The title of this psalm, "To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, Maschil," is the same as the title prefixed to Psalm 42:1-11, except with a slight transposition. See the notes at the title to Psalm 42:1-11. This does not, however, prove that the psalm was by the same author; or that it was composed on the same occasion; or that the design and the contents of the two resemble each other; but merely that they were alike submitted, for the same purpose, to those descendants of the family of Korah who were employed in regulating the music of the sanctuary. It may be true, indeed, that the psalm was composed by one of the descendants of Korah, or one who had the charge of the music, but that is not made certain by the title.
There is no way in which the authorship can be determined. It does not belong to the general division of the book of Psalms which is ascribed to David Psalm 1-41; and though there can be no doubt that a large number of the psalms in the other portions of the book were composed by him, yet it is impossible now to ascertain which were his, except as his name is prefixed to a psalm; while the fact that his name is not so prefixed may be regarded as a proof that, in the belief of those who arranged the collection, it was not his composition. That he may have been the author of some of those which are ascribed to no particular writer is unquestionable, but there is nothing in this psalm which would indicate particularly that it was a psalm of David. We cannot hope, therefore, now to ascertain the name of the author.
The occasion on which the psalm was composed is also wholly unknown, and conjecture is useless. There are no circumstances mentioned in the psalm which will enable us to determine with certainty when it was composed. Many occasions, however, occurred in the history of the Jews to which the sentiments contained in it are applicable; but there is no one of those occasions to which the psalm is so uniquely and exclusively applicable that it can be assigned to that with undoubted certainty. The consequence is, that different expositors have assigned the composition of it to very different occasions. Not a few have referred it to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, and to the persecutions which occurred under him. Calvin, Venema, Dathe, and Rosenmuller adopt this view. DeWette supposes that the reference is to the time before the Babylonian exile, either in the reign of Jehoiakim, when Nebuchadnezzar first invaded the land 2 Kings 24:1, or in the reign of Jehoiachin, when the land was again invaded by him, 2 Kings 24:10. Tholuck supposes that it refers either to the time of Jehoiachin 2 Chronicles 36:9, or to the time of Zedekiah 2 Chronicles 36:11, when the land was invaded by the Babylonians, and when the captivity commenced. Prof. Alexander supposes that there is nothing in the psalm which makes it necessary to suppose that it refers to a later period than the time of David.
What is manifest in the psalm itself in regard to the occasion of its composition is,
(1) that it was a season of defeat and disaster, when the armies of Israel were discomfited, Psalm 44:9-10;
(2) that their armies and people were scattered among the pagan, and that the people were "sold" among them, Psalm 44:11-12;
(3) that they were made a reproach and a by-word among surrounding nations, Psalm 44:13-14;
(4) that this discomfiture and disgrace had befallen them in some place which might be called "the place of dragons," Psalm 44:19; and
(5) that this had occurred at some time when the author of the psalm, speaking in the name of the people, could say that it was not on account of prevailing idolatry, or because, as a people, they had "stretched out their hands to a strange god," Psalm 44:17-18, Psalm 44:20.
Perhaps it will be found, on an ex amination of the psalm, that all the circumstances accord better with the time of Josiah, and especially the close of his reign 2 Kings 23:26-30; 2 Chronicles 35:20-27, and the commencement of the reign following 2 Kings 23:31-37; 2 Kings 24:1, than with any other period of the history of the Hebrew people. This was the beginning of the calamities that came upon the nation in the period immediately preceding the Babylonian captivity; it was a time when the nation was free, as far as the efforts of a pious king could accomplish it, from prevailing idolatry; and yet it was a time when that series of disasters commenced which resulted in the entire removal of the nation to Babylon. There is not the slightest internal evidence that the psalm has reference to the times of the Maccabees; there were no historical facts in the time of David to which it can be easily applied; but all the circumstances in the psalm would find a fulfillment in the events which just preceded the Babylonian captivity, and in the series of national disasters which commenced with the defeat and death of Josiah.
