Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 44
on the Whole Bible
We are not told either who was the penmen of this psalm or when and
upon what occasion it was penned, upon a melancholy occasion, we are
sure, not so much to the penman himself (then we could have found
occasions enough for it in the history of David and his afflictions),
but to the church of God in general; and therefore, if we suppose it
penned by David, yet we must attribute it purely to the Spirit of
prophecy, and must conclude that the Spirit (whatever he himself had)
had in view the captivity of Babylon, or the sufferings of the Jewish
church under Antiochus, or rather the afflicted state of the Christian
church in its early days (to which
is applied by the apostle,
and indeed in all its days on earth, for it is its determined lot that
it must enter into the kingdom of heaven through many tribulations.
And, if we have any gospel-psalms pointing at the privileges and
comforts of Christians, why should we not have one pointing at their
trials and exercises? It is a psalm calculated for a day of fasting and
humiliation upon occasion of some public calamity, either pressing or
threatening. In it the church is taught,
I. To own with thankfulness, to the glory of God, the great things God
has done for their fathers,
II. To exhibit a memorial of their present calamitous estate,
III. To file a protestation of their integrity and adherence to God
IV. To lodge a petition at the throne of grace for succour and relief,
In singing this psalm we ought to give God the praise of what he has
formerly done for his people, to represent our own grievances, or
sympathize with those parts of the church that are in distress, to
engage ourselves, whatever happens, to cleave to God and duty, and then
cheerfully to wait the event.
|Grateful Acknowledgment of Past Mercies; Consecration to God.
To the chief musician for the sons of Korah, Maschil.
1 We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what
work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.
2 How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and
plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast
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.
4 Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob.
5 Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name
will we tread them under that rise up against us.
6 For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save
7 But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to
shame that hated us.
8 In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for
Some observe that most of the psalms that are entitled
Maschil--psalms of instruction, are sorrowful psalms; for
afflictions give instructions, and sorrow of spirit opens the ear to
them. Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest and teachest.
In these verses the church, though now trampled upon, calls to
remembrance the days of her triumph, of her triumph in God and over her
enemies. This is very largely mentioned here,
1. As an aggravation of the present distress. The yoke of servitude
cannot but lie very heavily on the necks of those that used to wear the
crown of victory; and the tokens of God's displeasure must needs be
most grievous to those that have been long accustomed to the tokens of
2. As an encouragement to hope that God would yet turn again their
captivity and return in mercy to them; accordingly he mixes prayers and
comfortable expectations with his record of former mercies.
I. Their commemoration of the great things God had formerly done for
1. In general
Our fathers have told us what work thou didst in their days.
(1.) The many operations of providence are here spoken of as one
work--"They have told us the work which thou didst;" for there
is a wonderful harmony and uniformity in all that God does, and the
many wheels make but one wheel
many works make but one work.
(2.) It is a debt which every age owes to posterity to keep an account
of God's works of wonder, and to transmit the knowledge of them to the
next generation. Those that went before us told us what God did in
their days, we are bound to tell those that come after us what he has
done in our days, and let them do the like justice to those that shall
succeed them; thus shall one generation praise his works to
the fathers to the children shall make known his truth,
(3.) We must not only make mention of the work God has done in our own
days, but must also acquaint ourselves and our children with what he
did in the times of old, long before our own days; and of this we have
in the scripture a sure word of history, as sure as the word of
(4.) Children must diligently attend to what their parents tell them of
the wonderful works of God, and keep it in remembrance, as that which
will be of great use to them.
(5.) Former experiences of God's power and goodness are strong supports
to faith and powerful pleas in prayer under present calamities. See how
Gideon insists upon it
Where are all his miracles which our fathers told us of?
2. In particular, their fathers had told them,
(1.) How wonderfully God planted Israel in Canaan at first,
He drove out the natives, to make room for Israel, afflicted them, and
cast them out, gave them as dust to Israel's sword and as driven
stubble to their bow. The many complete victories which Israel obtained
over the Canaanites, under the command of Joshua, were not to be
attributed to themselves, nor could they challenge the glory of them.
[1.] They were not owing to their own merit, but to God's favour and
free grace: It was through the light of thy countenance, because
thou hadst a favour to them. Not for thy righteousness, or the
uprightness of thy heart, doth God drive them out from before thee
but because God would perform the oath which he swore unto their
The less praise this allows us the more comfort it administers to us,
that we may see all our successes and enlargements coming to us from
the favour of God and the light of his countenance.
