Theme: God’s Past Acts of Deliverance
From this psalm we learn that although we sometimes may not understand what God is doing in the present, we know how God has helped us in the past, and can therefore confidently come to him in prayer for the future.
Scripture: Psalm 44:1-26
A person would never expect this psalm to be a lament from reading the beginning stanzas. This is because it begins with a remembrance of God’s past acts of deliverance (vv. 1-8), and these by their very nature are both positive and grounds for thanksgiving. At this point we would expect the psalm to be a thanksgiving psalm, a praise psalm, or a psalm of confidence. These remembrances are mature remembrances too, in the sense that the author and his contemporaries know that Israel’s past military victories had not been achieved by their own exceptional might or skill, but by the power of God.
J. J. Stewart Perowne recognizes this in his study:
The psalm opens with a glance at the past history of the nation and the acknowledgment that, from the first, every victory which they had won had been won not by their own strength, but by the immediate hand of God. This was, it might be said, the perpetual lesson of their history. They did not rise upon their Egyptian masters, but God bowed the heart of the monarch and the people by his signs and wonders, till they thrust them out in haste. At the Red Sea they did not turn to fight with the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh; they were but to stand still and see the victory of Jehovah. When they came to Canaan, their first exploit was not a feat of arms, for Jericho fell by a miracle. The Roman army by the lake Regillus attributed its victory to the two mysterious horsemen who, on their white horses, led the charge. The Jewish host with a better faith believed that in every battle an invisible Captain led them and knew that, whenever they conquered their enemies, it was because an invisible arm gave them the victory.2
A quick look at this opening section (vv. 1-8) will show that it has two parts, separated into two stanzas in the New International Version.
The distant past. The first part recalls victories of the distant past which the writer’s generation had heard about and rightly understood to have been accomplished by God and as the sole result of his favor. He refers to these as things “our fathers have told us, what you did in their days, in days long ago” (v. 1). What follows makes clear that what is being referred to is the conquest of Canaan by the tribes that came out of Egypt. In those days God drove out the nations that were in the land before them and crushed their enemies. The section concludes: “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 (v. 3).”
Our equivalent of this memory would be reflections on our own spiritual heritage, on events like the Protestant Reformation, the Wesleyan Revivals or the Great Awakening. Those distant past events are part of what we are, and we acknowledge rightly that they were accomplished by the will and power of God. Our “fathers” told us of those things, and we are thankful for them.
Why does this psalm not appear at first to be the lament that it is?
What is the first part of the opening stanza, and what event does it refer to?
Application: Following the example of the psalmist, write down items of your own spiritual heritage, and give praise to the Lord for his grace shown to you through them.
2J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 360. Original edition 1878-1879.