This is a Psalm written on behalf of all the people of Israel. It was attributed to a group of people “the Sons of Korah”. They were a clan who shared the responsibility of guarding the gates of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, as their family had done right back to the time of Moses and the Tabernacle when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness.
1 Chronicles 9 19 Shallum son of Kore, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, and his fellow gatekeepers from his family (the Korahites) were responsible for guarding the thresholds of the tent just as their ancestors had been responsible for guarding the entrance to the dwelling of the LORD.
It seems that the Korahites also had some responsibility for leading the worship in Solomon’s Temple.
2 Chronicles 20:19 Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.
The Sons of Korah wrote 12 Psalms including Psalm 42 we read last week and Psalm 46 which we will look at next week. Psalms 42 and 43 were prayers of the individual believer, but the focus of Psalm 44 is not on the individual Israelite but instead on the whole nation as God’s chosen people. So Psalm 44 talks about “us” and “we”. When it does say “I” and “me” in verses 4 and 6 and 15 and 16 this probably relates to God’s appointed King leading his people in worship and prayer. Psalm 44 may even have been composed for a national day of prayer.
Psalms like these express the worship and prayers of the whole nation. They give us an important reminder that the faith of Israel was always essentially corporate. Our personal discipleship is always lived out in relationship with the community of faith the people of God, which for us means the church.
We don’t get to the heart of the Psalm until verse 23 and there we find a desperate prayer pleading with God for help.
Verse 23 Awake O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Message Get up, GOD! Are you going to sleep all day? Wake up! Don’t you care what happens to us? Why do you bury your face in the pillow? Why pretend things are just fine with us?
Sometimes in times of distress it seems to the people of God as though God is asleep. Or on holiday. Or out to lunch. This is not the only Psalm which cries out to God to “Wake up!”
Ps 7:6 | Arise, O LORD, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.
Ps 35:23 Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord.
Ps 59:5 O LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, rouse yourself to punish all the nations; show no mercy to wicked traitors.
The cry is the same centuries later in Isaiah’s day.
Isaiah 51 9 Awake, awake, arm of the LORD, clothe yourself with strength!
Awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old.
Wake up, O Lord! There are times in the lives of most believers when it appears as though God is asleep. The God who has saved us in the past does not seem to be with us in the present. Like that time when the disciples were in a boat on the lake in the middle of the worst storm of their lives and Jesus was there asleep on a pillow.
Mark 4:38 The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Psalm 44 is for times like that. We don’t know the precise circumstances in which it was written but in this Psalm, the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, are in a desperate situation. They need God to act on their behalf. But it really does seem as though God is asleep. Here the Israelites don’t understand why God was not intervening to rescue them. They knew all about his mighty acts of salvation in the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea. They knew that it was God who had given them victory over the Canaanites and given them possession of the Promised Land. So they praise God for all the blessings of the past.
1 We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us
what you did in their days, in days long ago.
2 With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers;
you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish.
3 It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
The Israelites celebrated God’s historic mighty acts of salvation. And it is right that we should also remember and praise God for all he has ever done in our lives. And the Psalm writers had also experienced God’s mighty power in their own generation. Here is their testimony of the ways God had helped them.
4 You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes.
6 I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. Selah
Here perhaps it is the King himself, probably David or possibly Solomon, who had won great military victories. But he acknowledged that it had been God’s intervention which up until now had always defeated his enemies and not his own skill or strength. They are Israelites are still putting their trust in God and praising him for all his mercies. In the same way we also should recognise God’s actions in our lives in the present. We should continually be thanking him for all his mercies shown to us in our daily lives.
But now it seemed as though God had abandoned his chosen people. So we read this desperate cry of lament.
9 But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale.
13 You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us.
Israel had experienced defeat in battle and national humiliation. These events had naturally had a particular impact on the life of the king himself as representative of the whole nation.
15 My disgrace is before me all day long, and my face is covered with shame
16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
The Psalm writers do not hold back. They pour out their hearts to God, as we always should whatever situations we find ourselves in. On behalf of the whole nation, the Psalm writers protest that they are completely innocent in all of this. They don’t understand what is happening to them because they have remained faithful to God. It was not as though they had forgotten God or abandoned God. They were keeping to the covenant, the Law of Moses, as best as they knew how. They had not wandered from the one true God to worship other foreign gods. They have kept true faith. So they really don’t understand why they are suffering so much.
17 All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant.
18 Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path.
19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us over with deep darkness.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?
22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
We know from our Survey of the Old Testament this time last year that in later centuries the Israelites did abandon the God of their salvation. They did make treaties with other nations and worship foreign gods and fall into all kinds of immorality. But this Psalm was probably written in the times of David or of Solomon. So we can be charitable and say that the writers honestly didn’t think they had done anything to offend God, and at that stage of history the nation had not done so yet. This is not a protest of innocence from people who knew that really they were guilty. At that time the nation were still remaining faithful to God. Yet even so, in their distress God was not rescuing them. It looked like God was asleep. Nevertheless, in their faith they cry out for his help. So we read this desperate plea.
23 Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.
The Israelites don’t understand why God seems to be asleep. Why else would he be ignoring their suffering and their cries for help? The truth is that God’s ways are often a mystery to us mere mortals. We cannot and never will understand this side of heaven why bad things happen to good people. Life often seems unfair and God sometimes seems to be asleep. In all of this we can only trust that God is allowing us to go through difficult times so that we can learn to trust him more.
We should not pretend to understand why God is allowing this Covid pandemic. The senseless deaths of hundreds of thousands of people – so much grief. The disabling long-term effects of illness on millions. The impact on economies, with so many people losing their jobs. The end is nowhere in sight, especially in the poorer parts of the world. And we all probably know families who are suffering right now in all these things.
In times like this there is nothing we can do, except, like the Israelites, to cry out to God for help and put our trust in God’s unfailing love.
23 Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. ….
26 Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.