Lecture 16: Psalm 44
Course: Psalms by Dr. Bruce Waltke
Lecture 16: Psalm 44
We have said that any object must generate the appropriate method of study. We noted that the Scriptures have three aspects to it. First, all Scripture is inspired by God, God is the ultimate author and he is without error; he is perfection and he inspired the human writer and we have this wonderful mixture of the Word of God and the Word of man and they come together in his concussive theory, fully the Word of God and fully the Word of man. And then we realize that we have to come with sympathy and faith as we meet God in Spirit. To meet God in the Spirit, we must come in the Spirit to have a relationship with him and so that his Spirit speaks to us. In regards to the text, it is subject to scientific investigation in reference to grammar and word study and historical background within this course. We are able to do textual work but we must never forget the spiritual aspect of it and thus realize that we must come ultimately with the Holy Spirit working in our own lives.
From the above, we moved into different approaches, first the historical approach. We saw that the dominate person within the salter is the king. We will see this today in Psalm 44 and for the average person reading the psalms, they need to understand that the psalms are mostly about the king, and Israel is identifying with the king and they are about Christ and we are identifying with Christ and praying these prayers with him. We studied the form critical approach and noticed that we can group the Psalms into different kinds: the hymn of praise, song of grateful praise and then there is the petition and lament psalms; fourthly, there are instruction psalms. One must understand that hymns without ethics and life are detestable to God. We are constantly being reminded of the need of being righteous and we define righteousness in the salter as total dependence upon God. It is not adherence to the Law but rather a dependence on God who lives out the Law in us. And the righteous are those who are concerned about community and they don’t avenge themselves. The righteous are dependent upon God to avenge them. The righteous are also depicted as the poor, the afflicted and the dependent and the lowly. We have to be righteous when we come in praise to God, hence these instruction psalms.
Then we focused on praise and grateful praise and petition psalms and also instruction psalms. So we went to the psalms of praise and we saw their motifs and what is involved and we got into the doxological theology. We saw in their song of praise, God is using these in order to teach us theology about himself and we looked through this data about God’s attributes that they are celebrating in the reality of life. Then we looked after the song of praise we did Psalm 8 and Psalm 100, two songs of praise we considered. Our Song of Grateful praise was Psalm 92 where the psalmist has conquered his enemy and it is an assurance that the righteous will flourish. Then we started with petition psalms where we notice that they are very much concerned about the enemy. Forty seven of the fifty petition psalms make reference to the enemy and we saw that it is really a spiritual warfare because the enemy is the wicked which is the opposite of the righteous. We saw that the wicked are dependent upon themselves and they will avenge themselves rather than looking to God. The wicked are also self-absorbed rather than loving God and their neighbors. In essence they are selfish and self-serving in what they do. We also talked about the imprecatory prayers where the psalmist pray that the wicked will be judged for the wrongs that they did. We saw that these psalms were ethical but not appropriate for our day and age because we are living in the age of grace, not the age of judgement.
Then we looked very broadly at an individual lament; the first being Psalm 3. Afterwards we look at Psalm 51, the great messianic Psalm of Jesus on the Cross, an individual lament and that is where we ended. We haven’t done a communal lament, one of two, Psalm 90 and Psalm 44 which this lecture will cover.
