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To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, Maschil
1 We have heard with our ears,
O God, our fathers have told us,
What work thou didst in their days,
In the times of old.
2 How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and, plantedst them,
How thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.
3 For they got not the land in possession by their own sword,
Neither did their own arm save them:
But thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance,
Because thou hadst a favour unto them.
4 Thou art my King, O God:
Command deliverances for Jacob.
5 Through thee will we push down our enemies:
Through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.
6 For I will not trust in my bow,
Neither shall my sword save me.
7 But thou hast saved us from our enemies,
And hast put them to shame that hated us.
8 In God we boast all the day long,
And praise thy name forever. Selah.
9 But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame;
And goest not forth with our armies.
10 Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy:
And they which hate us spoil for themselves.
11 Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat;
And hast scattered us among the heathen.
12 Thou sellest thy people for nought,
And dost not increase thy wealth by their price.
13 Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours,
A scorn and derision to them that are round about us.
14 Thou makest us a byword among the heathen,
A shaking of the head among the people.
15 My confusion is continually before me,
And the shame of my face hath covered me,
16 For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth;
By reason of the enemy and avenger.
17 All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee,
Neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant.
18 Our heart is not turned back,
Neither have our steps declined from thy way;
19 Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons,
And covered us with the shadow of death.
20 If we have forgotten the name of our God,
Or stretched out our hands to a strange god;
21 Shall not God search this out?
For he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
22 Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long;
We are counted as sheep for the slaughter.
23 Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord?
Arise, cast us not off forever.
24 Wherefore hidest thou thy face,
And forgettest our affliction and our oppression?
25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust:
Our belly cleaveth unto the earth.
26 Arise for our help,
And redeem us for thy mercies’ sake.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Contents and Composition.—The title is the same as that of Psalms 42:0. The hosts of Israel have been worsted in battle by hostile neighbors. The whole nation has been thereby not only involved in great misery and oppression, but is in danger of losing its nationality by being carried away and dispersed among other people. Under this great calamity there comes into the consciousness of the nation a very sharp contrast, which also finds expression in the song. God had helped their fathers in the conquest of the land. The story had come down to the present generation, Psalms 44:2-4, and had awakened and maintained in it, the faith that the same God as the King of his people, would and must give the victory over its oppressors, for his own praise in the future as well as in view of former glories, Psalms 44:5-8. These records of the past, and the hopes of faith founded on them, stand in strong contrast with the overwhelming defeat which God’s chosen race had experienced. It seemed as if God had forsaken their armies, and deeming them of no account had given up His people to the assaults and the scorn of their enemies, leading them to fear that they might perish in shame and contempt, Psalms 44:10. This contrast is strengthened by the fact that the people can appeal to the omniscient God, Psalms 44:21-22, as a witness to their earnest and sincere faithfulness to the covenant, Psalms 44:18-20. The way is thus opened for the explanation of this contrast. The present oppression of God’s people grows out of their historico-religious character, Psalms 44:23. During all past ages, they have experienced just such treatment at the hands of a world estranged from God; and hence Paul (Romans 8:36) finds in the sufferings of the church of Jesus Christ an exact historical verification of this Romans 5:23. The destruction of God’s people may at times seem imminent, but that danger will disappear when by earnest prayer they seek the effectual interference of God, relying not upon their own merits, but in the simple consciousness of their need of His help and grace,—that grace which is the source of their covenant relation as their God and His people, Psalms 44:24-26. This exposition renders it unnecessary for us to refute those who find here a superficial sense of sin and consciousness of guilt, at the same time it explains how this Psalm has been thought (Calvin) to have a prophetic reference to the times of the Maccabees. The explanation which supposes an