Fifth Decade of Psalms
The next psalm is a desperate plea for help from God. He is the God of their salvation, and yet He appears not to care. The citation of this psalm in the New Testament shows it to be the plea of righteous martyrs.
“We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us . . .” (Psalm 44:1-26).
Outline and Summary of the Text
This psalm comes to us in a parallel structure—in an a/a/b/b/c form. The unmatched conclusion, in this case “c,” represents the psalmist’s main point.
a. Our fathers trusted You for victory, O God, and You granted it (44:1-3);
b’. Even though we have not rejected You (vv. 17-22);
Our fathers have told us marvelous stories of God’s deliverances (vv. 1-2). They accomplished great things, but did not do it in their own autonomous power (v. 3). The psalmist declares his allegiance to God, and asks Him to “command deliverance” (v. 4). Through God’s might, they will prevail (v. 5). He will not trust in his own might, any more than his fathers did (v. 6). God has delivered His people within living memory (v. 7). God is the basis of the only kind of boasting that is not obnoxious (v. 8). But God has apparently abandoned His armies (v. 9). God has turned His warriors into cowards (v. 10). His people are slaughtered like sheep kept in pens for food (v. 11). God has sold His own people at garage sale prices (v. 12). All outsiders now mock God’s people (vv. 13-14). The psalmist is overwhelmed by confusion, not knowing how to answer the one who reproaches him (vv. 15-16).Then there is a surprising turn. Where we would expect a confession of sin, we find a protestation of innocence (vv. 17-18). God has broken them in the desolate places (v. 19). But if Israel had really sinned, would not the omniscient God know about it (vv. 20-21)? And yet they are killed all day long, and reckoned as sheep for slaughter (v. 22). God, why are You sleeping (v. 23). Why do You forget Your people (v. 24)? We are brought down to the dust (v. 25). Rise up, O God, and redeem us out of Your great mercy (v. 26).
All Scripture Together
One of the things we have to learn how to do is balance all Scripture together in our hearts and minds. When we focus on one passage, we must not do it at the expense of other passages. On top of this, we have to be mindful of which came first, what their relationship to the coming of Christ is, and whether or not the applications are physical or spiritual or both.
Paul quotes this psalm in Romans 8:36, and he establishes that the protestation of innocence by the psalmist here is genuine. This was not a case of the psalmist kidding himself about his righteousness. Romans sheds light on Psalm 44. In an analogous way, Psalm 44 sheds light on the conclusion of Romans 8.
The tone around this statement—true at face value in both places—is very different. That difference has to do with the times and with the coming of Christ.
“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39).
The faith that is implicit in the psalm becomes explicit in the mouth of Paul. We are more than conquerors through Christ, even though our experience is often identical to that of the psalmist. This is not the cry of a sinner under well-deserved chastisement, but rather the triumphant shout of the martyr.
Heard With Our Ears
We must be careful to tell our sons and daughters the great stories of God’s deliverance in the past. We must be sure that we tell them of His merciful deliverances that have occurred more recently. It is common in this desperate times for various error-mongers in our midst to say that we have to abandon dogmatic theology for a more “narratival” theology. The problem with these people is two-fold. First, they don’t understand how dogmas and convictions drive plots and, secondly, their idea of a really exciting story is a Sunday afternoon interfaith roundtable discussion on PBS—like watching paint dry. They talk about stories all the time, but they don’t ever tell any. To tell a real story, you need conflict, dogma, dragons, armies, a sky black with arrows, a protagonist, great battles, and victory at the end.
“God is our deliverance” is not inconsistent with “lock and load.” In two places in this psalm we are told that military might did not win the victory, when in both places military might was used. God is ultimate and sovereign, and He is the one who blesses the means employed. In physical warfare, if He does not bless the armies, then they will be defeated. In spiritual warfare, if He does not honor and bless the means we employ, then those means will in fact be fruitless.
Boasting in the Lord
In both testaments, we are told that the one who boasts should boast in the Lord (v. 8; Ps. 34:2). The only manna that did not rot was the manna that was laid up before the Lord. The only boasting that does not rot is boasting in God’s great and almighty power. The one who glories must do so in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31).