Psalm 44 - The God of Deliverance
As we work our way through the psalms, one of the things we encounter frequently is the issue of suffering. Suffering is a significant part of our lives, living as we do in this sin-cursed world. Life is painful. There are times that we suffer because of stupid things that we do…or at least that has been my experience at times. There are also times that we suffer because of stupid things that other people do…that too has been my experience. There are times that we suffer as the result of painful consequences brought upon ourselves by sin. There are times that we suffer because those around us sin and we suffer their consequences along with them. These too have been my experiences from time to time.
Yet there is another time in which we may suffer, a time that comes simply because we are named by God as his children. When suffering comes for this reason, it is hits rather unexpectedly. People hate God and so, by extension, they hate us who are known as His people. The more shocking times to our system, though, would be times when it appears as if while we are suffering because of our status as believers, God takes His hands away and allows the suffering to continue indefinitely. I could not really think of a time when I have personally had this experience, but I know from the conversations I have had with believers in China in Myanmar that this is not an unusual experience for Christians around the world.
It is possible that some of you listening this morning have experienced suffering because God has chosen to allow you to suffer for His namesake. Not because of anything you have personally done, but because He has decided for His own good reason to allow you to suffer. It is also possible that during our lifetimes here in America that could encounter this experience in the future. Our country is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity; it is possible that we will experience suffering in the future here in America because we are known as Christians. If that is to come, then this Psalm that we are going to look at this morning will be very helpful—it will serve to prepare us for that time.
Our Psalm this morning deals with the issue of unexpected suffering. The author of this Psalm is not given to us, but we are told enough in the heading to indicate that this Psalm was used as a song in corporate worship by the Israelites. In other words, the Israelites knew the experience of suffering unexpectedly and prepared their hearts by singing truths as part of their worship that applied to the situation.
I’m going to pause for a moment and make a a quick aside here before we get started; I want to use this opportunity to put in a plug for hymns that deal with sorrow and hardship. I saw a study of hymn use in America as opposed to other countries, and what stood out was how in America the songs used in worship are overwhelmingly happy, victorious types of praises to God. By contrast, countries in which Christians are being persecuted use many more songs of lament in their worship. If we sing those types of songs in our services, I will usually get a let-us-know card complaining about the musical selection for the day. I want us to recognize, though, that it is important that we use a wide variety of songs in corporate worship. We need songs that will allow us to express all the various emotions that we may bring to worship out of the weeks we have just endured…some of us will have had happy victorious weeks, but others may have had loss, sorrow and hardships. Our hymns should give all us of voice to express these emotions to God. We also need songs that will teach us how to respond to all the different circumstances that God may bring into our lives.
This morning we were going to follow the psalmist as he takes us through his personal experience of suffering. I trust that as we do so, his experience and emotions will resonate in our lives. If we can feel his emotions, then we will learn the lesson that he has given us here under inspiration; a lesson that will prepare us for our own potential suffering in the future.
The process that our psalmist uses in this Psalm is an inductive one. In other words, he walks us through a series of steps to get us to come to the right conclusion. For that reason, I am going to do the same and refrain from giving us the overall lesson until the end.
Transition from introduction to body:
Let's begin our journey through this psalm. Let's go ahead and read these verses together…<read Ps 44:1–8>.
In the verses we just read, the first step that we see is that there will be times in which…
I. We anticipate deliverance from God, vv 1–8
It really is no surprise that there will be difficult times that crop up in our lives. We expect as much living in this world, and the psalmist did too. Yet he faced those times with the expectation that God would deliver him at some point from the suffering. He had good reason to expect as much, and so do we.
In these first 8 verses we find two reasons that we can anticipate deliverance from God. First of all, we anticipate deliverance because…
A. We remember God’s past victories
In verses 1 through 3 the psalmist recalls the many times that he heard about the ancient victories that God had given the nation of Israel. As he grew up, he would have heard the stories. God had brought the nation out of Egypt. God had given victory as they entered the land of Canaan to possess it, defeating all the nations that stood against them. It was clear that while the people fought, the victories came entirely because God granted them.
We too have heard of many past victories that God has given His people. The Bible is full of such stories. So is church history. When we celebrated our 50th anniversary here in this church a few years back, the day was filled with remembering all that God had done through this ministry—the victories that He had given. And since God has worked in the past, it is natural to anticipate that he will deliver again in the future.
So we anticipate deliverance from God because of God’s past victories; but we also anticipate deliverance from God because…
B. We proclaim our confidence in God
Versus 4 through 8 are filled with expressions of confidence that God will bring victory to the nation. In verses 4 and 6 we even surprisingly find the first-person singular pronoun is used, “my King…, I will…, my sword…” That switch from plural to singular allows every person who sings this song in corporate worship to personalize the expression of confidence in God. This was to be sung by people who knew what God was able to do, that He could bring victory for them.