historical reference to those times (Ven., Rosen., Olsh., Hitzig), is opposed by the history of the canon, and is objectionable on other grounds. The Psalm speaks of the whole nation and not merely of the pious part of it. Then, too, it appears from Malachi 1:11; Malachi 1:11, 2Ma 4:7, that, in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, there was a large and organized body of apostates opposed to the party of the Chasedim (the Pious); and, again, while the Maccabees were victorious in all their battles, with the single exception mentioned in 1Ma 5:55, when their defeat was perhaps a punishment upon them for engaging in an imprudent enterprise, no armies were at that period sent out by the Jews. The solemn assertion of the people’s covenant faithfulness is quite inexplicable, if we refer the Psalm to the time of the Babylonian captivity (Cler. Köster), or to the last days of the Persian dynasty (Ewald), or to the Removal under Jehoiachin (Tholuck), or to the events which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (Baur). To the assertion of Hupfeld, that the language and form of the Psalm show that it belongs to a late age, we may reply that conclusions founded on such grounds are very uncertain, and that the remark does not in the least apply to the expressions of prayer here used. (Compare Psalms 3:8; Psalms 7:7; Psalms 35:23; Psalms 59:5); which are very similar to those found in Psalms 42, 43, 80, 85, 89 while the whole Psalm closely resembles Psalms 60:0. The older view maintained by Heng. Del. is preferable. This refers the Psalm to the same period as that of Psalms 60:0—the period of the Syro-Ammonite war, in which the Edomites took part (2 Samuel 8:13). The latter carried on a commercial intercourse with the captured Israelites (Amos 1:6), but were afterwards terribly punished for it by Joab, 1 Kings 11:15.
Psalms 44:1. We have heard with our ears.—This expression does not exclude the existence of written documents; it only brings out more strongly the contrast between those events of the past, in which they had a personal interest, but of which they had simply heard, and those which they had themselves witnessed. Every Israelite was bound to repeat the story of the Lord’s marvellous works, Exodus 10:2; Exodus 12:26; Exodus 13:8; Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 6:20; Judges 6:13; compare Psalms 22:31; Psalms 78:3.—The phrase “done a deed” is not a collective one, but refers specially to God’s work, as appears from verse 3, and in Psalms 90:16. The emphasis of God’s “hand,” as the second subject besides “Thou,” (Isaiah 45:12) refers the work to God not only in a general way, but makes it appear as the immediate product of His activity, and of His personally ordering the events of history, Psalms 74:11; Psalms 89:14; Isaiah 51:9.—The grant of fixed abodes, figuratively set forth as a planting (Exodus 15:17; 2 Samuel 7:10; Psalms 80:9) is carefully contrasted with the uprooting (Amos 9:15; Jeremiah 1:10; Jeremiah 24:6); the enlargement of the people is represented as a sending forth of roots and branches, Psalms 80:12; Jeremiah 17:8; Ezech. Psalms 17:6.—In German we cannot translate כִי by the same word, in each of the three places in which it occurs in verse 3.—[Barnes: “Afflict the people; i. e., the people of the land of Canaan; the nations that dwelt there. The word means to bring evil or calamity upon any one.”—Perowne: “Give them the victory.“ Such seems here, and generally in this Psalm, to be the force of the word usually rendered “save,” “help;” not very unlike is the use of σωτηρία sometimes in the New Testament.”—J. F.]
Psalms 44:4. Thou art He (or even Thou Thyself art), my King. The word הוּא is not here as in Psalms 102:28, the predicate=thou art the same (Luther), but strengthens the subject, as in Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 49:12; Nehemiah 9:6; Ezra 5:11. It is not accurately rendered by the German “selbst,” but contains an explicit reference to what has just been said. The transition to the present, coupled with confession and prayer, and likewise the change of person and tense, Psalms 44:6-9, show that these verses do not refer to the past (Rosen.), but express the present confidence of faith, which lives in the midst and in spite of all oppression. The imperfect tense is used to set forth this confidence, while the displays of divine help on which it is founded are expressed by the perfect tense, Psalms 44:8. This change of the perfect and imperfect distinguishes that which has been hitherto done day by day, from that which has been promised for all future time (J. H. Mich). [Alexander: “The form of expression in the first clause is highly idiomatic, and somewhat obscure; it may mean ‘thou who hast done all this art still my King;’ or, ‘thou art He who is my King.’—The personal name of the patriarch (Jacob) is poetically substituted for his official title, as the father of the chosen people.” Perowne: “My King apparently with a personal application to himself, the Poet individually claiming his own place in the covenant between God and His people. The singular fluctuates with the plural in the Psalms, see verses 6, 15.”—J. F.]
