A Bruised Reed

A personal faith in a personal God will enable one to handle the pain of betrayal.

Psalm 55


In Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", Caesar's fellow senators conspired to assassinate him. They convinced Brutus, Caesar's trusted friend, to join them. Upon Caesar's return to Rome, the conspirators stabbed their knives into him. At Brutus knife thrust, Caesar uttered his famous last words: "Et tu Brute? (Then fall, Caesar!)" "You too Brutus?" In these few words, were the feelings of shock, pain, anguish and betrayal.

Have you ever felt the pain of being betrayed? How did it feel to be stabbed at the back by someone you thought was close to you? It hurts, doesn't it? What did you do in such moments?

This morning we will study Psalm 55 to see how David dealt with his pain of betrayal. One characteristic of this psalm is that the content is arranged in an alternating way. So the thoughts may not go in a certain sequence.

There are 66 books in the bible. It is said that in 65 of them, God speaks to us. But the book of Psalms speaks for us. It expresses for us our feelings of joy, sadness, anguish and pain. During the next few weeks, we will look at two more psalms.

Will you please turn with me to Psalms 55..

I. God's word affirms our painful emotions.

Let's look at some of David's emotions.

1. Internal pain vs1-5.

V2,"my thoughts trouble me and I am distraught", v4,"my heart is anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me", v5, "fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me." there is distraught, anguish, fear of death and horror, i.e. the feeling of insecurity. What a mixed bag of emotions. What inner turmoil he was undergoing. One can certainly feel for David.

2.External hostility 10-11

Sometimes when our internal world is tossed up and down, we'll try to go out and have a change in scenery. V9-11, "...for I see violence and strife in the city, day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it. Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets." For David, the outside world was not that friendly. It was rather hostile. So, where did he turn to?

3.Desire to escape 6-8,

"I said, 'Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.'" Here we see David wishing to just get away, go to a desert, away from such inner turmoil and external hostility. Go to a peaceful and quiet place.

These words of escape appeared for the first time here in the book of psalms. For David to express such a desire is a reflection of the intensity of his inner pain and confusion.

David's words must have expressed some of our own painful emotions. What a comfort to know that our pain is so eloquently, and without condemnation, being expressed through the mouth of David.

Our families maybe in trouble, like a never ending saga. We are getting older and don't have the energy to deal with them like we used to. Our pain may come from our feeling of being misunderstood or unaccepted by those who are important to us. There are also the broken dreams and promises. Some may be victims of physical, psychological and emotional abuse. The pain within us is beyond description. Our days are filled with tears and sighs. All that is left within is a shattered heart.

So we think of turning to the people around us. Seeking love, understanding and acceptance, but all we find is more misunderstanding and criticism. We feel like a bruised reed, candlelight about to go out. Oh, how we wish we had a pair of wings that we can just fly away from it all. Fly to a shelter with peace and quiet.

II. We recognize the source of our intense pain.

In verses 1-8 we learn about David's inner pain. Where did it come from? Who caused such pain in his life?

Vs12, "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him." David had many enemies. For example, while he was fleeing from Jerusalem, Shimei cursed him. But David said, if an enemy was betraying or insulting me, it's ok. This is what is expected of an enemy. We don't expect loyalty and faithfulness. But listen to his description of the one who betrayed him. Vs13, "but it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God." Please note the progression of such a description: an equal of his, a companion, a close friend, sweet fellowship (good communication), and worshipped together. A very close personal friend and with religious ties. This made David's hurt so painful. The closer a friend, the more pain we experience when we are hurt and betrayed.

You shared some deep personal secrets with a close friend and asked that he/she keep to himself, but one week later, others know about it.... Years ago you helped an organization both emotionally and financially, now they turned around and filed a lawsuit against you. Your colleague or the principal investigator took your data and published a paper without your name on it. You thought you had a relationship with that person, but found out that he had someone else in mind. Your spouse of many years betrayed you by seeing another person. A husband betrayed the wife's trust by abusing her. The father betrayed the children's trust by physically and sexually abusing them.

How painful this is. How hurting it is when someone who is so close to us betrays us.

In the Singing Brook, a newly published book of collection of poems, one poem reads, "Once they cherished each other; once they pledged their faithfulness. Now their dreams are shattered, broken vows are scattered with broken promises. Once they told each other "until death shall make us part", now their bond is fraying thin, suspicion fills each heart." It is like this bruised reed. It is very painful, isn't it?

III. We recognize that God is the ultimate revenger.

What do we do when we experience such intensity of pain? Usually there are three options:

First, take personal revenge. To fight wrong with wrong. The Chinese have a saying, "he who revenges not, is not a gentleman." As we read Qing Yung's novel, its one revenge after another. The book, "......" ends by leaving the reader in suspense. Should Hu Fei kill the person whom he thought killed his father. Should he revenge or not? From the biblical perspective, personal revenge is clearly forbidden. In Leviticus 19:18, "Do not seek revenge..."

Second, blaming it all on self. Its all my fault that he is treating me like this. If I only tried harder, if only I am nicer to him, then I would not have been betrayed. I must have done something wrong for him/her to do something like this. Not only do others hurt us; we are also hurting ourselves. We become double victims. We are prone to do this when we have a poor self-esteem.

Third, denying our feelings. No, I shouldn't feel such anguish, fear, terror and horror. Especially being a Christian I shouldn't feel this way. How about David?

