Israel, and not we, are the centre of this psalm. That is, the description of verses 16-18 is first about David, then about Jesus. David as author and context. Jesus as fulfilment.
Let me read these words, and hear them applying now not to us, not even to David, but to Jesus. Verse 16:
Psalm 55:16 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me.
Psalm 55:17 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.
Psalm 55:18 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.
Yes many opposed Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders, the Roman leaders, Pontius Pilate and Herod. He cried out, at evening in the Garden of Gethsemane for the cup to be taken from him, he cried out in the morning for his executioners to be forgiven, for they knew not what they were doing. At noon, his voice was heard, and there was darkness for three hours..
So Jesus, the great eternal King of Israel is foreshadowed here and throughout the Psalms, betrayed as he also was by a close friend, Judas whose words were (verse 21)
Psalm 55:21 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
His talk is smooth as butter,
[…]
yet they are drawn swords.
His close friend betrayed him even unto death, so yes his words were drawn swords.
He is the one this Psalm is about. His death, even at the hands of wicked men, was enough to pay all of your penalty and mine. And he is the reason, in the end, that the promise of verse 22 is sure, whoever we are:
Psalm 55:22 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.
Friends, we might never be in fear for our life, might never be betrayed like this by a close friend. But for those who have, and those who will, this is an important psalm. And it’s important for us all as it points in advance to the experience Lord Jesus himself, the final and greatest King of Israel.
Let’s pray.
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