I have been camped on Psalm 44 for several days now and I know there is something really special here.
Psalm 44 Re-cap
This Psalm is such an enigma. It starts off so strong and so positive.
- Our ancestors tells us how YOU drove out the nations so we could flourish here.
- It wasn't our ancestors who did that; YOU did.
- You did it because YOU LOVED them.
Then there is a personal praise to the Lord:
- You are My King who brings victories.
- You push back my enemies
- It's not me or my weapons but You.
- We boast in your name.
(One commentator thinks it reads from me/I to us/we as a call and response. The leader reads the singular parts while the crowd reads the plural parts.)
And then something goes terribly, terribly wrong.
- You have rejected us; humbled us; abandoned us on the battlefield
- You gave us up for nothing
- We're a joke and disgraced
- We didn't even deserve it this time. We are blameless this time.
Yet for Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered sheep to be slaughtered.Psalm 44:22 NIV
Does that sound familiar? Maybe you've heard those words somewhere else?
Before we get to that, let's see how the Psalm ends:
- Wake up, Lord. Don't sleep forever. Don't hide your face or forget us.
- We are brought low. Rise up and rescue us.
- ...because of your unfailing love.
This Psalm blew my mind a little bit originally. It starts off sounding like a Psalm and then takes a dark turn and sounds like an angry and accusing scree, Like a bad social media post that someone should have reconsidered before hitting "send".
Why would God allow this into His canon? And even beyond that, it turns out this was read aloud during national times of remembrance. That amazing. As a nation, they praised and then accused their God of rejecting abandoning them when they were blameless.
What's even more amazing is that it was so commonly read aloud and known that Paul referred to it in Romans in a way that leads me to conclude that he assumed his audience knew the reference. You know the passage. It's an often-read chapter: Romans Chapter 8.
The Ryrie Study Bible footnote notes that Psalm 44:22 is quoted by Paul in Romans 8:36.
This song sung by the people for annual days of remembrance shows us a couple of different thijngs.
- How much the Israelites accepted the pain of loss as part of the lived experience. No wonder U.S. slaves use so much imagery from the ancient Israel in their spiritual songs. It was another time in history when the circumstances seemed unbearable but the people were girded with an unshakable, underlying hope- based on faith in their Messiah, Jesus Christ.
- But I think that's only possible because of what we find at the beginning and the end. Remembering His saving hand and His ability to save in the future. But most of all, and this seems to be what Paul is referring to, the final verse of the Psalm:
Rise up and be our help, and redeem us for the sake of thy loving kindness.Psalm 44:26
It starts the Psalm as an explanation of why God had done so much for them.
It ends the Psalm as the root of their unshakable believe that He will eventually save them.
They never stop believing in Him; they use His own Law and Character as the basis for their plea.
They know He loves them and they cry out for rescue reminding Him of His covenant love.
But what practical help is that for us today. If we are not an ancient Hebrew, what good is God's covenant love to us? Paul has an answer for us.
Why was Paul referring to an ancient Psalm about defeat and loss? Let's take a closer look at the context. There's so much in this chapter. Enough for a hundred posts; but here are the more commonly referred to highlights:
- It begins with one of the most precious promises in scripture, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
- What a powerful promise to lay our hopes in.
- Then contrasting the life focused on the flesh and that focused on the Spirit. v. 10 "And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness."
- v. 15 "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba, Father!"
- Just beautiful.
- It's not hard to imagine Paul had Psalm 44 already in mind with verse 15. Remember the national cry of being afraid they had been sold and rejected by their God. And how, now, we have that same God inside us by the work of Christ Jesus overcoming it all.
- v. 22 "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now."
- Paul is acknowledging something the ancient Hebrews did not in Psalm 44- the world is fallen and awaiting salvation. There is loss and defeat, even for the "blameless".
- And of course, the very popular v. 28 "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are the called, according to His purpose."
- Times are going to get tough; and He is big enough to make them all work for good. This is something else missing from the cry in Psalm 44. Some circumstances have an unseen purpose; but God can be trusted to use it all.
This is the background in which Paul is setting his message, as he prepares to quote Psalm 44. He then begins to list all of the things that cannot separate us from the love of Christ.
Then quotes Psalm 44: 22, which seems a bit out of place, EXCEPT on both sides of the quote, he's talking about the love of Christ and of God.
Love and Loss
He is also aligning our suffering with God's love, just like the Psalmist; but in this case, he's celebrating. Nothing in this corrupt, broken, groaning world can separate us from God's love, His loving kindness. And NOT because of us. But because that's how God's love works. It's a covenant that He does not break. He paid His portion by sending His Son to die for us.
I experienced this firsthand when I had a ladder accident and broke my back. I experienced a lot of grace from God early on in my recovery; but there was a time, once I was home from the hospital, when I was heart broken by the weight of the burden I would carry with me the rest of my life. 28 years old and saddled with gross and painful consequences for life. I was struggling with God. I would try to pray, even something rote, such as the Lord's Prayer, and would find phrases that would send me into a rant against Him. Accusing and indicting, not unlike the Psalm 44 psalmist.
Then one day, I remember very distinctly, I came to the unshakable and absolute assurance that God was good. While that may be a simple concept, in theory, to believe it as your base understanding of God makes it a lot easier to begin to accept everything else.
If He is good, then He does not do bad. If He is good, He can be trusted- even when the circumstances warrant ranting and accusing screes. When He is good, we have a solid foundation to build from that makes everything build upon it secure.
I see now that the actual lesson He was trying to show me, and would take a few decades to learn more completely, is that while God is good; more importantly, He is love. And He offers us a covenant love.
This covenant is NOT a promise against suffering and loss on this side of heaven; but it promises us Him, through His Spirit.
Maybe some people come to this knowledge naturally, maybe easily. But the author of Psalm 44, Paul, and I had to come through it, not despite suffering and loss, but THROUGH suffering and loss. It was the medium and the message.
One of our small group leaders' spouse is dying and not with us for much longer. They are both handling it with such a public image of grace and fearlessness. He told us that she said, "God has never let me down before; why would I worry now."
Some would argue that she should worry because the doctors have given her a long string of bad news. Debilitating procedures and toxic medicines aren't working. And she is dying. There's a lot of material here to felt let down by. But she didn't see it that way. She has her eyes on Him and His promises. That's only possible, in my opinion, if you've done the work of the psalmist and Paul. Suffering is baked into the cake. So is death. But you play how you practice. If your daily practice has you repeatedly turning your eyes from your flesh to His Spirit- then you're ready when you have to do the same thing at Heaven's Shore.
It's another of God's many mysteries why it has to be this way; but it seems that you learn Love from Loss. Amen.