Psalm 55: cast your burden on the Lord
Cast Your Burden on the LORD
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
A Maskil of David.
(1)Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
(2)Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
(3)because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
(4)My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
(5)Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.
(6)And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;
(7)yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness;
(8)I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.”
(9)Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues; for I see violence and strife in the city.
(10)Day and night they go around it on its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it;
(11)ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace.
(12)For it is not an enemy who taunts me–then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me–then I could hide from him.
(13)But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
(14)We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.
(15)Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive;
for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.
(16)But I call to God, and the LORD will save me.
(17)Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.
(18)He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me.
(19)God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old,
because they do not change and do not fear God.
(20)My companion stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant.
(21)His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.
(22)Cast your burden on the LORD; and he will sustain you;
he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
(23)But you, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.
This is another contemplative Psalm, a meditation, a maskil or maschil, written for the choir director and meant to be used in worship with a background of instruments.
There is nothing that firmly links this Psalm to a specific event in David’s life. But upon reading it, it is clear that he is not safe; he is in great distress. Someone close to him has betrayed him. He remembers his time running and hiding in the wilderness, so it is during his reign as king.
Whatever is going on for David, he is afraid and hurt and very angry.
Commentators think this was possibly written during the time of David’s son, Absalom’s rebellion against him, when his friend and trusted advisor, Ahithophel, betrayed him. That story is found in 2 Samuel 15-18.
“It would be idle to fix a time, and find an occasion for this Psalm with any dogmatism. It reads like a song of the time o.f Absalom and Ahithophel. It was after David had enjoyed peaceful worship, when he was or had just been a dweller in a city, and when he remembered his former roamings in the wilderness. Although it seems to us to relate to that mournful era when the King was betrayed by his trusted counsellor. The spiritual eye ever and anon sees the Son of David and Judas, and the chief priests appearing and disappearing on the glowing canvas of the Psalm.”
–Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
Listen to my prayer, O God.
Do not ignore my cry for help!
Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.
My enemies shout at me, making loud and wicked threats.
They bring trouble on me and angrily hunt me down.
Psalm 55:1-3 NLT
Can’t you just feel David’s fear? He cries to God: listen me! Don’t ignore me! Listen and answer me!
He is overwhelmed and about to break. You can feel and hear the turmoil in his head and heart. He is distressed to the point that he is afraid God is not even listening.
The greatest fear that a believer, like David, would have is the fear that God had turned His back. When Jesus was dying on the cross, the Father turned away,
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
At that moment, God had turned his face from his Son. It’s not that God stopped loving his Son, it’s that Jesus had taken all the sins of the world onto his shoulders. God could not look upon him. There is not a more terrible place to be…David knew this, I know this…than to be where God isn’t, to be where God does not see you…
The Reverend Billy Graham said it this way,
“But in reality His words point to something far different. They point to the fact that when Jesus died on the cross, all our sins–without exception–were transferred to Him. He was without sin, for He was God in human flesh. But as He died all our sins were placed on Him, and He became the final and complete sacrifice for our sins. And in that moment He was banished from the presence of God, for sin cannot exist in God’s presence. His cry speaks of this truth; He endured the separation from God that you and I deserve.”
–Billy Graham, 1918-2018
King David did not know of Jesus and His great sacrifice for us all, but Jesus died for him as well. And because of His sacrifice, believers will never face separation for God.
My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me.
Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking.
Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest!
I would fly far away to the quiet of the wilderness.
How quickly I would escape–far from this wild storm of hatred.
Psalm 55:4-8 NLT
David is panicking. He is afraid for his life. He wishes for escape. It’s interesting that David didn’t ask for strength to face this trial, he asks for escape. David needed to get away. And the place he wanted to “get away to” was the wilderness. Maybe he was seeking to fly back in time to when he hid in the wilderness from King Saul; where God was faithful to him over and over again.
Did he stop and contemplate a time when God was faithful in the wilderness? Did he stop to calm himself by visualizing a place that felt close to God’s arms of safety? Was it the noise and clamor of the city that he wanted to run from, to a place he could talk quietly with God, breath in peace again?
Even a king wishes to run away for a time.
But he could not. Rebellion was at his doorstep. The lives and livelihoods of his people were at stake. Same for us as believers. We weather the storms rather run from them. We weather the storms because God uses us to reveal Himself, His love, and His faithfulness to those around us, who are watching.
In the storm, we stand upon the strength of God.
“We are all too apt to utter this vain desire, for vain it is; no wings of doves or eagles could bear us away from the sorrows of a trembling heart. Inward grief knows nothing of place. Moreover, it is cowardly to shun the battle which God would have us fight.”
Confuse them, Lord, and frustrate their plans, for I see violence and conflict in the city. Its walls are patrolled day and night against invaders, but the real danger is wickedness within the city. Everything is falling apart; threats and cheating are rampant in the streets.
