Bible Commentaries
Psalms 44

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-26

Psalms 44:1-26

We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what work Thou didst.

Aspects of national piety

There is such a thing as national piety. I mean the aggregation of genuine godly thought, sympathy and aspiration, whether found in the breast of paupers or princes. Here we have it represented--

As acknowledging God’s providential kindness to the nation in the past (Verses 1-8).

1. The certain assurance of it. We have heard it as an historical fact--heard it from our own fathers, who would not deceive us, and who told it to us in love. God’s merciful interpositions on behalf of the Hebrew people are recorded, not only in the annals of the chosen people, but in the progress of the human race, not only in documents and monuments, but through an institution as divine as nature, as old as the race, viz. parental teaching.

2. The striking manifestations of it. “How Thou didst drive out the heathen,” etc. It is not our armies and navies that have saved us and made us what we are, but God.

3. The practical influence of it.

(1) Loyalty towards God.

(2) Confidence in God.

As deploring God’s present apparent displeasure toward the nation (Psalms 44:9-16). He saw his country--

1. Defeated. “But Thou hast cast off,” etc. We struggle, but succeed not; there is no victory for us; we are foiled in all our efforts.

2. Victimized. “They which hate us,” etc. We are made use of by our enemies.

3. Enslaved. “Thou sellest Thy people for nought,” etc.

4. Confounded. “My confusion is continually before me,” etc. I am ashamed and bewildered. We have lost our dignity and self-command.

5. Scorned. “Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours,” etc.

As avowing fidelity to God notwithstanding the calamities of the country.

A consciousness of fidelity to Heaven. “All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten Thee,” etc.

2. Persecution on account of their fidelity. “For Thy sake are we killed,” etc.

(1) Genuine piety may co-exist with great suffering. Abraham, David, Job, Paul.

(2) Genuine piety may be stimulated by great suffering.

(3) Genuine piety enables one to bear great suffering.

As invoking God’s interposition in order to restore past privileges.

1. A humanification of Deity. “Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord?” No creature can have a complete conception of the Absolute.

2. Utter prostration of being. “Our soul is bowed down to the dust,” etc. What stronger expression could there be of depression and degradation than this? In a moral sense all men are thus debased and crushed by sin.

3. Entire dependence on sovereign mercy. “Arise for our help,” etc. We cannot redeem ourselves, nor can we plead our own merits or excellences as a reason for Thy interposition. (Homilist.)

God’s doings of old

Dwelling on the history of the past throws light on the doings of the present.

1. We learn the principle of development. Men are taught that all our present privileges in knowledge, science, civilization and religion came from very small sources. We know that God performed wonders of old, but we also know that those wonders have been continuously progressive.

2. We learn the principle of equalization. If God has done great things for us, He did great things for those of old. They may not have had the full revelation of religion, but they had to exercise faith in the same way as we do.

3. We learn the lesson of common depravity. The people of old did not notice God’s works at the time they were wrought. And so we all allow mercies to come to us unheeded and unpraised, and not till they are taken away do we appreciate their worth.

Dwelling on the history of the past throws light upon the faithfulness of God. He is a God who changes not and who never deserts His people.

Dwelling on the history of the past throws light upon our expectations for the future. What God has been He will always be. (Homilist.)

Early Israel, the Lord’s host

The spirit evinced in these words is very different from that which is regarded by some as the special excellency of modern times. It is supposed to be the height of wisdom now to laugh at what our father said, and to show what utter fools they were in comparison with their supremely wise and enlightened sons. Instead of our fathers “being the men, and wisdom dying with them,” we are the men, and wisdom was non-existent until we appeared. Now, I venture to say that our fathers never did or said anything more silly than the modern extravagance I have now described. We blame the Jews for thinking that God’s love stopped with them, and then we coolly declare that God’s wisdom began with us. Of the two, the Jew had the greater excuse for his onesidedness. Our text clearly introduces us to the time of Joshua, when Israel invaded the land of the Canaanites avowedly by a Divine commission, and destroyed its inhabitants in the name of the Lord.

Now they really had a divine commission to do this, or they had not. The very plausible objection is based upon a comparison of tribal histories in primitive times. There is no need to deny the presence of important analogies between the history of Israel and that of other tribes, for the special mission of Israel did not make it cease to be human in its history. But its subsequent history is sufficient to show that it occupied a position of pre-eminence from the beginning as the “chosen of God.” However rudely it may have conceived its mission, to deny its special mission at the commencement of that history is to make its subsequent development unintelligible, and to declare that its life was false at its very foundation. Next, it is objected that Israel could not have received such a mandate from God, seeing that it was immoral to engage in such aggressive wars. But such an objection as this is pure assumption, and fails to take account of different moral conditions and necessities. It is further urged that the cruelties sometimes practised by Israel upon the conquered are morally indefensible. This may be perfectly true, but it is not relevant as an objection. The abuse of a commission does not prove the denial of its reality.

