Devotions, Forgiveness Psalm 55: The Pain of Betrayal

By Cathy Schaefer


Psalm 55

1 Listen to my prayer, O God.
    Do not ignore my cry for help!
2 Please listen and answer me,
    for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.
3 My enemies shout at me,
    making loud and wicked threats.
They bring trouble on me
    and angrily hunt me down.

4 My heart pounds in my chest.
    The terror of death assaults me.
5 Fear and trembling overwhelm me,
    and I can’t stop shaking.
6 Oh, that I had wings like a dove;
    then I would fly away and rest!
7 I would fly far away
    to the quiet of the wilderness. Interlude
8 How quickly I would escape—
    far from this wild storm of hatred.

9 Confuse them, Lord, and frustrate their plans,
    for I see violence and conflict in the city.
10 Its walls are patrolled day and night against invaders,
    but the real danger is wickedness within the city.
11 Everything is falling apart;
    threats and cheating are rampant in the streets.

12 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.
13 Instead, it is you—my equal,
    my companion and close friend.
14 What good fellowship we once enjoyed
    as we walked together to the house of God.

15 Let death stalk my enemies;
    let the grave[b] swallow them alive,
    for evil makes its home within them.

16 But I will call on God,
    and the Lord will rescue me.
17 Morning, noon, and night
    I cry out in my distress,
    and the Lord hears my voice.
18 He ransoms me and keeps me safe
    from the battle waged against me,
    though many still oppose me.
19 God, who has ruled forever,
    will hear me and humble them. Interlude
For my enemies refuse to change their ways;
    they do not fear God.

20 As for my companion, he betrayed his friends;
    he broke his promises.
21 His words are as smooth as butter,
    but in his heart is war.
His words are as soothing as lotion,
    but underneath are daggers!

22 Give your burdens to the Lord,
    and he will take care of you.
    He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.

23 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.

My hand was shaking and my heart pounding as I hung up the phone. Grateful to be home alone, I collapsed onto the couch, cradled my head in my hands, and began to sob. Feelings of guilt, shame and remorse overwhelmed me as I cried out to God, “O Lord, forgive my stupidity! What a mess I’ve made! Help me, Jesus!”

My dear cousin (and close friend) had just called to ask if I had betrayed her confidence by repeating a piece of information she had shared with me. Unfortunately, yes, I had. Even worse, the person I shared the information with had chosen to act on it; thereby setting in motion a chain of events involving collateral damage to other people. Although I had not acted with malicious intent, I could not escape the consequences of my carelessness…. I apologized profusely, then hoped and prayed she could forgive me….

Not only was I angry at myself for betraying my cousin, I was also angry and disappointed with the other person in whom I had confided the information for betraying my trust. I was in the strange and terrible position of being BOTH the betrayer AND the betrayed! But, of course, I could see that the fault was all mine…. I had done something horribly stupid, and knew that only God could help clean up the mess I had made!

Betrayal. Psychologists agree it is one of the worst kinds of emotional pain a human being can experience in life. What makes betrayal especially painful is that it is inflicted by those closest to us -- a trusted friend, loved one or confidante. The longer, deeper and more intimate our relationship with our betrayer, the more severe our pain over their betrayal.

Most scholars believe David wrote this Psalm in response to his son, Absalom’s rebellion against him, as well as the betrayal of his close friend, Ahithophel. Bad enough that his own son was conspiring to kill him and take his throne; but to add insult to injury, David’s long-time friend and trusted adviser, Ahithophel, joined forces with Absalom to plot against him! (Read the story in 2 Samuel, chapters 15-18.) David’s shock, dismay, anger and discouragement are apparent as he cries out to God for help.

