Psalm 44
Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
A Litany of Israel, Hard Pressed by the Enemy, and Yet Faithful to Its God

The Korahitic Maskı̂l Psalm 42:1-11, with its counterpart Psalm 43:1-5, if followed by a second, to which a place is here assigned by manifold accords with Psalm 42-43, viz., with its complaints (cf. PsPsa 44:26 with the refrain of Psalm 43:1-5, Psalm 42:1-11; Psalm 44:10, Psalm 44:24. with Psalm 43:2; Psalm 42:10), and prayers (cf. Psalm 44:5 with Psalm 43:3; Psalm 42:9). The counterpart to this Psalm is Psalm 85:1-13. Just as Psalm 42-43 and Psalm 84:1-12 form a pair, so do Psalm 44 and Psalm 85:1-13 as being Korahitic plaintive and supplicatory Psalms of a national character. Moreover, Psalm 60:1-12 by David, Psalm 80 by Asaph, and Psalm 89 by Ethan, are nearest akin to it. In all these three there are similar lamentations over the present as contrasting with the former times and with the promise of God; but they do not contain any like expression of consciousness of innocence, a feature in which Psalm 44 has no equal.

In this respect the Psalm seems to be most satisfactorily explained by the situation of the חסידים (saints), who under the leadership of the Maccabees defended their nationality and their religion against the Syrians and fell as martyrs by thousands. The war of that period was, in its first beginnings at least, a holy war of religion; and the nation which then went forth on the side of Jahve against Jupiter Olympius, was really, in distinction from the apostates, a people true to its faith and confession, which had to lament over God's doom of wrath in 1 Macc. 1:64, just as in this Psalm. There is even a tradition that it was a stated lamentation Psalm of the time of the Maccabees. The Levites daily ascended the pulpit (דוכן) and raised the cry of prayer: Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord?! These Levite criers praying for the interposition of God were called מעוררים (wakers). It is related in B. Sota 48a of Jochanan the high priest, i.e., John Hyrcanus (135-107 b.c.), that he put an end to these מעוררים, saying to them: "Doth the Deity sleep? Hath not the Scripture said: Behold the Keeper of Israel slumbereth not and sleepeth not!? Only in a time when Israel was in distress and the peoples of the world in rest and prosperity, only in reference to such circumstances was it said: Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord?"

Nevertheless many considerations are opposed to the composition of the Psalm in the time of the Maccabees. We will mention only a few. In the time of the Maccabees the nation did not exactly suffer any overthrow of its "armies" (Psalm 44:10) after having gathered up its courage: the arms of Judah, of Jonathan, and of Simon were victorious, and the one defeat to which Hitzig refers the Psalm, viz., the defeat of Joseph and Azaria against Gorgias in Jamnia (1 Macc. 5:55ff.), was a punishment brought upon themselves by an indiscreet enterprise. The complaints in Psalm 44:10. are therefore only partially explained by the evmnts of that time; and since a nation is a unit and involved as a whole, it is also surprising that no mention whatever is made of the apostates. But Ewald's reference of the Psalm to the time of the post-exilic Jerusalem is still more inadmissible; and when, in connection with this view, the question is asked, What disaster of war is then intended? no answer can be given; and the reference to the time of Jehoiachin, which Tholuck in vain endeavours to set in a more favourable light - a king who did evil in the eyes of Jahve, 2 Chronicles 36:9, with which the descriptions of character drawn by Jeremiah, Jeremiah 22:20-30, and by Ezekiel, Ezekiel 19:1-14, fully accord - is also inadmissible. On the other hand, the position of the Psalm in the immediate neighbourhood of Psalms belonging to the time of Jehoshaphat, and also to a certain extent its contents, favours the early part of the reign of king Joash, in which, as becomes evident from the prophecy of Joel, there was no idolatry on the part of the people to be punished, and yet there were severe afflictions of the people to be bewailed. It was then not long since the Philistines and Arabs from the neighbourhood of the Cushites had broken in upon Judah, ransacked Jerusalem and sold the captive people of Judah for a mere song to the Greeks (2 Chronicles 21:16., Joel 3:2-8). But this reference to contemporary history is also untenable. That unhappy event, together with others, belongs to the category of well-merited judgments, which came upon king and people in the reign of Jehoram; nor does the Psalm sound like a retrospective glance at the time of Jehoram from the standpoint of the time of Joash: the defeat of which it complains, is one that is now only just experienced.

