Psalm 55: The Power of Words

Listen to my prayer, O God,
    do not ignore my plea;
    hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
    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.

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Psalm 55

One of the reasons for the ongoing popularity of the Psalms is their searing honesty. The composers of the Psalms don’t tell us how we ought to feel, they tell us how we actually do feel! In Psalm 55 the writer’s emotions are raw.

Once again, the Psalmist is troubled and, in his troubles, he turns to God. The exact cause of his distress becomes clear a little later on. He is the victim of what others have said. At the very least words have the power to destroy our social status and reputation, and at worst words can lead to false accusation and even to death (I am writing shortly after Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi was released from jail following accusations that were made against her: for a biblical example see 1 Kings 21). We do not always get things right and need to be open to learn from the criticism of others, even when those criticisms are expressed clumsily or woundingly. We also need to be careful about what we say and how we say it and that our intention is always to build up others (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

What is worse in this case is that this hateful slander originates from someone who David once considered to be a friend (vv. 13, 14). It is always so much more painful when those close to us attack us without reason and when they criticise us in public and seek to turn others against us. Not surprisingly in this situation the pressure builds up (vv. 4,5) and David longs for escape (vv. 6–8). The modern equivalent to ‘the wings of a dove’ might be a plane out of here jetting us away from all our troubles and taking us far, far away. Jesus words though sum up the reality of life, ‘In this world you will have trouble’ (John 16:33). That’s the bad news – the good news is that immediately beforehand Jesus promised that ‘in me you may have peace’ (John 16:33). 

Sometimes that peace may be found because Jesus comes and calm the storms of life (Mark 4:35–41), at other times the storm is still raging but he comes to us in the midst of it (Matt 14:27–31).

The Psalmist encourages us to cast our cares on the LORD (v. 22) and that call is picked up in the New Testament when Peter invites us to ‘Cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for us’ (1 Peter 5:7). What do we do with our cares, our worries, our anxiety? Taking them to the Lord rather than carrying them alone still seems like a good option.