Psalm 44 -

God’s People Under Heavy Trial - II

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil.

1We have heard with our ears, O God;

our fathers have told us what You did

in their days, in days long ago.

2With Your hand You drove out the nations

and planted our fathers;

You crushed the peoples

and made our fathers flourish.

3It 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.

4You are my King and my God,

who decrees victories for Jacob.

5Through You we push back our enemies;

through Your name we trample our foes.

6I do not trust in my bow,

my sword does not bring me victory;

7But You give us victory over our enemies,

You put our adversaries to shame.

8In God we make our boast all day long,

and we will praise Your name forever. Selah

9But now You have rejected and humbled us;

You no longer go out with our armies.

10You made us retreat before the enemy,

and our adversaries have plundered us.

11You gave us up to be devoured like sheep

and have scattered us among the nations.

12You sold Your people for a pittance,

gaining nothing from their sale.

13You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,

the scorn and derision of those around us.

14You have made us a byword among the nations;

the peoples shake their heads at us.

15My disgrace is before me all day long,

and my face is covered with shame

16At the taunts of those

who reproach and revile me,

because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

17All this happened to us,

though we had not forgotten You

or been false to Your covenant.

18Our hearts had not turned back;

our feet had not strayed from Your path.

19But You crushed us

and made us a haunt for jackals

and covered us over with deep darkness.

20If we had forgotten the name of our God

or spread out our hands to a foreign god,

21Would not God have discovered it,

since He knows the secrets of the heart?

22Yet for Your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

23Awake, O Lord! Why do You sleep?

Rouse Yourself! Do not reject us forever.

24Why do You hide Your face

and forget our misery and oppression?

25We are brought down to the dust;

our bodies cling to the ground.

26Rise up and help us;

redeem us because of Your unfailing love.

 

(The study of this psalm was begun in the previous issue, and is continued here.)

As noted in the previous issue, after verse 8, the tone of this psalm changes dramatically. The first eight verses speak of God’s favorable intervention on behalf of His people. In fact, in verse 8, the Psalmist says confidently: "In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise Your name forever." However, beginning in the very next verse, the Psalmist’s confidence in God seems to have evaporated away. He laments: "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" (vss. 9-12).

Note first that, throughout the rest of the Psalm, the Psalmist ascribes the trials he is experiencing to the hand of God. He does not blame his enemies; he does not blame the accidents of blind fate; he blames God for his troubles. He says over and over in the rest of the Psalm (addressing himself to God): "You have… You have… You have…" And make no mistake: God is sovereign. He has control over everything that happens to us: the good and the bad. "Whatsoever calamity cometh upon us, howsoever, and for whatsoever cause, we may safely take God for the worker of all our woe; albeit the meritorious cause be in ourselves, the inflicting of the calamity is of the Lord; for there is no trouble in the city which the Lord will not avow Himself to be the inflicter of; for here the prophet puts all upon God: ‘thou hast done it’, five or six times" [Dickson, 248]. But since God does have control over our afflictions, He certainly can rid us of them. Underlying the petitions in this psalm is the faith of the Psalmist that God has the power to right the situation, should He choose to do so.

Now, one might ask, "Why does God allow us to suffer?" The easiest answer to this is to ask back the following question to those who are parents: "Why, parents, do you allow your children to suffer?" From the child’s point of view, he suffers many things at the hands of his parents: the pain of discipline, the discomfort of medicinal treatments, the frustration that comes through character-building, etc. I can truly say, as a parent, that my children "suffer" more (at least in the short term) because I love them, than they would if I didn’t love them. It would be much easier for me, as a parent, to allow my kids to do anything they want. But I care for their long-term growth and happiness, so I cause them to suffer now. God has the same concerns for us. He cares for our long-term growth and happiness, so we suffer, at times. Our suffering is actually a sign of God’s love for us. The Bible testifies to this: "My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in" (Prov. 3:11-12); and also, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:7-11).

The writer of this psalm is speaking for the children of Israel, as they are in the midst of what he sees as unmerited affliction. Rather than seeing the affliction as a sign of God’s love, the Psalmist takes it as a sign of God’s rejection: "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" (vss. 9-11).

The Psalmist sees no positive side to the affliction they are facing: "You sold Your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale" (vs. 12). As evidence of this, the Psalmist cites the disgrace and shame God’s people face in being defeated: "You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us. My disgrace is before me all day long, and my face is covered with shame. At the taunts of those who reproach and reviled me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge" (vss. 13-16). However, we must remember that God has His purposes, purposes which are not always readily recognized by our mortal, fallen minds. "For our comfort let us rest satisfied that in reality the Lord is glorified, and when no revenue of glory is manifestly rendered to Him, He none the less accomplishes His own secret purposes, of which the grand result will be revealed in due time. We do not suffer for nought, nor are our griefs without result" [Spurgeon, 303].

The Psalmist is especially puzzled by the affliction because he sees the affliction as undeserved: "All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten You or 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 and 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?" (vss. 17-21).

The Psalmist goes on to lament the fact that the children of Israel are, in effect, martyrs for the Lord: "Yet for Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered" (vs. 22). The apostle Paul used this last verse to contrast the attitude of the Old Testament saint with the proper attitude of the New Testament saint: "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" (Rom. 8:35-37). Paul saw victory through the affliction he faced. He saw himself as "more than a conqueror". Moreover, in contrast to the Psalmist, Paul felt the love of God even in the midst of persecution. He knew that no amount of persecution,—indeed, nothing "in all creation"—could separate him from the love of God (see Rom. 8:38). Paul affirmed that, even as we go through trials and persecution, the love of God is working. Any scars we receive we can treat as badges of honor. After all, Christ died for us. If our Lord suffered, can we not also expect to suffer? "True fidelity can endure rough usage" [Spurgeon, 304]. Besides, how can our faith be proven unless we endure hardship? It’s easy to trust God when everything’s going OK. No faith is needed in the good times. Untested faith is no faith at all.

Though the Psalmist feels that the Lord has rejected the children of Israel, he apparently believes that God will listen to his prayers, for he ends the psalm with a prayer: "Awake, O Lord! Why do You sleep? Rouse Yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do You hide Your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of Your unfailing love" (vss. 23-26). Though his soul may not feel it, the Psalmist knows in his mind that God’s love is "unfailing".

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