I've stated during some of our hymn appreciation times on Sunday evening that I wish we more recent songs would use plural pronouns rather than singular ones, as the plural “we” and “our,” in general, provides a more fitting expression for corporate worship when we are singing together. Because of our individualism in America, most of our songs over the past 100 years are written with first person singular pronouns.
Still, we should recognize there is a time for us to individualize what we are expressing, even in corporate worship. We all are to express our individual confidence in our God. Ultimately, confidence in God is something that we each do individually. When we express such confidence, we expect that God will hear us and respond…especially when we are all doing that together. When we are regularly expressing our confidence that God will deliver us in times of need, we expect that He will deliver do that when those times come along.
Our journey to prepare for times of suffering begins with recognizing that we anticipate deliverance from God. Let’s go ahead and read the next section of the psalm now…<read Ps 44:9–16>.
Moving into this second section of this psalm we discover that even though we anticipate deliverance from God, at times…
II. We experience crushing surprises, vv. 9–16
The word we have translated as yet creates a strong contrast between what have just been expressed in the previous verses in what is expressed now. The psalmist had witnessed a shocking thing; the nation had been defeated in battle. How could this happen? Where was God when he should have been fighting for his people?
Have you ever found yourself asking those kinds of questions? How could this happen? Where was God? You're not asking because you are in the midst of battle in war, but because something came into your life completely unexpectedly, beat you down, and God did not seem to do anything about it.
There are times when life will crush us. The circumstance that brings the pain and ache in her life will come in the most unexpected way in hit us as a complete surprise.
In this section of the poem, we can see 2 ways in which we might experience crushing surprises. The first comes when…
A. Unbelievers succeed over us
It is always hard to reconcile in our minds how it is possible that those who hate God, conniving and manipulating to get their way, in general just living their lives in a sinful fashion; how can these people succeed over us.
I remember one project manager that I had when I was working in the corporate world. It was clear to me and everyone else on the team that this woman only knew how to do one thing; that was too fawn over the boss. She constantly presented the work that the team had done as if she was the only one who had contributed, even though she had not actually participated at all because she didn’t understand the basic elements of the project. There were many examples of how she conducted herself in very unethical ways. In yet, we watched her receive promotions because of how she fooled the upper management.
This is just a small example, but it can raise the question in our minds as to how God can allow search injustice. The mental confusion becomes much greater, though, when the ramifications are much harsher. For the psalmist, he watched people from his nation—possibly even friends and relatives—being captured in battle and taken as slaves to foreign nations. As I mentioned earlier, Christians around the world have also seen loved ones thrown into jail and even martyred while unbelievers continue to increase their political power through such evil actions.
The first crushing surprise that we might experience is when unbelievers succeed over us. Secondly, it comes as a crushing surprise when…
B. God does not respond to us
Throughout these verses, the emotional pain comes because it seems as if God has simply ignored His people. Surely God knows what is happening. Surely God sees the enemies of Israel mocking them. Surely God knows that the nations are laughing at those who have placed their faith in him. So, if he knows all of this, why is he not responding?
Have you ever encountered similar emotional confusion? You are going through difficult, difficult times, but God seems to be completely absent. He must be ignoring you because He cannot be unaware. After all, you have spent endless hours in prayer, pouring out your tears and petitions before God; but nothing has changed. God’s silence is deafening. It comes as a crushing surprise to us when it appears as if God does not respond.
We may have never personally experienced this kind of surprise because we are Christians, but we have likely experienced God silence at some point sufficiently to be able to comprehend what our psalmist is going through.
We are following the steps in this psalm. First off, we anticipate deliverance from God. Instead, though, we experience crushing surprises. Unbelievers succeed over us and God does not respond to us. This is most unexpected, what do we do next?
Well, let’s go ahead and read the next section to see what our psalmist does next…<read Ps 44:17–22>.
The next step when we have unexpected surprises needs to be that…
III. We reassert our faith in God, vv. 17–22
When life is filled with surprises and unexpected turns, the true believer will stay firm in faith. The best way to accomplish this is by reasserting our faith in God. That is what we see the psalmist doing in the next section of the psalm. Remember, this psalm became a song that the people would sing as part of their corporate worship. The psalmist is leading and teaching the people to reassert faith in God even when it seems as if God is not listening.
Looking at these verses, we can see two aspects that might accompany reasserting our faith in God. The first is that we must confirm that…
A. We are not suffering for sin
There is always the real chance that the reason underlying our suffering is because it is the consequence of our own sin. For that reason, then, we must first of all do a self-examination to ensure that we do not have sin that we need to confess and turn from.
We see the psalmist has taken this step when he asserts that “we have not dealt falsely with your covenant” in v. 17 and insists that “our heart has not turned back,” and so forth in v. 18 and onward. He has looked at the actions of the nation and has concluded that the nation has not been unfaithful. The one reason they're not suffering, he is quite sure, is because of sin. In fact, he is so confident of that fact he is willing to state as much to God.
