John T. Willis

Monday, October 03, 2016

A Plea for God to deliver the Defeated--Psalm 44

Psalm 44 was composed shortly after an Israelite or Judean king and his army had been defeated by an enemy army. The enemy had taken spoil from God's people (44:10), carried some of the Israelites into captivity (44:11), and  disgraced the king and his soldiers before the nations (44:13-16). The date of this discouraging event is unknown. One might think of Sennacherib's invasion of Judah during the reign of king Hezekiah in 701 BCE, or Josiah's death at Megiddo at the hands of Egyptian soldiers under Pharaoh-neco in 609 BCE, or some other unknown event recorded in ancient history, but there is not enough information in Psalm 44 to know precisely the historical setting. The speakers in Psalm 44 fluctuate between the first person singular ("I," "my," "me," 44:4, 6, 15) and the first person plural ("we," "us," "our," 44:1, 5, 7-11, 13-14, 17-20, 22-25). This individual is probably one of the kings of Israel or Judah. Psalm 44 falls into FOUR parts.

1. The psalmist declares that Yahweh has delivered his forefathers and his own people from their enemies. 44:1-8.
     a. The psalmist begins by declaring that he and his associates have heard Yahweh's mighty acts in the past because their ancestors told them.  Yahweh drove out the nations in Canaan and gave the Israelites that land. It is obvious that the Israelites did not win the land by their own sword, but only by Yahweh's right arm. 44:1-3.
     b. Because of this, the speaker declares that Yahweh is the only true king, because he commands victories for his people Jacob. While there may be an earthly king, the only real king is Yahweh. 44:4.
     c. The psalmist announces that Yahweh has delivered him and his soldiers. God's people do not win victories by bow of sword, but only by Yahweh,. Yahweh's name is a circumlocution for Yahweh. The poet and his associates boast and give thanks to Yahweh. 44:5-8.

2. Quickly, the composer declares the present situation of a recent loss which the Israelites experienced to their enemies. 44:9-16.
     a. The psalmist complains that Yahweh has rejected his people. Yahweh has not gone out with his armies. Yahweh's enemies have won and gotten spoil from Yahweh's people. Yahweh made his people "like sheep for slaughter" and scattered them among the nations. The same language appears in 44:22. 44:9-12.
     Several biblical texts use the figure of sheep led to a slaughter as a simile for an innocent, trusting  person who follows a course of life destined to lead to his/her destruction. Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 11:19:
           I was like a gentle lamb
                  led to the slaughter.
Isaiah 53:7 describes the suffering servant of Yahweh in this way:
           Like a lamb led to the slaughter,
                   and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
            so he opened his mouth.
This was the scripture which the Ethiopian eunuch was reading when Philip intercepted him on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza and with which Philip began as he preached Jesus unto him in Acts 8:32-35.
      Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 and applies it to Christians typologically in his powerful description of the role they must play in the world in Romans 8:36.
      b. The psalmist continues to complain that Yahweh has made his people a taunt, derision, and scorn of all those around. Yahweh made his people a byword and laughingstock among the nations. Yahweh brought disgrace and shame upon his people. 44:13-16.

3. In spite of the fact that Yahweh has rejected his people, his people have not forgotten Yahweh. 44:17-22.
    a. The composer declares that he and his companions have not forgotten or been false to Yahweh's covenant or departed from Yahweh's way. 44:17-20.
    b. The psalmist realizes that Yahweh knows the secrets of the heart, and he is confident that he has not forgotten Yahweh and gone after other gods. And yet, Yahweh has accounted them as sheep for the slaughter. 44:21-22.

4. The psalmist desperately concludes that Yahweh will come forth and deliver him and his people. 44:23-26.
    a. The psalmist declares that Yahweh acts as if he were asleep. He pleads with Yahweh to Rouse Himself and Awake. 44:23.
    b. Again, he pleads with Yahweh: "Rise up, come to our help," for the sake of his steadfast love.

When it seems that God has forsaken us, we must cling to him, knowing that he will come to our help when he desires.

Share YOUR dark days and reversals and disappointments and concerns and losses with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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