Thus we seem consequently driven back to the time of David; and the question arises, whether the Psalm does not admit, with Psalm 60:1-12, with which it forms a twin couple, of being understood as the offspring of a similar situation, viz., of the events which resulted from the Syro-Ammonitish war. The fact that a conflict with the foes of the kingdom in the south, viz., with the Edomites, was also mixed up with the wars with the Ammonites and their Syrian allies at that period, becomes evident from Psalm 60:1. when compared with 2 Samuel 8:13, where the words ἐπάταξε τὴν Ἰδουμαίαν (lxx) have fallen out. Whilst David was contending with the Syrians, the Edomites came down upon the country that was denuded of troops. And from 1 Kings 11:15 it is very evident that they then caused great bloodshed; for, according to that passage, Joab buried the slain and took fearful revenge upon the Edomites: he marched, after having slain them in the Valley of Salt, into Idumaea and there smote every male. Perhaps, with Hengstenberg, Keil, and others, the Psalm is to be explained from the position of Israel before this overthrow of the Edomites. The fact that in Psalm 44:12 the nation complains of a dispersion among the heathen may be understood by means of a deduction from Amos 1:6, according to which the Edomites had carried on a traffic in captive Israelites. And the lofty self-consciousness, which finds expression in the Psalm, is after all best explained by the times of David; for these and the early part of the times of Solomon are the only period in the history of Israel when the nation as a whole could boast of being free and pure of all foreign influence in its worship. In the kindred Psalm 60:1-12; 80 (also Psalm 89), it is true this self-consciousness does not attain the same lofty expression in this respect Psalm 40 stands perfectly alone: it is like the national mirroring of the Book of Job, and by reason of this takes a unique position in the range of Old Testament literature side by side with Lamentations 3 and the deutero-Isaiah. Israel's affliction, which could not possibly be of a punitive character, resembles the affliction of Job; in this Psalm, Israel stands in exactly the same relation to God as Job and the "Servant of Jahve" in Isaiah, if we except all that was desponding in Job's complaint and all that was expiatory in the affliction of the Servant of Jahve. But this very self-consciousness does somewhat approximately find expression even in Psalm 60:4. In that passage also no distinction is made between Israel and the God-fearing ones, and the battle, in which Israel is defeated, but not without hope of final victory, is a battle for the truth.

The charge has been brought against this Psalm, that it manifests a very superficial apprehension of the nature of sin, in consequence of which the writer has been betrayed into accusing God of unfaithfulness, instead of seeking for guilt in the congregation of Israel. This judgment is unjust. The writer certainly cannot mean to disown the sins of individuals, nor even this or that transgression of the whole people. but any apostasy on the part of the nation from its God, such as could account for its rejection, did not exist at that time. The supremacy granted to the heathen over Israel is, therefore, an abnormal state of things, and for this very reason the poet, on the ground of Israel's fidelity and of God's loving-kindness, prays for speedy deliverance. A Psalm born directly out of the heart of the New Testament church would certainly sound very differently. For the New Testament church is not a national community; and both as regards the relation between the reality and idea of the church, and as regards the relation between its afflictions and the motive and design of God, the view of the New Testament church penetrates far deeper. It knows that it is God's love that makes it conformable to the passion of Christ, in order that, being crucified unto the world, it may become through suffering partaker of the glory of its Lord and Head.

To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, Maschil. 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.
(Heb.: 44:2-4) The poet opens with a tradition coming down from the time of Moses and of Joshua which they have heard with their own ears, in order to demonstrate the vast distance between the character of the former times and the present, just as Asaph, also, in Psalm 78:3, appeals not to the written but to the spoken word. That which has been heard follows in the oratio directa. Psalm 44:3 explains what kind of "work" is intended: it is the granting of victory over the peoples of Canaan, the work of God for which Moses prays in Psalm 90:16. Concerning ידך, vid., on Psalm 3:5; Psalm 17:14. The position of the words here, as in Psalm 69:11; Psalm 83:19, leads one to suppose that ידך is treated as a permutative of אתּה, and consequently in the same case with it. The figure of "planting" (after Exodus 15:17) is carried forward in ותּשׁלּחם; for this word means to send forth far away, to make wide-branching, a figure which is wrought up in Psalm 80. It was not Israel's own work, but (כּי, no indeed, for [Germ. nein, denn] equals imo) God's work: "Thy right hand and Thine arm and the light of Thy countenance," they it was which brought Israel salvation, i.e., victory. The combination of synonyms ימינך וּזרועך is just as in Psalm 74:11, Sir. 33:7, χείρα καὶ βραχίονα δεξιόν, and is explained by both the names of the members of the body as applied to God being only figures: the right hand being a figure for energetic interposition, and the arm for an effectual power that carries through the thing designed (cf. e.g., Psalm 77:16; Psalm 53:1), just as the light of His countenance is a figure for His loving-kindness which lights up all darkness. The final cause was His purpose of love: for (inasmuch as) Thou wast favourable to them (רצה as in Psalm 85:2). The very same thought, viz., that Israel owes the possession of Canaan to nothing but Jahve's free grace, runs all through Deuteronomy 9.

