Psalm 44 (NIV)
1 We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
2 With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
3 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.
4 You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
6 I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.
This psalm begins with the robust strength found when we remember God’s past acts of faithfulness: “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago” (v. 1). The psalm goes in, in particular, to recall the way God went before them in the conquest of the Promised Land (vv. 2–8). Then there is the word inserted into the text that we often overlook. It is the word selah. While we do not know precisely how to translate the word, it is generally understood to be a pause or a reflective break in the music before the song continues.
This pause, or selah, is crucial because it is here that the psalmist stops and fully accepts the fact that the past experience of the people of God does not seem to line up with his own experience. Verse 9 marks a stark change in tone, introduced by the word “but.” But we are now “rejected and humbled.” We have “retreat[ed] before the enemy” (v. 10) and been “devoured like sheep” (v. 11). We are in “disgrace” and are “covered with shame” (v. 15). In short, our experience seems to be nothing like those grand days of the past, when the Red Sea was parting, God was speaking from Mount Sinai, the walls of Jericho were falling, and we were routing our enemies. The psalmist is even so blunt as to say that in his experience (in contrast to the past), God seems to be asleep (v. 23). The psalm doesn’t end on any high note, where God finally breaks through the silence and rescues his people. It ends in the dust, clinging to the ground and crying out for God to rise up and help.
Have you ever felt like this? Miracles and divine intervention seem to be the experience of those people who lived back in the days of the Bible. There are times when we feel as if nothing is going right and our prayers are unanswered. Our faith is withering and we just want to give up. Sometimes this is exactly where we need to be. Even Christ experienced this during his passion. Because, in the end, our faith is not based on what we see or experience, but on God himself. Even when our own faith collapses, God carries us and becomes our strength. In fact, this is the insight given at the end of Psalm 44. Even though he is experiencing none of the deliverance he has been praying for, the psalm closes with a prayer of hope “because of your unfailing love” (v. 26). It is God’s unfailing, covenantal love that, in the end, redeems us. It is not our experiences, our feelings, or even our strong faith. It is God alone who saves and redeems his people.
This is precisely the application of this psalm that the apostle Paul makes in Romans 8:36. He quotes verse 22 of this psalm: “Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” This was Paul’s experience. He is asking in this passage if anything can separate us from God’s love. And like Psalm 44, he concludes by declaring that our deliverance is based on the deep reality that nothing can separate us from God’s love. We may be suffering in the present because there are so many things we need to be taught, but we are sustained by knowing that nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).