Psalm 55 — Cast All Your Cares on the Lord
55 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;
3 Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked: for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me.
4 My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
5 Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.
6 And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.
7 Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.
8 I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.
9 Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go about it upon the walls thereof: mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it.
11 Wickedness is in the midst thereof: deceit and guile depart not from her streets.
12 For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him:
13 But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance.
14 We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.
15 Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.
16 As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me.
17 Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
18 He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me.
19 God shall hear, and afflict them, even he that abideth of old. Selah. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.
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.
22 Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.
23 But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in thee.
David was betrayed by his best friend at a time of great strife in the city. Evil was prevailing and the temptation was to run away. We are unsure of the exact setting, but David’s life offered many options. The subject revolves around the suppliant’s inner anguish over the state of the city and the devastating reality of betrayal.
The message of Psalm 55 is to trust in the Lord, casting your lot with Him in the midst of battle and betrayal. This individual lament has elements of supplication, lament, imprecation, exhortation, confidence, and trust. The protagonist of the psalm is David and YHWH. The antagonists are the wicked enemies, men of bloodshed and deceit, one of whom is a traitor to king and country. The structure is scattered like the emotional stability of one under great stress: I. (vv. 1–8) A lament to God regarding evildoers and the temptation to run away; II. (vv. 9–15) An imprecatory prayer against a betrayer; III. (vv. 16–23) A description of the wicked heart and the complaint/request for deliverance.
Psalm 55 can be grouped with the other Maskils (Psalms 51–55) in Book II (Ps 42–72) as a part of the second Davidic collection (Title). For the choir director is common to David’s psalms. This suggests two things: first, David authored and others set the poetry to music; second, the psalm had liturgical use. On stringed instruments might suggest some psalms were sung acapella or with a variation in musical instruments. A Maskil of David is a teaching psalm (didactic). Theology was taught, in part, via songs.
David requested a hearing from YHWH (v. 1). Give ear to my prayer is reminiscent of Psalm 54:2 in the subset of Psalms (51–55). O God is Elohim, as represented in the Elohistic psalter (Ps. 42–83). It is common to laments. And do not hide Thyself from my supplication gives David’s purpose in prayer and need for God’s presence. Christians have immediate access to God through the mediation and intercession of Jesus Christ.
David explained his reason for requesting a hearing (v. 2). Give heed to me and answer me is imperative, showing his need. David is not just asking God to hear, but he needs an answer. I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted offers more of the emotional state of need. Christians are less familiar with lament as a form of prayer, but we should note the volume of them in the Psalms.
David expressed the problem as a relational conflict with his enemies (v. 3). Because of the voice of the enemy reveals the cause for distress. The speech pattern of the wicked is frequently highlighted in the Psalms. David is threatened by the words of those at work against him. Because of the pressure of the wicked is the natural state of trouble for the righteous in the world. Evil influence leads to some form of oppression, leading further to enslavement. For they bring down trouble upon me is the machination of evildoers. They are troublemakers, usually in the passive, deceptive sense. And in anger they bear a grudge against me is a response to something done by the righteous in righteousness. Darkness is not pleased with the intrusion of light. The revenge of liars, being exposed by truth, is brutal. Evil exposed (Eph 5:11) retaliates, and Christians must be aware of this economy. Obedience to God provokes the enmity of the world against us (Jn 7:7; 15:18–19).
David was gripped with anxiety (v. 4). My heart is in anguish within me is the first of four expressions of negative emotion. Evil men are scary. And the terrors of death have fallen upon me states the obvious. The devil, promoting an agenda of evil, desires the destruction of righteous men. The fear of death is a product of the fall of Adam. With a lingering sin nature, we live in fear of death as the ultimate rejection, the rejection of God. This is irrational because we are children of God, not miserable sinners. Still, it works on our hearts.
David’s degree of angst was severe (v. 5). Fear and trembling come upon me is a response to wicked men or a wrathful God. If we fear God and tremble at His Word, we are less prone to fear evil men. The sovereign God has assured His children that no one can touch them without His permission. Whatever evil befalls the Christian, it is meant for sanctification. And horror has overwhelmed me serves as a warning to the threat of evildoers. Fear is cast out by perfect love from God. As recipients of this love, Christians should fearlessly face all trouble in their sojourn in the world.
David longed to escape the troubled situation (v. 6). And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!” reminds us of Jonah (Hebrew word for dove). Fight or flight is not an option when we are wounded and weak. Flight is the preferred resolution. Running from problems usually creates new problems (see Jonah). I would fly away and be at rest is the literal objective of the dove in escaping from the hawk. Christian escapism is hardly noble. Some will join the monks and the hermits under the guise of being spiritual and desiring a closer focus on God; but this is not by the example of the apostles in the New Testament, who fully engaged the evil cultures in which they lived.