Psalm 55:9-11 NLT
The city of Jerusalem is in chaos. 2 Samuel 15-17 speaks a time when this happened; when David’s son caused mistrust and then rebellion with his words, and David’s friend and counselor caused confusion and chaos with his.
“Alas, poor Jerusalem, to be thus the victim of sin and shame! Virtue reviled and vice regnant! Her solemn assemblies broken up, her priests fled, her king banished, and troops of reckless villains parading her streets, sunning themselves on her walls, and vomiting their blasphemies in her sacred shrines.”
So David prayed, “LORD, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.”
2 Samuel 15:31b
And how quickly did Ahithophel and then Absalom fall.
It is not an enemy who taunts me–I could bear that.
It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me–I could have hidden from them.
Instead, it is you–my equal, my companion and close friend.
What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God.
Psalm 55:12-14 NLT
The bitterness of a friend’s betrayal! David could fight against an enemy or a foe, but the heartbreak of a friend’s betrayal is too much. This is a man David walked with and talked with; a man that David fellowshipped and worshipped with in the temple.
Psalm 55 speaks of David’s pain and fear and sadness over a friend’s betrayal, but it clearly foreshadows another betrayal.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, He washed the disciples feet, including the one who would betray Him.
“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’
Jesus quoted David’s words from Psalm 41, another song of betrayal. Judas Iscariot walked with the Messiah; he saw the miracles; he witnessed the love.
“His union with the Lord was on the score of faith, they were joined in the holiest of enterprises, he had been sent on the most gracious of errands. His cooperation with Jesus to serve his own abominable ends stamped him as the first born of hell.”
Let death stalk my enemies; let the grave swallow them alive, for evil makes its home within them.
Psalm 55:15 NLT
It’s interesting that David no longer calls out his former friend in this harsh verse. Is he talking about someone else? Are there some who he asks God to curse to harshly, but not others? We will not know for certainty, but David’s words here are a call upon God for vengeance.
But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.
Whatever is happening is so deeply troubling that David calls for the ultimate punishment. He calls upon the curse that Moses used to end the rebellion of Korah. A time when the ground actually opened up and swallowed these men and their possessions!
David called for God to have vengeance, to thwart the plans of evil, and to rescue His people. David saw this betrayal as the ultimate dishonor to God Himself. After all, God promised the throne to David. It is in the Word, the people knew it and believed it. Ahithophel and Absalom knew what God said, knew He chose David. So when they sought their own gain and to supplant David, they were ultimately fighting the will God.
But I will call on God, and the LORD will rescue me.
Morning, noon, and night I cry out in my distress, and the LORD hears my voice.
He ransoms me and keeps me safe from the battle waged against me, though many still oppose me.
God, who has ruled forever, will hear me and humble them.
For my enemies refuse to change their ways; they do not fear God.
Psalm 55:16-19 NLT
“As for me, I will call upon the LORD.”
David stops and talks to himself for a moment. It’s as if he straightens up from his pleading posture, wipes his eyes, and says: “but whatever happens, I will still choose God.”
David knew how the story ends, and he had faith in God’s faithfulness…come what may.
“As this exemplifies the contrast of their characters, so it will foretell the contrast of their ends–the righteous shall ascend to their God, the wicked shall sink to ruin.”
Come what may, I will call upon the Lord morning, noon, and night. He hears me. He keeps me safe. He has ransomed my life.
As for my companion, he betrayed his friends; he broke his promises.
His words are as smooth as butter, but in his heart is war.
His words are as soothing as lotion, but underneath are daggers!
Psalm 55:20-21 NLT
David speaks of enemies in the previous section, but now he speaks of one, his former companion. David is worried for his people, but here, he shows his own broken heart.
“And this, my best friend, betrayed his best friends; his life betrayed his word.
All my life I’ve been charmed by his speech, never dreaming he’d turn on me.
His words, which were music to my ears, turned to daggers in my heart.”
Psalm 55:20-21 The Message
Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you.
He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.
But you, O God, will send the wicked down to the pit of destruction.
Murderers and liars will die young, but I am trusting you to save me.
Psalm 55:22-23 NLT
David ended his song with a return to the faithfulness of the Lord.
“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 will be moved or not.”
–Pastor David Guzik, http://www.enduringword.com
Let us pause and remember here: God does not intend us to live our lives alone. He created us for relationship with Him. The hole we often feel in our hearts is meant only for Him.
Are you burdened today? Do you carry the sting of betrayal? Are you worried about the evil around you? Do the sins of the world weigh heaving upon your heart? Do you wish to fly away on dove’s wings?
Let the words of Jesus bring you peace and let it go…
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Father in heaven, thank you for your faithfulness and your promises throughout time and even today. There is evil around us, but your eye is on your children. You never leave us; you always stand beside us. Give us strength to face the trials and betrayals and the struggles in this life. Thank you for Jesus and our salvation through his death and resurrection. Give us your strength and your peace today. Amen.