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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 44

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary



‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. Maschil

The meaning of Maschil in this context is not certain. It is used to describe a number of Psalms. But the word maschil means ‘understanding’. It has been variously interpreted as meaning, ‘a teaching Psalm’ (although that does not appear to fit all its uses), ‘a meditation’, thus bringing understanding, or a ‘skilful Psalm’ indicating a complicated setting.

The chief musician. or choirmaster, was responsible for the music in the Temple. For ‘the sons of Korah’ see the introduction to this whole section.

The basis of the Psalm, which is a lament because God has allowed them to be defeated in warfare, is as to why God has failed to fight on their side and give them victory as He had done in past times. It claims that the people have been faithful to God’s covenant, and yet that in spite of that God has failed to help them so that they find themselves in extremities. And it ends with an appeal to God to reverse the situation. There is no real evidence in it as to when it was written, but its position in the Second Book of Psalms would suggest an early date rather than a late one, and it is clear that it was regularly sung because such occasions kept reoccurring. It is thus an assurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In a similar way it contains encouragement for us when we cannot understand why God allows us to endure trials, even though we have not specifically failed Him in any way that we can recall, for it demonstrates that such circumstances have often come on the people of God in the past and must therefore be expected. It is the common experience of God’s people. It is not so much therefore that we have outwardly failed to observe His covenant, as that we have allowed our faith to fall to a low level, as with the church at Ephesus which had lost its first love (Revelation 2:1-6), so that we have been needing a jolt to get us back to truly trusting in Him.

Verses 1-3

A Description Of What God Has Done For His People In The Past (Psalms 44:1-3 ).

The Psalmist first calls to mind how it was God Who gave His people victory when they initially took possession of the land of Canaan.

Psalms 44:1

‘We have heard with our ears, O God,

Our fathers have told us,

What work you did in their days,

In the days of old.

The people (‘we’) call to God and describe what they have learned from their fathers in the past, of how God had acted for them in days of old. Each year at their festivals these things would be recalled, and read out to them as a reminder of God’s graciousness in the past, and especially so at the end of the seven year cycle. Compare Exodus 23:14-17; Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 16:16; also note Deuteronomy 31:11-13; Deuteronomy 31:24-28.

‘Our fathers have told us.’ It was the responsibility of every father to make his family aware of YHWH’s deliverance of His people from Egypt at the Feast of the Passover (Exodus 12:26-27; Exodus 13:8), and to make known His word daily (Deuteronomy 11:19).

Psalms 44:2

‘You drove out the nations with your hand,

But them you planted,

You afflicted the peoples,

But them you spread abroad.

On the one hand He had driven out the nations with His hand, on the other He had planted and established His own people in their place. On the one hand He had afflicted the peoples, and on the other He had spread His own people abroad throughout the land.

The picture is possibly of a tree which is firmly planted, and then grows and spreads out its leafy branches (compare Psalms 80:8-11). The idea of His people being ‘planted’ is a common one in Scripture (e.g. Exodus 15:17; 2 Samuel 7:10). It is applied in Isaiah 61:3 to those who will be restored to God by the coming Anointed Prophet, ‘that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of YHWH’, compare Matthew 15:13 where those who are not of the Father’s planting will be rooted up.

Psalms 44:3

‘For they did not get the land in possession by their own sword,

Nor did their own arm save them,

But your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance,

Because you were favourable to them.

And it was God Who had done it. For it was not by their sword that they took possession of the land, nor as a result of the exercise of the strength of their own arm that they were saved (although they used both. Trust in God is no excuse for not acting ourselves where possible). Rather it was God’s right hand, and His arm, and the fact that He was looking on them with love and favour, that was responsible for their success.

The thing that stood out to them in their history was the amazing way that time and again God had openly acted on their behalf when they themselves were in dire straits.

Verses 4-8

The Psalmist Expresses His General Confidence In the Fact That God Will In The Future Fight For Them And Act On Their Behalf As He Has In The Past (Psalms 44:4-8 ).

The Psalmist speaks in the singular as well as in the plural, and speaks of ‘my sword’, which suggests that he is the king. But here he allots the supreme Kingship to God, and calls on Him to act as their King and deliver His people. This was part of a King’s responsibility. He points out that he is putting all his trust in Him.

Psalms 44:4-5

‘You are my King, O God,

Command deliverances for Jacob.

