One thing I have always found so comforting about the Book of Psalms is how they meet God’s people in every imaginable situation. For this very reason, John Calvin (1509-1564) described the Psalms as “the anatomy of the soul.” Whatever the journey may be in our spiritual pilgrimage in this fallen world, the divine Psalter aids us to see that we have a cloud of witnesses surrounding us who have themselves trekked the same path. They tell us that they feel both our joy and pain, while always pointing us to fix our eyes on the Lord no matter what circumstances we encounter.
One constant thematic thread running throughout the Psalms is the dreaded reality that God’s people will have enemies. For instance, we see this fact in the most beloved psalm in the entire Psalter – Psalm 23. In verse 5, David says of the Lord, “You [Lord] prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” While the great theme of this particular psalm is reassuring the believer of the ever-loving Shepherd the Lord is to him, yet David shows how the Lord shepherds His people by leading them not only in pleasant paths, but even in the precarious paths. That is, those paths which place us in the very presence of those who despise and hate us.
But of all the enemies that the Psalms refer to pertaining to the experience of God’s people, there’s no enemy more foreboding than one who appears to us as a trusted friend, yet only to discover in time that their “friendship” was a ruse. In Psalm 55:12-14, David testifies to facing such a person of this sort. He laments: “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. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.” Moving a little further in the psalm, David describes this man again, by reporting, “My companion stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant. His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords” (vv. 20-21).
There is no enemy we could ever face worse than this. The reason why is due to the fact that they will not appear as an open foe but a pretended friend. To our face they will not reveal how their heart has turned against us. But behind our backs they have already changed camps and have set themselves in plotting our ruination. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) once observed why the villainy of such a person like this is so roguish: “None are such real enemies as false friends. Reproaches from those who have been intimate with us, and trusted by us, cut us to the quick; and they are usually so well acquainted with our peculiar weaknesses that they know how to touch us where we are most sensitive, and to speak so as to do us most damage. The slanders of an avowed antagonist are seldom so mean and dastardly as those of a traitor.”
A traitor. This is what David confronted. A man who he once counted on with his heart. A man whose advice he once treasured. A man who he let into his confidence. A man with whom he even congregated in the Lord’s house. Nothing on the outside gave any indication that this man had “war in his heart.” But war was there. And in time it revealed itself in the most detestable ways. For one who has known us so well can do the worse damage to us, as Spurgeon marks, by capitalizing on our weaknesses and exploiting them to his own advantage.
Have you ever experienced this kind of adversity from this kind of adversary? I have. In fact, when I read Psalm 55, I think David has read my mail. With all the trials I have endured as a pastor, none has been more painful than when I faced the traitor. He was a man I had known for several years and who I considered as one of my closest and dearest friends. We shared so much together in what I sincerely believed was the sweet fellowship of “Christian” brothers. But little did I know that over a period of a year, war began settling in his heart. A war wherein he would garner support through deception and manipulation, speaking twisted things that would discredit me as a trustworthy pastor. The result of his chicanery would end up destroying what was once a good and sound church where the gospel was faithfully preached every week. It was sad, tragic, and appalling. What happened seemed unthinkable. If someone were to have told me years ago the things this man would end up doing, I would have renounced such a prediction as utter nonsense! Impossible! No, not this man. Even so, the one person I never suspected, ended up being my Judas.
What’s worst of all, however, is not that he betrayed me personally – but he betrayed the Lord. Out of one side of his mouth, he promoted everything biblical; while out of the other side of his mouth, he lied, slandered, fabricated the truth, and sowed the seeds of an awful schism within the congregation. And he did these things so subtly, with such shadiness, that his duplicity could not be detected but only by a very few. To the membership in general, he appeared like a humble, meek, and mild man who loved Jesus and the church. But he was not this. He was a traitor. A traitor to his pastor, to the common good of the church, and to what he professed as a Christian.
But what should be our response to a traitor? This is where the Psalms always turn our focus from our hurt to the Lord. In Psalm 55, while David laments over the traitor he faced, yet he intermingles his grief with hope in the Lord. He says: “But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old” (vv. 16-19). How wonderful and deeply encouraging to know that our Lord and God is there for us in the worst of times. To know that we can pour out our hearts to him at all hours of the day, and He doesn’t push us away. Moreover, what a comfort it is that our God is a God of justice! As David reassures himself that the Lord will “humble” this man who has betrayed him. In fact, in verse 23, David goes as far to declare, “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.” Such men like this, David is saying, will get their due. What goes around comes around. They will reap what they’ve sown.
But where is David’s trust, confidence, and hope for this? It’s all in the Lord. For he exhorts us to, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (v. 22). The burden of dealing with a treacherous man is a burden our loving, omnipotent Father will shoulder for his children. And for me, personally, I can testify to this in truth! God delivered me from the traitor and He took the traitor to task. And while I am still recovering from the blows I took by that man and those who he led astray, yet this recovery is being nursed by the Lord in a place of peace. Thank God for His goodness and the tender mercies of His providence which do not leave us to those whose only wish is for our ultimate doom. So, while you may at a season face the worst kind of enemy in the traitor – remember this: you will never face such a wicked man alone. The Lord will keep you and make a way for your safety.