Persistent, Pervasive Sin
(9) Destroy, O Lord. Confuse their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city. (10) Day and night they circle round it on its walls. Wickedness and trouble (are) within it. (11) Destruction (is) in the midst of it. Oppression and deceit do not depart from its streets, (12) for (it is) not an enemy who reproaches me. Then I could bear it. (It is) not an adversary who magnifies himself against me. Then I could hide myself from him, (13) but (it is) you, a man like myself, my friend, one known to me. (14) We enjoyed sweet counsel together. In the house of God we walked in the throng. (15) Let death take them unexpectedly. Let them descend into Sheol alive,for evil resides both in their homes and in their hearts.
This segment opens with several sets of synonyms describing evil in the city: “violence and strife” (vs. 9), “wickedness and trouble” (vs. 10), “destruction…oppression and deceit” (vs. 11). The second sentence, which could be translated literally as “divide their tongues,” should probably be rendered, “confuse their speech” (vs. 9). David may well have had in mind God’s judgment on those building the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9).
Dramatically, David narrows his focus in the latter half of this segment to one individual he poignantly describes as “a man like myself, my friend, one known to me” whose betrayal particularly distressed him (vss. 12-14). Finally, David asks God to put his enemies to death for their persistent wickedness (vs. 15).
I. The pervasiveness of evil in the city (9-11)
II. The perversity of a close friend’s betrayal (12-14)
III. The punishment for persistent sin (15)
When sin has become so prevalent that it defiles close personal friendships, the only remedy left may be destruction and death.
Psalm 55 is one of several “imprecatory” psalms so named because the psalmist calls on God to wreak havoc on those who oppose the covenant nation. We read these psalms in the present day almost with a sense of horror, shocked by the vehemence of such vindictive prayers. We are put off by statements such as, “Let death take them unexpectedly. Let them descend into Sheol alive” (vs. 15).
Lest we be upset by such strong language, we need to consider the following commentary on the Lord’s Prayer by Martin Luther, a man who never minced words: “We cannot pray the Lord's Prayer without cursing. Every time we pray, ‘Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,’ we are praying that the plans of Satan and all who serve him will fail, and that they will receive the judgment which they deserve. We should indeed pray that God will lead our enemies to repentance and forgiveness as Christ and Stephen did, but we must also pray that all who continue to defy God will receive the justice they deserve.”
We must never voice imprecatory prayers in haste, nor should they be uttered with a spirit of vindictiveness. However, if we are genuinely yearning for God’s righteousness to prevail in our unrighteous world and seeking God’s protection against the workers of iniquity, it may well be appropriate for us to pray on occasion in the way that David prayed in Psalm 55.