II. Psalm 44 - Background
You could call Psalm 44, a prayer for martyrs. And these psalms of lament give us a theology that enables us to go through suffering. We noticed that the dominant mood of the Psalm is lament which represents a third of the salter. It is a dominant mood and we noticed from Professor Mobilly that suffering is not marginal; it is not something we put behind us. Suffering is absolutely essential to the spiritual life. So these psalms teach us a lot about suffering and how to relate to suffering. It might be helpful to distinguish between deserved suffering and undeserved suffering. We don’t have too much of a problem with deserved suffering. By deserved suffering, I mean that we are punished for going against some law; we all understand that. If I exceed the speed limit, I might see flashing red lights coming up behind me and then ending up with a fine. Some, these penitential psalms such as Psalm 51 were a deserved suffering. In his case, the suffering was David’s conscience. He couldn’t live with that burden upon him and he needed salvation from his guilt. Also, he was under a sentence of death. But he had summited himself to a sentence of death and we saw the amazing grace of God with God forgiving David. Undeserved suffering is where you haven’t violated any law and have done nothing wrong. And besides that, you are penalized but you know that it is unjust. It is unfair. There are two kinds of undeserved sufferings: one, being innocent or because you are doing good as a missionary who might be martyred. We have the innocent who are suffering but then as in Psalm 44, they are facing death all day long, we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. This is undeserved suffering for doing good; they are suffering because they are serving God. Paul uses this verse in Romans 8. Here in Psalm 44, verse 22: ‘yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ I actually think that the apostles knew this psalm and this unique verse and how it applied to the apostolic community. They all suffered for carrying on the works of Jesus; stoned, put in jail, suffered in prison and thrown out of town by crowds. Most of them eventually ended up as martyrs and that is worst.
Unless we have these truths to live by in going through unjust suffering of doing good, we are in danger of making a shipwreck of our faith because we don’t know how to handle this suffering. The Psalmist, himself, faced this, he almost lost his faith; you can see this in Psalm 73 which begins the second book of the Psalms. This is a psalm by Asaph who doesn’t deny God and starts off with a note of praise. He acts beneficially and in style that is beautiful. He affirms this to those who are pure in heart but then says, ‘but as for me.’ My feet had almost slipped off the ladder of faith. He said that he had envied the arrogant when he had seen the prosperity of the wicked. He describes the wicked as not having pangs until death with bodies being fat and sleek. Neither are they in trouble as others are or stricken like the rest of mankind. Because of the prosperity of the wicked and his own suffering and in his case, he was innocent. Verse 2 is a confession of what almost happened to him. Going through times of undeserved sufferings we become in danger of losing our faith. Moody Institute used to put out science movies and once they had a dialogue between a pilot and a novice. He flew solo and while speaking to the control tower and lost visual contact while in a cloud. He panicked and started to spin. They advised him to let go of the stick but he said he couldn’t and that was the end. This is a picture of our faith when we lose rational contact; we can’t see where we are and life doesn’t make any sense. We have to fly by instruments at that point and thus the Psalms give us trues to live by and lay hold of. These Psalms are like the instrument panel in which we can use to stay on course. We see that the psalmist’s situation is not resolved by the end of the psalm.
It is a maskil of the sons of Korah. I really don’t know what this means here; a maskil. This is a technical term. One way to study these words is to turn to the Septuagint or the Targum. They translated this word as everlasting. The word nitsack means everlasting. The rabbis don’t know what it means either. Read the Psalm:
1 We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.
2 With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish.
3 It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
4 You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes.
6 I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.
9 But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale.
13 You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us.
15 I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame
16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
17 All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant.
18 Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path.
19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?
22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.
Psalm 45:1 For the director of music. To the tune of "Lilies."
In regards to the parallelism in the verses, notice 2a, ‘you drove out the nations’ and then there is an escalation in 2b where it says, ‘you crushed’, and then notice the development from planting to flourishing. So it is not only escalating but it is also intensifying. Notice this parallelism can provide rich meditation. So we see that he is talking to God which is the address. Where would you put the confidence and praise? This would be verses 1 through 8. We see that verse 1 is a quatrain, two a’s b’s. The same is true for verse 3. In verse 9, we have the lament and this may be considered complaint as well. This lament goes through to verse 16. So you have a new motif of protest and starts in verse 17 and goes through to 22 and then the petition begins in verse 23 where it says, ‘awake, Lord!’
