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Deeper Commentary

Psa 44:1 For the Chief Musician. By the sons of Korah. A contemplative psalm- "By" can as well be "for", so the Psalm may still be Davidic, but is dedicated to the memory of the sons of Korah. Korah had died in rebellion against God, but his children had been preserved (Num. 26:9-11); they therefore became representative of all who had overcome bad background to worship Yahweh independently, regardless of the sins of their fathers. They were therefore inspirational to the righteous remnant amongst the exiles in Babylon. Or these "sons of Korah" may refer to a group of musicians who were to perform the Psalm, the Levitical singers mentioned in 1 Chron. 26:1,2; 2 Chron. 20:19. Or if we insist on reading "by", it could have been a Davidic Psalm edited and as it were released by a group called "the sons of Korah" during the captivity in Babylon.

The Psalm appears to be reflection upon Israel's defeat, at least temporarily. This isn't recorded in the historical records of David's life. But the Psalm has many connections with Psalm 60, which is Davidic Ps. 60:1,10 = Ps. 44:9,10; Ps. 60:11 = Ps. 44:26 etc.). So it appears to be a comment upon a temporary set back and defeat during this campaign against Edom.

We have heard with our ears, God; our fathers have told us, what work You did in their days, in the days of old-
In the times of mass illiteracy, the history of Israel would have been repeated orally. This was not to be just the job of the priests, the teachers of Israel, but of the "fathers" of all the tribes. The emphasis in the Psalm is upon God's work being greater than any human work.

Psa 44:2 You drove out the nations with Your hand, but You planted them. You afflicted the peoples, but You spread them abroad-
The "them" is Israel, contrasted with "the nations / peoples". "Drove out" is the word for "inherit" in the promises that Abraham's seed would "inherit" the land (:3; Gen. 15:7,8; 28:4). As in our experience, there is always a primary fulfilment of God's promises and eternal covenant, which was based around the promises to Abraham. This was of particular comfort to the exiles (s.w. Ps. 69:35). Although God appeared not to be coming through for them at the time (see on :1), they were to take comfort in the covenant with Abraham; God's hand had worked in the past and would do so again, and the land was ultimately theirs. Even if at the moment their enemies were in the ascendancy.

Psa 44:3 For they didn’t get the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but Your right hand, and Your arm, and the light of Your face, because You were favourable to them-
This contrasts with how Jacob's final words were to the effect that he had carved out his own inheritance at Shechem by his sword and bow (Gen. 48:22). David is recognizing that this attitude was wrong; and yet the spiritually weak "Jacob" was still to be saved by God's grace (:4).

Psa 44:4 You are my King, God. Command victories for Jacob!-
 David the king repeatedly calls God his "king". His exaltation didn't lead him to pride, as he was always under the deep impression that he was not the ultimate king (Ps. 5:2; 10:16; 29:10; 44:4; 47:6). His personal relationship with God was, he believed, the basis for "victories for Jacob", all God's weak and wandering people.

Psa 44:5 Through You will we push down our adversaries. Through Your name will we tread them under who rise up against us-
The connections with Ps. 60 (see on :1). lead us to conclude that this prayer was heard in the final victory against Edom (see on Ps. 60:1), who had 'risen up' against Israel.

Psa 44:6 For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me-
The more closely we analyze the Bible heroes, the more apparent it is that they were shot through with weakness; and some of those weaknesses it seems they unsuccessfully battled with until the day of their death. I think of Jacob, always trusting in his own strength, being progressively taught to trust in Yahweh's strength. And yet right at the very end of his life, he lets slip a comment which would seem more appropriate to his earlier life: "Shechem... which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow" (Gen. 48:22). The wrongness of this attitude seems to be alluded to in Josh. 24:12, which says that God drove out the Amorites "but not with your sword, neither with your bow" . And here in Ps. 44:3,6 also. So Jacob, right at the end of his life, still hadn't completely overcome that besetting weakness of self-reliance. This is, of course, a dangerous road to go down. In no way can we be complacent about our urgent need for spiritual growth. But on the other hand, we will never reach the stature of Christ without righteousness being imputed to us. In this sense, true Christian believers aren't good people. Perhaps David had learned from the demise of Saul and Jonathan, whose "bow... and sword" were used by them in the fateful battle on Gilboa (2 Sam. 1:22), yet didn't save them.