Through you will we push down our adversaries,

Through your name will we trample upon under those who rise up against us.’

Addressing God as ‘my King’, he calls on Him to exercise His divine power and ‘command’ deliverances for Israel (Jacob). Once God has done that he has no doubt that through Him and His mighty power His people will be able to ‘push down’ their adversaries, as a wild ox pushes down its foes with its horns, and that through His Name they will be able to trample on those who rise against them, as the wild ox tramples its foes beneath its feet.

‘Through your Name.’ The name was seen as expressing the full attributes and character of the One named. It may be that, as YHWH is nowhere mentioned, the ‘Name’ referred to is ‘King’.

Psalms 44:6-8

‘For I will not trust in my bow,

Nor will my sword save me.

But you have saved us from our adversaries,

And have put them to shame who hate us.

In God have we made our boast all the day long,

And we will give thanks to your name for ever. [Selah

He is not prepared to trust to any weapon of his own, neither sword or bow, for he knows the power of his enemies, but his trust will be in God, Who has in the past saved His people from their adversaries, and has put to shame those who hate them. Thus it is in God that they have boasted all the day long, and it is their intention to give thanks to Him for ever. Their whole confidence is in Him. (It is this that makes it so surprising to him that they have faced defeat at the hands of their enemies).

‘Selah.’ This may have been a pause in the music, possibly indicating ‘think of that’, or a signal for a special blast of music signalling the importance of what has just been said..

Verses 9-16

In View Of Their Trust In God They Cannot Understand Why Therefore They Have Faced Defeat At The Hands Of Their Enemies So That Some Of His People Have Been Taken Captive And Are Now Slaves In The Hands of Their Enemies, While The Remainder Of The Nation Is Dishonoured By What Has Happened (Psalms 44:9-16 ).

Psalms 44:9-10

‘But now you have cast us off, and brought us to dishonour,

And you do not go forth with our hosts.

You make us to turn back from the adversary,

And those who hate us take spoil for themselves.

It is clear that at some stage they have received a resounding defeat at the hands of their enemies, and that this has shaken the king’s confidence in God (Psalms 44:15). This would suggest that it followed a long period when they had been triumphant in all their battles. But now there had been a reverse, and it seemed that God appeared to have washed His hands of them and brought dishonour on them.

In his view their defeat could only mean that God had not gone with the army into battle, and had not given them the strength to face the enemy. The result was that they had fled before the enemy, leaving them to take what spoil they would.

It could be that their problem had been overconfidence, and not waiting on God before they decided on their action. We must always be careful not to run ahead of God. Or there may have been some lesson that God wanted to teach them. It had certainly made them think.

Psalms 44:11-12

‘You have made us like sheep appointed for food,

And have scattered us among the nations.

You sell your people for nothing,

And have not increased your wealth by their price.

As a consequence the enemy had been able to slaughter them, like sheep are slaughtered for food, and had been able to take many captives who had been scattered among the nations. This suggests that they had been fighting an alliance of nations. Alternately it many signify that so many had been taken prisoner that the surplus were sold on as slaves to other nations.

And what has God gained by it? Absolutely nothing. He has sold them for nothing, and is no better off than He was before. In this we find a clue to what has happened. Their faith in God had become based on the assumption that God blessed and delivered them because it was to His benefit, rather than because they were truly living in accordance with His will. Seeing themselves as His prized possession they had allowed the keen edge of their dedication to Him to diminish on the grounds that He would still look after them whatever they did.

Psalms 44:13

You make us a reproach to our neighbours,

A scoffing and a derision to those who are round about us.

You make us a byword among the nations,

A shaking of the head among the peoples.

The consequence of what has happened is that their enemies are gloating. Their neighbours are reproaching them (‘Where is your God?’). They are scoffing at them and deriding them. They had made such boasts in their God that their neighbours saw what had happened to them as demonstrating their folly. They had become a byword, among the nations, who were shaking their heads at them because of what they saw as their foolishness in making such a big thing of their God.

Psalms 44:15-16

All the day long is my dishonour before me,

And the shame of my face has covered me,

For the voice of him who reproaches and blasphemes,

By reason of the enemy and the avenger.

And it especially reflected on the king. He was shamed by what had happened, and the dishonour of it was with him all the day long. He could not get over it. And the shame reflected on his face covered his whole being. He was totally ashamed from head to foot. For all around him he heard those who reproached him, and even reproached God, because of the avenging enemy who had so dealt with them. Their utter defeat was hard to face.