The continuity of their mission is seen further in the power in which they trusted. Israel very significantly distinguished at the very first between the might of its army and the might of its God. This was very important, for it contained the germ of all further development. This distinction between God and physical force makes God definitely ethical. It was this God that gave Israel a mission. No doubt there were many crudenesses in it. It was but as the grey dawn, and was separated by many a stage from the perfect day. But whatever the form of the mission, it was such as was necessary for the time, and was distinctly ethical in spirit. The God they served and in whom they trusted is the eternal God, that liveth and abideth for ever.

In perfect harmony with these characteristics was their belief in their divine election. “Because Thou hadst a favour unto them.” It is important to note that this election, though insisted upon with great emphasis, was ethically conceived. Everything in the religious thought of Israel was necessarily related to its essential conception of God as an ethical Being. Hence the true faith of Israel affords no prototype of later conceptions of arbitrary and non-ethical election and rejection. The true prototype of these is found in corruptions and perversions of Israel’s true faith. We must point out further that Israel’s election, as truly conceived, simply imposed upon Israel a special task and mission, and issued no decree of exclusion upon the rest of the world. Putting it generally and tersely we may say that God’s elections do not involve exclusions. The man of God’s choice, who is called to make known in his life the thought and life of God is so far exclusive that he makes war against sin in such a form as is suitable to the age in which he lives, but the final object of his mission is to lead others to share his life and spirit, and to enter into his heritage. This the prophets clearly perceived to be the true purpose of Israel’s election (Isaiah 60:3). (John Thomas, M. A.)

Lessons from the past

This verse, slightly altered in form though not in sense, occupies a prominent place in the Church Litany. It is not a prayer at all: it does not form one of that long series of supplications of which the Litany consists. The origin of the Litany is very interesting. It is a most perfect and beautiful sample of a large class of devotions which in earlier ages abounded in the Church, and which seem to have taken their rise in those dark and anxious days which accompanied and followed upon the break-up of the Roman Empire. There, “battle, murder and sudden death”; “plague, pestilence and famine,” and all the calamities attendant on what seemed to be the entire collapse of social order, were common things. Hence, when the misery of the people seemed likely to bring in its train the withdrawal of such small blessings as they had, and even, in some cases, the fierce ungodliness of despair; then it was that, in their agony, holy souls turned towards God and sought to enkindle the souls around them by the sharp, prominate ejaculations, such as men might spontaneously utter amid the ruins of a falling world. Our Litany was drafted at the time of the Reformation from earlier compositions of this kind, and it maintains its supplicatory character throughout with a simple and emphatic exception. Between the two solemn adjurations to God to “arise and help,” there comes in the verse of the psalm, “O God, we have heard with our ears, and our fathers,” etc. It is an appeal, if we may reverently say so, to the historic consistency of God. It is an act of acknowledgment and praise, and we find the reason for its occurrence in the Litany in the drift and history of the psalm from which it is taken. This psalm was written, probably, at a time and under circumstances not unlike those which some centuries later created the Litanies of the Christian Church. It probably belongs to those dark times which immediately preceded the great and final catastrophe of the Babylonish Captivity. We live over those times, as nowhere else in Holy Scripture, in the pages of Jeremiah. Everything was pointing to some coming disaster: there was failure abroad, there was misery at home. At such times the hearts of thoughtful and religious men turned back upon the past of Israel and upon all that God had done for Israel. Was He not the same God? Was not Israel the same people? Would He be, could He be, inconsistent with Himself? Surely it was enough to remind Him of His mercies in the past to be certain that the future would in some way not be unprovided for. “O God, we have heard with our ears,” etc. Now, since human history is a record of the way and will of God, we may explain why it is that so large a portion of the Bible is made up of history. It has a distinctly religious use as showing how God works and what He is. There are two main reasons which practically make history so precious at all times, and especially in times of public or private anxiety, and the first is, that it takes us out of the present, takes us out of ourselves. We are taken out of the clouded and fluctuating present, and how can we better learn than from experience, if the judgment be undisturbed? It is also a record of the unalterable character of human nature, and it places us face to face with the infinite and eternal God. “I am Jehovah, and change not.” Now, to apply this, there are three departments of human life in which this recurrence to the past is of great religious value.

The family. Every family has its traditions as well as its hopes. We see it in the families of the wealthy and powerful, amid nobles and princes. To be the descendant from great and illustrious families is to inherit a past of which every educated man feels the magnificence and the power. And it is not less true of the humble and undistinguished lives which belong to most of us. When a boy is told that some generations ago one of his ancestors did something noble and generous; when he is told that, but for the misconduct of such and such a member of the family, he and his would be in a very different position now; and when he is bidden imitate that which was noble, and shun that which was bad in them who went before him, he is brought in this way under the play of very powerful motives, and which cannot but have much influence over him. They are part of the predestined discipline, depend upon it, to which God subjects him, and a very valuable part too.