Psalms 44:12. For nought (“without riches”). This expression may also mean “gratuitously.” (Hupfeld). But there is nothing to indicate a contrast between the dealings of men in their worldly concerns, for the sake of gain or some external advantage, and the designs of Divine Providence, which have higher pedagogical reasons, and the Redemption which is effected without money and without price. (Isaiah 43:13; Isaiah 52:3; Jeremiah 15:4). Strictly speaking, the figure here used has the sense of “for nought,” and conveys the idea of unworthiness and insignificance. Besides, the whole passage must be taken figuratively, and can have no reference, historically, to the supposed fact that the multitude of captives was so great as to lower the price of slaves. Hupfeld defends the more ancient (Chald., Theod., Kim.) translation of the following line, “thou didst not increase (viz., thy wealth) by their purchase money.” Proverbs 22:16, is not a parallel example, because the definitive words “for thee” are wanting; and the sense of “to gain by usury,” derived from the Aramaic, goes far beyond the meaning of the phrase “thou hast gained nothing.” Most modern expositors, therefore, take the verb “to increase” in an absolute sense, and the preposition ב as specifying its extent. [Alexander: “They seemed to be gratuitously given up, i. e., without necessity or profit.”—Perowne: “For nought, i. e., for that which is the very opposite of riches, a mere nothing.”—J. F.]
Psalms 44:19. The place of (dragons) jackals denotes a desert region in general (Isaiah 34:13; Jeremiah 9:10; Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 49:33; Jeremiah 51:37). It does not refer specially to the district of Jamnia, on the border of Philistia and Dan, where Samson found three hundred foxes (Judges 15:4), and where the unfortunate battle mentioned in 1Ma 5:56, was fought, a locality in which Hasselquist, Seetzen, and other travellers tell us that these animals are found in great numbers (Hitzig). The older translation “dragons” originated in the supposition that תּנִּים is a contraction for תָּנִּינִים, through a misapprehension of Ezekiel 29:3. The original meaning of the word is “howling.” This cry of the animal of the desert, more minutely described in Lamentations 4:3; Is. 12:22; Isaiah 35:7; Isaiah 43:20, is compared to the sounds of wailings uttered by human beings, Job 30:29; Micah 1:8.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The living announcement of the help and deliverance which God has vouchsafed to our fathers in past ages is a means of confirming our faith in His constant providential care under present tribulations. It quickens the hope that He will speedily interfere on our behalf, and stimulates prayer for His instant aid under the pressing necessities of the present, and in the prospect of threatening dangers. Comp. Habakkuk 3:2, and 2 Chronicles 20:7.
2. In the narratives of events of past ages it is necessary both for the proper study of history, and the edification of contemporaries that attention be specially fixed on those events which most plainly exhibit a personal Providence. In tracing these events the thoughts should be turned away from all human activity, wisdom, and might; from all temporal and earthly instrumentalities; they should be fixed on the Divine power as their only and eternal cause. The free grace of God, and the good pleasure of His love, should be viewed as the final and decisive ground of these divine acts.
3. A people which, by faith, renews the confession of God as its King, gains thereby a firm foundation for its historical position in the world; it becomes confident that the same God, to whom, as it gratefully remembers, it owes its origin as a people, will preserve it and deliver it from dangers which may threaten its desolation and destruction. All that is needful to beget this hope is the consideration of the royal sovereignty of Almighty God.