The psalm is an earnest appeal to God to interpose amid the calamities of the nation, and to arise for their defense and deliverance. It consists of the following parts:
I. An allusion to former national blessings in the tradition which had come down from ancient times respecting the divine interposition in behalf of the nation when it was in danger, and when God delivered it from its foes, Psalm 44:1-8. This reference to the past is evidently designed to be an argument or a reason for expecting and imploring the divine interposition in the present period of national darkness and calamity. The fact that God had interposed in similar circumstances was an argument which might be urged why he should do so again.
II. The condition of the nation described, Psalm 44:9-16. It was a time of national calamity. God had cast the nation off, and went forth no more with their hosts. Their armies were turned back and plundered; the people were sold into slavery, they were made a reproach and a by-word among the nations of the earth.
III. The statement that whatever might be the reason why all this had come upon them, it was not on account of national defection, or the prevalence of idolatry, or because they had forgotten God, Psalm 44:17-22. The idea is that there was a prevailing desire in the nation to serve God, and that this was to be regarded as a calamity coming upon the people of God as such; their sufferings were endured in the cause of true religion, or because they were the people of God. This furnishes a ground of appeal that God would interpose in their behalf; or that he would vindicate them and his own cause.
IV. An earnest appeal to God to aid and save them, Psalm 44:23-26.
To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, Maschil. We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.We have heard with our ears - That is, it has been handed down by tradition.
Our fathers have told us - Our ancestors. They have delivered it down from generation to generation. The word rendered "told" means properly to grave, or to insculp on a stone; and thence, to write. Then it comes to mean to number, to count, to recount, to tell, to declare. The word would be applicable to any method of making the thing known, either by hieroglyphic figures in sculpture, by writing, or by oral tradition, though it seems probable that the latter mode is particularly referred to here. Compare Exodus 10:2; Exodus 12:26-27.
What work thou didst in their days - The great work which thou didst accomplish for them; or, how thou didst interpose in their behalf. The reference is to what God accomplished for them in delivering them from Egyptian bondage, and bringing them into the land of Canaan.
In the times of old - In ancient times; in the beginning of our history. The idea here is, that we may properly appeal to the past - to what God has done in former ages - as an argument for his interposition in similar circumstances now, for,
(a) His former interposition showed his power to save;
(b) it was such an illustration of his character that we may appeal to that as a reason for asking him to interpose again.
How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand - The word rendered "heathen" means simply nations without necessarily conveying the idea of paganism, as that word is now understood. It means the nations, to wit, of the land of Canaan, or the Canaanites; and as these nations were in fact idolaters, or strangers to the true religion, the word came in time to have that idea attached to it. It is in that sense that we use the term now, though the word nations would accurately express the meaning of the original. The word rendered "drive out" - ירשׁ yârash - means properly to take, seize, or take possession of; and then, in the form here used (Hiphil), it means to cause to possess; to give possession of; and then, to take possession of, to drive out of a possession, to dispossess, to disinherit. The meaning here is, he dispossessed them of their country; he disinherited them. This, the psalmist says, God had done "by his hand;" that is, it was by his own power.
And plantedst them - That is, planted his people - the children of Israel. He put them in the place of those whom he had disinherited or dispossessed. The word is properly applicable to a tree, but it is also used with reference to a nation, and means that he assigned them a fixed and permanent residence. Thus we say in English, "to plant a colony." Compare Amos 9:15; Jeremiah 24:6; Jeremiah 32:41; Psalm 80:8; 2 Samuel 7:10.
How thou didst afflict the people - That is, the people of the land of Canaan; the nations that dwelt there. The word means to bring evil or calamity upon anyone.
And cast them out - The word used here may be taken in the sense of sending out or expelling, as in Genesis 3:23; 1 Kings 9:7 - and then it would be applicable to the Canaanites, as meaning that God had expelled or driven them out - as it is understood by our translators; or it may be used to denote the sending out of shoots or branches by a tree or vine, as in Psalm 80:11; Jeremiah 17:8; Ezekiel 17:6-7 - and then it would refer here to the Israelites, and would mean that God caused them to increase; multiplied them; spread them over the land, as a vine spreads, Psalm 80:8-11. The parallelism here clearly demands the latter interpretation. So it is understood by Luther, DeWette, Tholuck, and Prof. Alexander.
