Open your Bibles to Psalm 44. The 44th Psalm for this Psalm 44 message...
I accidentally skipped this psalm last time and went to Psalm 45. So, we’ll circle back and cover this psalm now.
Psalm 44 is a lament psalm. And in it, we’ll see the psalmist:
1. Remembering that God performed mighty deeds in the past for his people
2. Desiring God to perform mighty deeds now
3. Lamenting God’s recent chastening of his people
4. Appealing to God that his chastening is not a result of their sin
5. And then calling on God to again engage in his mighty deeds on their behalf
So, that’s a summary of the flow of this psalm.
Now, let’s begin with the superscription of Psalm 44.
KJV Psalm 44:1 <To the [chief Musician/choir director/music director]
[for/of] the sons of Korah,
And I have a few facts from this superscription that I think you might find interesting.
First, this is one of 55 psalms that are addressed to this “Chief Musician.” Additionally, Habakkuk 3:19 also references the man who held this position. And so, this “Chief Musician” must be a position rather than a single individual, since he’s referenced through quite a long span of time.
Second, since we’re considering statistics, this psalm is one of 11 psalms that are “to the sons of Korah.”
Third and last – this psalm is one of 13 psalms that – at the beginning of the psalm – tell you that it is a “Maschil” or perhaps a well-written song.
Remembering that God performed mighty deeds in the past
So, moving on from the superscription of this psalm, we’ll now see the psalmist remembering that God performed mighty deeds for his people in the past in verses 1-3.
We have heard with our ears, O God,
our fathers have told us,
Well, what have they heard and what had their fathers told them?
what work thou didst in their days,
in the times of old.
And yet, God’s done a lot of work over the ages. Is there a particular work that they’re thinking of? Yes…
2 How thou didst drive out the [heathen/nations] with thy hand,
and plantedst [them/our fathers];
how thou didst [afflict/crush] the people,
and cast them out.
And so, what event is the psalmist hearkening back to here? That would be when God brought Israel into the Promised Land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.
And when God did that for Israel, there was a good deal of fighting involved. And yet, the psalmist confesses that the strength of Israel wasn’t what got them the land. Rather, God’s power did that for them.
3 For they got not the land in possession by their own sword,
neither did [their own arm save them/they prevail by their strength]:
but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance [i.e., saved them…],
because thou [hadst a favour/were partial] unto them.
So, God performed these mighty deeds in ancient times for Israel – not because they were great – but because he favored them.
And that’s the case for Christians – for this church. The only way we will prevail on a spiritual level is if God decides to favor us. And any success we have won’t be by our own devices – but by his strength at work in us.
Desiring God to perform mighty deeds now
And as is so often the case, a reminder of God’s past mighty deeds grows in us a greater desire to see him perform those kinds of deeds in our own lifetime.
And so, that’s what the psalmist does next. In verses 4-8 he expressed a desire for God to perform mighty deeds right now in his lifetime.
4 Thou art my King, O God[:/!]
[command/decree] [deliverances/victories] for Jacob[./!]
And if God commands deliverances for his people, this is what will happen.
5 Through [the power of…] thee will we [push/drive] [down/back] our [enemies/adversaries]:
through thy [name/strength] will we [tread them under/trample down those] that rise up against us.
And that might sound like the psalmist is proudly boasting of his own strength and the strength of God’s people. But that’s not at all what he’s wanting to communicate. Because he knows that any victory that God’s present-day people have will come about just the same way that God’s people of old experienced victory – by God’s strength.
6 For I [will/do] not trust in my bow,
neither shall my sword save me.
7 But [i.e., rather than saving myself…] thou [hast saved/deliver/will deliver] us from our enemies,
and [hast/will] [put them to shame/humiliated them] that hated us.
And therefore – because the psalmist is expecting God to grant deliverance from enemies and give success…
8 In God [we/I] boast all the day long,
and [praise/we will thank] thy name [for ever/continually].
