There is no certainty, either concerning the author or the particular occasion of this Psalm. This is evident, that it was composed with respect unto the calamitous condition of the church and people of Israel, whom it supposeth to be in a state of captivity and persecution. But whether it was made by David, who foresaw and foretold by the Spirit of God their future captivity, and framed this for their use in that estate, or by some other holy man of God, when they were actually in this condition, is not determined, nor necessary to know for the understanding of it.
The church commemorates past mercies, Psalms 44:1,2. The arm of God, not the sword of Israel, put them in possession of the land, Psalms 44:3. Their trust is in God, not in their bow, Psalms 44:4-8. They complain of divers troubles, Psalms 44:9-16. They profess their integrity, Psalms 44:17-22. A fervent prayer for help, Psalms 44:23-26.
What work thou didst in their days: they allege their former experience, as encouragements to their faith, and motives to God to continue to be gracious to them.
The heathen; the Canaanites.
Plantedst them, to wit, our fathers, easily understood both from the matter, and from Psalms 44:1, where they are expressed; the pronoun being referred unto the remoter antecedent, as it is Genesis 10:12 19:13 Psalms 18:5, and oft elsewhere.
Cast them out: so them must be the people, or heathens. But because the comparing of this branch of the verse with the former, plantedst them, to which this answers, and with the following they, makes it more than probable that this them belongs to the fathers, this is to be otherwise rendered; either,
1. Thus, send them out, to wit, free or manumitted out of Egypt, of which this same verb is used, Exodus 5:1 12:33. And then the foregoing people are the Egyptians, not the Canaanites; which yet seems not to agree with the foregoing and following passages both which speak of the Canaanites only; nor with the order of the words in this verse, it being improper to mention their coming out of Egypt, after their being planted in Canaan. Or rather,
2. Thus, make them send or shoot forth, to wit, branches, as it is more fully expressed, Psalms 80:11 Ezekiel 17:6, where this verb is used. And this most naturally and properly follows upon and after their planting mentioned in the former clause.
By their own sword, i.e. by their arms or valour.
The light of thy countenance, i.e. thy favour, as the next words explain it; thy gracious and glorious presence, which went along with us.
My King; Jacob’s or Israel’s King, in a peculiar manner. The whole people speak like one man, as being united together in one body.
Command, i.e. effectually procure by thy commanding word.
Push down, Heb. smite with the horn, i.e. subdue and destroy. The phrase is taken from Deuteronomy 33:17, and is borrowed from horned beasts. Compare 1 Kings 22:11.
Through thy name, i.e. by the help of thy power.
But I will trust in thee only, as the next verse implies; and therefore do not frustrate my hope and confidence fixed upon thee.
In God we boast, as in a most sure rock, and our only refuge.
Thou hast cast us off; but now thy countenance and course is quite changed to us.
Put us to shame; made us ashamed of our boasting, and trust in thee, which we have oft professed to the face of our enemies.
Goest not forth with our armies, to lead them, and fight for them, as this phrase signifies, Jude 4:14 1 Samuel 8:20. He seems to allude to God’s marching with and before the Israelites in the wilderness, and afterwards, as occasion was offered. Compare Psalms 68:7.
Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy, by withdrawing thy help and our courage, according to thy threatenings, Leviticus 26:36.
Spoil for themselves, i.e. take away our estates to their own use, and for their only benefit, not in compliance with thy will, which was to punish us for our sins, nor for thy service and glory. They minded nothing but their own advantage.
Those of us who were not slain are carried into captivity, and dispersed in several places.
For nought; for a thing of nought. Or, without money, and without price, as it is said, Isaiah 55:1; for a very small, or for no price; for a pair of shoes, as we read, Amos 2:6.
Dost not increase thy wealth by their price; thou hast not advanced thy honour and service thereby; for thy enemies do not serve thee more and better than thy people, nor yet so much.
They contemn our persons, and sport themselves in our miseries.
A by-word, or a proverb. They used to say proverbially, More despicable or miserable than an Israelite.
A shaking of the head; a gesture of scorn and insultation. See Poole "Psalms 22:7".
Before me; before the eyes of my mind and body too. They vilify me, not only behind my back, but even before my face.
The shame of my face hath covered me, i.e. I am filled with shame of my face on every side, being ashamed to show my face in any place or company.
That reproacheth and blasphemeth; that doth not only reproach me, which I could better bear; but blaspheme God and our religion for our sakes, which is intolerable to me.
The enemy and avenger; who executeth both God’s and his own vengeance upon me, persecuting me with a despiteful hatred, and with great cruelty.
Although we cannot excuse ourselves from many other sins for which thou hast justly punished us, yet this we must say for ourselves, that through thy grace we have kept ourselves from apostacy and idolatry, notwithstanding all the examples and provocations, rewards proposed and promised, or punishments threatened to induce us thereunto; which we hope thou wilt graciously consider, and not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able to bear.
Is not turned back, to wit, from thee, or thy worship and service, unto idols, as it follows, Psalms 44:20.
Neither have our steps declined from thy way: because it is easy and ordinary falsely to pretend sincerity of heart, which men cannot discern nor confute, they prove it from the unblamableness of their lives and actions.
In the place: or rather into, as others render it; which seems much more emphatical. And so this verb may be rendered, thou hast humbled, or brought us down, as all the ancients rendered it. Or this is a pregnant verb, as they call them, or one verb put for two; of which there are many instances, as hath been showed. So it may be rendered, thou hast sore broken us, casting us into; or, thou hast by sore breaking brought us into. By inflicting upon us one breach after another, thou hast at last brought us to this pass. The place of dragons; which signifies a place extremely desolate, such as dragons love, Isaiah 13:21,22 34:13 35:7, and therefore full of horror, and danger, and mischief. Thou hast thrown us among people as fierce and: cruel as dragons. With the shadow of death, i.e. with deadly horrors and miseries. See Poole "Job 3:5"; See Poole "Psalms 23:4".
The name of God, i.e. either God himself; or his worship and service; which we have denied that we have done, Psalms 44:17.
Stretched out our hands, in way of prayer or adoration, whereof this is a gesture, Exodus 9:29 1 Kings 8:22 Psalms 143:6.
We appeal to the heart-searching God, concerning the sincerity of this profession of ours.
Yea; or, but. We do not suffer for our apostacy, but because we will not apostatize from thee.
For thy sake; because we are thy people, and continue constantly and resolutely in the profession and practice of thy worship, which they abhor, and from which they seek to draw or drive us.
Hidest thou thy face, i.e. dost not regard our miseries, nor affordest us any pity or help.
Forgettest our affliction and our oppression, when we have not forgotten thee. This seems not well to become thy faithfulness and goodness.
Our soul, i.e. either our lives or persons; or rather bodies, as it is explained in the next clause, and as the soul is oft taken by a synecdoche, as Numbers 11:6 Psalms 16:10 106:15, &c.
To the dust; either to the ground, where we lie prostrate at our enemies’ feet, or to the grave.
Our belly cleaveth unto the earth; we are not only thrown down to the earth, but we lie there like dead carcasses fixed to it, without any ability or hope of rising again.
We mentioned our sincerity and constancy in thy worship only as an argument to move thee to pity, and not as a ground of our trust and confidence, or as if we merited deliverance by it; but that we expect and implore only upon the account of thine own free and rich mercy.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 44". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany