The psalmist recounts the mercies of God; shows to his people how God in ancient times gave them the victory over all their enemies, 1-8; points out their present miserable state, 9-16; asserts that thy have not apostatized, and appeals to God for the truth of his assertion, 17-22; and calls upon the Lord for deliverance from their enemies, 23-26.
NOTES ON PSALM XLIV
The title here is the same as that in Psalms 42:1; which see. The Syriac says it was "A Psalm of the sons of Korah, which the people and Moses sung at Horeb." Such titles are fancies to which no credit should be attached. Like the preceding, it appears to belong to the time of the captivity.
We have heard with our ears
The psalmist begins with recounting the marvellous interpositions of God in behalf of the Jewish people, that he might the better strengthen his confidence, and form a ground on which to build his expectation of additional help.
Thou didst drove out the heathen
The Canaanites were as a bad tree planted in a good soil, and bringing forth bad fruit with great luxuriance. God plucked up this bad tree from the roots, and in its place planted the Hebrews as a good tree, a good vine, and caused them to take root, and fill the land.
For they got not the land
Neither by their valour, nor cunning, nor for their merit; yet, they were obliged to fight. But how did they conquer? By the right hand of the Lord, and by his arm; by his strength alone, and the light of his countenance-his favour most manifestly shown unto them.
Thou art my king
What thou wert to them, be to us. We believe in thee as they did; we have sinned and are in captivity, but we repent and turn unto thee; command, therefore, deliverances to Jacob, for we are the descendants of him in whose behalf thou hast wrought such wonders.
Through thee will we push down
Through thy WORD, bemeimra, "Thy substantial Word."-Chaldee. If thou be with us, who can be successfully against us? Literally "We will toss them in the air with our horn;" a metaphor taken from an ox or bull tossing the dogs into the air which attack him.
Through thy name
Jehovah; the infinite, the omnipotent, the eternal Being; whose power none is able to resist.
I will not trust in my bow
As he is speaking of what God had already done for his forefathers, these words should be read in the past tense: "We have not trusted,"
In God we boast
We have told the heathen how great and powerful our God is. If thou do not deliver us by thy mighty power, they will not believe our report, but consider that we are held in bondage by the superior strength of their gods.
But thou hast cast off
Our enemies have dominion over us.
And goest not forth with our armies.
Were we to attempt to muster our several tribes, and form a host, like our fathers when they came out of Egypt, thou wouldst not accompany us as thou didst them: the horses and chariots of the Babylonians would soon overtake and destroy us.
Thou makest us to turn back
This thou didst: and our enemies, profiting by the occasion, finding our strength was departed from us, made us an easy prey, captivated our persons, and spoiled us of our property.
And hast scattered us among the heathen.
This most evidently alludes to the captivity. From the successful wars of the kings of Assyria and Chaldea against the kings of Israel and Judah, and the dispersion of the tribes under Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser, and Nebuchadnezzar, Jews have been found in every province of the east; there they settled, and there their successors may be found to the present day.
Thou sellest thy people for nought
An allusion to the mode of disposing of slaves by their proprietors or sovereigns. Instead of seeking profit, thou hast made us a present to our enemies.
Thou makest us a byword
We are evidently abandoned by thee, and are become so very miserable in consequence, that we are a proverb among the people: "See the Hebrews! see their misery and wretchedness! see how low the wrath of God has brought down an offending people!" And the worst curse that can be imprecated against a wicked nation is: "Mayest thou become as wretched as the Jews;" or as the old Psalter: "Thou has seet us reprove til our neghburs: scornyng and hethyng til tha that er in our umgang. That es, gref, tourment that es of our neghburs, and that hethyng es noght sone gave or passand, that we suffer of tha, that er al aboute us. When men sais so byfal ye, als byfel him."
Yet have we not forgotten thee
These are bold words; but they must be understood in a qualified sense. We have not apostatized from thee, we have not fallen into idolatry. And this was strictly true: the charge of idolatry could never be brought against the Jewish nation from the time of the captivity, with sufficient evidence to support it.
Thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons
Thou hast delivered us into the hands of a fierce, cruel, and murderous people. We, as a people, are in a similar state to one who has strayed into a wilderness, where there are no human inhabitants; who hears nothing round about him but the hissing of serpents, the howling of beasts of prey, and the terrible roaring of the lion; and who expects every moment to be devoured.
If we have forgotten the name of our God
That name, Jehovah, by which the true God was particularly distinguished, and which implied the exclusion of all other objects of adoration.
Or stretched out our hands
Made supplication; offered prayer or adoration to any strange god-a god that we had not known, nor had been acknowledged by our fathers. It has already been remarked, that from the time of the Babylonish captivity the Jews never relapsed into idolatry.
It was customary among the ancients, while praying, to stretch out their hands towards the heavens, or the image they were worshipping, as if they expected to receive the favour they were asking.
Shall not God search this out?
We confidently appeal to the true God, the searcher of hearts, for the truth of this statement.
For thy sake are we killed all the day long
Because of our attachment to thee and to thy religion, we are exposed to continual death; and some of us fail a daily sacrifice to the persecuting spirit of our enemies, and we all carry our lives continually in our hands. In the same state were the primitive Christians; and St. Paul applies these words to their case, Romans 8:36.
Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord?
That is, Why dost thou appear as one asleep, who is regardless of the safety of his friends. This is a freedom of speech which can only be allowed to inspired men; and in their mouths it is always to be figuratively understood.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face
Show us the cause why thou withdrawest from us the testimony of thy approbation.
Our soul is bowed down
Our life is drawing near to the grave. If thou delay to help us, we shall become extinct.
Arise for our help
Show forth thy power in delivering us from the hands of our enemies.
Ransom us from our thraldom.
For thy mercies' sake.
lemaan chasdecha, On account of thy mercy. That we may have that proper view of thy mercy which we should have, and that we may magnify it as we ought to do, redeem us. The Vulgate has, Redime nos, propter nomen tuum, "Redeem us on account of thy name;" which the old Psalter thus paraphrases: "Help us in ryghtwysness, and by us (buy,) that es, delyver us, that we be withouten drede; and al this for thi name Jehsu; noght for oure merite."
ANALYSIS OF THE FORTY-FOURTH PSALM
In this Psalm are livelily expressed the sufferings, the complaints, the assurances, the petitions which are offered to God by good men, who suffer, together with others, in the common afflictions that God brings on his people.
The parts are two:-
I. A petition, Psalms 44:24-26.
II. The arguments by which the petition is quickened, Psalms 44:1-24.
First, He begins with the arguments, of which the first is drawn from God's goodness, of which he gives in particular, his benefits and miracles done for their fathers; as if he had said, "This thou didst for them; why art thou so estranged from us?"
I. "We have heard with our ears, O God, and our fathers have told us what works thou didst in their days, and in the times of old." The particulars of which are,-
1. "How thou didst drive out the heathen," namely, the Canaanites.
2. "How thou plantedst them."
3. "How thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out," Psalms 44:2.
II. This we acknowledge to be thy word; expressed thus:-
1. "How thou didst drive out the heathen;" negatively, by remotion of what some might imagine: "They got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither was it their own arm that helped them," Psalms 44:3. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise."
2. "How thou plantedst them;" positively: "For it was thy right hand and thy arm, and the light of thy countenance." A mere gratuito: "because thou hadst a favour unto them;" no other reason can be assigned but that, Psalms 44:3.
3. Upon this consideration, by an apostrophe, he turns his speech to God, and sings a song of triumph, of which the strains are,-
1. An open confession: "Thou art my king, O God."
2. A petition: "Send help unto Jacob," Psalms 44:4.
3. A confident persuasion of future victory; but still with God's help and assistance, Psalms 44:5-7. 1. "Through thee will we push down our enemies." 2. "Through thee will we tread them under that rise up against us." All through thee; in thy name, by thy power.
4. An abrenunciation of his own power or arm: "For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me."
5. A reiteration, or a second ascription of the whole victory to God: "But thou hast saved us from our enemies; thou hast put them to shame that hated us," Psalms 44:7.
6. A grateful return of thanks; which is indeed the tribute God expects, and which we are to pay upon our deliverance. "In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever."
Secondly, The second argument by which he wings his petition is drawn from the condition which, for the present, God's people were in, before he had done wonders for their deliverance; but now he had delivered them to the will of their enemies. This would move a man to think that his good will was changed toward them: "But thou hast cast us off, and put us to shame, and goest not forth with our armies."
Of which the consequences are many and grievous, although we acknowledge that all is from thee, and comes from thy hand and permission.
1. The first is: "Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy," Psalms 44:10.
2. The second, We become a prey: "They which hate us spoil for themselves," Psalms 44:10.
3. The third, We are devoured: "Thou hast given us as sheep appointed for meat;" killed cruelly, and when they please, Psalms 44:11.
4. The fourth, We are driven from our country, and made to dwell where they will plant us: "Thou hast scattered us among the heathen; " (inter gentes,) and that is a great discomfort, to live among people without God in the world.
5. The fifth, We are become slaves, sold and bought as beasts; and that for any price, upon any exchange: "Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase thy wealth by their price," Psalms 44:12; puts them off as worthless things.
6. The sixth, We are made a scorn, a mock; and to whom? To our enemies: but that might be borne; but even to our friends and neighbours: "Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us."
And this he amplifies:-
1. From the circumstance that they are a proverb of reproach: "Thou makest us a byword among the heathen."
2. That in scorn any one that would, used a scornful gesture toward them: "We are become a shaking of the head among the people."
3. That this insulting is continual: "My confusion is daily before me."
4. It is superlative; shame so great that he had not what to say to it: "The shame of my face hath covered me."
5. It is public; their words and gestures are not concealed; they speak out what they please: "Ashamed I am for the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth; for the enemy and avenger."
Thirdly, And yet he useth a third argument, that the petition may be the more grateful, and more easily granted; drawn from the constancy and perseverance of God's people in the profession of the truth, notwithstanding this heavy loss, persecution, and affliction: "All this is come upon us;"-thus we are oppressed, devoured, banished, sold, derided; yet we continue to be thy servants still, we retain our faith, hope, service.
1. We have not forgotten thee, not forgotten thou art our God. We acknowledge no idols.
2. We have not dealt falsely in thy covenant. We have not juggled in thy service, dealing with any side for our advantage, renouncing our integrity.
3. Our heart is not turned back. Our heart is upright, not turned back to the idols our fathers worshipped.
4. Our steps are not gone out of thy way. Slip we may, but not revolt; no, not though great calamities are come upon us. 1. Broken. 2. Broken in the place of dragons, i.e., enemies fierce as dragons. 3. Though covered with the shadow of death. Now, that all this is true we call our God to witness, who knoweth the very secrets of the heart, and is able to revenge it: "We have not forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands," "Shall not God search it out? for he knows the very secret of the heart."
Fourthly. But the last argument is more pressing than the other three. It is not for any thing we have done to those that oppress us that we are thus persecuted by them; it is for thee, it is because we profess thy name, and rise up in defence of thy truth: "Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; for thy sake are we counted as sheep for the slaughter." The sum then is: Since thou hast been a good God to our fathers; since we suffered great things under bitter tyrants; since, notwithstanding all our sufferings, we are constant to thy truth; since these our sufferings are for thee, for thy sake, thy truth; therefore awake, arise, help us, for upon these grounds he commences his petition.
II. This is the second part of the Psalm, which begins at Psalms 44:23, and continues to the end, in which petition there are these degrees:-
1. That God, who to flesh and blood, in the calamities of his Church, seems to sleep, would awake and put an end to their trouble: "Awake why sleepest thou, O Lord," Psalms 44:23.
2. That he would arise and judge their cause, and not seem to neglect them as abjects: "Arise cast us not off for ever," Psalms 44:23.
3. That he would show them some favour, and not seem to forget their miseries: "Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and oppression?"
4. Lastly, That he would be their helper, and actually deliver them: "Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies' sake."
And that this petition might be the sooner and more readily granted, he briefly repeats the second argument: "For our soul is bowed down to the dust, our belly cleaveth to the earth," Psalms 44:25. Brought we are as low as low may be, even to the dust, to death, to the grave.