David wanted to escape the city for the country (v. 7). “Behold, I would wander far away,” is a parallel statement to v. 6. I would lodge in the wilderness is the destination of the dove in clefts of the high rocks. The imagery of wilderness is rich. Wilderness is sparse of people. It is difficult in its own right. It is contemplative. It is one thing to try and escape there, but it is quite another to be chased into it. Solace from enemies and solitude from the chaos of the city offers a promising allure. Wilderness is transitional. One does not set a goal to live on the cusp of the desert.
David desired shelter from the storm (v. 8). “I will hasten to my place of refuge” is no doubt the sentiment of David on the run from King Saul. It begs the question of whether David should have been there at all. Was his wilderness refuge the result of a fear of God or of man? From the stormy wind and tempest suggests a temporary need fulfilled in the wilderness. Until the storm passes, this place will suffice. Moses learned it. David learned it. Elijah learned it. Jesus knew it. How about you?
David imprecated against the verbal assaults of his urban enemies (v. 9). Confuse, O Lord is a request for cursing (imprecation). Adonai is addressed as the second title for God used in this psalm. The request is for confused speech. The imagery is the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Divide their tongues would divide their position, hence, their power. Communication is absolutely vital to every successful venture. David prayed against his opponent’s success by praying for their failure to communicate with one another. For I have seen violence and strife in the city reveals more of the setting. David has observed the work of evil in the place man chooses for prosperity and protection. He might even build a tower and make a name for himself there! Still, most recognize the seven deadly sins of the city listed here. Violence is one. Strife is two…and far too common.
David grieved the incessant state of evil in the city (v. 10). Day and night they go around her upon her walls carries the imagery of sentinels. Day and night suggest an incessant state. Time and place are at their disposal for doing evil. And iniquity and mischief are in her midst introduces number three and four on the list. Iniquity is the twisting of the truth. Mischief is the active maneuvers of deviants.
David completed his list of seven deadly sins of the city (v. 11). Destruction is in her midst shows us a multiple personality disorder in the personification of evil in the city. Destruction, as number five on the list, is an end by which all others are the means. Oppression and deceit do not depart from her streets closes our list of seven. Oppression is pressure caused by evil forcing itself upon a person or people. Deceit is the business of gaining via lies. The public square is home to these occupiers.
David clarified the treachery of one particular person in very negative terms (v. 12). For it is not an enemy who reproaches me invites intrigue into our reading of David’s lament. Who is it? A reproach is an active opposition. Then I could bear it means that David expected opposition from some camps, and he could live with it. This is intolerable to his sensitivities. He keeps the reader in suspense. Nor is it one who hates me as this would be expected, too. Haters oppose with reproach, and normally they are the one who has exalted himself against me. Evil foes are in it for themselves. Then I could hide myself from him reminds us of flight being plan A. However, something is remarkably incongruent with this evil doer. What is it? Who is it?
David identified his key persecutor as near to him (v. 13). But it is you is a direct address granting us a new direction using the disjunctive conjunction. “You” is described as a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend. This is a psalm highlighting the devastation of betrayal. It is reasonable to suggest there is no worse act by a man. Trust is garnered. Time elapses. Investments are made. Covenants are cut. Sacrifices are made. Relationships are destroyed. Betrayal! Moses was betrayed by Miriam and Aaron. Jesus was, of course, betrayed by the iconic betrayer, Judas Iscariot. The kiss of a comrade can be the kiss of death on the day of deception.
David articulated a social and spiritual friendship with his betrayer (v. 14). We who had sweet fellowship together recommends the idea of a social relationship with great intimacy. Walked in the house of God in the throng supports the notion of worship together in the community of faith and before Almighty God and before others. What could be worse for a Christian than to betray one’s best friend for favor in the company of wicked men? Beware! The enemy is in your midst, posing as an angel of light, but roaming in the church to devour you for his own gain.
David imprecated to God against the whole lot of evil dwellers (v. 15). Let death come deceitfully upon them reverts vengeance to the will of God, by request. In Romans 12:19, Paul reminds the church to allow YHWH to avenge the work of evil and evildoers. Still, the plea for retribution desires a sowing/reaping payback. Let him who sows sin and death reap it! Let them go down alive to Sheol brings up images of Korah’s Rebellion (Num. 16). Korah was Moses’ worship arts director, who rebelled against Moses’ leadership. His betrayal caused division among the Israelites. Moses’ imprecatory approach to God submitted his desire for vengeance to the will of God, which was to open the earth to swallow the rebels. Sheol is the Old Testament word for the grave and the nether world. It is a precursory concept of hell and the lake of fire, later elucidated by none other than Jesus Himself. For evil is dwelling in their midst again envisions an unwanted occupation by vagrant children of the devil.
David contrasted his plans of dependent trust in God with his enemies’ practical atheism (v. 16). As for me allows for the author’s contrasting position. I shall call upon God is the prompt for deliverance. Joel reiterated this plea for salvation in Joel 2:32, followed by Paul in Romans 10:13. Sinners can never call upon God, especially for salvation because it is not in them to do it. It requires the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, opening the communication line to heaven, for a man to talk to God in these terms. And the Lord will save me reminds us that salvation belongs to YHWH. “Jesus” means “YHWH saves.” The Lord is YHWH, identified by name, here. This follows Psalm 54 in the progression from Elohim, to Adonai, to YHWH. It is the climax of God’s person and work as we know it in Christ Jesus. Save me, O God, by Thy name (54:1)!
