Theme: The Puzzling Present
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
The immediate past. The second part of this opening section recalls victories in the immediate past, acknowledging, as in the preceding section, that they were achieved not by any strength or virtue of the people, but by God. In this stanza the subject of the sentences becomes singular (“my” and “I”), rather than plural (“we,” “us” and “our”) as in stanza one. This does not mean that we suddenly have another speaker at this point, as if this were a liturgical exchange between a priest and the people, as some scholars like to think. Rather, it is a way of intensifying the poet’s testimony to God’s past acts of deliverance. It is as if he says, “It is not only that you did those things long ago for other people. You have also done them for us, for me. I can testify to such victories.” As the psalmist says: “I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we praise your name forever” (vv. 6-8).
Putting this in terms of our own experience, it is as if we were to say, “We have also experienced what those who came before us did. Not to the same degree perhaps, but you have nevertheless worked in our days as you worked in theirs. We give you glory.”
If Psalm 44 had ended with verse 8, it would have been a victory hymn. It is positive, expectant, trusting. However, the psalm does not end here. It goes on to the lament of verses 9 and following, which means that these opening verses, in spite of the positive statements, must have been uttered in a puzzled tone of voice. As we will see in part 2, God had not been helping the people currently, which raised the question: “How come? Why is he not helping us when he has so effectively helped us in the past?”
The second section of the psalm opens with the contrasting words “but now.” we find these words again and again in the Bible, usually comparing our sad condition apart from God’s grace with what we have because of it. A classic example is in Romans 3:21, where Paul passes from his description of the hopeless condition of the human race in its sin to what God has done in providing a way of salvation through Jesus Christ. The text says, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.”
The contrast is exactly the opposite in this psalm. Instead of moving from a sad past to a glorious present, the words move us from a glorious past to a tragic present. Look at the contrast:
Verse 7: “You gave us victory over our enemies.”
Verses 9, 10: “But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us.”
Is that what the people of God are to expect from the One who has been their champion in past days? This situation is so painful and puzzling in view of the people’s past experience of God that this second section seems to be searching desperately for an explanation.
What is meant by the change from the plural to the singular concerning the psalmist’s reflection on the immediate past?
What is the contrast beginning in verse 9?
Reflection: How have you seen God’s hand in the more recent past?