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Psalm 44

 

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Former Deliverance and Present Troubles
MT Intro
For the choir director. A Maskil of the sons of Korah
Redemption Remembered in Present Dishonor Prayer For Deliverance From National Enemies A Prayer For Protection National Lament
44:1-3 44:1-3 44:1-3 44:1-3 44:1-2a
        44:2b-3
44:4-8 44:4-8 44:4-8 44:4-8 44:4-5
        44:6-8
44:9-16 44:9-16 44:9-12 44:9-12 44:9-10
        44:11-12
    44:13-16 44:13-16 44:13-14
        44:15-16
44:17-19 44:17-19 44:17-19 44:17-19 44:17-19
44:20-26 44:20-22 44:20-22 44:20-22 44:20-22
  44:23-26 44:23-26 44:23-24 44:23-24
      44:25-26 44:25-26

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. The opening strophes are contrasts between the failure of human plans and efforts and YHWH's effective and purposeful plans.

 

B. In a way this Psalm is similar to

1. Deuteronomy 32

2. Nehemiah 9

3. Psalm 78

which are the history of Israel's faithlessness and YHWH's faithfulness during the early years (exodus, wilderness, conquest, judges).

 

C. This Psalm obviously was written after Israel's experience of exile. Its focus is national not individual.

 

D. It must be stated again and again that YHWH has an eternal redemptive purpose. Please look at the following Special Topics online (www.freebiblecommentary.org).

1. YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Paln

2. Why Do OT Covenant Promises Seem So Different From NT Covenant Promises?

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 44:1-3
 1O God, we have heard with our ears,
 Our fathers have told us
 The work that You did in their days,
 In the days of old.
 2You with Your own hand drove out the nations;
 Then You planted them;
 You afflicted the peoples,
 Then You spread them abroad.
 3For by their own sword they did not possess the land,
 And their own arm did not save them,
 But Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence,
 For You favored them.

44:1-3 This strophe recounts (perfect verbs, cf. Deut. 32:7) all of YHWH's activities for Israel during the conquest of Joshua. This conquest fulfilled the promise of Gen. 15:12-21. Notice the Genesis passage emphasizes YHWH's role (i.e., holy war) in the promise. YHWH acted, Abraham slept! The conquest was YHWH's victory, not the Israelite military's (Ps. 44:3).

44:1 "we have heard" The Jewish annual feasts were occasions to instruct the new generations about God' saving activities (cf. Exodus 12; Deut. 6:20-25; note the recurrent phrase, "when your children ask. . .," cf. Exod. 12:26, 27; 13:14-15; Deut. 6:20-35; Jos. 4:6-7, 21-24). It is the spiritual responsibility of every generation of believers to instruct the new generation about God, His character, and redemptive acts.

44:2 "the nations. . .the peoples" This refers to the native tribes of Canaan. See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: The Pre-israelite Inhabitants of Palestine

▣ "You planted them" In context this still refers to the Canaanite tribes (cf. LXX). The OT viewed YHWH as the establisher of all people groups (cf. Deut. 32:8). Genesis 15:12-21 asserts that the inhabitants of Canaan were expelled because of their sins; when Israel sins she will be expelled also (cf. Psalm 78).

The TEV, REV, and NET Bible assume that verse 2 relates to

1. the Canaanite people, 44:2a,c

2. the Israelites under Joshua, 44:2b,d (cf. Exod. 15:17; Jer. 45:4)

 

44:3 It was not Israel's military but YHWH's power to accomplish His purposes that allowed Israel to leave Egypt, travel to Canaan, and dispossess the native tribes!

Notice the parallelism between

1. Your right hand

2. Your arm

3. the light of Your presence

Number 3 would refer to the Shekinah Cloud of Glory during the Wilderness Wandering Period.

▣ "You favored them" This is the purpose of YHWH's promise to Abraham.

1. a seed (i.e., descendants)

2. a land

a. Abraham — Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 15:18

b. Israel — Gen. 26:3

c. Jacob — Gen. 28:13

The verb "favored" (BDB 953, KB 1280, Qal perfect) denotes the covenant purpose (cf. Gen. 12:3) of bringing all peoples to Himself (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan at Psalm 2, Intro.). YHWH chose to use Abraham and his seed (cf. Deut. 4:37; 7:7-8; 10:15) to reach all the sons and daughters of Adam.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 44:4-8
 4You are my King, O God;
 Command victories for Jacob.
 5Through You we will push back our adversaries;
 Through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us.
 6For I will not trust in my bow,
 Nor will my sword save me.
 7But You have saved us from our adversaries,
 And You have put to shame those who hate us.
 8In God we have boasted all day long,
 And we will give thanks to Your name forever.  Selah.