There is our country. And here we have to remember that God shapes the destiny of every nation as surely as He did that of Judah and Israel. It should be part of every young Englishman’s education to trace God’s hand in the annals of his country until he can with sincerity and fervour exclaim, “O God, we have heard with our ears,” etc. And then there is--

The great and sacred home of souls--the church of Jesus Christ. And all this has to do with personal religion, for it is the religious use of history which enables us better to do our duty in home, in nation and in the Church, and it makes history itself full of interest and encouragement. (Canon Liddon.)

The story of God’s mighty acts

No stories stick by us so long as those that we hear in our childhood, notwithstanding that so many of them are idle, vain and fabulous. But amongst the early Christians and the old believers in the far-off times, nursery tales were far different from what they are now. Abraham would, no doubt, talk to young children about the flood, and the Israelites who had been in bondage in Egypt would tell their children about that, and how the Lord delivered them. In primitive Christianity it was the custom of parents to tell their children the story of Jesus, and so it was among our Puritanic ancestors. The old Dutch tiles were the lesson-books in Bible history of many beside Doddridge. The writer of this psalm seems to have had told him by his father the story of the wondrous things God had done in the days of old. Let us now recall such things, and speak--

Of the wonderful stories we have heard of the lord’s ancient doings. God has, at times, done very mighty acts at which men have been exceedingly amazed. See the history of Israel in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Canaan; of Sennacherib and many more. And in the New Testament, of Pentecost and of all the triumphs of the Gospel told of there. And since those days in the history of the Church, of Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin and others not a few. And nearer to our own times, of Wesley, Whitfield and the Methodists. Now, in all these works of old there were these features--

1. They were sudden. The old stagers in our churches think that things must grow gently, by degrees. But all God’s works have been sudden. At Pentecost. At the Reformation. In Whitfield’s day. And so in all revivals.

2. God’s instruments have been insignificant. See little David when he slew Goliath; a woman slew Sisera. And also were Luther, Whitfield and the rest.

3. And all these works were attended with much prayer.

The disadvantages under which these old stories frequently labour. People say, “Oh, times are different now.” But has God changed? Cannot He do vow what He did of old?

The proper inferences that are to be drawn from the old stories of God’s mighty deeds.

1. There should be gratitude and praise.

2. Prayer. For how many are still unsaved. Preaching will not alone save them. God has done much in answer to prayer.

3. Entire dependence upon God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The days of old

A frivolous and shallow person once inquired of an old Carthusian monk how he had contrived to get through his life. He replied in the words of another psalm, “I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.” That man had found one great secret of hope, and cheerfulness, and moral strength. It is unquestionably an immense gain to be able to get beyond our own little life and the little circle which is round it, and to allow our thoughts and sympathies to work in the wider and freer region of the world’s past and present and future. Is it not profoundly melancholy in this world whose history is of such solemn, and indeed painful, interest, to listen to the thing called “conversation” by vast numbers? Education has done so little for vast numbers that if they do not converse about their neighbours, they cannot converse at all. They are simply without topics. It is pre-eminently the result of mental training that we have the power to get away from our own concerns and surroundings, to feel ourselves one with all mankind, to know that they and we are moving forward to the fulfilment of a glorious hope. Here, however, it is that the influence of religion enters in. Reading and writing and arithmetic, essential as they are, have no tendency to enlarge the mind or to widen the mental horizon. But put the Bible into the hands of a child, and at once that child becomes aware of the fact that its little world is but a corner of the great wide world, that its little existence is but a segment of the life of the race. And at once an idea is set before it under an immense variety of aspects which inevitably expands its mind, and by doing this achieves one of the greatest aims of education. The child learns that it is in a very large world, a member of the great human family; it is taught to look back to a past in which God has been wise and good, to look forward to a future in which that wisdom and goodness will be more perfectly justified and unfolded. This habit of considering “the days of old and the years of ancient times” will have two happy results; it will teach humility, and it will calm down anxiety. While we thank God for the light He has vouchsafed in these last days, while we will not lend an ear to the suggestion that knowledge, progress, science, civilization are bad things, we must also disallow the monstrous notion that there was no wisdom in the world until this century. “There were giants in the earth in those days.” And as we thus learn modesty, so may we, by considering “the days of old and the veers of ancient times” be delivered from unreasoning panic and unbelieving timidity. The faith is attacked; And was it never attacked before? Surely the intellectual shock which men experienced at the Reformation was far more violent than any which is felt now. A hundred years ago there was a more widespread and pestilent scepticism than any we have to lament; yet religion grappled with it, did not simply stand on the defensive, but attacked, and attacked successfully. It seems to me that the robust trust of these old psalms cries shame upon us, who live in a brighter and happier day. For the individual as for the community the ultimate trust must be in the character of God, in His faithfulness most of all. (J. A. Jacob, M. A.)

