Throughout September 2022, I managed to read and reflect – briefly – on a Psalm each day. For December 2022, attempted to pick up the discipline. I got part-way through that month, and so after a long hiatus, am determined to get going. I’ll read the Psalm, pray, and then ponder a few questions:
- What is this Psalm about?
- What does this Psalm teach about God?
- How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I’ll close the post with a simple prayer, trying to draw the themes together.
On the 11th of September 2023, here’s Psalm 44:
1 We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
2 With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
3 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.
4 You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
6 I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.
9 But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.
13 You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
15 I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
17 All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
18 Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.
What is this Psalm about?
This fascinating Psalm opens with history – God’s people remembering things that God has done, mighty deeds, out of love. Verses 4-8 declare who God is, and who his people are in him. The bulk of the Psalm, though, records some history that is less joyful (v9-22), with God’s people humbled and rejected, yet not entirely sure why. In some ways, it is a Psalm of dogged faith in God. There is bemusement (20-22) about the why behind the present rejection/humiliation, yet the Psalm ends on a hopeful note, pleading with God (v23-26) to act, in contrast to how his people currently feel.
What does this Psalm teach about God?
Despite being a Psalm at least partially about the trials of God’s people, this Psalm has much to teach us about God: God is the God of ancestors, a warrior who won victories, and a God who loved his people (v3). God is King (v4), and worth boasting in. Yet this God is complex, too – God rejects and humbles his people (v9), and perhaps even appears fickle. God can appear to rest (v23), appearing distant and disinterested, yet behind this part of the Psalm is surely the awesome truth that God hears, and that God will ultimately act out of his ‘unfailing love’ (v26, echoing v3).
How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
An important resonance, I think, is twofold. Firstly, as God’s people today, we should remember and talk about all that God has done. Primarily this must be through reading, learning and learning from Scripture, but it is also perhaps secondarily sharing testimonies of God’s provision, faithfulness and power. Secondly, in our crying out to God for aid – perhaps amidst frustration, persecution and pain – we are reminded that God does hear and act, and also that we join a long line of suffering siblings, God’s people have often been under the cosh. In that there is a challenge to see God’s hand at work even in the worst of circumstances – holding together the truths that God is loving and good, and that God is the crusher and the rejector. A complex Psalm, with a bit of Christological potential too, but one that can speak honestly to God’s people today.
A prayer drawn from Psalm 44
Lord, help us to remember that we are not you, and you are not us, and that you rescue us because of your unfailing love. Help us to see your hand in history – even in the strange days we find ourselves in. Help us to boast only in you, Amen.