44:4-8 If the first strophe, dominated by perfect verbs, denotes the past, this one, dominated by imperfects, denotes the present. Both deal with the concept of "holy war" or " God as Warrior." YHWH (or His name, Ps. 44:5,8) is the source of Israel's victories, not their military.

44:4 "You are my King" YHWH as king probably comes from 1 Sam.8:7. The Israelite king was only an earthly representative of YHWH's rule and reign (cf. Isa. 24:23; 52:7; 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1). In Jewish literature and ritual, YHWH is called "King of the Universe."

▣ "Command victories for Jacob" This is an imperative of request (BDB 845, KB 1010, Piel imperative.

The word "victories" is literally "salvation" (BDB 447). In the OT it denotes deliverance from physical problems and enemies.

It is possible that the ending letter on Elohim could go with the next word, making it "my Commander" (AB, p. 265), which would be parallel to "My King." AB thinks the next phrase should also be a parallel title, "the Savior of Jacob."

▣ "for Jacob" This is an allusion to YHWH's promises to the Patriarchs (i.e., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, cf. Genesis 12-35). YHWH has an eternal revelatory, redemptive purpose for the whole world in which Israel and Jesus are key components (see Special Topic at Psalm 2, Intro.)!

44:8 Notice the parallelism of verse 8.

1. boasted — give thanks

2. all day long — forever

 

▣ "Selah" See Introduction to Psalms, VII and note at Ps. 3:2.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 44:9-16
 9Yet You have rejected us and brought us to dishonor,
 And do not go out with our armies.
 10You cause us to turn back from the adversary;
 And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves.
 11You give us as sheep to be eaten
 And have scattered us among the nations.
 12You sell Your people cheaply,
 And have not profited by their sale.
 13You make us a reproach to our neighbors,
 A scoffing and a derision to those around us.
 14You make us a byword among the nations,
 A laughingstock among the peoples.
 15All day long my dishonor is before me
 And my humiliation has overwhelmed me,
 16Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles,
 Because of the presence of the enemy and the avenger.

44:9-16 This strophe is a stark reversal of Ps. 44:1-3 and 4-8. Instead of YHWH fighting for Israel (i.e., 44:9b; Ps. 60:10; 108:11), He is fighting against them. It does not specifically mention why, but the problem was covenant disobedience and its consequences (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30).

The terrible consequences were not just military defeat but exile, slavery, humiliation!

44:9 "You have rejected us" This verb (BDB 276, KB 276, Qal perfect) is used often in the Psalms where YHWH rejects His covenant people (cf. Ps. 44:9,23; 60:1,10; 74:1; 77:7; 108:11). The reason why is the big question.

1. covenant disobedience (i.e., Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30)

2. their relationship with YHWH (i.e., Job, Psalm 73, Habakkuk)

3. a test of their loyalty not related to blessings (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD TESTS HIS PEOPLE at Ps. 11:4b-5)

The Psalm does not answer this, unless 44:22 is the key to the whole Psalm.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 44:17-19
 17All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You,
 And we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant.
 18Our heart has not turned back,
 And our steps have not deviated from Your way,
 19Yet You have crushed us in a place of jackals
 And covered us with the shadow of death.

44:17-19 This strophe is an attempt to accept responsibility. Israel is claiming innocence.

1. we have not forgotten You

2. we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant

3. our heart (collective) has not turned back

4. our steps have not deviated from Your way

This claim of innocence is continued in the next strophe (cf. Ps. 44:20-22). This may be true for some Israelites but not for the majority of them, for the majority of their history (cf. Deuteronomy 32; Psalm 78; Nehemiah 9).

Verse 19 is theologically similar to Job where he was willing to make God look bad to enhance his own case. The psalmist is accusing God of acting against them in an unfair manner!

For a different interpretation see Derek Kidner, Tyndale OT Commentaries, vol. 15, pp. 185-186.

44:17 "Your covenant" See Special Topic at Ps. 25:10.

44:19

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV, NJB"jackals"
JPSOA, REB"sea monster"

The difference between these two is one consonant.

1. jackal — BDB 1072, תנים

2. sea monster — BDB תנין

The UBS Text Project (p. 237) gives "jackal" a "B" rating (some doubt). The JPSOA gives Ezek. 29:3; 32:2, as parallel passages for tannin (i.e., "sea monster," cf. Gen. 1:21; Job 7:12).