How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.
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.
Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob.
(Heb.: 44:5-9) Out of the retrospective glance at the past, so rich in mercy springs up (Psalm 44:5) the confident prayer concerning the present, based upon the fact of the theocratic relationship which began in the time of the deliverance wrought under Moses (Deuteronomy 33:5). In the substantival clause אתּה הוּא מלכּי, הוּא is neither logical copula nor predicate (as in Psalm 102:28; Deuteronomy 32:39, there equivalent to אתּה הוּא אשׁר, cf. 1 Chronicles 21:17), but an expressive resumption of the subject, as in Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 49:12; Nehemiah 9:6., Ezra 5:11, and in the frequently recurring expression יהוה הוא האלהים; it is therefore to be rendered: Thou-He who (such an one) is my King. May He therefore, by virtue of His duty as king which He has voluntarily taken upon Himself, and of the kingly authority and power indwelling in Him, command the salvation of Jacob, full and entire (Psalm 18:51; Psalm 53:7). צוּה as in Psalm 42:9. Jacob is used for Israel just as Elohim is used instead of Jahve. If Elohim, Jacob's King, now turns graciously to His people, they will again be victorious and invincible, as Psalm 44:6 affirms. נגּח with reference to קרן as a figure and emblem of strength, as in Psalm 89:25 and frequently; קמינוּ equivalent to קמים עלינוּ. But only in the strength of God (בּך as in Psalm 18:30); for not in my bow do I trust, etc., Psalm 44:7. This teaching Israel has gathered from the history of the former times; there is no bidding defiance with the bow and sword and all the carnal weapons of attack, but Thou, etc., Psalm 44:8. This "Thou" in הושׁעתּנוּ is the emphatic word; the preterites describe facts of experience belonging to history. It is not Israel's own might that gives them the supremacy, but God's gracious might in Israel's weakness. Elohim is, therefore, Israel's glory or pride: "In Elohim do we praise," i.e., we glory or make our boast in Him; cf. הלּל על, Psalm 10:3. The music here joins in after the manner of a hymn. The Psalm here soars aloft to the more joyous height of praise, from which it now falls abruptly into bitter complaint.

Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.
For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.
But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.
In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever. Selah.
But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies.
(Heb.: 44:10-13) Just as אף signifies imo vero (Psalm 58:3) when it comes after an antecedent clause that is expressly or virtually a negative, it may mean "nevertheless, ho'moos," when it opposes a contrastive to an affirmative assertion, as is very frequently the case with גּם or וגם. True, it does not mean this in itself, but in virtue of its logical relation: we praise Thee, we celebrate Thy name unceasingly - also ( equals nevertheless) Thou hast cast off. From this point the Psalm comes into closest connection with Psalm 89:39, on a still more extended scale, however, with Psalm 60:1-12, which dates from the time of the Syro-Ammonitish war, in which Psalm Psa 44:10 recurs almost word for word. The צבאות are not exactly standing armies (an objection which has been raised against the Maccabean explanation), they are the hosts of the people that are drafted into battle, as in Exodus 12:41, the hosts that went forth out of Egypt. Instead of leading these to victory as their victorious Captain (2 Samuel 5:24), God leaves them to themselves and allows them to be smitten by the enemy. The enemy spoil למו, i.e., just as they like, without meeting with any resistance, to their hearts' content. And whilst He gives over (נתן as in Micah 5:2, and the first יתּן in Isaiah 41:2) one portion of the people as "sheep appointed for food," another becomes a diaspora or dispersion among the heathen, viz., by being sold to them as slaves, and that בּלא־הון, "for not-riches," i.e., for a very low price, a mere nothing. We see from Joel 3:3 in what way this is intended. The form of the litotes is continued in Psalm 44:13: Thou didst not go high in the matter of their purchase-money; the rendering of Maurer is correct: in statuendis pretiis eorum. The ב is in this instance not the Beth of the price as in Psalm 44:13, but, as in the phrase הלּל בּ, the Beth of the sphere and thereby indirectly of the object. רבּה in the sense of the Aramaic רבּי (cf. Proverbs 22:16, and the derivatives תּרבּית, מרבּית), to make a profit, to practise usury (Hupfeld), produces a though that is unworthy of God; vid., on the other hand, Isaiah 52:3. At the heads of the strophe stands (Psalm 44:10) a perfect with an aorist following: ולא תצא is consequently a negative ותּצא. And Psalm 44:18, which sums up the whole, shows that all the rest is also intended to be retrospective.

Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves.
Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat; and hast scattered us among the heathen.
Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase thy wealth by their price.
Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us.
(Heb.: 44:14-17) To this defeat is now also added the shame that springs out of it. A distinction is made between the neighbouring nations, or those countries lying immediately round about Israel (סביבות, as in the exactly similar passage Psalm 79:4, cf. Psalm 80:7, which closely resembles it), and the nations of the earth that dwell farther away from Israel. משׁל is here a jesting, taunting proverb, and one that holds Israel up as an example of a nation undergoing chastisement (vid., Habakkuk 2:6). The shaking of the head is, as in Psalm 22:8, a gesture of malicious astonishment. In נגדּי תּמיד (as in Psalm 38:18) we have both the permanent aspect or look and the perpetual consciousness. Instead of "shame covers my face," the expression is "the shame of my face covers me," i.e., it has overwhelmed my entire inward and outward being (cf. concerning the radical notions of בּושׁ, Psalm 6:11, and חפר, Psalm 34:6). The juxtaposition of "enemy and revengeful man" has its origin in Psalm 8:3. In Psalm 44:17 מקּול and מפּני alternate; the former is used of the impression made by the jeering voice, the other of the impression produced by the enraged mien.

Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people.
My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me,
For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth; by reason of the enemy and avenger.
All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant.
(Heb.: 44:18-22) If Israel compares its conduct towards God with this its lot, it cannot possibly regard it as a punishment that it has justly incurred. Construed with the accusative, בּוא signifies, as in Psalm 35:8; Psalm 36:12, to come upon one, and more especially of an evil lot and of powers that are hostile. שׁקּר, to lie or deceive, with בּ of the object on whom the deception or treachery is practised, as in Psalm 89:34. In Psalm 44:19 אשּׁוּר is construed as fem., exactly as in Job 31:8; the fut. consec. is also intended as such (as e.g., in Job 3:10; Numbers 16:14): that our step should have declined from, etc.; inward apostasy is followed by outward wandering and downfall. This is therefore not one of the many instances in which the לא of one clause also has influence over the clause that follows (Ges. 152, 3). כּי, Psalm 44:20, has the sense of quod: we have not revolted against Thee, that Thou shouldest on that account have done to us the thing which is now befallen us. Concerning תּנּיּם vid., Isaiah 13:22. A "place of jackals" is, like a habitation of dragons (Jeremiah 10:22), the most lonesome and terrible wilderness; the place chosen was, according to this, an inhospitable מדבר, far removed from the dwellings of men. כּסּה is construed with על of the person covered, and with בּ of that with which (1 Samuel 19:13) he is covered: Thou coveredst us over with deepest darkness (vid., Psalm 23:4). אם, Psalm 44:21, is not that of asseveration (verily we have not forgotten), but, as the interrogatory apodosis Psalm 44:22 shows, conditional: if we have ( equals should have) forgotten. This would not remain hidden from Him who knoweth the heart, for the secrets of men's hearts are known to Him. Both the form and matter here again strongly remind one of Job 31, more especially Job 31:4; cf. also on תּעלמות, Job 11:6; Job 28:11.

Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way;
Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.
If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;
Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.
(Heb.: 44:23-27) The church is not conscious of any apostasy, for on the contrary it is suffering for the sake of its fidelity. Such is the meaning intended by כּי, Psalm 44:23 (cf. Psalm 37:20). The emphasis lies on עליך, which is used exactly as in Psalm 69:8. Paul, in Romans 8:36, transfers this utterance to the sufferings of the New Testament church borne in witnessing for the truth, or I should rather say he considers it as a divine utterance corresponding as it were prophetically to the sufferings of the New Testament church, and by anticipation, coined concerning it and for its use, inasmuch as he cites it with the words καθὼς γέγραπται. The suppliant cries עוּרה and הקיצה are Davidic, and found in his earlier Ps; Psalm 7:7; Psalm 35:23; Psalm 59:5., cf. Psalm 78:65. God is said to sleep when He does not interpose in whatever is taking place in the outward world here below; for the very nature of sleep is a turning in into one's own self from all relationship to the outer world, and a resting of the powers which act outwardly. The writer of our Psalm is fond of couplets of synonyms like ענינוּ ולחצנוּ in Psalm 44:25; cf. Psalm 44:4, ימינך וּזרועך. Psalm 119:25 is an echo of Psalm 44:26. The suppliant cry קוּמה (in this instance in connection with the עזרתה which follows, it is to be accented on the ultima) is Davidic, Psalm 3:8; Psalm 7:7; but originally it is Mosaic. Concerning the ah of עזרתה, here as also in Psalm 63:8 of like meaning with לעזרתי, Psalm 22:20, and frequently, vid., on Psalm 3:3.

Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth.
Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies' sake.
Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch [1857-78].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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