Psa 44:7 But You have saved us from our adversaries, and have shamed those who hate us-
The Psalm will go on to complain that now, their adversaries were in the ascendancy (:22,23 etc.). But David refuses to thereby forget that God has indeed amazingly come through for His people in the past. So often, the sense that God is not coming through for us right now leads people to discount all His amazing historical grace. And that is one function of Biblical history.

Psa 44:8 In God we have made our boast all day long, we will give thanks to Your name forever. Selah-
As noted on :7, it is quite a reflection of David's faith and spirituality that he could praise and boast of God, even when (as the Psalm goes on to state), he feels God has not come through for him as He ought to have done.

Psa 44:9 But now You rejected us, and brought us to dishonour, and don’t go out with our armies-
Even when feeling rejected by God, David still praised God and boasted of what He had done in the past (:7,8). This should be our attitude- that even if rejected by God, or feeling rejected, our basic love and respect of Him should continue. God not going out with Israel's armies, and their turning back from their enemies (:10), is all the language of the punishments for Israel breaking the covenant. Instead of confessing this, David instead focuses upon the sinfulness of their enemies, and asking God to reverse the situation. As in his own attitude to his sin with Bathsheba, he appears more interested in seeing the consequences of sin taken away than in actually repenting and receiving forgiveness.

Psa 44:10 You make us turn back from the adversary. Those who hate us take spoil for themselves-
As noted on :9, turning backs before enemies was a curse for breaking the covenant. David should have recognized this, and confessed it and urged Israel to repent. Instead, rather like in his own difficulty in repenting over his sin with Bathsheba, he instead focuses upon the consequences for sin and begs God to remove them.

Psa 44:11 You have made us like sheep for food, and have scattered us among the nations-
This was surely added, under inspiration, by the exiles using this psalm of David.

Psa 44:12 You sell Your people for nothing, and have gained nothing from their sale-
This would imply that Yahweh as the seller considered His people worthless, and was pleased to get rid of them for nothing. This is far from a fair description of what happened at the captivity. The explanation as to why they were sold for nothing is given clearly in Jer. 15:13: "Your substance and your treasures will I give for a spoil without price and that for all your sins". Just as David struggled to accept that the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba were appropriate and just, so did the exiles. They had sold themselves into captivity, according to their own prophets. If God has as it were profited by their sale, then they would have criticized that too. In fact, Is. 50:1 presents God's lack of gain from their 'sale' as an example of His love and grace: "Thus says Yahweh, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorce, for which I have put her away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities were you sold".

Psa 44:13 You make us a reproach to our neighbours, a scoffing and a derision to those who are around us-
This was exactly as the prophets had warned would happen if they continued in their sins (Ez. 23:32; Hos. 7:16 etc.). To complain about it was simply refusing to accept the consequence for sin.

Psa 44:14 You make us a byword among the nations, a shaking of the head among the peoples-
As noted on :13, this was exactly as the prophets had warned would happen if they continued in their sins and suffered the curses for breaking the covenant (Dt. 28:37; Jer. 24:9 etc.). To complain about it was simply refusing to accept the consequence for sin.

Psa 44:15 All day long my dishonour is before me, and shame covers my face-
Verses 13 and 14 are clearly the feelings of the exiles, but they were based upon David's own feelings of shame over the sins connected with Bathsheba and Uriah. Again we note that he seems more concerned about the removal of the consequence for his sins, especially his shame, rather than in receiving forgiveness.

Psa 44:16 at the taunt of one who reproaches and verbally abuses, because of the enemy and the avenger-
This is the term used of Goliath in Ps. 8:2. But the taunts of the likes of Shimei, reproaching him for being a "man of blood" (2 Sam. 16:8), were largely true. Shimei's words were painful to David, perhaps because they contained a fair amount of truth.


Psa 44:17 All this has come on us, yet have we not forgotten You, neither have we been false to Your covenant-
The language now again returns to "we", the exiles. Perhaps at best they were saying 'We have not broken the covenant, so it is unfair we are suffering the results of our fathers breaking the covenant'. Ezekiel was up against the same argument. And his answer was that indeed God punishes men for their own sins and not those of their fathers- and the new generation of exiles had indeed sinned themselves. And also to be factored in to this is the fact that sin often brings consequences to others. That is part of what sin is. Like David, they were struggling to accept consequences of sin.