4. The religious means of obtaining such a display of divine sovereignty, in any given case, is Prayer, which appeals not to human worthiness, but to the needs which men so plainly and frequently experience. Hence, Prayer addresses not the justice but the grace of God,—that grace which has been already manifested in establishing the covenant relation, though it may plead this relation, and beg for its preservation.
5. In this appeal there is no affirmation of innocence; no assertion that the moral and religious condition of the people is in accordance with all the demands of the covenant law, for this would be both foolish and untrue. It simply declares the attachment of the people to their covenant God, and that they have preserved the historico-religious position which He has graciously granted to them. While many individuals may have proved faithless, the people, as such, have maintained their allegiance to God as their God. On this ground alone, they ask and expect from their heavenly King deliverance from the worst possible afflictions.
6. In such a case, there is a difference to be made between merited and unmerited sufferings, and while the latter are not to be viewed as judgments, nor as strokes of fate, they should be patiently endured for God’s sake. There is thus a progress in religious knowledge and historico-religious experience, even though it is fully comprehended, that for God’s people, as well as the servant of Jehovah, these sufferings are necessary in carrying out God’s plan of salvation, and that they are as essentially connected with their theocratic destination or mission as they are inseparable from their divine election and call.
7. The endurance of such afflictions implies, on the part of the sufferer, no such feelings as would lead him to complain of God, or to glorify himself. His appeal to God will never take the form of an accusation, but of a prayer, and a vow of thanksgiving for that gracious help of the Almighty which is indispensable. Hence, if in his lamentation the question is asked “why sleepest Thou, O Lord?” and his prayer sounds like a cry to awake, he can use the language of John Hyrcanus (Sota 48, according to Del.) who, in the time of the Maccabees, quieted the anxieties of the Levites, who came daily to him with this same question, by saying, “Does the Godhead sleep?”—Have not the Scriptures declared: “Behold, he who keeps Israel slumbereth not?” It was only in a time when Israel was in trouble, and the people of the world in the enjoyment of rest and prosperity, that the words were used, “Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord?” In these, and similar figurative expressions, the prominent idea is, that these sufferings are not to be regarded as evils, positively inflicted by God, but rather as permitted by Him.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
The best histories are those which rehearse the doings of God. The benefits resulting from the study of them are: 1. It helps us to understand God’s providential government on earth. 2. It awakens gratitude for His favors. 3. It stimulates confidence in God’s gracious help. God is our King! (1) Whence do we know this? (2) In what does He help us? (3) How do we testify this?—As long as we are in covenant with God, the most powerful foes cannot destroy us. What follows from this in regard to our conduct and duty?—God is not only the mightiest, but the surest, yea the only reliable ally.—As we are indebted to God for all good things so we must ask Him for all needful things.—Nothing without faith, but every thing through grace.—If we know the name of God, we will properly use it for His honor, for our salvation, and for the good of others.—He who belongs to God’s people, must be prepared to suffer for His sake, and be careful that he brings no dishonor upon His name.—He who really suffers for God’s sake will find that such suffering never separates him from God.—The tribulations of the times always bind the people of God more closely to His name, hand and grace, as the light of His countenance.
