Psalm 44
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
From this psalm we may learn three great lessons -

I. WE ARE TAUGHT TO SEE GOD'S HAND IN HISTORY. There is no such thing as chance. "The chapter of accidents," as some one has well said, "is the Bible of the fool." There are differences in the nations and the ages; but God is in all. We acknowledge how God was with the Jews; but we are not so ready to admit that he had to do just as really and truly with other peoples. The difference, in the case of the Jews is that as to them the veil has been lifted, that light has been thrown upon their history. The story of their nation was written as by the hand of God himself, and was committed as a sacred heritage to be transmitted pure and entire from generation to generation (Deuteronomy 6:7-20; el. Moses, Exodus 18:8; David, Psalm 58:8; Hezekiah, Isaiah 38:19). But, as St. Paul has taught us, "All these things happened to them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). God governs the nations on the same principles as he governed the Jews. "There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all" (1 Corinthians 12:6).

II. HOW GOD IS CARRYING OUT HIS OWN GREAT END THROUGH ALL THE AGES OF HISTORY. The wise man said, "One generation passeth away, and another cometh; but the earth abideth for ever" (Ecclesiastes 1:4). But if the earth abideth it is because God abideth. He has his plans as to men, and throughout the ages he is working them out. There is the manifestation of himself. More and more the knowledge of God has increased. The Jews knew more than the patriarchs. The Christians know more than the Jews. Besides, God is, in a sense, educating the world. We stand related to the past and the future. We have learned much from the past. God employs one age to benefit another. How great are our obligations, through books and otherwise, to the great men of the past - to Gentiles and Jews! We are the heirs of all the ages. And if we have benefited by those who came before us, so we are bound to benefit those who come after us. Privilege is the measure of responsibility. "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48). We see but a little, and, as oar knowledge is limited, our judgment must be imperfect. Yet we see and know enough to be satisfied that God is working in and by all events, and that he works ever towards a perfect end.

"Happy the man who sees a God employ'd
In all the good and ill that checker life,
Resolving all events, with their effects
And manifold results, into the will
And arbitration wise of the Supreme!"

III. THAT GOD HAS CARED FOR HIS PEOPLE THROUGH ALL THE AGES OF HISTORY. This is the burden of this psalm. This is the great truth that gives life to the faith professed (vers. 1-8); that awakens the complaint of desertion in time of grievous trial (vers. 9-16); that sustains the hope of help and ultimate deliverance (vers. 17-26). As in the past, so still, there will be changes - not only mercies, but judgments. There will be trials of our faith; there will be the sharp discipline of chastisement; there will be, in some form or other, the "persecution" which tests our loyalty, and strengthens and purifies our love. But, come what will, God changes not; and God is our God. Our trust in men may fail, our hopes of earthly leaders may be disappointed and put to shame; but God is faithful who has promised, and he will never forsake those who trust in him. After Culloden, a soldier of Prince Chades's army was found lying dead on the field, with his Gaelic psalm-book open in his hand, and a bloody finger-mark at the ninth verse of this psalm, "But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame, and doest not forth with our armies." But Christ, the great Captain of our salvation, will not suffer the least of his soldiers thus to die, with blighted hopes and broken heart. - W.F.

The train of thought is this: "Thou hast helped us, thou must help us; but thou hast not helped us; yet have we not by any guilt on our part cut ourselves off from thy help; do thou therefore help us." The problem of suffering, as argued in this psalm, is similar to the problem in the Book of Job. That God should not help them -

I. WAS INCONSISTENT WITS GOD'S PAST TREATMENT OF THEM. (Vers. 1-3.) Their fathers had told them what work God had done in their days - in the days of old. What a history of Divine work have we in the past of the Christian Church!

II. INCONSISTENT WITH THEIR FAITH IN HIM. (Vers. 4-8.) God was their Almighty King, through whom they were able to achieve all conquests.

III. IT WOULD BRING NO PROFIT OR HONOUR TO GOD. (Ver. 12.) To leave them to their enemies. How could God act thus, so as to seem to dishonour himself and to bring no profit to his people?

IV. IT COULD NOT BE A PUNISHMENT FOR UNFAITHFULNESS. (Vers. 17-22.) They had not forgotten God; their heart was not turned back, neither had their steps declined from his way. They could not explain.

V. DID NOT SEEM CONSISTENT WITH GOD'S REGARD TO HIS OWN HONOUR. (Vers. 15, 16, 24.) He seemed to be taking the side of the blasphemer, and forgetting their fidelity. And this was the mystery of their experience.

VI. YET IT DID NOT UPROOT THEIR FAITH IN DIVINE HELP AT LAST. For they continue to supplicate the redeeming interposition of God (vers. 23-26). Faith always conquers its difficulties thus, by trusting where it cannot see or explain. - S.