And so, when we go to prayer, we can remember the way that God has worked with his people in times past – both in our church and more broadly wherever he’s given success to his people on the earth.
And at the same time – we can beg him to work the same kind of awesome deeds that he’s proven he can do in times past.
Lamenting God’s recent chastening
And yet, the desire of the psalmist for God to perform mighty deeds in his time like he did in the old days faces one serious obstacle. It’s the fact that God has been chastening the psalmist and his people according to verses 9-16.
9 [But/Yet] thou hast [cast off/rejected], and [put us to shame/brought us to dishonor/embarrassed us];
and goest not forth [into battle…] with our armies.
So, it used to be that the Lord would go with Israel as they conquered the land of Canaan. But at this point in the psalmist’s life that has stopped happening in Israel.
10 Thou makest us [to turn back/retreat] from the [enemy/adversary]:
and they which hate us [spoil/have taken spoil/take whatever they want] for themselves.
11 Thou hast [given/handed over] us like sheep [appointed for meat/to be eaten];
and hast scattered us among the [heathen/nations].
And with that statement being made, you wonder if perhaps this psalm was written during the Babylonian exile when Israel was scattered among the heathen.
And yet, since the psalmist has mentioned the presence of “armies” of Israel – the setting of this psalm probably is not the Babylonian exile since Israel wouldn’t have had armies at that point.
So, this psalm must have occurred sometime before the exile to Babylon – and of course sometime after the conquering of Canaan.
It could have happened under the reign of just about any of the wicked kings of either northern Israel or southern Judah – when God would have been displeased with his people and allowed enemies to come in and take things and people captive.
And yet, what we’ll see later in this psalm indicates that the people weren’t being scattered and chastened for their own sin. So, it’s quite difficult to pinpoint the background to this psalm. And were not the only ones to struggle on that point – Charles Spurgeon and Matthew Henry also don’t really know the setting of the psalm.
So, we’ll proceed.
Now, when a person attempts to get rid of something valuable, he’ll usually try to get top dollar for that thing.
And yet, the psalmist goes on to declare that God gave away his people for nothing.
12 Thou [sellest/sold] thy people [for nought/cheaply/for a pittance],
and dost not increase thy wealth by their price. [You haven’t profited by their sale…]
And so, as a result of God’s giving away his people to their enemies, those very enemies – and, really, anyone who saw what was happening to Israel – were shocked at what God was allowing to happen to them – his own covenant people!
13 Thou makest us [a reproach/an object of disdain] to our neighbours,
a [scorn/scoffing/taunt] and [a derision/insult] to them [they do these things to us…] that [are round about us/live on our borders].
14 Thou makest us [a byword/an object of ridicule] among the [heathen/nations],
a [shaking of the head/laughingstock] among [the people/foreigners]. [i.e., they treat us with contempt…]
And so, as a result of God’s granting defeat after defeat to his people and giving his people over to their enemies, the psalmist is in emotional turmoil.
15 My [confusion/dishonor] is [continually/all day long] before me,
and [the shame of my face/my humiliation] hath [covered/overwhelmed] me,
16 [For/Because of/Before] the voice of him that [reproacheth/ridicules] and [blasphemeth/reviles/insults];
by reason of [i.e., the presence of…] the [enemy and avenger/vindictive enemy].
So, the psalmist has remembered God’s mighty deeds of old.
He has expressed his strong desire for blessings along the lines of what God’s people formerly have enjoyed.
And yet, we just saw the psalmist lament the fact that God has done just the opposite in his case. In the psalmist’s lifetime, God has not delivered his people from their enemies. He’s delivered his people to their enemies!
And that’s why it seems like God isn’t with them anymore. They experience defeat after defeat. Life is hard for them.
And I want to ask – have you experienced something similar to what this psalmist experienced?
Has your family recently in one way or another fallen on hard times – even though in past times God has been gracious to you?
What about your church? How has it been going for us? A little rough, I’d say. And that’s of course an understatement. We’ve had quite a bit of discouragement and defeat over the years.
