For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil.
We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.
You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name for ever.
But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.
You have made us a reproach to our neighbours,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.
If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us for ever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust;(Ps. 44:1-26 NIV)
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.
The Psalm is clearly a Psalm of lament and the accusing tone that the Psalmist takes in the latter part of the Psalm is quite unnerving. Yet we need to remember that this is the Word of God so we need to be attentive and not allow our 21st century evangelical sensibilities to cause us to miss the lesson that the Holy Spirit is teaching.
The Psalm represents a time when God has rejected His people, and the hardships that have come upon them makes them reproached by the nations around them. There are five different sections to the Psalm:
- God’s past acts of salvation
- Confidence in God
- Suffering and shame
- Declaration of innocence
- Prayer for deliverance
The Psalmist recounts the past work of God with his fathers. Against all odds, the people of God took possession of the land. The warrior God fought for His people. Victory was accomplished by the hand of God. The people of God used their swords in battle, but if it had not been for the Lord they would have no victory. God planted the fathers in the land and they were made to flourish. The light of the Lord’s face was turned towards them and shone upon them, for God loved His people and demonstrated that love by the salvation that He secured for them. They were the object of God’s love and they enjoyed spiritual health as they flourished under God’s care.
The Psalmist expresses his confidence in God as he now considers the recent work of God in their lives. All the victories that they had enjoyed were again because of the Lord. They pushed the enemies back over the border because they have gone forward in the name of God. Sometimes success can cause a self confidence and we begin to think that perhaps we have special abilities to accomplish something, but the Psalmist continues to give God the glory. God is the great King who promises and decrees victory for His people. They continue to acknowledge that it was not by their weapons or military prowess they secured the victory, so they boast all day long, only in the Lord and they rejoice in His name forever.
After past and recent blessings, events begin to change, and they now suffer defeat after defeat and own a sense of shame. As God had caused the victory, so now God is the cause of their defeat. They are rejected and humbled by God. God no longer goes with them. Now they have to retreat before the enemy. The enemies of course are delighted, they are able to settle old scores from past defeats. The people of God are now plundered, devoured like sheep, scattered among the nations, sold for a pittance that offered no gain. They are mocked, scorned, and held in derision. The champion has fallen, no longer are there victory parades, no further celebrations; the people are reduced to a mere byword on the lips of those who shake their heads and revile the people of God.
“How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”(2 Sam. 1:27 NIV)
The reality of the present has shattered the memory of past victories. In fact, the memory of past victories is like a turn of the knife that has pierced their soul and added sorrow upon sorrow. Once they had known God’s blessing; how did it come to this, where did it all go wrong, why have we been bowed down so low? How can the God of our fathers abandon His children? That is the vexed dilemma of the Psalm.
The law of Moses made it clear what would happen when they were disobedient to the covenant (Deut 28:15-68).
However, the Psalmist remonstrates with the Lord that they are innocent. This all came upon them so suddenly. They had not forgotten God or broken His covenant. They did not turn their back on God, nor strayed from the path. Yet still the Lord crushed them and made their towns the dwelling place of scavengers. The Psalmist opens his heart and soul to the God who knows all things. If they had forgotten God or gone after false gods, then God would have seen this. You cannot hide anything from God. The Psalmist accepts that the Lord God is sovereign and acknowledges God’s right to do as He wills. They had not sinned, nor broken the covenant, yet God caused them to suffer, and so they accept the lot in life that God has given them. So for the sake of the Lord, which is His will so for the sake of the Lord they will face death all day long as they are treated as sheep to be slaughtered.
In the NT we are told that God would bring His people into suffering. Christian suffering is not always because of disobedience. Just as Christ suffered in this world so the church is called to suffering. Calvin’s comment on this Psalm is, ‘In order therefore that weariness, or dread of the cross, may not root up from our hearts true godliness, let us continually reflect upon this, that it behoves us to drink the cup which God puts into our hands, and that no one can be a Christian who does not dedicate himself to God.’
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Rom. 8:31-39 NIV)
The reason for the suffering finds no resolution in the Psalm. We don’t always receive the answer to those ‘Why Lord!’ questions. Job maintained his faith in God, though he suffered terribly.
…”Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”(Job 1:21 NIV)
The Psalmist doesn’t know why God is doing, or what He is attempting to achieve, he has to learn to trust that God is doing. Throughout the Psalm the Psalmist attributes victory and defeat to God. When suffering is at the hand of God, it is comforting to know that the extent and the time of the trouble is controlled by God. The Psalmist appeals for God to redeem them because of God’s unfailing love (hesed). As we saw with Naomi, though the Lord had made her life very bitter, she wanted to be no where else except firmly in the hand of the covenant God.
Lord we thank You for salvation, that You have forgiven our sins and brought us into Your family. We acknowledge Your right to rule in our lives whether that brings us victory or suffering. Help us in our weakness to trust in Your unfailing love, because nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Have mercy upon us O Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen