Whilst many Psalms go on the journey from despair to hope, this one takes a different route. From positive memories, to present day confusion, to raw prayer of ‘Help’.
The first section. (v1-8) are a Psalm of celebration. The Psalmist remembers God’s goodness and recounts the past stories of God’s victories. Passing on family history, passing on the faith to our children is a core part of Jewish identity and has been hugely influential in the shaping of the Jewish people. It is something we have inherited, learn from history and share I with your children.
The positive memories are mostly about military victory. In the ancient world, when you won a battle, it was a sign that your God was with you, he had saved you. The Psalmist writes of trusting God, not human strength. God’s right arm is a symbol of military power for his people, the light of his face, a symbol of his loving character. The military history language is intriguing in using words of shame & boasting, triumph over enemies. We see things differently now in the light of Jesus. Our battle is not flesh and blood.
But then the Psalm turns at verse 9. All that history, all that celebration of God’s power, now seems redundant, because this is a Psalm of defeat. Linking past victories to God, becomes a problem, when we are in the midst of defeat. If victory means God is with us, then what does that mean when we lose a battle? V9-16 are a list of the painful realities of defeat.
Our battles are different. We aren’t in a violent war against another nation, the world is learning of the damage of war and tribalism and the value of unity and togetherness. But we still face battles. As a planet we are battling Coronavirus right now, some politicians have used language of war for this. Personally we may have battles with temptations or inner battles for our mental health. We battle against the enemy in prayer when we pray for healing and protection against this virus and all sickness, sometimes we lose that battle and suffer loss.
What can this Psalm teach us about turning to God in defeat?
I love it that this Psalm follows so soon after Ps 41, which we looked at a few days ago. We saw the danger of formula, particularly around integrity and physical health. We see now the honesty and depths of the Bible. Ps 44v17-22 are like a mini-Job. They’re suffering and they know it isn’t because of broken covenant or sin. Formulaic theology dissolves in the face of real life experience and when that happens we have to dig deeper, and run further into God.
Two deeper truths to go to.
- V22 is repeated in Romans 8v36. (Read Romans 8 now) Paul dismisses this verse in the light of Jesus’ victory on the Cross & Resurrection. He goes beyond it to say that we are not defeated victims, we are more than conquerors. Ultimately death is defeated. Nothing can separate us from God’s love
- The Psalm finishes with a cry for help. They boldly call for God to wake up! The reality of pain strips away layers of bland religious politeness. God’s family know we can be direct with him, we can cry out to him, we don’t have to pray with carefully crafted nuanced applications for assistance. We pray with gut wrenching shouts of ‘Help!’ We can’t manipulate God, we can only express our desires to him in their raw state. Something shifts inside us when we get bold and direct and cry out for Help. He loves us and respects that.
The Psalm finishes with this heart cry, and comes into land with an appeal to God’s steadfast love.