We expect enemies to be somewhere “out there” — a thief in a dark ally, a spy from foreign nation, or a competitor from another company. We assume enemies are easy to identify. Most of us aren’t naturally suspicious of friends or family or teammates; so when betrayal happens it is all the more shocking and painful. Being stabbed in the back causes an agony that is unrivaled.
In Psalm 3:1 King David laments “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising up against me.” Most readers assume that the enemies David complains about are foreigners and strangers. But the subtitle of the Psalm clarifies that David wrote this Psalm after Absalom, his son, rallied Israel to turn against him. For those who are living under attack at home, like David, this Psalm provides a model for how to handle the situation.
- Trust God As Your Shield: David’s admits he cannot fully protect himself. So he declares, “You, O LORD, are a shield about me.” (3.3) David trusts that God can protect him from attack on all sides, even when his son unexpectedly tries to stab him from behind.
- Trust God For Your Dignity: A betrayed person is often suffocated by shame. They can feel foolish for not anticipating the betrayal or guilty for somehow having caused it. But rather than focus on regrets, David says “You, O LORD, are my glory and the lifter of my head”. (3.3) David tells us how he maintains his sense of dignity — how he’s able to hold his head high. Most kings based their glory on the wealth of their kingdom or the size of their military. But David doesn’t hold his head high because he was a great king (even though he was). Nor does David hang his head low because he was a terrible father (which was also true). Rather, David finds glory in His God. He essentially says, “Because my dignity is established by God, I can hold my head high no matter my successes or my failures!” How does this apply? After a betrayal, don’t trust in your efforts to reestablish your honor. Instead rest upon the glory already established for you by God. Only God can free you from your shame and enable you to walk with your head held high.
- Watch for God’s Answer: After a betrayal we may wonder if God is listening to our cries for help. Will He answer us, and if so, what will He say? When David cried to God after his son betrayed him, he wrote, “[The LORD] answered me from his holy hill.” (3.4) David found his answer on Mt. Zion for on that mountain stood the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle — reminders of God’s abiding presence and faithful promises. God’s clearest answer would come later when His own Son, Jesus, would bear the cost of every betrayal on that same holy hill so that victims (and perpetrators) of betrayal could find hope. Victims would discover a sympathetic God who knew what it was like to be destroyed by those who should have loved him. Perpetrators would be moved to repentance as Jesus cried, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) How does this apply? God has also answered you from his holy hill. Look to the place where Jesus was crucified and find a God who suffers betrayal with victims and for perpetrators.
- Pray with Hopeful Anger: How do you pray when your enemies are not outsiders but insiders… when your foes are “family”? Pray the only way you can — with pain-filled anger. But take warning, if you let your anger turn hopeless it will lead to paralyzing apathy or self-destructive bitterness. When David prays for “insider” enemies (his son and his citizens), he asks God, “Strike all my enemies on the cheek…break [their] teeth. Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!” (3.7-8) Because his enemies are God’s people (and his people) David is praying for one group of people, not two. David is not asking God to destroy these enemies, only to strike them and shut them up (break their teeth). In fact, ultimately, he wants God to restore his enemies so they can be one family and one nation again. In other words, David is asking God to cut as deeply as necessary to remove the deadly tumor of betrayal. What can we learn from David’s prayer? Bitterness and apathy are warning signs that our anger is turning hopeless. Remember, God can reach the hardest of hearts. As a great physician, God is willing to cut more deeply than we expect but never deeper than necessary. If the cross of Jesus Christ teaches anything, it tells us just how deep God will cut to restore relationships with those who have betrayed Him.