Some psalms are sweet. The taste they leave in your mouth after chewing on them is pleasurable. Psalm 23 would be a case in point. Oh the satisfaction of being reminded that the Lord is my shepherd. But it doesn’t even necessarily have to be a “happy psalm” in order to leave a sweet taste. As hard as it is to read of the Servant’s sorrow and suffering in Psalm 22, at the end of the day, “the afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him shall praise the LORD . . . they shall come and proclaim His righteousness . . . that He has done it” (Ps. 22:26,31). Sweet!
But this morning, I’m reminded that some psalms are kind of sour. That the aftertaste is somewhat bitter. No real closure. No nice, neat bow used to tie everything up in a way that makes sense to the mind or seems satisfying to the soul. Just a stark, honest reality that seems to raise more questions than provide nice, clean answers. Such is Psalm 44, it seems. A sour psalm.
It’s not a self-centered song. In fact, the song’s pivot point is nothing if not theo-centric.
In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to Your name forever. Selah
(Psalm 44:8 ESV)
God receives all the glory for their privileged position (Ps. 44:1-8). They knew it was His mighty hand that had driven out the nations. That through Him, and Him alone, they were able to “push down our foes.” That through His name they had successfully “tread down those who rise against us.” Their trust wasn’t in the bow, nor did they think it was their sword that could save them. But their boast was in their God. He had planted them. He had set them free. And the light of His face shone upon them for no other reason then He delighted in them. Sweet!
But that’s not all God had done. It also seemed He had abandoned them (Ps. 44:9-16). Their current circumstance indicated that He had rejected them, had disgraced them, choosing not to go out with their armies before their enemies. He had made them “like sheep for the slaughter.” He had apparently “sold His people for a trifle.” The omnipotent, sovereign God had made them “the taunt” of their neighbors, “a byword among the nations”, “a laughing stock among the people.”
And maybe the songwriter could have made some sense of this if he could have pointed to some cause for this effect. Some sin which deserved such a situation. Some transgression that demanded such terrible treatment. However, to the best of the psalmist’s knowledge, such was not the case.
All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten You, and we have not been false to Your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way; yet You have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For He knows the secrets of the heart. Yet for Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
(Psalm 44:17-22 ESV)
The songwriter’s not trying to hide anything. Yet, he’s not finding anything, either. Not finding a cause for God’s apparent absence, yet still not finding His face. To the best of the songwriter’s knowledge, they were suffering not because they had forgotten; not because they had been unfaithful; not because they had turned their back; and not because they had departed from God’s way. So why were they suffering?
Yet for Your sake we are killed all the day long.
They suffered simply because they were the people of God in a hostile land. And God, for a reason known only to God, allowed it.
And so, with nothing left to do, the psalmist does the only thing he can do. He cries out to his God.
Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! . . . Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of Your steadfast love!
(Psalm 44:23, 26 ESV)
He calls on a seemingly, sleeping Sovereign to wake up. Appeals to the One he has boasted in of past redemption, to redeem again. Not on the basis of their faithfulness, but solely on the grounds of His–for the sake of His steadfast love.
And that’s it. End of song.
What began in the major key of victories past, ends in the minor key of lingering lament. Kind of leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Suffering only because they are the people of God. No easy next steps toward resolution. Nothing they can do to alleviate the pain.
Nothing to do but trust. To trust and wait. To trust and wait and cry out.
Desperately clinging to His steadfast love.
And maybe that’s the sweetness in this sour song–hoping in His steadfast love.
By His grace. For His glory.