The Effects of Hostility and Betrayal upon the Mind and Body

Last week, I spent several days in Psalms 3-7 as part of my study through Alec Motyer’s devotional translation of the Hebrew songbook we know as the book of Psalms. Whether or not all agree that Psalms 3-7 belong to the time of Absalom’s betrayal of King David and attempt at a hostile takeover, Motyer contends, “What cannot be denied is that they all arise from a time (or times) of hostility. The comparatively buoyant spirit of Psalms 3 and 4 becomes a much sharper sense of enmity in Psalm 5, with a clearer awareness of the wickedness which David was facing. Next comes the ‘terror’ [of Psalm 6]…and the solemn sense of divine judgment—and eternal judgment—which pre-occupies Psalm 7.”

Psalm 6, which Motyer entitles “Deep Danger, Great Deliverance,” is incredibly descriptive in its inspired portrayal of the effects of betrayal and hostility on the mind and body of David, as well as the blessings that this kind of suffering brought to his faith. As we counsel others—and even ourselves—in times of relational hostility, we may draw strength from this radically honest portion of God’s Word.

Results of Betrayal

Take note of what you see when looking through this window into David’s heart and soul and, in particular, how his trial affected his mind and body.

  • Lack of assurance/loss of confidence (6:1). “Yahweh, let it not be in your exasperation that you reprove me, and let it not be in your rage that you discipline me.” David is assured by God’s discipline (in the Hebrews 12 sense), but at the same time the shock and pain of the hostility against him tested the most foundational elements of his confidence.
  • Physical exhaustion and mental/emotional terror (6:2-3). “Grant me your grace, Yahweh, because I am withering away. Heal me, Yahweh, because my bones are terrified, and my soul itself is exceedingly terrified.” David is near the end of himself; he has every reason to believe this trial will take his life. Motyer comments on these verses: “The ‘bones’ stand for the physical ‘frame’ in its stability and resilience. The stress and pressure of David’s situation is such that he felt even his body could not take any more. ‘Soul’ brings us into the realm of feeling; David’s mind and emotions, his life itself are all under dire threat.” Relentless attacks resulted in a very real struggle with severe panic.
  • Mental and physical stress (6:4-5). “Oh do return, Yahweh! Oh do set my soul free! Save me, because of your committed love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who gives you thanks?” Motyer comments: “David feels that he cannot stand continuance of his present trouble. Life itself is at risk.” David truly believed that he would not survive the attacks.
  • Endless grief and weariness (6:6). “I am weary through my groaning; all night I flood my bed—my couch with my tears I dissolve.” Hostility and betrayal bring on a form of loss that is indescribable, and leads to a grief that is deeper than even death.
  • Loss of faith’s focus (6:7). “Through my vexation my eyesight fails—grows old through all my adversaries.” Betrayal has a way of attacking the eyes of our faith, blinding us from God’s help and deliverance and, thus, magnifying the presence and power of one’s enemies. Despair often follows.

However, God has a way of redeeming hostility and betrayal in order to change us on the inside, thus making us more dependent, effective servants of Him.

Blessings of Betrayal

Though the negative impact of betrayal upon one’s mind and body—and even one’s faith—should never be understated, there is a manner in which God brings about good through it all. Here are just two good fruits of betrayal:

  • Running to God in prayer (6:8-9). David is able to say with confidence: “Get away from me, all you trouble-makers, because Yahweh has heard the voice of my weeping. Yahweh as heard my plea for grace. Yahweh himself accepts my prayer.” When your friends swiftly become your enemies, when their loyalty is manifested as cheap, convenient, and false; you run to God as you have rarely done previously. As a result, a crucial discipline of the faith is further strengthened and established and you are forever changed.
  • Entrusting yourself to God who judges righteously (6:10). “All my enemies will reap shame and be terrified, turn back, reap shame—suddenly!” David was able to entrust himself to God and resist fighting back because he knew that God will get the last word, eventually. In doing so, his confidence was a picture of the Savior and King, the Lord Jesus Christ who, while being reviled, did not revile in return but entrusted Himself to him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23). Entrusting himself to God as the ultimate Judge helped Jesus to resist the temptation to strike back at His attackers.

Sadly, hostility and betrayal are part of the human experience and even the Christian life. Hardly a week goes by that God does not have me minister to someone who is experiencing this kind of pain in some form. But I can say, for myself, that experiencing hostility and betrayal in the past has changed me. It has made me a different, more compassionate pastor (I hope); and more effective counselor (I think), as does the continued study of the most honest book in the Bible—the book of Psalms.

When was the last time you lived and breathed the Psalms? No matter what kind of suffering is on your current path to a stronger, purer faith, run to God. Listen to Him in the Psalms. And pour your heart out to Him in honest, seeking prayer. He will answer. He will comfort. He will feed your soul. He will cause you to hope in Him alone.

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