Psalm 55 reveals 5 steps we can take when we’re betrayed:

1. Cry out for God’s help.

Betrayal produces a maelstrom of emotions that can overwhelm us. It is too much to bear on our own. The safest place to take our emotional turmoil is right to God’s “throne of grace.” David cries out to God in verses 1-2: 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.
Don’t forget, Jesus knows the pain of betrayal! He understands what we’re feeling. On the worst night of His earthly life, He was betrayed by two of His own disciples: Judas and Peter. When a close friend or loved one has betrayed our trust, and we don’t know where to turn, we cling to God, our Rock and our Refuge in times of trouble. Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock (Isaiah 26:4).

2. Take a time out.

betrayal hurts deeply because it destroys trust and makes us feel alone, exposed and vulnerable. Our first instinct may be to run away and find a safe place to hide. That’s precisely what David did. He fled the city and hid from those who wanted to take his life. In verses 6-8, David expresses his desire to escape the turmoil and find rest: Oh, how I wish 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 away from this wild storm of hatred.
We may need to put some distance between ourselves and our betrayer while we sort through our feelings. It is always wise to seek God’s comfort, peace and wisdom in times of emotional upheaval. The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” (Psalm 32:8).

3. Express our anger to God.

God can handle our honest emotions, and there is nothing wrong with telling Him EXACTLY what we want Him to do to our enemy. In fact, it can be very cathartic! In verses 9 and 15, David urges God: Destroy them, Lord, and confuse their speech . . . Let death seize my enemies by surprise; let the grave swallow them alive, for evil makes its home within them.
It’s normal to feel anger over a betrayal. We just don’t want to get stuck there. Anger that isn’t processed and released can become a long-standing grudge, a bitterness that eats us up inside. Heed this warning, And “don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.” . . . for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil (Ephesians 4:26-27).

​​4. Let God deal with our betrayer.

Our natural inclination when we are hurt is to strike back, to lash out at the one who hurt us. But we must refrain from seeking revenge. This is not easy, but as a child of God, we can trust Father God to have our back! In verses 16-18, David expresses his confidence in God’s help: But I will call on God, and the Lord will rescue me. Morning, noon, and night I plead aloud in my distress, and the Lord hears my voice. He rescues me and keeps me safe from the battle waged against me . . .
Jesus taught His followers to “turn the other cheek,” and instructs us to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:39; 44). We must turn our enemies over to God and allow Him to administer justice. As Paul tells us, Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).

5. Trust in God and extend forgiveness.  

Betrayal can leave us feeling weary, wary and guarded. We may distrust others and even question our own judgment. In verses 22-23, David reminds us to rely on and seek help from the One who is truly trustworthy: 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 in you to save me.
Although forgiveness is not mentioned in this Psalm, we know that David sought and received forgiveness for his own sins at various times in his life. David trusted God to save him, not only from his enemies, but from himself and his own sin. We are saved through the grace and forgiveness Jesus procured for us on the cross.
As Christ followers we are called to extend the same grace and forgiveness to others that we have so graciously received ourselves. As we acknowledge that we are all sinful, broken people, we also realize we will inevitably hurt and disappoint each other. Forgiveness is not easy, but it is also not optional; God commands us to forgive. You must make allowances for each others’ faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others (Colossians 3:13).
It’s important to note that forgiveness is NOT the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is really a transaction between us and God, more than between us and our enemy. It restores our peace with God by freeing us from the stranglehold of bitterness and resentment. However, we are not obligated to allow an unrepentant betrayer back into our life. Reconciliation can only occur if our betrayer has acknowledged their wrongdoing, asked for our forgiveness and taken steps to change their behavior and rebuild our trust.
Circling back to my own story, I am happy to report that I was reconciled to both of the individuals I mentioned. It was an extremely humbling experience requiring a lot of prayer and ample amounts of grace and forgiveness! It wasn’t pleasant, and it wasn’t easy, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. But thankfully, we were all able to move past it over time.

Questions for Reflection

  • Who have I betrayed? Who has betrayed me?

  • Have I been completely honest with God about my feelings related to this betrayal?

  • Am I harboring any anger, bitterness or resentment towards the person who hurt me?

  • Am I willing to trust God to deal with my betrayer?

  • Am I willing to obey God’s command to forgive those who have hurt me?


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