It’s a song of confusion. Of not understanding. Of unexpected twists.
The songwriter knew the stories. Stories of a God faithful to His promise to bring His people into a land not their own. His father had told him of how God had driven out the other nations and planted their nation. How He had afflicted other peoples but had set free the people of God. Made sure he understood that it wasn’t because Israel was adept with the sword, not because they had the mightiest of armies. But because of God’s right hand; and His strong arm; and the light of His shining face. And all this, simply because God delighted in His people.
Their boast, thus, was not in themselves but in their God. He was their King. And it was by Him, and Him alone, that they had pushed down their enemies and tread down their foes. So far, so good.
But then, unexpected twist number one.
But You have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies. You have made us turn back from the foe, and those who hate us have gotten spoil.
(Psalm 44:9-10 ESV)
After remembering the thrill of past victories the songwriter switches up to the agony of their current defeats. All at the hand of the God in whom they boasted. You have rejected us, the songwriter laments, You have made us turn back.
And the rhythm of the “You haves” is repeated again and again. You have made us like sheep for the slaughter (v.11). You have sold Your people for a trifle (v.12). You have made us the taunt of our neighbors (v.13). You have made us a byword among the nations (v.14). You have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death (v.19).
What happened? Why the turn of events? Why was the God who was for them now so seemingly against them? What did they do?
Short answer: Apparently nothing.
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.
(Psalm 44:17-19 ESV)
Unexpected twist number two. God had seemingly forsaken them though they had not forgotten Him. God was nowhere to be found though they had not been false to His covenant. God had left the building though their feet had not departed His ways. Though God knew their heart (v.21), yet He seemed to be hiding His face. Huh?
We get suffering for sin. We get trouble in return for transgression. But how do we process problems simply because we are His people?
And that’s what seems to be the root cause of their trouble — they were suffering for the sake of His Name.
Yet for Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
(Psalm 44:22 ESV)
There would be a time when Israel would suffer at the hands of the nations for their own national transgression. But this wasn’t that time. Now they suffered not for their sin but for their sanctification.
It was because they had been set apart for their God, that they were the object of the world’s wrath. It was for His sake.
Because they had been counted as His friends the nations regarded them as their foes. Because they had chosen to worship and follow Him, forsaking all others, they found themselves feeling forsaken. Not because of their idolatry, but because of their identity. Hated because they were His.
Honestly, that’s not what we expect. Even those of us who would repudiate the so-named “prosperity gospel,” if we’re honest with ourselves, are prone to think that to follow God faithfully should result in blessing and not battering. In peace and not persecution. In the good life and not in running for our lives. But good things don’t always happen for God’s people . . . even when, for the most part, they’re being good.
No real resolution to the song. No tying up of loose ends. No answer for the “why” question. No conclusion, just a cry.
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)
What to do when thrown a curve-ball? How to responded to unexpected twists? Call out. Awake, O Lord! Cry out. Rise up and help!
On what basis? On the promise of, and trust in, His steadfast, faithful, and unfailing love.
Prevail upon His grace. Trust that it will be to His glory.