Bible Commentaries
Psalms 44

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



In spite of the singular used in Psalms 44:6; Psalms 44:15, we recognise, in this psalm, a hymn expressive not of individual but of national feeling; a feeling, too, which certainly could not have received such an expression before the exile, before the spell of the fascination of the Canaanitish idolatries had passed away. Nor can the psalm be assigned to the exile period itself, for it does not reflect the profound spiritual insight that characterises the literature which undoubtedly belongs to that time. Ewald places it during the months that disturbed the early years of the return from captivity. The majority of critics, however, prefer the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. It might well have been inspired by one of those reverses, which so often came upon the struggling community of Israel, in consequence of their scrupulous concern for the Sabbath day, which did not even allow them to defend themselves. (See Note, Psalms 44:13-14.) The parallelism is fine and well sustained.

Title.—See title, Psalms 42, 32

Verse 1

(1) We have heard.—The glorious traditions of ancient deliverances wrought by Jehovah for His people were a sacred heritage of every Hebrew. (See Exodus 10:2; Exodus 12:26, seq.; Deuteronomy 6:20, etc.) This, and all the historical psalms, show how closely interwoven for the Jew were patriotism and religion.

Verse 2

(2) Thou . . . with thy hand.—Literally, Thou, Thy hand, which may be, as in the Authorised Version, taken as accusative of instrument, or as a repeated subject.

And cast them out.—This entirely misses the meaning and destroys the parallelism. The Hebrew word is that used for a treo spreading its branches out; comp. Jeremiah 17:8; Ezekiel 17:6; Ezekiel 31:5, and especially Psalms 80:11, a passage which is simply an amplification of the figure in this verse, viz., of a vine or other exotic, planted in a soil cleared for its reception, and there caused to grow and flourish. The pronoun them in each clause plainly refers to Israel.

Thou, with thine hand, didst dispossess the heathen,
And planted them (Israel) in.

Thou didst afflict the peoples.
But didst make them to spread.

Verse 3

(3) The light of thy countenance.—Notice the contrast to this in Psalms 44:24; in times of distress God’s face seemed hidden or averted.

Verse 4

(4) Thou art my King.—Literally, Thou, He, my king, an idiomatic way of making a strong assertion, Thou, even thou, art my king, O God. (Comp. Isaiah 43:25.) What God has done in the past may be expected again, and for a moment the poet forgets the weight of actual trouble in the faith that has sprung from the grateful retrospect over the past.

Verse 5

(5) Push down.—The image of the original is lost here, the LXX. have retained it. It is that of a buffalo or other horned animal driving back and goring its enemies. Deuteronomy 33:17 applies it as a special description of the tribe of Joseph. The figure is continued in the next clause; the infuriated animal tramples its victim under foot.

Verse 10

(10) For themselvesi.e., at their own will, an expression denoting the completeness of the overthrow of the Jews; they lie absolutely at their enemies’ pleasure.

Verse 11

(11) Like sheep.—The image of the sheep appointed for the slaughter; and unable to resist, recalls Isaiah 53:6-7, but does not necessarily connect the Psalm with the exile period, since it was a figure likely to suggest itself in every time of helpless peril.

Verse 12

(12) For nought.—Literally, for not riches (comp. Jeremiah 15:13); notice the contrast to Psalms 72:14.

And dost not increase thy wealth by their price.—This rendering takes the verb as in Proverbs 22:16; but to make the two places exactly parallel, we should have “dost not increase for thee.” It is better, therefore, to make the clause synonymous with the last, and render thou didst not increase in (the matter of) their price, i.e., thou didst not set a high price on them.

Verses 13-14

(13, 14) These verses become very suggestive, if we refer them to one of those periods under the Seleucidæ, when the Jews were so frequently attacked on the Sabbath, and from their scrupulous regard to it would make no resistance.

Verse 14

(14) Shaking of the head.—Comp. Psalms 22:7.

Verse 15

(15) The shame.—Better take the face as a second object—shame hath covered me as to my face, i.e., covered my face. Though the record of the facts of a sad reality, these verses have also the value of a prophecy sadder still. Twenty centuries of misery are summed up in these few lines, which have been most literally repeated,

“By the torture, prolonged from age to age,
By the infamy, Israel’s heritage;
By the Ghetto’s plague, by the garb’s disgrace,
By the badge of shame, by the felon’s place.”

R. BROWNING: Holy Cross Day.

Verse 19

(19) In the place of dragons.—This expression evidently means a wild desert place, from comparison with Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 49:33. So Aquila has “an uninhabitable place.” The rendering dragons for tannim arose from its resemblance to tannîn (sea monster). The tan must be a wild beast, since it is connected with ostriches (Isaiah 34:13) and wild asses, whom it resembles in snuffing up the wind (Jeremiah 14:6), and is described as uttering a mournful howl (Isaiah 43:20; Micah 1:8; Job 30:29). The jackal is the animal that best answers these requirements. The LXX. and Vulg., which give various different renderings for the word, have here, “in the place of affliction.”

Shadow of death.—See Note, Psalms 23:4.

Verse 22

(22) For thy sake.—For St. Paul’s quotation of this verse (Romans 8:36), see Note, N. Test. Commentary.

Verse 23

(23) Why sleepest.—Comp. Psalms 7:6, and see refs.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 44". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.