IV. The Structure and Symmetry of the Psalm
The symmetry of the Psalm shows that there is no panic as such; their emotions have not taken over their thinking. We see there are two lines in verse 1 and also in verse 3 which makes actually ten lines of Hebrew poetry within verses 1 – 8. Then in verses 9 – 16, we have eight lines of Hebrew poetry. We have six lines in the protest from verses 17 – 22. The petition gives us four lines of Hebrew poetry. Thus, we have ten lines, eight lines, six lines, and four lines. I don’t think that this is accidental; it shows that the psalmist is in full control of what he is doing. In all of his anguish, his emotions have not destroyed his ability to think. I see serenity and composure in the shape of a ziggurat; almost like a step pyramid. The ten lines represent that higher part of the walls made up of the larger base and then the eight lines represent a smaller section of the walls on top of the first section and the again the next six and four lines represent smaller section on top of each other. So the Psalm rises up like a ziggurat, and only when the poet has come to the top most flight does he raises up his prayer to God in a climactic moment representing the petition at the end. This is an overall outline of the Psalm. And in addition, each of these sections, fall into two halves; we see within the praise and confident section and particularly verses 1 -3 of the first five lines. He refers to the past and why he has confidence from the past. In verses 4 – 8, he expresses his own confidence because of the past prosperity of Israel. From verse 3, we have a shift from the past to the present by saying ‘you are my king and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob.’ So it starts out in the past within the first five verses and then goes into the present within the second five verses.
In the lament section of verses 9 – 16, those eight lines also divide into two halves. The first four of those lines deal with his defeat on the battlefield, but in the next four lines he talks about his own humiliation, of how he feels. This is because he represents the Living God and he has been defeated. And again, Jesus must have felt all of that when he was on the Cross and they shame him and rebuke him while he was hanging on the cross. Now the protest in verses 17 – 22 starting off by saying that we were faithful, we didn’t turn back; this undeserved suffering and we haven’t violated your law. This is said within three lines and the next three lines; he goes about proving it in verses 20 – 22.
B. A Martyr’s Prayer and Construction
So, in other words, if there is any fault, if there is a deserved suffering, he expects it to be said and thus guilt should be stated. But there is no prophetic word and no condemnation. This presents us with the reality of what the saints must go through, showing us that we must live by faith. So must have been a great comfort to the apostles, all of which faced a martyr’s death. This is what I call, a martyr’s prayer, giving us trues to live by in our suffering. The petition also falls into two parts: we have the questions and then the reality. So we have the ten lines divided up into a five and a five; we have the eight lines, again divided up into a four and a four and then six lines divided up into a three and a three and lastly four lines which are divided up into a two and a two.
So we have three stanzas: past prosperity of Israel in verses 1 – 8, the present adversity in verses 9 – 22 and the cry for future divine help in verse 24 – 27. The Chiastic Structure is seen as:
|a||Hymnic description of God's past aid||2- 4|
|b||The present community’s faithful trust in God||5 - 9|
|X God’s violence against the community||10 - 17|
|b'||Community’s innocence contrasts with God’s action||18 - 23|
|a'||Petition that God aid in the present||24 - 27|
Then we have the motifs that are structured like a ziggurat: Hymn and Confidence – 10 lines, lament – 8 lines, protest – 6 lines and lastly the petition of 4 lines; verses 1 – 8, 9 – 14, 15 – 18, and 19 – 22. Then the halves:
Verses 1 – 3: Recital of Israel’s Salvation History in the Past
Verses 4 – 8: affirmation of Israel’s continuing Faith and Praise
Verses 9 – 12: Lament of Being Handed Over to Defeat
Verses 13 – 16: Lament of Being Handed Over to Humiliation
Verses 17 – 19: Assertion of Innocence
Verses 20 – 23: Proof of Innocence
Verses 23 – 24: Wake Up
Verses 25 – 26: Redeem Us On Account of Your Unfailing Love
We have seen the undeserved suffering of the psalmist here. I really think for myself that I can’t fully enter into the sufferings of Christ because I fail to enter into a risky situation. It is because I like my comfort zone. There has been a wrong emphasis on health, wealth and prosperity. We celebrate Easter but we don’t celebrate Good Friday. Everybody is happy about Easter but Good Friday is not a dominate note. Within the Anglian tradition, wherein the forty days we live in lent and for fifty days we live in Pentecost, and now I go to Ash Wednesday. I couldn’t identify with these traditions before but now I do to a certain extend. It reminds me of the death and darkness of that life I lived. You live in lent where you suffer and I think this is spiritually good. We live for Easter Sunday which is beyond death and we live for the eternal city. I am also learning that the liturgy has spiritual values which I had totally missed. We have to live in light of the resurrection because we are not of this world.
