Psalm 55: Et tu, Brute?

Have you ever wanted to run away? I don’t mean the sort of running away you did as a kid when you packed your meager belongings inside a rolled up shirt, attached them to a stick from a hickory tree in the back yard, and then wandered down to the local swimming hole for the afternoon only to return by dinner. No. I mean have you ever wanted to crawl into a hole, run away to a foreign country, or disappear to a deserted island and hope that no one would ever find you again?

I suspect the list is short for things causing us to wish for such isolation: a bad day at work is almost always made better by a good night’s sleep; the loss of money in a spiraling market is often made better by acknowledging that God always provides; even the turmoil felt by a doctor’s bad news can eventually be assuaged. Most of us have experienced these things or worse and not desired to run, but I suspect there is at least one thing that might quickly produce the desire to escape and isolate ourselves from everyone: the betrayal by someone we once counted as a friend.

Many times such betrayal can be as insignificant as the time when I entered a soccer team for a tournament. For years I had organized and coached some friends for a summer tournament, but one year while assembling the roster I realized about half the players, maybe more, declined my requests. I didn’t take long before I found out one of the other players, a friend of mine, decided he wanted his own team and as such recruited all the good players away from me. While this certainly is a silly example, at the time it felt like I had been cut to the heart. I could take losing players to age or a change of geography, but when the former friend of mine decided to mutiny, taking other players with him, I was distraught.

Not all betrayals, however, are as insignificant as the mutiny of soccer players, many happen in times of real need. I can only imagine the depth of pain felt by a cheated business partner, an unjustly terminated employee, or a betrayed spouse. But regardless of the circumstances, it’s not difficult to imagine we have all felt like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when his close friend and companion joined those people assassinating him, provoking a response much like “et tu, Brute?

Such betrayals are not, in fact, unfamiliar to some found in scripture. Remember the scene after Job had lost everything and was sitting in ashes scraping his sores with broken pottery and his wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die.” Though Job’s next words were “You are talking like a foolish woman,” I suspect the dagger of her question dug deep into Job’s heart, for if a spouse tells you to let go of your integrity where else can you go for comfort in a time of trial?

And who could forget what is possibly the most well-known betrayal of all times by Judas? Jesus stood in the garden before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion as Judas approached him leading a crowd of soldiers. Fully understanding Judas’ actions, Jesus merely asked him one simple question, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

While scripture doesn’t give us the details behind Psalm 55, I believe the psalmist is writing of a betrayal somewhat like these. As like most of us, the psalmist could tolerate enemies, but he found himself dejected lower than ever when his close friend with whom he once had a covenantal relationship betrayed him (55:20). While his immediate desire was to run away and hide (55:6-8), he stayed that desire by remembering a covenantal relationship that would never be broken. David’s cry to God used the term LORD (55:16, 22) which is the Hebrew name for the covenantal God, Jehovah. Thus, it was in the shadow of a friend who broke his covenant that David found comfort by trusting Jehovah who will never break his covenant.

It is this covenant that reminds me of one last betrayal worth investigating. Have you ever wondered how God feels when we, after realizing the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross, turn our backs on him by embracing sin? Have you wondered if God ever felt like saying, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it…but it is you…my companion, my close friend with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship…let death take my enemies?” (55:12-15) I suspect it was possible that God would have said something like that or even like “et tu, Brute?” But he didn’t. Instead, Jesus hung on the cross bearing the pain and suffering for our sins and simply said, “father forgive them for they know not what they do,” thus revealing the nature of the covenant in which David trusted and the covenant in which we presently trust. I suspect that is the best possible reason for not wanting to run away.

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