There is something marvellously touching about this psalm. It is the voice of a martyr Church, which has to witness for God amid persecution, flame, and sword. It divides itself into four parts. In the first there is a glowing retrospect (vers. 1-8); in the second, a mournful plaint (vers. 9-17 and 22); in the third, a solemn appeal to the Church's King and Lord (vers. 18-21); in the fourth, an earnest prayer (vers. 23-26). As an historical document, which (as it has come down to us) is without date, we cannot but ask - To what period of Hebrew history can it apply? Another question suggests itself, viz. - Is the whole of the psalm justifiable? We will deal with these two questions as briefly as possible consistently with clearness, that we may "open up" the theme which the answers thereto will set before us. In order to ascertain the period of Israel's history to which the psalm refers, we must note the data presented to us therein. According to the psalmist's statements;

(1) Israel had been scattered (ver. 11).

(2) The people had been defeated in arms (ver. 10).

(3) They were a reproach and a byword among the nations (vers. 13, 14).

(4) They were sold into slavery (ver. 12).

(5) They were "counted as sheep for the slaughter" (vers. 11, 22).

(6) All this had happened to them, although they had not departed from their God; and although this had happened, still they were not departing from him (vers. 17, 18).

(7) So far from this, they were even slain for their fidelity to truth and to God. "For thy sake we are killed all the day long" (ver. 22). It is not easy to find a period in the national life when the whole of these seven, data can be verified. By one consideration or other, we are almost driven forward to the time of the Maccabees, between B.C. 200 and B.C. 160 (2 Macc. 5:11-23). Mr. Walford says, "That fierce and idolatrous prince Antiochus Epiphanes, the King of Syria, was actuated by an inveterate hatred to the laws and religion of the Jews; and he employed the utmost efforts of his policy and power to induce them to apostatize. Under the severest penalties, he prohibited the worship of Jehovah, the celebration of the sabbath, and other religious festivals, the practice of circumcision, and the whole of the precepts of the Mosaic Law. Notwithstanding this dreadful persecution, the greater part of the people steadily adhered to the Divine institutions, and refused to comply with the idolatrous acts to which their tormentors would have compelled them, though they suffered the most dreadful tortures for their noncompliance with the injunctions of their formidable adversaries." To this period alone do we feel warranted in referring this psalm. There are two objections which have been made thereto. One, that the canon of Old Testament Scripture was finally closed long before. But such does not appear to have been the case. Another, that at the time of the Maccabees the hope of a resurrection buoyed up the sufferers to an extent of which this psalm gives no trace whatever (2 Macc. 7:6-17). But though this may have some weight, yet we must be careful not to lay too much stress on what the psalm does not contain. In all probability the survivors were more broken in spirit than such as were appointed unto death. Anyway, it is fairly clear that in the period to which we now refer, each one of the seven data above named can be verified with tolerable ease. But this cannot be said of either of the other periods to which the plaint of this psalm has been assigned. These are:

1. The time of David. (So Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, Moll, Fausset, et al.) But in David's time we cannot verify either the first, second, third, or seventh of the above data. As Calvin remarks, the Church and nation, as a whole, were prosperous and victorious in David's time.

2. Other periods assigned have been - the time of the Exile (Geikie); the times of Jchoiachin and Zedekiah (Baur, De Wette, and Tholuck); the times of Josiah and Jehoiakim (Barnes); the last days of the Persian dynasty (Ewald); but of one and all of these it may be said that they fail to meet the conditions of data 6 and 7. For the Chronicler expressly declares that the troubles of those periods came upon Israel in consequence of the peoples' unfaithfulness to their covenant and their God. Consequently, until further light is thrown on the subject, we adhere to the Maccabean period as that which most nearly fulfils the conditions to which reference is made. Another question is this - Is the Church's strong assertion of national integrity to God justifiable? Some say, Yes (so Moll, Delitzsch). Some, No (so Perowne). But it is only fair to the writer to suppose him to refer simply to the occasion that drew forth the complaint; he cannot mean that all the nation had been always and uniformly faithful. His intention evidently is this - that there was at that time no defection from God on the part of the people to account for the specific persecution over which he mourns. And since this is the case, he feels he may appeal to God to fulfil his own promise, and to save them for his mercies' sake. We are not prepared to question the propriety of this. All depends on the spirit in which it was said. We well remember that, in the late American War, a noted and eloquent abolitionist went so far as to maintain that the North must win, because God was God! At the same time, there is no doubt that the complaint, the appeal, and the whole tone of the psalm bear traces of a partial revelation, and consequently of an imperfectly developed faith. We have but to pass over the line that divides the two dispensations, to plant ourselves in the middle of the first Christian century, and there we find that Christians were having, and were likely to have, a struggle as hard and fierce as that of the Hebrews of old. So much so that one of their number adopts as his own the most touching words in the whole psalm, "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter." And yet there is neither moan nor sigh, no, not a tear; rather, a song of gladness, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us!" (Romans 8:36, 37). Whence the contrast between the Hebrews sigh and the Christians song whilst in the midst of persecution and death!