For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.For they got not the land in possession - The land of Canaan. The design of this verse is to illustrate the sentiment in the previous verse, that they owed their establishment in the promised land wholly to God. The fact that He had interposed in their behalf; that He had shown that he was able to discomfit their enemies, is appealed to as a reason why he should now interpose in a time of national danger and calamity. He who had driven out the nations in the days of their fathers; he who had established his people peaceably in the land from which the former inhabitants had been expelled, was able to interpose now and save them. The prominent thought in all this is, that it was God who had accomplished all that had been done. That same God was able to save them again.
Neither did their own arm save them - Not their own strength or prowess.
But thy right hand - The right hand is mentioned because it is that which is employed in wielding the sword or the spear in battle.
And the light of thy countenance - Thy favor. It was because thou didst lift upon them the light of thy countenance, or because thou didst favor them. See the notes at Psalm 4:6.
Because thou hadst a favor unto them - Thou didst desire to show them favor; thou hadst pleasure in them. The idea in the Hebrew word is that of delighting in anything, or having pleasure in it.
Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob.Thou art my King, O God - literally, "Thou art He, my King, O God;" that is, Thou art the same: the same King, and the same God, who didst interpose in the time of the fathers, and thou art he whom I recognize as King, as the Sovereign Ruler of thy people. The psalmist here uses the singular number, "my King," as expressive of his own feelings, though he doubtless means also to speak in the name of the people. It would seem not improbable from this, that the author of the psalm was the reigning monarch in the time of the troubles referred to. If not, it was evidently one who personated him, and who meant to represent his feelings. The language shows the strong confidence of the author of the psalm in God, and perhaps also is designed to express his personal responsibility at the time, and his consciousness that his only refuge in conducting the troubled affairs of the nation was God.
Command deliverances for Jacob - As if all was under His command, and He had only to give direction, and salvation would come. The word "Jacob" here is used to denote the descendants of Jacob, or the people of God. See the notes at Psalm 24:6.
Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.Through thee - By thy help. "Will we push down our enemies." The word here rendered "push down" means literally to strike or push with the horns, spoken of horned animals, Exodus 21:28, Exodus 21:31-32. Then it is applied to a conqueror prostrating nations before him: Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11.
Through thy name - That is, acting under thine authority and by thy help. If he gave the commandment Psalm 44:4, it would be certain that they would be able to overcome their adversaries.
Will we tread them under - Will we conquer or subdue them. The language is taken from the custom of treading on a prostrate foe. See Psalm 7:5, note; Psalm 18:40, note; compare Job 40:12, note; Isaiah 10:6, note; Isaiah 63:3, note; Daniel 7:23, note.
That rise up against us - Our enemies that have mustered their strength for war. The language would properly denote those who had rebelled against a government; but it seems here to be used in a more general sense, as referring to those who had waged war against them. See Psalm 18:39,
For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.For I will not trust in my bow - The author of the psalm himself again speaks as expressing his own feelings, and stating the grounds of his confidence and hope. Compare Psalm 44:4. At the same time he doubtless expresses the feelings of the people, and speaks in their name. He had said Psalm 44:3 that the ancestors of the Jewish people had not obtained possession of the promised land by any strength or skill of their own, and he now says that he, and those who were connected with him, did not depend on their own strength, or on the weapons of war which they might employ, but that their only ground of trust was God.
But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.But thou hast saved us from our enemies - That is, Thou hast done it in times past. Thou hast interposed in behalf of our nation in periods of danger and trial, and hast delivered us. This is stated as a reason for what is said by the psalmist in Psalm 44:6 - that he would not trust in his sword and in iris bow - and for the earnest appeal which he now makes to God. He and his people did not rely on their own strength and prowess, but on that God who had often interposed to save the nation.
And hast put them to shame that hated us - In former times. That is, he had caused them to be discomfited. He had turned them back. He had covered them with confusion. On the meaning of the words "shame" and "ashamed," see Job 6:20, note; Psalm 34:5, note.
In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever. Selah.In God we boast all the day long - That is, continually or constantly. It is not a momentary or temporary expression of our feelings, but it is our habitual and constant employment. We have no other ground of reliance, and we express that reliance constantly. The word rendered "boast" here rather more literally means praise: "In God we praise all the day long." The idea is, that he was their only ground of confidence. They ascribed all their former successes to him; they had no other reliance now.