Psa 44:18 Our heart has not turned back, neither have our steps strayed from Your path-
To judge oneself as innocent of any sin of the heart is surely arrogance. 'Turning back' is associated with idolatry (Is. 42:17). And there is plenty of evidence within Ezekiel that the exiles were still idolatrous. We note how the names 'Mordecai' (based upon 'Marduk') and 'Esther' were reflective of idolatry.

Psa 44:19 though You have crushed us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with the shadow of death- "
The haunt of jackals" is likely a reference to Babylon, seen as the land of the shadow of death. David had felt "broken" (s.w. "crushed") because of his sin with Bathsheba and the consequences (Ps. 51:8). It seems the exiles edited his words and applied them to themselves- whilst missing the point, that David suffered rightly, and so did they. Their 'covering' with death was appropriate judgment (s.w. Is. 29:10).

Psa 44:20 If we have forgotten the name of our God, or spread forth our hands to a strange god-
Ps. 44:20 balances the sin of omission against the sin of commission: “If we have forgotten the name of our God [omission], or stretched out our hands to a strange god” [commission]. It makes a good exercise to watch for how many times the Proverbs treat sins of omission as if they are sins of active commission. "He that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster" (Prov. 18:9)- 'mere' laziness, as we may see it, an omission of working- is the same as the commission of a purposefully destructive person. But as noted on :18, the exiles generally were guilty of idolatry. So even if those now appropriating David's Psalm to themselves were innocent, they needed to be far more honest and realistic about the state of their community.

Psa 44:21 won’t God search this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart-
As David confidently asked God to search his heart, so did the exiles (s.w. Ps. 139:1,23). But Judah were in captivity exactly because God had searched their hearts and found them seriously astray from Him (s.w. Jer. 17:10). It was their duty now in exile to search their own hearts and repent (s.w. Lam. 3:40). 

Psa 44:22 Yes, for Your sake we are killed all day long. We are regarded as sheep for the slaughter- "
For Your sake" implies God was somehow unjust in treating them as sheep for the slaughter. It was the Lord Jesus who was to save them by becoming the "sheep for the slaughter", identifying with their condemnation, so that any who identified with Him could be saved from it. But instead, the exiles here lament their situation and asked for these consequences of their sins to be removed- with no mention of repentance or guilt.

This verse is quoted in Rom. 8:36, in the context of talking about the condemnation of sin (Rom. 8:34). In the context of Romans, Paul has been arguing that we are all rightly condemned. But his final point at the climax of his argument here at the end of Romans 1-8 is that despite that, God's love is still with us and He shall by grace save His true people from that condemnation which they rightly experience (Rom. 8:37-39). This was the perspective which the exiles, and David, ought to have had; and Paul uses this verse precisely in the way I have suggested we interpret it.

Psa 44:23 Wake up! Why do You sleep, Lord? Arise! Don’t reject us forever-
To accuse God of sleeping seems as inappropriate as the disciples' demand for the Lord Jesus to awake from sleep because His apparent sleeping showed that He didn't care that they perished (Mk. 4:38). He did of course care for their perishing. He gave His life for that. David in better moments realized that God doesn't sleep (Ps. 121:4). Likewise it was inappropriate to claim that God was going to reject His people forever (also in Ps. 74:1). The prophets had made it abundantly plain that God would not reject forever. Israel had "the hope of Israel" as surely as the planets are in the sky. 

Psa 44:24 Why do You hide Your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression?-
"Oppression" was what God's later people were to suffer at the hands of their enemies for their sins (s.w. Is. 30:20; Dt. 26:7); David's suffering was seen as that of God's later people, and so his Psalms were reused in this context. But that suffering was judgment and consequence for sin. It was the cloud of their sin which hid them from God's face, rather than Him losing interest in them and looking somewhere else.

Psa 44:25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust. Our body clings to the earth- "
Bowed down" is used of the exiles in Lam. 3:20. But it is David who speaks of his body clinging or cleaving to the dust (Ps. 119:25). Again we have to conclude that the person feelings of David after his sin with Bathsheba are appropriate by the exiles, and his Psalm rewritten in their context.

Psa 44:26 Rise up to help us-
This is the appeal of David personally (Ps. 35:2), but now appropriated to the exiles.

Redeem us for Your grace’ sake- After all the insistence that they are suffering unreasonably (see on :13,14), there does come an appeal to God's grace. We would perhaps rather see confession of sin and of Divine justice; but at least there is an awareness of grace.