David anticipated supplication without ceasing (v. 17). Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur reports the frequency and the content of the praying believer. The round the clock regimen was standard for the Israelite. The complaint came with the crisis, and the murmur usually suggests a lack of faith to some degree. We pray and we grumble while we wait. It is not noble, but it is common. And He will hear my voice reminds us that God does hear and listens to the prayers of His people; but our murmur comes when He is slow to action because of the orchestration of His will in all things. Still, we believe He is working all things together for good for us, albeit not on our time schedule or to our exact resolution specifications.
David predicted his salvation from a multitude of foes (v. 18). He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is against me is confident faith. The battle in the city could be a metaphor for common culture or for the church. We are in a spiritual warfare demanding adequate equipment (see Eph. 6). Our adversary the devil is a prowling spirit with a legion of soldier spirits working in the world and in the church to destroy all men, especially Christians. Jesus Christ has redeemed the soul of the believer by winning the war with the devil in the battle at the cross of Calvary. There, His precious blood paid the ransom price for the redemption value of the sins of the whole world (Rev 5:9). His blood applied to the believer’s soul has reconciled the Christian to God, giving him peace with God. He now has the peace of God, which is peace from the battle with God and man. For they are many who strive with me reminds us that although we seek peace with all men, peace being one fruit of the Spirit in us, hostility remains in the deceitful man’s heart against us.
David looked forward to being an observer of God’s interaction with the wicked (v. 19). God will hear and answer them refers to the relationship between God and sinners. God hears their cursing, and He responds to them. Even the one who sits enthroned from of old could refer to either God, the Ancient of Days; or it might refer to the ruler of this world and oppressive dictator over mankind, the devil; or even one of his agents at work through a human despot. Selah is a musical cue to pause. With whom there is no change can also refer to YHWH, who is immutable; or it might refer to the evil man unable to change his evil ways. The Hebrew wording is such that translation is difficult. It is wise for us to read it both ways. And who do not fear God is quite clearly a reference to the practical atheist. When man does not fear God, his declension into evil is rapid and cumulative.
David described the twisted heart of his opponents (v. 20). He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him continues the description of the wicked heart. He is a saboteur. His natural inclination is to destroy. He is like his father, a liar and murderer from the beginning. He claims his intentions are “peace, peace” but there is no peace with him. He has violated his covenant supports the reason for trouble making is covenant breaking. He does not keep his word, either written or spoken.
David exposed the deceptive hypocrisy of his adversaries (v. 21). His speech was smoother than butter is rich imagery. This is where we get the identification of the smooth talker. Antichrist is eloquent in word and angelic in spirit. But his heart was war warrants God’s assessment of the unregenerate heart as wicked and deceitful above all else. For emphasis the Hebrew parallelism is employed with continuing images, His words were softer than oil. Beware of the T.V. preacher! He offers snake oil of the spirit, yet they were drawn swords because his deception will cut loose your purse strings! Lest we forget we are at war, be warned that war begins with smooth words of an enemy posing as a friend.
David remembered YHWH’s promises, and he called out for confidence in YHWH (v. 22). Cast your burdens upon the Lord is the cry of the prophet and priest. Peter served these words up in the New Testament (1 Peter 5:7), and they serve us well, today. Burdens really mean “your lot.” God is directing each of our steps; therefore, we must be cognizant to go to him when our lot has been cast and His decision for us seems unfavorable. And He will sustain you is the promise of Psalm 54:4. God is my helper. His name is the One to call on. His name has His power behind it. His promise is to sustain you, even as He does all things (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). He will never allow the righteous to be shaken despite the shaking all around us. The tempest roars and the branches flail, but the vine in which we live is never moved. The righteous have been grafted in by the Vinedresser’s own choice.
David contrasted the judgment of God against the treacherous with his own confidence in God (v. 23). But Thou, O God, wilt bring them down to the pit of destruction is the second side of the coin of salvation. When God delivers, it is salvation for the righteous and judgment for the wicked. The pit of destruction is the natural end for destroyers caught in their own snares. Men of bloodshed and deceit will not live out half their days adds to the description of the antagonists. Murder and lies again expose the children of the devil, who is the sire of these actions. Living out half their days may be literal. Hardly do the good die young. First, there is no one good. Second, wickedness shortens a man’s life. Even those who persevere in iniquity may live with a dead soul in dying flesh. But I will trust in Thee is the concluding contrast and perfect summation for the beneficiary of grace. From grievous lament to escapist dove to mourning friend to supplicating saint a confidence has emerged through the discipline of prayer. Grace has visited the humble, and his faith has increased through communication with God. Let us pray!
July 12, 2021