Oh, that we would be able to examine our lives and draw the same conclusion. Our prayer should always be that we might be able to state that any suffering we are enduring is not because of sin. May we be confident that we are living righteously and can boldly claim such when we approach our God in prayer. The one thing that we must always remember, though, is what the psalmist states at the end of verse 21; God knows the truth. He knows the secrets of our heart so he knows whether we have sin are not in our lives.
As we reassert our faith in God, the first thing we must confirm is that we are not suffering for sin. If we can affirm that, then we may be able to conclude, along with our psalmist this morning, that…
B. We are suffering for God
This is the conclusion that is reached in verse 22. Since sin is not the reason for the suffering, the only reason that our psalmist can conclude is that the nation is suffering for God's sake. He says, “for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
This is quite a picture being painted for us here. The psalmist is using the image of a sacrificial lamb being taken and slain in the temple for the purpose bringing glory to God. For the sheep to be slain as a valid sacrifice, it must be flawless. Since there is no sin underlying their suffering, the nation at this time is blameless and can suffer for God's sake.
We, of course, live in the New Testament era and are not God's chosen nation in the way that Israel was. This verse, however, is quoted by Paul in Romans chapter 8 verse 36 is he sums up the tribulations that are endured by the people of God. By pulling this verse into that passage Paul is demonstrating that there is continuity in the experience of believers throughout history; God will allow believers to suffer for his glory. After all, we are Christ representatives and our savior himself suffered in order to bring God glory; why should we not expect to do likewise?
We anticipate deliverance from God. But instead, we experience crushing surprises. We reassert our faith in God having concluded that we are not suffering for sin, but rather we are suffering for God.
Having come to such a conclusion, what is left for us to do? Well, let’s read the final verses of this psalm…<read Ps 44:23–26>.
The only thing remaining for us to do is that…
IV. We continue to express our faith, vv. 23–26
We simply continue doing what we did from at beginning, we continue to express our faith. We cannot give in to despair. Our faith cannot waver. We must continue to express our faith in God.
How do we going about doing that? First of all,…
A. We plead anew for deliverance
In the verses we just read, the psalmist petitions God, pleading with Him even. He calls out for God to arise, to awake because it appears as if He must be asleep. He begs God to act by coming to the rescue of the nation. It is obvious that from the human perspective that God is in no rush. Still, rather than giving up is despair, the psalmist leads the nation to throw themselves before God in prayer, pleading anew for deliverance.
Too often we get discouraged in our prayers when things do not change quickly. We live in a microwave society where we expect everything to happen nearly instantaneously. We need to remember, though, that God will not be hurried by us. God has his own purposes, He has his own plan, and He has his own timeline for all that He does. When it seems as if God is not responding to our desperate needs, we must continue to plead for deliverance.
The first way that we continue to express our faith is by pleading anew for deliverance. Secondly,…
B. We trust in God’s lovingkindness
The power of this Psalm really comes in the final word. We have the word translated as “lovingkindness.” This is that familiar Hebrew word, hesed, that is used to describe God's steadfast love that causes him to do what is necessary to preserve those with whom he has a covenant relationship. God's covenant loyalty is the final word. God's covenant loyalty is the final reality. It does not matter what circumstances may look like; God has not changed.
This is such an important idea for us as well. We live on the other side of the cross, so our relationship with God is different that which Israel had. God now forms a relationship with us personally through faith in Jesus Christ. God does not have relationship with us as a nation, but he does have a relationship with us as his people—the church. And God has not changed so we too can trust in God's loving kindness.
What I want us to notice as we come to the end of this psalm is that there is no indication that the psalmist or the nation were ever given the reason for their suffering. There is no resolution of the situation in this psalm. This psalm ends with the people still suffering. But that is not the final word. The final word is that God is a God of covenant faithfulness. The final word is His loving kindness
So, what can we learn from this psalm? What is the main idea that we should take away this morning? The main idea is both simple and powerful: We must trust in God even if we cannot sense His presence.
We must trust in God even if we cannot sense His presence.
Remember, I mentioned a little while ago that Paul quoted from this Psalm in Romans chapter 8. He quotes from this psalm right after acknowledging that Christians cab experience tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and peril and sword. Life for believers can be hard. But then he Paul goes on to end that chapter with these words (Romans 8:37-39):
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You see, as one commentator stated it, for a believer “suffering maybe a battle-scar rather than a punishment.” But no matter what comes we have the promise that God will keep His covenant with us because we are loved by Him. For that reason, We must trust in God.
In fact, We must trust God even if we cannot sense His presence.
Transition from body to conclusion:
We continue to express our faith. The final three verses showed us that we do by pleading anew for deliverance and trusting in God’s lovingkindness. We must trust in God even if we cannot sense His presence.
We anticipate deliverance from God. Yet, we experience crushing surprises rather than deliverance. We reassert our faith in God. And we continue to express our faith.
We are all suffering a little at this time because have not been able to gather together. Some of you may be suffering greatly at this time. Are you suffering for the sake of God? Does it feel like God is not there and does not care that you are suffering?
We must trust in God even if we cannot sense His presence.