From the Canaanite literature desert creatures are often used as figurative language for the demonic of a nation (cf. Isa. 13:21-22; 34:11-15; Jer. 9:11; Mic. 1:8; Zeph. 2:4).

▣ "the shadow of death" See note at Ps. 23:4. YHWH has abandoned His covenant people to the demonic forces of pagan religions and the realm of death!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 44:20-26
 20If we had forgotten the name of our God
 Or extended our hands to a strange god,
 21Would not God find this out?
 For He knows the secrets of the heart.
 22But for Your sake we are killed all day long;
 We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
 23Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, O Lord?
 Awake, do not reject us forever.
 24Why do You hide Your face
 And forget our affliction and our oppression?
 25For our soul has sunk down into the dust;
 Our body cleaves to the earth.
 26Rise up, be our help,
 And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.

44:20 This is a specific denial of idolatry. They assert that if they were idolatrous, YHWH would surely have known (Ps. 44:21, cf. Ps. 7:9; 17:3; 26:2; 66:10; 139:23; Jer. 11:20; 17:10; 20:12).

▣ "extended our hands" This is literally "spread forth" (BDB 831, KB 975, Qal imperfect). This was a physical gesture of worship, usually denoting prayer (cf. Exod. 9:29; 2 Chr. 6:12; Ezra 9:5; Job 11:13; Ps. 28:2; 48:31; 88:9; 134:2; 141:2; 143:6), but could include offering (i.e., lifting up) some type of sacrifice (animal, incense, vegetable, or wine).

44:22 This is a claim, like Ps. 44:19, that YHWH has abandoned Israel (cf. UBS Handbook, p. 409). Paul makes use of this verse in Rom. 8:36, and seems to indicate that God's people face problems in a fallen world but He is with them and for them. Nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).

▣ "for Your sake" Some have seen this phrase as the key theological thrust of the Psalm. God's people are persecuted, not because of their sin, but because of their relationship to Him. This motif is clearly seen in the life of Jesus.

I am just not sure there is enough textual evidence from this Psalm to make this claim!

44:23-26 This is seen as a separate strophe by NKJV, NRSV. There is a series of prayer requests (imperatives and jussives).

1. arouse Yourself, Ps. 44:23 — BDB 734, KB 802, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 7:6; 35:23

2. awake — BDB 884, KB 1098, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 35:23

3. do not reject us forever — BDB 276, KB 276, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. Ps. 77:7

4. rise up — BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 3:7; 7:6; 9:19; 10:12; 17:13; 74:22; 82:8; 132:8

5. redeem us — BDB 804, KB 911, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 25:22; 130:8 (see Special Topic at Ps. 19:14)

 

44:23 "why do You sleep, O Lord?" This is an idiomatic anthropomorphic phrase (cf. Ps. 78:65). YHWH (here called Adonia) does not sleep (cf. Ps. 121:4), but at times because of Israel's sin, He seems to remove Himself from fellowship with them (cf. Ps. 44:24-25).

For a good brief discussion see Hard Sayings of the Bible, "Does God Sleep?" (pp. 268-269).

44:24 "do not reject us forever" "Forever" is another idiom referring to fellowship (cf. Ps. 103:9). It seemed forever to them! But it was simply a period of disfellowship so as to engender repentance and restore long term fellowship.

44:25 This is imagery for people praying, either on their knees or prostrate on the ground. This was an unusual position of prayer, which was usually standing with hands lifted and eyes open, looking up. Solomon prayed on his knees (cf. 2 Chr. 6:13); Daniel prayed on his knees (cf. Dan. 6:10); Jesus prayed on His face in Gethsemane (cf. Matt. 26:39)! It is a way to denote intensity!

44:26 "for the sake of Your lovingkindness" YHWH acts for

1. His love for their fathers (i.e., the Patriarchs)

2. His promise to their fathers

3. His wider purpose of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Gen. 12:3; see Special Topic at Psalm 2, Intro)

4. His covenant loyalty (see Special Topic at Ps. 5:7) to His word (cf. Ps. 6:4; 109:21,26; 119:149)

It was not because of Israel's goodness (cf. Deut. 9:4-6; Ezek. 36:22-38).

SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH's GRACE ACTS TO ISRAEL

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What aspect of the covenant is brought into question in this Psalm?

2. What does this Psalm teach about the political structure of Israel?

3. Why has Israel been defeated?

4. Why is God asked to respond?