[2.] They were not owing to their own might, but to God's power engaged
for them, without which all their own efforts and endeavours would have
been fruitless. It was not by their own sword that they got the land
in possession, though they had great numbers of mighty men; nor did
their own arm save them from being driven back by the Canaanites and
put to shame; but it was God's right hand and his arm. He
fought for Israel, else they would have fought in vain; it was through
him that they did valiantly and victoriously. It was God that planted
Israel in that good land, as the careful husbandman plants a tree, from
which he promises himself fruit. See
This is applicable to the planting of the Christian church in the
world, by the preaching of the gospel. Paganism was wonderfully driven
out, as the Canaanites, not all at once, but by little and little, not
by any human policy or power (for God chose to do it by the weak and
foolish things of the world), but by the wisdom and power of
God--Christ by his Spirit went forth conquering and to conquer; and the
remembrance of that is a great support and comfort to those that groan
under the yoke of antichristian tyranny, for to the state of the church
under the power of the New-Testament Babylon, some think (and
particularly the learned Amyraldus), the complaints in the latter part
of this psalm may very fitly be accommodated. He that by his power and
goodness planted a church for himself in the world will certainly
support it by the same power and goodness; and the gates of hell
shall not prevail against it.
(2.) How frequently he had given them success against their enemies
that attempted to disturb them in the possession of that good land
Thou hast, many a time, saved us from our enemies, and
hast put to flight, and so put to shame, those that hated us,
witness the successes of the judges against the nations that oppressed
Israel. Many a time have the persecutors of the Christian church, and
those that hate it, been put to shame by the power of truth,
II. The good use they make of this record, and had formerly made of it,
in consideration of the great things God had done for their fathers of
1. They had taken God for their sovereign Lord, had sworn allegiance to
him, and put themselves under his protection
Thou art my King, O God! He speaks in the name of the church, as
Thou art my King of old. God, as a king, has made laws for his
church, provided for the peace and good order of it, judged for it,
pleaded its cause, fought its battles, and protected it; it is his
kingdom in the world, and ought to be subject to him, and to pay him
tribute. Or the psalmist speaks for himself here: "Lord, Thou art my
King; whither shall I go with my petitions, but to thee? The favour
I ask is not for myself, but for thy church." Note, It is every one's
duty to improve his personal interest at the throne of grace for the
public welfare and prosperity of the people of God; as Moses, "If I
have found grace in thy sight, guide thy people,"
2. They had always applied to him by prayer for deliverance when at any
time they were in distress: Command deliverances for Jacob.
(1.) The enlargedness of their desire. They pray for deliverances, not
one, but many, as many as they had need of, how many soever they were,
a series of deliverances, a deliverance from every danger.
(2.) The strength of their faith in the power of God. They do not say,
Work deliverances, but Command them, which denotes his
doing it easily and instantly--Speak and it is done (such was
the faith of the centurion,
Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed); it denotes
also his doing it effectually: "Command it, as one having authority,
whose command will be obeyed." Where the word of a king is there is
power, much more the word of the King of kings.
3. They had trusted and triumphed in him. As they owned it was not
their own sword and bow that had saved them
so neither did they trust to their own sword or bow to save them for
"I will not trust in my bow, nor in any of my military
preparations, as if those would stand me in stead without God. No;
through thee will we push down our enemies
we will attempt it in thy strength, relying only upon that, and not
upon the number or valour of our forces; and, having thee on our side,
we will not doubt of success in the attempt. Through thy name
(by virtue of thy wisdom directing us, thy power strengthening us and
working for us, and thy promise securing success to us) we shall, we
will, tread those under that rise up against us."
4. They had made him their joy and praise
"In God we have boasted; in him we do and will boast, every day,
and all the day long." When their enemies boasted of their strength and
successes, as Sennacherib and Rabshakeh hectored Hezekiah, they owned
they had nothing to boast of, in answer thereunto, but their relation
to God and their interest in him; and, if he were for them, they could
set all the world at defiance. Let him that glories glory in the
Lord, and let that for ever exclude all other boasting. Let those
that trust in God make their boast in him, for they know whom they have
trusted; let them boast in him all the day long, for it is a
subject that can never be exhausted. But let them withal praise his
name for ever; if they have the comfort of his name, let them give
unto him the glory due to it.
|Afflicted Condition of Israel.
9 But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not
forth with our armies.
10 Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which
hate us spoil for themselves.
11 Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat; and hast
scattered us among the heathen.
12 Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase
thy wealth by their price.
13 Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a
derision to them that are round about us.
14 Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the
head among the people.
15 My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my
face hath covered me,
16 For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth; by
reason of the enemy and avenger.
