Last year our college ministry spent the summer in the Psalms, and our staff directional team took turns writing devotionals for each Psalm that we covered. While I am on vacation this summer, I thought I’d share some of the devotionals I wrote. This one is on the fist half of Psalm44, which you can read here.
Psalm 44 is categorized as a corporate lament – it is an expression of grief or anger, written to be expressed by a community, an assembly, a people. I feel very free to express my grief and questions to God on my own, but I see an honesty in the Lament Psalms (this one in particular) that makes me uncomfortable. Expressing this sort of honesty in public spaces, as a part of worship, feels unimaginable.
The Psalmist knows God’s history of goodness.
O God, we have heard with our ears, Our fathers have told us the work that You did in their days, In the days of old. You with Your own hand drove out the nations…For by their own sword they did not possess the land, and their own arm did not save them, but Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence, for You favored them. (v.1-3)
This is the story of my people, the Psalmist cries. Those who came into blessing and victory not by might or by power, but by God’s spirit. And we – the Psalmist asserts – we will be a people who follow in those footsteps.
You are my King, O God; Command victories for Jacob. Through You we will push back our adversaries; Through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, Nor will my sword save me. (v. 4-6)
The people of God expected victory. They expected the same outcome as their forefathers. But this is not a victory song.
Yet You have rejected us and brought us to dishonor, And do not go out with our armies. You cause us to turn back from the adversary; And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves.
You give us as sheep to be eaten And have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people cheaply, And have not profited by their sale. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, A scoffing and a derision to those around us. You make us a byword among the nations, A laughingstock among the peoples.
All day long my dishonor is before me and my humiliation has overwhelmed me… (v. 9-15)
We went went out in the name of our God and we have been brought low. We are God’s people and now we are a laughingstock, a reproach to the world. Why? Look at the first word in each those verses. You. You. You. You. You.
That is some real talk.
The Psalmist is accusing God of unfaithfulness, of being the source of their downfall. Is it OK to say that to a God you believe is GOOD?
I believe in God’s goodness. I hold tightly to God’s goodness. Reading Psalm 44, I want the Psalmist to turn the corner, to say that in the end of the story his people got the same outcome as their forefathers, “But your right hand and your arm and the light of Your presence saved them, for You favored them!” I want to shed some eternal perspective on this psalm.
But this is not a victory song. At this point in the Psalmist’s journey, overcoming was not his story (yet.) So he accuses and complains and laments.
And God apparently did not strike the Psalmist dead. As far as we know from Scripture, there’s no correction, no consequence for accusing God of abandoning His people. In fact, this Psalm and many like it were encased in Hebrew canon and then passed into Christian Holy Word.
As I read Psalm 44, I wonder how God felt, hearing his people sing this song.
How would He feel now if I were to be honest about my response to bad news and the current state of the world? If I publicly expressed that it feels like He has abandoned us and is allowing His people to be a laughingstock and reproach among the nations?
How did God feel, and how would He feel now?
Mad? Disappointed? Wishing we had the eternal perspective to trust Him?
Or maybe God understands.
In His great heart of empathy and compassion, maybe God knows how far away He feels to us sometimes, as the result of the fallen world and the Genesis 3 knowledge of good and evil. Maybe His eternal heart has room for all of our pain and honesty and accusations.
Maybe this is the reason faith is required for relationship with God – not to earn eternity or grace from Him (as if we could earn anything). Maybe He knows that the realities of this fallen world make it awfully hard to trust a God who feels very far away sometimes.
Jesus on the cross echoes another lament Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Maybe, when we’re honest, God cries with us and whispers, wait.
If you’re interested in reading any of the other Psalms devotionals from last summer (I was very impressed with my coworkers’ writing skills, I really enjoyed every one of these!), you can look around over here.