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Psalm 41 Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. 2 The Lord protects and preserves them— they are counted among the blessed in the land— he does not give them over to the desire of their foes. 3 The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness. 4 I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord; heal me, for I have sinned against you.” 5 My enemies say of me in malice, “When will he die and his name perish?” 6 When one of them comes to see me, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it around. 7 All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, 8 “A vile disease has afflicted him; he will never get up from the place where he lies.” 9 Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me. 10 But may you have mercy on me, Lord; raise me up, that I may repay them. 11 I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. 12 Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever. 13 Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.
I should warn you. In my humble opinion, there’s no version of this psalm on Apple Music worth listening to. Psalm 91 has gorgeous versions all over the place. Psalm 42 does too. But Psalm 41? Well – there are versions, but I’m not sure I’d recommend them. Maybe you’d like them if you’ve got different musical sensibilities than mine (totally fine if you do!). There’s an odd reggae version of the psalm, a very angry hard rock version, and then one with what I can only describe as elevator music playing behind it. I really should’ve known better. I can’t imagine a rousing rendition of this psalm by Kari Job or Chris Tomlin thrilling the masses with a message that says, “Even my bestie decided to crush my soul and sell me out.” That doesn’t really sound like something you’d sing to a sold out crowd of Christians especially since we have so much joy to sing about in the gospel. But that doesn’t mean this psalm doesn’t resonate.
It does, but maybe not in the way you might expect. This psalm really isn’t about what it feels like to have a Benedict Arnold in your life or the one muttering that famous Shakespearean line, “Et tu, Brute.” This psalm just isn’t about what it’s like to be unjustly betrayed by someone you love. It’s in there, but it’s not what it’s about. You know what it’s about? It’s a prayer begging, “Please don’t give me what I deserve.” And, no, I’m not just shoving aside the opening lines of this psalm. Admittedly, there is a world where happy and blessed people, “regard the weak; The Lord delivers them in times of trouble.” (v. 1) Admittedly, there is a realm where the Lord doesn’t let a person’s foes have them; “where he sustains them on their sickbed” (v. 3) Admittedly, there is a place where all around deserving, wonderful, and never betraying people live under a protective cover from the Lord – a cover so complete that it makes Allstate commercials look downright pathetic.
It’s just that that’s not who I am or what I deserve. David didn’t think it was him either. He outed himself before the whole world on that exact point. You know what he said? After all of that protective talk, he said, “As for me, I say, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord… I have sinned against you.’” (v. 4) Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying, “There may be people deserving of the Lord’s protection, but I’m not one of them. I’m a different case. Whatever hurts come my way are my just desserts. Lord, only your mercy will stop me from getting what’s mine in terms of hurt. Lord, you’re going to have to give me grace.” It’s really stunning stuff. Especially when David tells you what his just desserts were. David’s enemies had calendar count downs going saying, “When will he die?” (v. 5) David said he even had sick bed visitors coming by who were there just to dig up dirt on him. It was bad. It was so bad that all his enemies were muttering and whispering and hoping together that “He will never get up from the place where he lies.” (v. 8)
But the killer? The real killer? David’s most painful realization was that he had gained a new enemy: a close friend. In other words, it wasn’t just his old enemies who were the ones out to get him. His newest enemy was one who had been his friend. And not just any old friend either. It was, “Even my close friend, someone I trusted.” (v. 9) And as if that weren’t bad enough it was a friend with whom he had probably clinked beer mugs or torn into a nice piece of lamb. It was someone with whom he had history and memories – someone “who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” (v. 9) That was the real killer. That was most painful burr in his soul. It was the knife in his back. That knife cut so deeply that it was his last and most pained cry in the psalm. Sure, you’ve got all the mutterings and whisperings of his enemies and detractors that pained him, but the worst one and the final one he mentioned was realizing that his friend had betrayed him – that he now had a knife in his back and his friend was twisting it. Or to use David’s metaphor, his friend had raised his heel to stomp.