What did he do when he found himself in such a desperate situation? Listen to these words. Vs 9, "Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech". This is a reference to how God confused men's speech at the tower of Babel. Vs15, "let death take my enemies by surprise, let them go down alive to the grave,..." This is a reference to the Korah family in Moses' days. Their entire family was destroyed because of their rebellion against Moses. Vs 23, "but you O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days." In Genesis, we learned that Abraham died at a good old age. So the opposite is death at half of his days. Do you notice what David was saying here? He was wishing destruction and sudden death on those who betrayed him. How cruel and venomous were his words. How can David, a man after God's heart spilled out such words.

But who was David talking to? He was talking to God. He was telling God how he wished God would destroy the one who betrayed him. You know what, here David reminded us that God is the ultimate revenger. In Deut 32:35, "It is mine to revenge; I will repay." Throughout the bible, we learn that God is the one who will bring about the final judgment. He is the righteous and fair judge.

In the book of Revelation, we read about the fall of Babylon. Babylon is a symbol of evil. And in the end, God is victorious over her.

When we experience the pain resulting from betrayal by someone close, its ok to express our painful feelings. Its even ok to tell God some of our ugly desires and wishes for the one who had hurt us so deeply. But at the same time, remember, God is the ultimate judge. In his own timing He will bring justice into our lives and this world.

IV. We cast our troubles to the Personal God.

Yes, we feel pain; we feel intense pain. We appeal to God, appealing for his final and ultimate justice. What else?

1. We come to God.

In the midst of his personal and inner pain, David came to God. In vs 1,2, "Listen to my prayer, O God......hear me and answer me...." He was pleading with God to listen to him, hear his prayers, answer his prayers. This God is different from other gods. We are not sure if other gods will listen, hear and answer. We only wish they would. But this God is different. Vs16,"But I call to God, and the Lord saves me", vs 17, "I cry out and he hears my distress", vs18, "he ransomed me unharmed...." This is personal faith in a personal God. So we too are to come to God in our moments of distress, when we feel like that bruised reed. He listens, hears and answers us.

2. We cast our cares on God.

Vs 22, "cast your cares on the Lord..." Cast means to throw out. When we were in Michigan two weeks ago, Sean was learning how to fish. He learned to cast a fishing line out. To throw it out into the lake. What do we cast? Our cares. Here it means our burdens, those unfair treatments. The betrayal by someone who is close to us has become a burden. Throw this to God. Why?

First, he will sustain us. You see, by ourselves, we are unable to stand. He will make sure that we will stand up. He will not let the righteous fall. And this is why David was able to write that beautiful psalm: the lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures,........." and then Peter in his old age, encourage the 1st century believers: cast your cares upon the lord.

Secondly, when we come to God, cast our cares upon him, we will begin to look at things differently. Remember at the beginning of this psalm how anguished and distraught David was? He focused on his own personal pains. But in v20, "my companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speck is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet the are drawn swords." David was able to look at his problem from a different perspective. Now he was able to look at the offender. He was a covenant breaker, a smooth talker, a hypocrite. He was the one who had a problem.

Isn't it true that sometimes in our painful experiences, we feel that we are the ones who are wrong. I think of a woman who had been married for 14 years. Her husband was a very controlling person. He would not allow her to have any friends. When she was sick, he would not let her see any doctors. Explaining that its all in her head. For a long time she thought she had a problem. Finally she decided to move away. She then came to know the lord. As she was experiencing physical and spiritual healing, she began to realize that he was the one who was sick, he had a problem.

When you feel you are betrayed, when you feel all those pain inside you, when you feel like a bruised reed, you need to come to the Lord. Cast your burdens onto him, and you will begin to see things differently. The person who betrayed you has a problem. Not you.

Thirdly, this passage is not only a description of David's pain resulting from the betrayal, but it is also pointing us to the future. You see, about 700 years later, Jesus came into the world. He had 12 disciples whom he spent much of his time with. They were his friend and companion. But three years later, he was betrayed by one of them, Judas, for 30 pieces of silver. One can imagine Jesus' disappointment, hurt and maybe even anguish. Someone who ate with him betrayed him. For this reason the author of Hebrews wrote, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (4:15-16). Jesus Christ knows those painful feelings of betrayal. He understands our hurts and anguish, for he had been there. This is the reason we can come to him, to receive mercy and grace to help us to go through those dark moments in life.


I trust that there are times in your lives when you too would say as Julius Caesar did, "Et tu Brute?" Someone close to you, a good friend and maybe even a brother/sister in Christ has betrayed you. This person violated your trust in him. You may have been betrayed by your spouse of many years. You are deeply hurt. The pain, anguish, disappointment is beyond description. Your heart is shattered; dreams broken and tears flow unceasingly. Sometimes your external world may not be all that friendly. People around you cannot understand you. You feel like a double victim. How you wish you could just fly away to a place of solitude. You feel like a bruised reed, just one more push and you will break; a flickering candle, just one more blow and you will distinguish.

But here is the good news. Come to God. He understands what you are going through. He knows of all those hurting and anguish emotions. He wants you to express them to him. He can take it. He wants you to know that he is that ultimate avenger. He will bring final justice into your life. He also invites you to cast all your burdens to him and trust him. For he will sustain you, give you the strength you need to move on. Yes, you can still insist on carrying your burdens, but how unnecessary it is. And you know what? He will not break the bruised reed, nor will he blow out the flickering light. Instead, he will sustain and renew you.

Rev. William Hsueh   July 23, 2000    Houston Chinese Church,  Houston, Texas