The Song of the Betrayed, or, What to Sing in the Face of Betrayal


March 23, 2021

Psalm 55

To the tune of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” 77.77 D Sing it at

1 Listen to my prayer, O God,
And do not ignore my plea;
2 Hear and answer, for my thoughts
do dismay and trouble me,
3 At the voice of enemies,
At the stares of wicked ones;
They bring suff’ring down on me,
Their sharp taunt is never done.

4 My heart is in anguish sore,
Death’s great terror assails me;
5 Fear and trembling plague me more,
Horror has o’ertaken me.
6 I said, “Oh, that I could fly
far away and be at rest!
7 I would flee far as the sky,
8 Shelter far from storm’s tempest.”

9 Lord, confuse them and confound
words they speak and deeds they do;
Violent strife is all around
in the city through and through.
10 Day and night they prowl about
on its walls and all within;
11 They destroy and loot and rout,
Streets are filled with lies and sin.

12 If a foe or enemy
insults me, I’ll take from him
anything he says ‘gainst me;
I could hide myself from him.
13 But it’s you, my closest friend;
14 You with whom I walked abroad,
Had sweet friendship without end,
Even in the house of God.

15 Let death take my enemies
by surprise, their life grow dim;
Let the grave their life now seize—
Evil finds its home with them.
16 But I call to God alone,
The Lord saves me in distress;
17 Evening, morning, and at noon,
I cry out—He hears, gives rest.

18 He will ransom me unharmed
from the battle waged ‘gainst me;
Though I was opposed, alarmed,
Though my foes were vast, many.
19 God, who is enthroned always
will afflict them with His rod;
For they never change their ways
and they have no fear of God.

20 My companion sacks his friends,
Violates his covenant;
His attacking never ends,
Evil from his heart is sent.
21 Speech is smooth as butter sweet,
But his heart is only war;
Words are soothing he repeats,
But they carry a drawn sword.

22 Cast your cares upon the Lord;
He’ll sustain you when you call.
He will ever keep His word,
Never let the righteous fall.
23 But God, You will act always
to bring wicked ones their due;
They won’t live out half their days,
As for me, I trust in You.


Song 55 offers us the sad rehearsal for the garden of Gethsemane, the fated garden of betrayal.

Anyone who has experienced betrayal knows the pain of this song. It brings pure anguish, dread, overwhelming sadness, and, yes, anger. Song 55 is bitter medicine for the betrayed; yet it is pure gall for the traitor. The sentence for betraying one’s country is death, but the punishment for one who betrays a friend is far worse. It is suicide. Betrayal is an irreversible wound both because of the way it injures the one betrayed and for the sad way it destroys the betrayer. Adultery is a form of betrayal. While devastating for the one betrayed, it inflicts intractable pain on the adulterer. Betrayal is a form of adultery without the solace of another lover.

Get a picture in your mind of Judas Iscariot hanging from the tree, swinging back and forth like the pendulum of a clock that will never stop ticking. We hear it to the present day. The problem with Judas is not that he could not be forgiven and even reconciled. It is that he could not forgive himself.

I think this is the compassionate source of Jesus’ words to Judas, “Do what you have to do” (see John 13:27b), and of his prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV). The betrayer willfully wraps himself in the warrant of his difficult act. At the same time, he unwittingly wraps himself in an inescapable straitjacket of self-justification such that it ultimately destroys him.

The problem with Judas is he never got to see the tragic mercy of the cross. For at the same time the Betrayed One bore the wounds of betrayal, he also took on himself the wounds of the betrayer. The mystery of redemption is how the Betrayed One will offer up his own life for the sake of the betrayer, who took his own life.

This is perhaps the most difficult place of the cross. It is too deep to fathom. We can only behold.

It is time to practice the song now. Gethsemane is just around the corner.

Ask Yourself. Share with Another.

Are you ready to let go of your betrayers; to release them? Are you ready to forgive the debt they owe you, even if they never own up to it? Watch how Jesus does it. Follow him.

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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