The eternal providence of God

Providence is not of yesterday. Men love what is ancient. Now, this antiquity of Providence is not a myth. The Psalms are historical. They were written some thousands of years ago, and yet the writers speak of former times of old.

The man is very bold who disputes this providence. He must be either a very great or a very little man; there can be nothing common about him. But he ought to be sworn before he gives evidence. We have a right to know who he is. We cannot have any chatter upon this great question.

Providence is a revelation: there is a Gospel of Providence. It is a Gospel to be assured that the foundation of your haven is strong; that all things are under the hand of God.

And there is a providence of facts. The men of old abused these, and from a long succession of such observations they drew their conclusions. History seems to make it more difficult to deny than to admit Providence.

Whatever objection any may have against the doctrine, its effect on life is good. We ask, what kind of man does this belief in Providence produce; what fruit does it bear? The creed which says God is, God rules, God will judge--what manner of man will this creed make? It will give courage. See Moses before Pharaoh. And what blessed peace it imparts. But surely this is a great presumption in favour of its truth. And thus should all theology be tested. What are its effects; how does the theology come out in the life?

The miraculous element is no difficulty. For what miracle can exceed the miracle of your own spiritual development? The story of the Red Sea has been true of ourselves, such seas have been before us, and they have opened for us, and we have gone through them as on dry land. And the story of the manna; do we not know all about that? We must read the Bible as having to do with our own life.

Providence leads up to redemption. He who takes care of this present life must care for our eternal life. Does God care for oxen; then how much more for man? But if for man’s temporal welfare, so that He has provided everything for it, can He have made no provision for the needs of the soul? Impossible I Now, such is our faith to-day. We have come to it not by inheritance but by personal reception of it. We are one of a great band of witnesses that “the Lord reigneth,” that all that occurs, whatever it be, is by His ordering and under His control. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 3

Psalms 44:3

For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but Thy right hand and Thine arm and the light of Thy countenance, because Thou hadst a favour unto them.

God the source of all success

The subject of this verse is the conquest of Canaan by Israel. It teaches that--

The co-operation of God is essential to the success of all right work. See this in husbandry; in the spread of the Gospel.

The spirit of true godliness will ever be ready to own this.

Such recognition helps our own success. Praise, like prayer, helps us as it honours God. Our success in all good work depends partly on using our own sword, upon using our arm and making it bare; but it equally depends on our trusting in neither. “Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in,” etc. Apply the text retrospectively to all success we have had; prospectively to all we hope for, and let us rely upon God’s love, for without that we have no strong confidence. (S. Martin, M. A.)

Verses 5-8

Psalms 44:5-8

Through Thee will we push down our enemies; through Thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.

God’s gift of victory

1. The believer may promise to himself whatsoever God hath promised unto him; hath God promised to give His own people the victory over their enemies? then the believer may promise to himself he shall overcome his persecutors, and through God’s strength be more than a conqueror over them; “Through Thee will we push down our enemies.” If the enemy make head against them after a defeat, the believer may say, “Through Thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.”

2. The less confidence we have in ourselves or in anything beside God, the more evidence have we of the sincerity of our faith in God: “For I will not trust in my bow,” etc.

3. It is a proof of sincerity of faith to give God as much credit for time to come, as He hath gained to Himself, by the evidencing of His truth in time bygone.

4. Whosoever doth hate the Lord’s people shall be forced to think shame of their enmity one day; “Thou hast put them to shame that hated us.”

5. The glory which we give to God in prosperity we should give Him the same in our adversity; change of times and dispensations should not change His glory, nor our confidence in Him. Though the Church be under foot of men, the Church’s God is above all. “In God will we boast,” etc. (D. Dickson.)

The better confidence

George III. was one day looking at the plate which had been recently brought from Hanover, and observing one of the articles with engraved arms upon it, he said to the domestic who attended him, “This belonged to King George II.; I know it by the Latin inscription--‘I trust in my sword.’ This,” said he, “I always disliked; for had I nothing to trust in but my sword, I well know what would be the result; therefore, when I came to the crown, I altered it. My motto is, ‘I trust in the truth of the Christian religion.’” He then, with his usual condescension, said, “Which of the two inscriptions do you like best?” The attendant replied, “Your Majesty’s is infinitely preferable to the other.” He said, “I have ever thought so, and ever shall think so, for therein is my trust and confidence.”

Psalms 45:1-17

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 44". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.