The people of God here complain to him of the low and afflicted
condition that they were now in, under the prevailing power of their
enemies and oppressors, which was the more grievous to them because
they were now trampled upon, who had always been used, in their
struggles with their neighbours, to win the day and get the upper hand,
and because those were now their oppressors whom they had many a time
triumphed over and made tributaries, and especially because they had
boasted in their God with great assurance that he would still protect
and prosper them, which made the distress they were in, and the
disgrace they were under, the more shameful. Let us see what the
I. That they wanted the usual tokens of God's favour to them and
presence with them
"Thou hast cast off; thou seemest to have cast us off and our
cause, and to have cast off thy wonted care of us and concern for us,
and so hast put us to shame, for we boasted of the constancy and
perpetuity of thy favour. Our armies go forth as usual, but they are
put to flight; we gain no ground, but lose what we have gained, for
thou goest not forth with them, for, if thou didst, which way soever
they turned they would prosper; but it is quite contrary." Note, God's
people, when they are cast down, are tempted to think themselves cast
off and forsaken of God; but it is a mistake. Hath God cast away
his people? God forbid,
II. That they were put to the worst before their enemies in the field
Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy, as Joshua complained
when they met with a repulse at Ai
"We are dispirited, and have lost the ancient valour of Israelites; we
flee, we fall, before those that used to flee and fall before us; and
then those that hate us have the plunder of our camp and of our
country; they spoil for themselves, and reckon all their own that they
can lay their hands on. Attempts to shake off the Babylonish yoke have
been ineffectual, and we have rather lost ground by them."
III. That they were doomed to the sword and to captivity
"Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat. They make no
more scruple of killing an Israelite than of killing a sheep; nay, like
the butcher, they make a trade of it, they take a pleasure in it as a
hungry man in his meat; and we are led with as much ease, and as little
resistance, as a lamb to the slaughter; many are slain, and the rest
scattered among the heathen, continually insulted by their malice or in
danger of being infected by their iniquities." They looked upon
themselves as bought and sold, and charged it upon God, Thou sellest
thy people, when they should have charged it upon their own sin.
For your iniquities have you sold yourselves,
However, thus far was right that they looked above the instruments of
their trouble and kept their eye upon God, as well knowing that their
worst enemies had no power against them but what was given them from
above; they own it was God that delivered them into the hand of
the ungodly, as that which is sold is delivered to the buyer.
Thou sellest them for nought, and dost not increase in their
price (so it may be read); "thou dost not sell them by auction, to
those that will bid most for them, but in haste, to those that will bid
first for them; any one shall have them that will." Or, as we read it,
Thou dost not increase thy wealth by their price, intimating
that they could have suffered this contentedly if they had been sure
that it would redound to the glory of God and that his interest might
be some way served by their sufferings; but it was quite contrary:
Israel's disgrace turned to God's dishonour, so that he was so far from
being a gainer in his glory by the sale of them that it should seem he
was greatly a loser by it; see
IV. That they were loaded with contempt, and all possible ignominy was
put upon them. In this also they acknowledge God: "Thou makest us a
reproach; thou bringest those calamities upon us which occasion the
reproach, and thou permittest their virulent tongues to smite us." They
1. That they were ridiculed and bantered, and were looked upon as the
most contemptible people under the sun; their troubles were turned to
their reproach, and upon the account of them they were derided.
2. That their neighbours, those about them, from whom they could not
withdraw, were most abusive to them,
3. That the heathen, the people that were strangers to the commonwealth
of Israel and aliens to the covenants of promise, made them a by-word,
and shook the head at them, as triumphing in their fall,
4. That the reproach was constant and incessant
My confusion is continually before me. The church in general,
the psalmist in particular, were continually teased and vexed with the
insults of the enemy. Concerning those that are going down every one
cries, "Down with them."
5. That it was very grievous, and in a manner overwhelmed him: The
shame of my face has covered me. He blushed for sin, or rather for
the dishonour done to God, and then it was a holy blushing.
6. That it reflected upon God himself; the reproach which the enemy and
the avenger cast upon them was downright blasphemy against God,
2 Kings 19:3.
There was therefore strong reason to believe that God would appear for
them. As there is no trouble more grievous to a generous and ingenuous
mind than reproach and calumny, so there is none more grievous to a
holy gracious soul than blasphemy and dishonour done to God.
17 All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee,
neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant.
18 Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps
declined from thy way;
19 Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and
covered us with the shadow of death.
20 If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out
our hands to a strange god;
21 Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of
22 Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are
counted as sheep for the slaughter.
23 Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off
24 Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our
affliction and our oppression?
25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth
unto the earth.
26 Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies' sake.
The people of God, being greatly afflicted and oppressed, here apply to
him; whither else should they go?
I. By way of appeal, concerning their integrity, which he only is an
infallible judge of, and which he will certainly be the rewarder of.