Or maybe you’re associated in whatever ways with other ministries that have seen God’s rich blessings in times past – but now – despite your great desire for things to be different – those ministries are struggling.
So, I think we all know something of what this psalmist is struggling with.
Appealing to God that his chastening is not a result of sin
And I think that when we express concerns like this about our family or our church or whatever other ministries we’re involved with – that they’re struggling in numerous ways – I think that the immediate reaction of others to this news is something like the response of Job’s three friends to the suffering Job.
That is, Oh! I know why you’re struggling! It’s because of some sin issue or some deficiency on your part or your pastor’s part or the part of your ministry leader or whatever! Looking to place the blame on someone for the apparent withdrawal of blessings from the Lord.
And yet, we’re going to see the psalmist categorically deny that the chastening that God is bringing on his people has anything to do with sin.
And so, in verses 17-22, the psalmist appeals to God that the chastening they’re experiencing is not a result of national or personal sin.
17 All this [is come upon/has happened to] us; [yet/even though] have we not [forgotten/rejected] thee,
neither have we [dealt falsely in/violated] thy covenant [i.e., with us…].
And this verse is one more big reason why I think this psalm was not set during the Babylonian exile. Why? Because the people were in exile in Babylon precisely because of their forgetting God and dealing falsely in his covenant.
So, they’re being chastened without a doubt. And yet – equally undoubted is that – this chastening is not a punishment for sin.
And so, the psalmist continues…
18 Our heart is not turned back, [i.e., we have not been unfaithful…]
neither have our steps [declined/deviated] from thy way; [i.e., not have we disobeyed your commands…]
And so, the actions of the Lord in handing his people over to defeat and not going with their armies and giving them over to their enemies is simply rather unexpected in light of these things not being the result of sin.
19 [Though/Yet] thou hast [sore broken/crushed/battered] us [i.e., leaving us…] in [the/a] place of [dragons/jackals/wild dogs],
and covered us with [the shadow of death/darkness].
And so, the psalmist continues by declaring that if they were guilty of sin then God would make that known.
20 If we [have/had] [forgotten the name of/rejected] our God,
or stretched out our hands [i.e., in prayer…] to [a strange/another] god;
21 [Shall/Would] not God [search this out/find this out/discover it]?
for he knoweth [the secrets of the heart/one’s thoughts].
In other words, God knows everything. And he would know if the people were sinning to the extent that he had to punish them. And yet, that’s not the case here and God knows it. That’s what the psalmist is maintaining.
Well… then… why are God’s people experiencing defeat at the hands of their enemies? This is crucial. Verse 22.
22 [Yea/But/Yet], [for thy sake/because of you] are we killed all the day long;
we are [counted/considered/treated] as sheep [for the slaughter/to be slaughtered/at the slaughtering block].
So, there it is, folks. Did you know that there’s another possibility as to why a family or a church or another type of ministry is experiencing defeat – rather than the pat answer that sin is involved?
Why the defeat? It’s for the Lord’s sake. It’s because of the Lord.
And just like Job and just like this psalmist, we ultimately don’t know why. Why the defeat? We have no clue – except that it’s for the Lord’s sake. He has plans beyond what we can fathom. His ways are higher than ours.
And this is on the mind of the apostle Paul when in Romans 8 he speaks of the worrying and dangerous and deadly things that we might tend to think will threaten to separate us from the love of God.
Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine (not enough to eat), nakedness (not enough to wear), peril, sword. And then Paul points to this passage as a reference. As if to say – do you remember Psalm 44 and how it talks about godly people suffering – but not for their sin???
And then Paul consoles us that we are more than conquerors in all these things through the one who loved us. And you know what? The one who loves us is the one who brings these things on us – persecution, distress, etc. He loves us. And when he sends these things to us, it’s not because he hates us. It’s not even necessarily chastening for sin. It’s all for his sake.
And so, Paul ends Romans 8 with an air of confidence that nothing – none of these things mentioned – will ever separate us from God’s love in Christ.
So, I have a few questions for us.
Has our church gone through hard times? Yes.
Can I or anyone else promise that the hard times are over? Will getting a new pastor – for example – magically end the hard times for our assembly? No.
Should we be at all surprised if harder times actually come? No.
If harder times come, does that mean that we’re separated from God? … No! It doesn’t even necessarily mean that he’s chastening us for sins. All it means is that God has a plan. And he’s enacting that plan for his sake in a way that only he fully understands.
And when it comes down to it, his plans that he works through our sufferings are – in his mind – just a glorious as his mighty deeds of delivering his people. God’s causing us to experience defeat is just as much in his plan as is his giving success in times past.
Whatever God does is right. He is always good.
Calling on God to renew his mighty deeds
And yet – even though we can trust that God’s ways are right and higher than ours – even when they include serious defeats and setbacks – we’re still encouraged to call on God to renew his mighty deeds of old – just like the psalmist does in verses 23-26 to end this psalm.
23 [Awake/Arouse yourself!], why sleepest thou, O Lord?
[arise/Awake/Wake up!], [cast us not off/do not reject us] for ever.
24 Wherefore [hidest thou thy face/do you look the other way],
and [forgettest/ignore] our affliction and our oppression? [i.e., how others are treating us…]
And we need to recognize that the psalmist is expressing the way he feels – not the literal reality of the situation.
What do I mean by that?
Well, does God sleep? No, he doesn’t. He slumbers not, nor sleeps.
Does God reject or cast off his people? No. He will never leave nor forsake us.
Does God hide his face? Does he forget his people’s affliction? No, not in reality.
And yet, this is exactly how the psalmist feels. He feels as though God is asleep – after all, he’s not listening to their cries for help!
He feels like God has rejected them – like God is playing a frustrating game where he hides his face from his people – like God might know what’s troubling his people, but unfortunately he doesn’t really care and so he just ignores them.
And isn’t God glorious for putting up with this kind of talk about himself? He demonstrates his awesome strength by allowing his weak people to probe that strength of his. To question it. To see if it’s really there – like they suspect that it is.
And yet, in the end, we all know – even the psalmist – that God’s power is awesome. I mean, the psalmist began this psalm magnifying what he knows that God did in the past and what he can do even now.
So, the psalmist doesn’t even really personally believe in what he just implied about God. But he’s communicating how he feels about his situation. And God graciously allowed for him to do that.
Because God is very patient with us very weak people. And that weakness is what the psalmist portrays in verse 25.
25 For our soul [is bowed/has sunk] down to the dust: [i.e., we lie in the dirt…]
our belly [cleaveth/pressed] unto the [earth/ground].
So, when it comes down to it, it’s God’s people – not God himself – who is in a position of weakness and neediness.
And so, the psalmist makes one final plea for God to graciously help them according to his mighty power.
26 [Arise/Rise up] [for/be] our help, [i.e., help us!...]
and [redeem/rescue] us [for/because of] thy [mercies' sake/lovingkindness/loyal love].
So, the psalmist is asking for military victory for Israel here.
But for us in the church, we can identify with being redeemed for the sake of God’s loyal covenant love. And every single one of us who has put our trust in Jesus Christ has been redeemed. Why? Not for our own goodness – but for the sake of God’s mercy – his lovingkindness – his chesed.
And therefore – that being the case – to return to earlier thoughts – what can separate us from the love of God? Not even being treated as a sheep for slaughter. We overwhelmingly conquer through him who loves us.
And so, as we go to prayer – even if we’re experiencing a sense of God-forsakenness – let’s remember that we are not forsaken. God is not done with us yet. He might allow us to be treated like sheep in the line to be slaughtered. And yet, he is still with us working in and among us for his sake.
Let’s call on him to again do wonders among us. And let’s rest in the fact that nothing can separate us from his love in Christ Jesus.