I. IN THE HEBREW DISPENSATION GOD SPAKE THROUGH PROPHETS; IN THE CHRISTIAN GOD HAS SPOKEN IN HIS SON. (Hebrews 1:1.) The great Transfiguration scene sets this forth in marvellous clearness. Moses and Elias vanish from sight, and the favoured three are left with Jesus only; in him believers saw the incarnate Son of God, the Father's express Image, who brought with him, in peerless union, the tenderness and sympathy of the brother-man, with the majesty and might of the infinite and eternal God. Hence the figure in the background of Hebrew thought was vastly different from that in the background of Christian thought; the former commanded reverential heed, as a Messenger from heaven; the latter, unbounded love and entire consecration, as Saviour and Lord of all!

II. THE STORY OF THE REDEMPTION WITH WHICH ISRAEL'S NATIONAL LIFE OPENED IS FAR OUTDONE BY THE HISTORY OF THE REDEMPTION BROUGHT IN BY JESUS CHRIST. It was with a glow of pride and thankfulness that the Hebrew singer recounted the deliverance from Egypt, and the entrance to Canaan's land (see also Psalm 78., 105., 106., 107.). But how vastly is all this surpassed both in tenderness and in grandeur, by such words as these! - "He loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20); "Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." The words fell with force and beauty on the ears of Old Testament saints, "I gave Egypt for thy ransom; Ethiopia and Seba for thee;" but how much greater the charm on Christian ears of the words, "He gave himself" (Isaiah 43:3, 4; Galatians 2:20)!

God, in the Person of his Son, Has all his mightiest works outdone."

III. THE HEBREW CHURCH, TERRITORIAL AND NATIONAL, HAS GIVEN PLACE TO THE CHURCH OF GOD, made up of men gathered from every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue. The Church's "land" now can never be invaded. We can never sigh, "The heathen are come into thine inheritance." That is impossible. The entrance into Christ's Church is not decided by rites nor by birth, save by the new birth of the Holy Ghost. Neither features nor racial marks form any sign of this new brotherhood. "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Galatians 6:15).

IV. THE HATRED OF THE JEW BY THE GENTILE IS SUCCEEDED BY THE WORLD'S HATRED OF THE CHURCH. Where religion is or has been regarded as a piece of statecraft, whether among pagans, Papists, or Protestants, divergence from the rites appointed by state or Church has been punished with fire and sword. And the Antiochian persecution in the time of the Maccabees had its parallel in the Diocletian persecution in the Christian era. And although in our own land such treatment is not permitted, yet there is, though largely unseen to the public eye, a fierce hatred by the ungodly of pure and undefiled religion; and many and many a faithful soldier of the cross has to endure petty insult, abuse, and scorn, to an extent known only to himself and his Lord.

V. THE HATRED OF THE WORLD, WHICH WAS THE HEBREWS' DREAD, IS NOW THE CHRISTIAN'S BADGE OF HONOUR. It was SO with the apostles (Acts 5:41; Galatians 6:17). It was so with private Christians in apostolic times (1 Peter 4:13-16). In enduring persecution in the early Christian centuries, believers so regarded it. And even now we have to remember the Master's words in John 15:18-21. The ancient Hebrews could not bear the scorn of their foes; Christians regard it as "the fellowship of Christ's sufferings," and delighted in the words, 2 Corinthians 4:10, 11.

VI. IN THE MIDST OF FIERCEST PERSECUTION, CHRISTIANS HAVE REALIZED THE CHANGELESSNESS OF DIVINE LOVE; even when they were "counted as sheep for the slaughter." Where we have from the Hebrews a groan, we have from the Christians a song (Romans 8:35, 36; Stephen, Acts 6:15 and Acts 7:55-60; Matthew 5:12; Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 1:29; Hebrews 10:3, 4; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:13, 16). Believers knew that nothing could ever separate them from Divine love; and that the stroke that closed the life below set them free for the higher life "with Christ, which was very far better."

VII. HENCE CHRISTIANS SAW, WITH A CLEARNESS TO WHICH HEBREW SAINTS COULD NOT ATTAIN, THAT THE CHURCH EXISTS IN TWO WORLDS. So our Lord has taught in Matthew 16:18 (Revised Version); Revelation 1:18. And the disclosure of this became even clearer through the visions granted to the seer in Patmos, when (Revelation 7.) he saw one part of the Church, below, sealed in the great tribulation, and another part of the Church, above, caught up out of it. Knowing this, as the early Christians did, they knew also that the rage and hate of the enemy could in no wise really harm the Church, since their Lord was building it up in the realm above by the incoming of saints passing up from below. Hence even the slaughter of the people of God was but as a chariot of fire conducting them to the region where "they cannot die any more."

VIII. THU, INSTEAD OF AN AGONIZING CRY TO GOD TO INTERPOSE, THERE IS A PEAL OF TRIUMPH THAT NO INTERPOSITION IS NEEDED. "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." More than conquerors! What a grand and noble defiance of the enemy is there here! And how richly glorious is this proof of the development of the Divine intent to reveal his love more fully as the ages rolled on! Note: If an expositor unfolds Psalm 44. historically only, he must transfer himself to the ancient times; but if he will deal with that psalm from a Christian standpoint, he will have a glorious field for expansion in contrasting the piteous wail of Psalm 44:22 with the gladsomeness with which the very same words are quoted and applied in the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Blessed be God that we live in the days of Christ's fulness of light and life! Amen. - C.

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