Two things they call God to witness to:--
1. That, though they suffered these hard things, yet they kept close to
God and to their duty
"All this has come upon us, and it is as bad perhaps as bad can
be, yet have we not forgotten thee, neither cast off the
thoughts of thee nor deserted the worship of thee; for, though we
cannot deny but that we have dealt foolishly, yet we have not dealt
falsely in thy covenant, so as to cast thee off and take to other
gods. Though idolaters were our conquerors, we did not therefore
entertain any more favourable thoughts of their idols and idolatries;
though thou hast seemed to forsake us and withdraw from us, yet we have
not therefore forsaken thee." The trouble they had been long in was
very great: "We have been sorely broken in the place of dragons,
among men as fierce, and furious, and cruel, as dragons. We have been
covered with the shadow of death, that is, we have been under
deep melancholy and apprehensive of nothing short of death. We have
been wrapped up in obscurity, and buried alive; and thou hast thus
broken us, thou hast thus covered us
yet we have not harboured any hard thoughts of thee, nor meditated a
retreat from thy service. Though thou hast slain us, we have continued
to trust in thee: Our heart has not turned back; we have not
secretly withdrawn our affections from thee, neither have our steps,
either in our religious worship or in our conversation, declined
from they way
the way which thou hast appointed us to walk in." When the heart turns
back the steps will soon decline; for it is the evil heart of unbelief
that inclines to depart from God. Note, We may the better bear our
troubles, how pressing soever, if in them we still hold fast our
integrity. While our troubles do not drive us from our duty to God we
should not suffer them to drive us from our comfort in God; for he will
not leave us if we do not leave him. For the proof of their integrity
they take God's omniscience to witness, which is as much the comfort of
the upright in heart as it is the terror of hypocrites
"If we have forgotten the name of our God, under pretence that
he had forgotten us, or in our distress have stretched out our hands
to a strange god, as more likely to help us, shall not God
search this out? Shall he not know it more fully and distinctly
than we know that which we have with the greatest care and diligence
searched out? Shall he not judge it, and call us to an account for it?"
Forgetting God was a heart-sin, and stretching our the hand to a
strange god was often a secret sin,
But heart-sins and secret sins are known to God, and must be reckoned
for; for he knows the secrets of the heart, and therefore is a
infallible judge of the words and actions.
2. That they suffered these hard things because they kept close to God
and to their duty
"It is for thy sake that we are killed all the day long, because
we stand related to thee, are called by thy name, call upon thy name,
and will not worship other gods." In this the Spirit of prophecy had
reference to those who suffered even unto death for the testimony of
Christ, to whom it is applied,
So many were killed, and put to such lingering deaths, that they were
in the killing all the day long; so universally was this practised that
when a man became a Christian he reckoned himself as a sheep
appointed for the slaughter.
II. By way of petition, with reference to their present distress, that
God would, in his own due time, work deliverance for them.
1. Their request is very importunate: Awake, arise,
Arise for our help; redeem us
come speedily and powerfully to our relief,
Stir up thy strength, and come and save us. They had complained
that God had sold them; here they pray
that God would redeem them; for there is no appealing from God, but by
appealing to him. If he sell us, it is not any one else that can redeem
us; the same hand that tears must heal, that smites must bind up,
They had complained
Thou hast cast us off; but here they pray
"Cast us not off forever; let us not be finally forsaken of
2. The expostulations are very moving: Why sleepest thou?
He that keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps; but, when he does not
immediately appear for the deliverance of his people, they are tempted
to think he sleeps. The expression is figurative (as
Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep); but it was applicable
to Christ in the letter
he was asleep when his disciples were in a storm, and they awoke him,
saying, Lord, save us, we perish. "Wherefore hidest thou thy
face, that we may not see thee and the light of thy countenance?"
Or, "that thou mayest not see us and our distresses? Thou forgettest
our affliction and our oppression, for it still continues, and we see
no way open for our deliverance." And,
3. The pleas are very proper, not their own merit and righteousness,
though they had the testimony of their consciences concerning their
integrity, but they plead the poor sinner's pleas.
(1.) Their own misery, which made them the proper objects of the divine
"Our soul is bowed down to the dust under prevailing grief and
fear. We have become as creeping things, the most despicable animals:
Our belly cleaves unto the earth; we cannot lift up ourselves,
neither revive our own drooping spirits nor recover ourselves out of
our low and sad condition, and we lie exposed to be trodden on by every
2. God's mercy: "O redeem us for they mercies' sake; we depend
upon the goodness of thy nature, which is the glory of thy name
and upon those sure mercies of David which are conveyed by the covenant
to all his spiritual seed."