Verses 17-19

What Is More The Psalmist Cannot Understand Why It Is, For In His View They Have Been Faithful To His Covenant And Have Walked In His Way (Psalms 44:17-19 ).

Psalms 44:17-19

‘All this is come upon us, yet have we not forgotten you,

Nor have we dealt falsely in your covenant.

Our heart is not turned back,

Nor have our steps declined from your way,

That you have sore broken us in the place of jackals,

And covered us with deep gloom.’

What is most puzzling to the Psalmist is that he can think of no reason why it has happened. They have not forgotten God (they have fulfilled all their cultic responsibilities), as far as they are aware they have not dealt falsely in His covenant (they have obeyed what they saw to be its precepts), their heart has not turned back from Him (a slight exaggeration in view of the reference above to ‘blasphemers’), nor have they ceased walking in His way. Why then has He so sorely broken them in the waste places (where jackals live) and covered them with such deep gloom?

There is an indication of complacency here. When men begin to think that their lives are exemplary it is usually a sign of spiritual complacency. Those who walk in His light are constantly aware of sin (1 John 1:7-10). Thus this may very well explain exactly what had happened. By it He may have been saying to them, ‘you say I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and do not know that are wretched; miserable, poor, blind and naked’ (Revelation 3:17).

‘Deep gloom.’ The Hebrew is ‘tslmwth’. The MT points as tsalmaweth (shadow of death), but such compounds are rare in Hebrew apart from in names. It is probable therefore that the waw is to be seen as an ancient vowel and the pointing to be seen as tsalmuth (deep gloom). This does not alter the ancient text, only the MT pointing which was included in the text well after the New Testament era, and is not seen as necessarily ‘inspired’.

Verses 20-22

The Psalmist Now Admits That Possibly They Have Been At Fault (Psalms 44:20-22 ).

Psalms 44:20-22

‘If we have forgotten the name of our God,

Or spread forth our hands to a strange god,

Will not God search this out?

For he knows the secrets of the heart.

Yes, for your sake are we killed all the day long,

We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’

The Psalmist now admits the possibility that in a sense they have forgotten what God is, that is, they have forgotten ‘the Name of God’. He does it in the form of a question. If they have done so, or if they have worshipped a strange god, will not God search it out? Will He not be aware of what they have done? For after all He knows the secrets of the heart.

And his answer is, yes, that is what has happened. That is why some of His people are even now facing constant harrying, and are still being killed like sheep for the slaughter (compare Psalms 44:11). It is clear now that God does have something against them. They have left their first love. They are no longer truly glorying in Him as their Sovereign Lord as they should. Psalms 44:22 is cited in Romans 8:36 where the aim is to bring out that even though God loves His people, He still allows them to go through times of trouble..

Verses 23-26

Awoken Himself To The True Situation He Now Calls On Their Sovereign Lord To Awaken And Rise Up And Help Them (Psalms 44:23-26 ).

Psalms 44:23-26

‘Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?

Arise, do not cast us off for ever.

Why do you hide your face,

And forget our affliction and our oppression?

For our soul is bowed down to the dust,

Our body cleaves to the earth.

Rise up for our help,

And redeem us for the sake of your covenant love.’

He now calls on God as their ‘Sovereign Lord’ to awaken out of sleep, and act on their behalf. He asks Him to arise so that they may not be cast off for ever. This is not a rebuke but a recognition that God may act when He will. He does not really think that God is asleep, but simply behaving as though He were. The change from ‘God’ to ‘Lord’ (adonai) may indicate a recognition of the need for a new change of heart. They have been neglecting His Lordship.

Remembering how he had previously described the light of God’s countenance as having been turned towards His people at the conquest (Psalms 44:3), he asks why He is not doing the same now. Why does He now hide His face from them? Why does he forget their affliction and oppression? It is clear that the enemy are still active in the surrounding countryside, and that they are at the very end of their resources, for the soul bowed down to the dust, and the body cleaving to the earth are indications of total defeat. Compare the description of the serpent in Genesis 3:14. Thus their only hope is in their God.

And so he prays that their Sovereign Lord will now rise up and give them aid, and will for the sake of His own covenant love (compare Exodus 34:7-8) now redeem them. Their whole hope is in Him and they are looking to Him.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 44". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/psalms-44.html. 2013.
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