But you know what’s amazing? David didn’t carry a chip on his shoulder over this. Not even a small one. In fact, there’s no anger about the betrayal anywhere to be seen. None. In fact, if you read this psalm closely you can’t find a bone in David’s body that’s complaining about it at all. He’s definitely sad. He’s definitely stung, but he isn’t angry. Think about that. Here is David sold-out and betrayed and with the knife still in his back saying to God, “I’m the sinner here. I totally deserve this.” Do you see what David thought of himself? He didn’t think he was the betrayed. He thought he was he was the betrayer. He didn’t think he was the most wronged person. He thought he was the one who had wronged others. That’s so key to understanding this psalm. That’s its beating heart. That’s its lasting truth. There’s no David here encouraging us to complain about the, “Et tu, Brute,” moments we’ve endured. There’s only a David here with a knife still in his back admitting, “I totally deserve this.”
You know who taught him that? God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit had planted the great truth in David’s heart that he was a convicted betrayer. And not just any convict either, he believed he was the biggest betrayer in his own life. That’s why he didn’t complain about the injustice of what happened. He had been taught he was the worst one. The Spirit had helped him see that the rape that had happened on his watch and that he had done nothing about had alienated his son, Absalom, and led to his uprising. And that was on David. And, frankly, probably the only reason why the rapist, Amnon, felt comfortable to rape was that his daddy David had predatory sexual practices of his own. And do you know why Ahithophel, the friend that David was probably talking about in this psalm, went and followed Absalom in his uprising? There’s pretty good evidence that Bathsheba, the lady that David had violated and whose husband he had murdered, was Ahithophel’s granddaughter. David didn’t write this psalm angrily or with a chip on his shoulder because he believed the Spirit’s truth. He was the worst betrayer in his own life.
That’s important to understand. There’s just no way this psalm will mean anything to us unless we think the, “I,” that the Spirit put in, “As for me, I say, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord,” (v. 4) means me. That I’m the one who needs mercy from getting my just desserts. That I’m the one who needs grace for the betrayals I’ve been a part of – large or small. That maybe just maybe I wasn’t the greatest listener to that friend who’s since checked out on me. That maybe just maybe my marriage isn’t what I want it to be because I tacitly betray my husband every time I try to remake him in my own image. That maybe just maybe that text about me went around school or work because I’ve done it to others too. That’s what this psalm is about. It’s about believing that the “I” in the psalm is me too. That I’ve hurt people close to me too. That sometimes when I’ve been hurt it’s because I’ve hurt first. That not every heel that tries to stomp on me comes out of nowhere. That’s part of what this psalm is teaching. This psalm teaches me that I’m the one who needs mercy and grace not only from close people I’ve hurt in my life, but especially from the God who put them closest to me.
I think that’s why Jesus quoted this psalm. And he did quote it. I don’t think it’s because he was saying to himself and us, “And so the world turns. It’s just another betrayal just like my father had happen to him and his father had happen to him and so and so forth all the way back to David here in Psalm 41.” I really don’t think that’s what Jesus was saying. I think it’s bigger than that. You know why Jesus quoted this psalm and made sure we knew he was fulfilling it? I think he wanted us to know that he was the answer to its prayer. Because finally that’s what this psalm is. It’s a prayer for grace that a betraying person not get totally betrayed himself. That there be mercy for people who hurt people close to them. I think THAT is why this Psalm was on Jesus’ mind. He was telling us that he’s the answer to that prayer. And how could we miss that? There he was with the ultimate betrayer. Make no mistake. That’s who Judas was. He was the arch betrayer. The perfect one. The ultimate Benedict Arnold if you want to call him that. There he was with Judas, his friend, breaking bread and as they did Jesus got up and washed the heel of a friend who was about to use that same heel to walk off and sell him out.
Think about that. Jesus literally picked up the heel that was about to walk off to sell him out and Jesus washed it. And after he did he sat back down and quoted this Psalm saying, “He who shared my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” (John 13:18) Sort of. Did you catch that Jesus actually dropped the front half of the verse? David had said, “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” (v. 9) Do you see the part Jesus dropped? Judas was never someone Jesus trusted. Jesus was never ignorant of what he was or what he would do. Jesus knew Judas, and he still loved him. And he still washed his feet. And he still served him. And he still bled for him. That’s the grace here that Jesus wants us trusting. Understand that. This wasn’t about Jesus fulfilling some meaningless prophecy of betrayal. This was about Jesus showing us that he came to give grace to betrayers and mercy to those who have hurt those closest to them. This was about Jesus answering David’s prayer that the Lord not give him what he deserves. And there he was. The answer to David’s prayer. Ours too. Jesus quoted Psalm 41 to show that he was willingly betrayed so he could wash our betrayals away. Both big and small ones.
I hope you thrill to that. I hope you just revel in what David could only look toward and yearn for and ask for. Jesus is the answer to our prayers for mercy for our betrayals and grace for the times we’ve hurt those closest to us. We’re saved. We’re forgiven. Or to picture it as Jesus did, the heels of those who have kicked others close to them have been washed. That’s why after washing their feet he announced to all of his believing disciples, “You are clean.” (John 13:10) And no he wasn’t really talking about the foot washing that they had all just gotten. He was talking about everything that they were because of him. He was talking about the guilt that was now nowhere to be seen. It had been washed. He was talking about their record of being convicted betrayers that had now been expunged. And that grace wasn’t just for them. Jesus was making that statement so that we’d understand not only that David’s prayer had been answered, but also to make us thrill that ours is too. Jesus is here letting us know that we are all snowy white and squeaky clean in exactly the same way.
And that changes everything. At least, it did for David. You know what he prayed? He prayed, “Raise me up, that I may shalom them.” (v. 10) Maybe you caught in there that I put in one word of my own translation to help you see what David was saying. He wanted shalom between him and his betrayers. That’s actually the Hebrew word for peace or wholeness. He wanted his relationships put back together again. He wanted to let the knife in his back clatter to the ground so he could call for a round of hugs for the whole house. That’s what he wanted. And that’s how it works. You can’t be a guy with a chip on your shoulder over the betrayals in your life. It’s just not possible when you’re the one who’s been forgiven the most. You’re the guy who tries to grab a coffee with that guy. You can’t be the lady consumed with bitterness for that friend who checked out on you. It’s just not possible when of the two you’re the one whose had more of her record expunged. You’re the one who tries to re-friend her on Facebook. You’re the one who has been given so much grace in Jesus that it overflows from you to those who have betrayed you. You just get to shalom them as you’ve been yourself shalomed.
And you know what that leaves? Shalom. And peace. And wholeness. That’s just how it was for David. He didn’t want to take out Absalom. He grieved Absalom. He didn’t want Ahithophel’s scalp. No doubt, he wanted to give Ahithophel the grace that he had himself received. And he sang about that in this psalm. I’m sure glad he did. It’s too bad there’s no version of it that I like on Apple Music. But that’s really beside the point. What’s more important is that the Spirit made its notes of truth sing their own kind of melody in our hearts. What’s more important is that we got to discover that even people like us with our “Et tu, Brute,” or Benedict Arnold tendencies get their heels washed. What’s more important is to learn that Jesus came as the answer to a prayer to do just that. David was right to trust it would be. And he did trust. I think that’s why he gloried even with the knife still in his back. He trusted that his prayer would bring his overwhelming grace. So he gloried trusting that the Lord would shalom him and wash him better than he could ever imagine. He gloried big time. So big time that – fun fact! – he pulled out the very rare and exotic double amen to close out the psalm. I’m with him on that. Jesus totally deserves it. “Amen and Amen.” (v. 13)