So when we go through times of undeserved suffering and lose rational contact and we liken it to losing visual contact and it is easy to go astray. The Scriptures give us the confidence to go on; they help to sustain us and this is what the psalm is saying. This was written before the exile because he is a king and there is a battle. This is already 600 years old going all the way back to Joshua and so this was a common source of spiritual strength. He didn’t have the whole revelation of God like we do today and in addition, we have the true Joshua and we know that he conquered death. So, it is that knowledge of Christ and the tradition of other saints facing the same thing that will help to sustain us. We even have the great roll call of faith in Hebrews of Abel, Enoch, and Noah. Abel believed God and he was martyred. In regards to Cain, if there was no resurrection, then Cain won, but he didn’t win. This was the very first story where the righteous was put to death. Enoch, instead of dying, he was translated and with Noah everyone else dies. They all had faith and ended up beyond death with Enoch and with God.
Notice the going back and forward with the words ‘my’ and ‘we’ in verse 4: You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob and then in the next verse it says, through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. We now have the ‘I’ in verse 6, I do not put any trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory, and then we shift again to ‘you’ in verse 7, but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. The most plausible explanation for this, who is the ‘I’ with this army? It is the King who leads the army and so it becomes a royal psalm. This is the king and his army who faced a humiliating defeat. It was just like Jesus on the Cross on Good Friday. All the apostles scattered from him. But yet, the psalmist is saying that he has total confidence in God, he isn’t trusting in himself and we see that it is holy war at its best. It is amazing that we have a psalm like this; they are not giving up a life of faith, they are still trusting God. Almost all the stories of the Bible is about being in adversity and overcoming that adversity through faith.
D. The Lament
Now we come to the Lament in verse 9 and this lament is shown in metaphorical terms in verses 11 and 12. It continues to read, you have rejected us and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us. The metaphor comes in verse 11: you gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale. We got nothing from the enemy; they killed us, we didn’t kill them. This is not health, wealth and prosperity gospel that we have here! He is being very honest with his emotions. You have made us a byword among the nations: the peoples shake their heads at us. In verses 13 and 14 he is saying that we have become a joke among the nations. The King’s face is covered with shame. This is undeserved sufferings and a protest in verse 17: all this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Forgotten here has the meaning of dismembering; we did not dismember ourselves with you God, we have remembered. The covenant is the Ten Commandments; we have loved God with all our hearts. They have faced an intense physical and psychological affliction. It all looks very hopeless but you must see God’s sovereignty in all of this. Notice verse 9 with you, verse 10 – you, verse 11 – you and it goes on: you, you, and you. God did it and he never doubted God’s sovereignty in this. God has a design even in their sufferings. He never doubted that God was in control. For martyrs, this is an important truth to understand. In the middle of these declarations, he is declaring his faith.
So, what you did to the Canaanites, you did the same to us. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart? God doesn’t condemn their hearts and accuse them of being hypocritical. Paul relates his own experiences to that of verse 22, yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. I take comfort in that this Godly army and king go through the same suffering that I may be going through. I have a king who has suffers with me and I think this speaks of Jesus. Jesus has gone through this suffering and has been shamed. They all mocked them: why don’t you get down from the cross? But he had to do the work of God and that entailed being on the cross and dying a humbling shameful death. So in the first section we have both scripture and history, and the second section we see the sovereignty of God and then in the third section we have an example. This sustains our faith. We come to the last part in verse 23, awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. This is the way it appears sometimes, that God is sleeping. We knock on the door, but it never opens up. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love. This Psalm leads us where we sometimes feel that it is unresolved. The psalm is telling us that we must live by faith even though we don’t see the answer here and now. It is a great prayer for martyrs. We are in the company of the great apostle Paul in this psalm.
Transcribed by BT Ambassador Phil Smith