And praise thy name for ever - We do it now; we shall never cease to do it.
Selah - On the meaning of this word, see the notes at Psalm 3:2.
But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies.But thou hast cast off - The author of the psalm now commences a description of the existing circumstances of the nation, so strongly in contrast with what had existed in former times when God interposed in their behalf, and when he gave them success. This is properly the commencement of the second part of the psalm, and the description is continued to Psalm 44:16. The Hebrew word here rendered "hast cast off" implies disgust and abhorrence, as the casting away of that which is loathsome. See the word explained in the notes at Psalm 43:2. The reference is to what had occurred at the time when the psalm was written. See introduction to this psalm. The allusion is to the invasion of the land by foreigners; their own discomfiture in their wars; and the calamities consequent on these invasions and defeats.
And goest not forth with our armies - See the places referred to above. Thus Josiah was defeated and slain; and thus the land was conquered by the invaders.
Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves.Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy - Instead of giving us the victory. That is, we are defeated.
And they which hate us spoil for themselves - They plunder us; they take our property as spoil, and carry it away. That this was done at the time referred to in the introduction as the time of the composition of the psalm, is apparent from the narrative in the Book of Chronicles. 2 Chronicles 36:7, "Nebuchadnezzar also carried of the vessels of the house of the Lord to Babylon, and put them in his temple at Babylon." Compare 2 Kings 23:33; 2 Kings 24:13-16; 2 Kings 25:13-17.
Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat; and hast scattered us among the heathen.Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat - Margin, as in Hebrew, "as sheep of meat." That is, as sheep are killed for food, so thou hast allowed us to be put to death.
And hast scattered us among the heathen - Among the surrounding nations. See the notes at Psalm 44:2. That is, they had been discomfited in war; many had fled into surrounding countries; many had been carried away captive. All this undoubtedly occurred at the time at which I have supposed that the psalm was written - the time immediately preceding the Babylonian captivity.
Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase thy wealth by their price.Thou sellest thy people for nought - Margin, without riches. Without gain, or advantage; that is, for no price that would be an equivalent. The people were given up to their enemies, but there was nothing in return that would be of equal value. The loss was in no way made up. They were taken away from their country and their homes. They were withdrawn from useful labor in the land; there was a great diminution of the national strength and of the national wealth; but there was no return to the land, no advantage, no valuable result, that would be an equivalent for thus withdrawing them from their country and their homes. It was as though they had been given away. A case may be supposed where the exile of a part of a people might be an advantage to a land, or where there would be a full equivalent for the loss sustained, as when soldiers go forth to defend their country, and to repel a foe, rendering a higher service than they could by remaining at home; or as when colonists go forth and settle in a new region, producing valuable returns in commerce; or as when missionaries go forth among the pagan, often producing, by a reflex influence, effects on the piety and prosperity of the churches at home, more important, and more widely diffused, than would have been produced by their remaining to labor in their own country.
But no such valuable results occurred here. The idea is that they were lost to their homes; to their country; to the cause of religion. It is not necessary to suppose that the psalmist here means to say that the people had been literally sold into slavery, although it is not in itself improbable that this had occurred. All that the words necessarily imply would be that the effect was as if they were sold into bondage. In Deuteronomy 32:30; Judges 2:14; Judges 3:8; Judges 4:2, Judges 4:9; Judges 10:7, the word used here is employed to express the fact that God delivered his people into the hand of their enemies. Any removal into the territories of the pagan would be a fact corresponding with all that is conveyed by the language used. There call be little doubt, however, that (at the time referred to) those who were made captives in war were literally sold as slaves. This was a common custom. Compare the notes at Isaiah 52:3.
And dost not increase thy wealth by their price - The words "thy wealth" are supplied by the translators; but the idea of the psalmist is undoubtedly expressed with accuracy. The meaning is, that no good result to the cause of religion, no corresponding returns had been the consequence of thus giving up the people into the hand of their enemies. This may however, be rendered, as DeWette translates it, "thou hast not enhanced their price;" that is, God had not set a high price on them, but had sold them for too little, or had given them away for nothing. But the former idea seems better to suit the connection and to convey more exactly the meaning of the original. So it is rendered in the Chaldee, and by Luther.
Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us.Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbors - Compare the notes at Psalm 39:8. The word neighbors here refers to surrounding people or nations. They were reproached, scorned, and derided as forsaken by God, and given up to their foes. They no longer commanded the admiration of mankind as a prosperous, favored, happy people. Surrounding nations treated them with contempt as inspiring no fear, and as having nothing to entitle them to respect.
Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people.Thou makest us a byword among heathen - The word rendered "by-word" - משׁל mâshâl - means properly a similitude or parable; then, a sententious saying, and apophthegm; then, a proverb; then, a song or verse, particularly a satirical song, or a song of derision. The idea here is, that they were made a proverb, or were referred to as a striking instance of the divine abandonment, or as something marked to which the nations might and did refer as an example of calamity, judgment, misfortune, failure; a warning to all. See Deuteronomy 28:37.
A shaking of the head among the people - An occasion for the shaking of the head, in derision and scorn. Compare the notes at Psalm 22:7.
My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me,My confusion is continually before me - My shame; the conviction and the evidence of my disgrace is constantly present with me. Literally, "all the day my shame is before me." That is, the evidences of disgrace, defeat, and disaster; render everywhere around him, and he could not conceal them from himself. The psalmist here is represented as the head of the people, and expresses the sense of disgrace which the sovereign era people would feel in a time of national calamity; identifying himself with the people, he speaks of the national disgrace as his own.
And the shame of my face - The shame that is manifested on the countenance when we blush.
Hath covered me - That is, I am suffused with the evidence of my shame; or, as we sometimes say, "he blushed all over." The blush, however - that special rush of blood manifesting itself through the skin - which constitutes the evidence of shame, is confined to the face and the neck; an arrangement which none can explain, except on the supposition that there is a God; that he is a moral governor; and that, as it was designed that the body should be covered or clothed, he meant that the evidence of guilt should manifest itself on the parts of the person which are most exposed to view, or where others could see it. The idea here is, that he could not conceal the proofs of his shame and disgrace; he was compelled to exhibit them to all around.
For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth; by reason of the enemy and avenger.For the voice of him ... - That is, Because I hear the voice of him that reproaches and blasphemes. The word rendered blasphemeth, means properly to use cutting words; then, to reproach or revile. It may be applied either to people or to God. In the former case, it means reproach or reviling; in the latter, blasphemy in the usual sense of that term, denoting reproachful words concerning God. The word may be used here in both these senses, as it is evident that not only were the people the subject of reproach, but that God was also.
By reason of the enemy - That is, the foreign enemies, or those who had invaded the land.
And avenger - Of him who had come to take vengeance. Here the word refers to the foreign enemies of the nation, and to the spirit by which they were actuated; their purposes to avenge themselves of what they regarded as wrongs, or take vengeance on a nation which they had long hated. Compare the notes at Psalm 8:2.
All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant.All this is come upon us - All these calamities. The connecting thought here is, that although all these things had come upon them, yet they could not be traced to their own infidelity or unfaithfulness to God. There was nothing in the national character, there were no circumstances at that time existing, there was no special unfaithfulness among the people, there was no such general forgetfulness of God, and no such general prevalence of idolatry as would account for what had occurred, or as would explain it. The nation was not then more deeply depraved than it had been at other times; but, on the contrary, there was among the people a prevalent regard for God and for his service. It was, therefore, a mystery to the author of the psalm, that these calamities had been suffered to come upon them at that time; it was an event the cause of which he desired to search out, Psalm 44:21.
Yet have we not forgotten thee - As a nation. That is, there was nothing special in the circumstances of the nation at that time which would call down the divine displeasure. We cannot suppose that the psalmist means to claim for the nation entire perfection, but only to affirm that the nation at that time was not characterized by any special forgetfulness of God, or prevalence of wickedness. All that is here said was true at the time when, as I have supposed, the psalm was written - the closing part of the reign of Josiah, or the period immeditely following.
Neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant - We have not been unfaithful to thy covenant; to the covenant which thou didst make with our fathers; to the commandments which thou hast given us. This can only mean that there was no such prevailing departure from the principles of that covenant as could account for this. The psalmist could not connect the existing state of things - the awful and unique discomfitures and calamities which had come upon the nation - with anything special in the character of the people, or in the religious condition of the nation.
Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way;Our heart is not turned back - That is, We have not turned away from thy service; we have not apostatized from thee; we have not fallen into idolatry. This must mean that such was not at that time the characteristic of the nation; it was not a prominent thing among the people; there was no such general and pervading iniquity as to explain the fact that these calamities had come upon them, or to be properly the cause of these troubles.
Neither have our steps declined from thy way - Margin, goings. The idea as expressed by our translators is, that the people had not departed from the path prescribed by God; that is, from what he required in his law. The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it, "Thou hast turned our steps from thy way;" that is, though our heart is not turned back, and we have not revolted from thee, yet thou hast turned our steps from thy way, or hast turned us from the way of thy favor and from prosperity. The rendering in the common version, however, is more in conformity with the idea in the original.
Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons - Or rather, "That thou hast crushed us in the place of dragons." The connection is continued from the previous verse: "Our heart is not so turned back, nor have our steps so declined from thy path, that thou shouldst crush us in the place of dragons." That is, we have been guilty of no such apostasy and infidelity as to account for the fact that thou hast dealt with us in this manner, or make it necessary and proper that we should thus be crushed and overthrown The word rendered "dragons" - תנין tannı̂yn - means either a great fish; a sea monster; a serpent; a dragon; or a crocodile. See the notes at Isaiah 13:22. It may also mean a jackal, a fox, or a wolf. DeWette renders it here, jackals. The idea in the passage is essentially the same, whichever interpretation of the word is adopted. The "place of dragons" would denote the place where such monsters are found, or where they had their abode; that is to say, in desolate places; wastes; deserts; old ruins; depopulated towns. See the notes, as above, at Isaiah 13:19-22; compare Jeremiah 9:11. The meaning here would be, therefore, that they had been vanquished; that their cities and towns had been reduced to ruins; that their land had been laid waste; that the place where they had been "sore broken" was in fact a fit abode for wild beasts and monsters.
And covered us with the shadow of death - Our land has been covered with a dark and dismal shade, as if Death had cast his image or shadow over it. See Job 3:5, note; and Psalm 23:4, note. There could be no more striking illustration of calamity and ruin.
If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;If we have forgotten the name of our God - That is, if we have apostatized from him.
Or stretched out our hands to a strange god - Or have been guilty of idolatry. The act of stretching out the hands, or spreading forth the hands, was significant of worship or prayer: 1 Kings 8:22; 2 Chronicles 6:12-13; see the notes at Isaiah 1:15. The idea here is, that this was not the cause or reason of their calamities; that if this had occurred, it would have been a sufficient reason for what had taken place; but that no such cause actually existed, and therefore the reason must be found in something else. It was the fact of such calamities having come upon the nation when no such cause existed, that perplexed the author of the psalm, and led to the conclusion in his own mind Psalm 44:22 that these calamities were produced by the malignant designs of the enemies of the true religion, and that, instead of their suffering for their national sins, they were really martyrs in the cause of God, and were suffering for his sake.
Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.Shall not God search this out? - That is, If this had been the case, it would be known to God. If, as a nation, we had been given to idolatry, or if our hearts had been secretly alienated from the true God, though there had been no open manifestation of apostasy, yet that could not have been concealed from him. The question here asked implies a solemn declaration on the part of the psalmist that this was not so; or that there was no such national apostasy from God, and no such prevalence of idolatry in the land as to account for what had occurred. The reason for the calamities which had come upon them, therefore, must be found in something else.
For he knoweth the secrets of the heart - What is in the heart: what is concealed from the world. If there were any such alienation from him in the hearts of the people, he would know it. The fact that God knows the heart, or that he understands all the secret thoughts, purposes, and motives of people, is one that is everywhere affirmed in the Scriptures. See 1 Chronicles 28:9; Romans 8:27; compare the notes at Revelation 2:23.
Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long - That is, we are continually or constantly subjected to these calamities. It is not a single defeat, but it is a continued slaughter. This verse contains, in the apprehension of the psalmist, the true cause of the calamities which had come upon the nation. The emphasis in the passage lies in the phrase "for thy sake." The meaning is, It is on thy account; it is in thy cause; it is because we are thy friends, and because we worship thee. It is not on account of our national sins; it is not because there is any prevalent idolatry, but it is because we are the worshippers of the true God, and we are, therefore, martyrs. All these calamities have come upon us in consequence of our attachment to thee. There is no evidence that there was any self-glorying in this, or any intention to blame God as if he were unjust or severe, but it is the feeling of martyrs as suffering in the cause of religion. This passage is applied by the apostle Paul to Christians in his time, as fitly describing their sufferings, and the cause of the calamities which came upon them. See the notes at Romans 8:36.
We are counted as sheep for the slaughter - We are reckoned like sheep designed for the slaughter. That is, It is not because we are guilty, but we are regarded and treated as innocent sheep who are driven to be slaughtered. See the notes at Romans 8:36. Their attachment to the true religion - their devotion to Yahweh as the true God - was the secret cause of all the calamities which had come upon them. As a nation they were his friends, and as such they were opposed by the worshippers of other gods.
Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever.Awake, why sleepest thou? - This is a solemn and earnest appeal to God to interpose in their behalf, as if he were "asleep," or were regardless of their sufferings. Compare Psalm 3:7, note; Psalm 7:6, note; Psalm 35:23, note.
Arise, cast us not off for ever - Do not forsake us always. Compare Psalm 44:9. He had seemed to have cast them off; to have forgotten them; to have forsaken them utterly, and the psalmist, in the name of the people, calls on him not entirely to abandon them.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?Wherefore hidest thou thy face? - See the notes at Psalm 13:1. Why dost thou turn away from us, and refuse to aid us, and leave us to these unpitied sufferings?
And forgettest our affliction and our oppression - Our trials, and the wrongs that are committed against us. These are earnest appeals. They are the pleadings of the oppressed and the wronged. The language is such as man would use in addressing his fellow-men; and, when applied to God, it must be understood as such language. As used in the Psalms, it denotes earnestness, but not irreverence; it is solemn petition, not dictation; it is affectionate pleading, not complaint. It indicates depth of suffering and distress, and is the strongest language which could be employed to denote entire helplessness and dependence. At the same time, it is language which implies that the cause for which they suffered was the cause of God, and that they might properly call on him to interfere in behalf of his own friends.
For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth.For our soul is bowed down to the dust - That is, We are overborne with calamity, so that we sink to the earth. The expression is one that denotes great affliction.
Our belly cleaveth unto the earth - We are like animals that are prone upon the earth, and that cannot rise. The allusion may be to reptiles that cannot stand erect. The figure is intended to denote great prostration and affliction.
Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies' sake.Arise for our help - Margin, as in Hebrew, "a help for us." That is, Deliver us from our present calamities and troubles.
For thy mercies' sake - On account of thy mercies. That is, in order that thy mercy may be manifested; or that thy character, as a God of mercy, may be made known. It was not primarily or mainly on their own account that the psalmist urges this prayer; it was that the character of God might be made known, or that it might be seen that he was a merciful Being. The proper manifestation of the divine character, as showing what God is, is in itself of more importance than our personal salvation - for the welfare of the universe depends on that; and the highest ground of appeal and of hope which we can have, as sinners, when we come before him, is that he would glorify himself in his mercy. To that we may appeal, and on that we may rely. When that is urged as an argument for our salvation, and when that is the sole ground of our confidence, we may be assured that he is ready to hear and to save us. In the New Testament he has told us how that mercy has been manifested, and how it may be made available to us - to wit, through the Lord Jesus, the great Mediator; and hence, we are directed to come in his name, and to make mention of what he has done and suffered in order that the divine mercy may be consistently manifested to mankind. From the beginning of the world - from the time when man apostatized from God, - through all dispensations, and in all ages and lands, the only hope of men for salvation has been the fact that God is a merciful Being; the true ground of successful appeal to him has been, is, and ever will be, that his own name might be glorified and honored in the salvation of lost and ruined sinners - in the displays of his mercy.