Starke: It is the business of parents to implant in the hearts of their children the knowledge and honor of God.—Children and young people should lay to heart what they have heard concerning the works of God, from their parents, in order to confirm their faith and to improve their lives.—The change of government in a land should not be regarded as a mere accident, but as an event with which the will and the hand of God are concerned.—Although God employs instruments when He helps us, we should not ascribe to them the aid we get, nor give to them the honor and glory which are due to God alone.—No enemy can gain any honor from a conflict with the children of God; all his malice brings upon himself only shame and injury, but glory and praise to the Lord.—It will soon be manifest on what the heart of any man trusts, for whatever it be he will constantly think and speak of it.—Reason left to itself regards the righteous judgments and the paternal chastisements of God as very strange.—God has often allowed Christians to be brought like lambs to the slaughter, in order that by their death they may praise Him, and become martyrs for Christ.—Let temporal things take whatever turn God pleases, if only the eternal inheritance is sure.—To a suffering believer, the greatest stumbling-block is God’s patience and forbearance towards the very worst of men.—The persecution of the Church for her “good confession” is a sharp trial of her faith, constancy, and patience.—Contempt of the true worship of God will sooner or later end in the adoration of an idol, either in a gross or a refined way.—Sufferings however intense involve no merit: we must look only to the goodness and grace of God.—Bugenhagen: The pious man does what God has commanded, and waits for what God’s will has determined respecting him.—Selnekker: The believer undertakes nothing that is contrary to God’s word. He will never tempt God, but uses such means as God has appointed. His trust is in God alone, who can and will help him.—Osiander: Warlike preparation is not always the cause of victory.—Frisch: He who would exercise true faith, and by such faith would conquer, must possess these three qualities, 1. He must lay aside all trust in earthly power. 2. His heart’s entire trust must be in God. 3. His heart must give all the glory to God.—Franke: Christ’s kingdom must ever manifest itself as a kingdom of the Cross, because it is through suffering that we enter into glory.—Berlin Bible: The events that happened in the primitive Church will be repeated in the Church of the latter day, under the great Anti-Christ.—Rieger: Oh! how mysterious is God! Never imagine that you can lead Him as you wish, even by faith. In ways that to us seem circuitous and contrary, He accomplishes His purposes. What He Himself hath built up, He can break down; what He Himself hath planted, He can root out again. Yet His kingdom loses nothing thereby. What the Church of God may seem to lose by oppression, is more than made up by the victory of the righteous, by the approved piety of those who hold fast their integrity, and their salutary experience gained by suffering. Paul’s song of victory (Romans 8:38) “for I am persuaded” could be uttered only after the composition of such Psalms as the XLIVth, in which the cross and the sufferings of the believer are delineated.—Vaihinger. A look full of faith towards the works of God in ages past!—Tholuck: Israel celebrates in song only the works of God. But the hymns of other nations relate to the great deeds of their ancestors.—Guenther: God’s army has a war-song to strengthen its hope, to describe its wants, and to cry mightily for help.—Diedrich: In every new tribulation God gives us to experience and acknowledge, that if we are grounded upon His word, we can only stand by His power.—Taube: There are instructions how the church of God should act, when she has to bear the cross. Israel’s strength and salvation is also Israel’s Psalm. The flesh timid and faint-hearted, sees in times of affliction, a sleeping God, yet the Keeper of Israel never slumbers,—a repudiating God, and yet God does not repudiate eternally,—a concealed God, and yet He is always mindful of us,—a forgetful God and yet a mother would sooner forget her child than God His people. But He tarries that we may cry!
[Henry: The many operations of providence are here spoken of as one work, for there is a wonderful harmony and uniformity in all that God does, and the many wheels make but one wheel, many works make but one work.—He that by His power and goodness planted a church for Himself in the world, will certainly support it by the same power and goodness, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.—When the heart turns back, the steps will soon decline.—We may the better bear our troubles, how pressing soever, if in them we still hold fast our integrity. While our troubles do not drive us from our duty to God, we should not suffer them to drive us from our comfort in God, for He will not leave us, if we do not leave Him.—Bp. Patrick: Certainly we have deserved “all” these calamities, though this comfort is still remaining, that we are not so wicked as to be moved by all this to desert Thee, and violate that covenant by which we are engaged to worship Thee alone.
Scott: The formalist commonly escapes persecution by turning with the stream, and purchasing security with sinful compliances, or open apostacy; but the true Church of God cannot be prevailed on by menaces, sufferings, or promises to forget God or deal falsely in His covenant.—The Church of God is one incorporated body, from the beginning to the end of the world; and the benefits conferred on it in every age, will be acknowledged with gratitude by believers through all generations, and even to eternity.—We have reason to be thankful, considering our frailty, for exemption from the more violent species of persecution; but let us be careful that prosperity and ease do not render us careless and lukewarm.—J. F.].
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 44". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany