“Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. Wake up, Lord! Why are you sleeping? Get up! Don’t reject us forever!” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Think for a minute about the last time you felt God wasn’t there. Think about the time you felt He had abandoned you to your fate, whatever it was. If you are willing, feel for just a moment the emotions of that place again. Think about that time you looked around and were briefly overwhelmed by the brokenness of the world around you. You may not want to sit there long because those emotions were so painful. You may not have to work very hard to feel them because they are so fresh. There are times as we go through life when we can’t escape any of that. Sometimes we witness it from afar, but other times it lands right in our laps. What do we do then? The sons of Korah offer us one way forward here.
While I have read all of the Psalms multiple times, I haven’t necessarily done a careful reading or study of each of them. I have my favorites that I go back to on a regular basis, but every now and then I’ll get the unexpected chance to dive deeply into one, or to read one that is less familiar with fresh eyes. This happened recently with Psalm 44 here.
I was working through a devotion, and a verse from Psalm 44 was part of the Scripture for that particular day. Psalm 44 is not one of the Psalms I know as well as others, and so the context of the verse wasn’t immediately apparent or familiar to me. So, just like I encourage you by including a link to read the full chapter of any verse or passage I comment on, I went to the Psalm itself to read the whole thing. I was immediately struck by the powerful emotion of it.
Psalm 44 begins with praise. The psalmist is praising God for the great things He has done for the people in the past. He speaks of the incredible victories He has won them. “God, we have heard with our ears – our ancestors have told us – the work you accomplished in their days, in days long ago: In order to plant them, you displaced the nations by your hand; in order to settle them, you brought disaster on the peoples.”
None of the things the people have now were obtained by their own effort or power. The psalmist is clear on that. It was God’s faithfulness in the past that brought them to where they are today. And because of that, as the next section makes clear, the psalmist has placed his own trust in God. “You are my King, my God, who ordains victories for Jacob. Through you we drive back our foes; through your name we trample our enemies.” He is explicit that his trust is not in himself, but in God alone.
At this point, this seems like it is going to be a generic psalm of praise. God you are awesome and have done great things for us, and so we love you for it. Except, that’s not what this is at all. The circumstances of the psalmist are not good. In fact, they’re awful. He can’t conceive of anything he’s done wrong, and yet he feels completely abandoned by God. He feels like God has abandoned his whole people. “But you have rejected and humiliated us; you do not march out with our armies. You make us retreat from the foe, and those who hate us have taken plunder for themselves. You hand us over to be eaten like sheep and scatter us among the nations.”
On and on and on this litany of pain and rejection and loss rolls. The psalmist feels like God has left them high and dry in spite of the fact that they have been nothing but faithful. “All this has happened to us, but we have not forgotten you or betrayed your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back; our steps have not strayed from your path. But you have crushed us in a haunt of jackals and have covered us with deepest darkness.”
If the people had done something wrong, he completely understands that God’s judgment would have come. But they haven’t. God has simply turned His back and them and they don’t understand why. In the end, this is the exceptionally rare psalm that does not come back around to offer a final word of confident praise. There are others that complain to God about hard circumstances, but the psalmist always makes a turn at the end and says something along the lines of, “But in spite of all that, I will still praise you and trust in you.” Not so here. This one ends only on a cry for help. “Rise up! Help us! Redeem us because of your faithful love.”
Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever felt like you had done everything right and yet God seems to have turned His back on you and thrown you to the wolves anyway? Have you felt the weight of v. 22? “Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Let me put that another way. Have you felt the weight of this the way the psalmist seems to feel it here? Again: There’s no resolution to the tension here. The psalmist ends on this desperate cry for help, and we don’t know what God’s answer will be.
Except, we do.
Fast forward with me a few hundred years to when a fanatical Pharisee-turned follower of Jesus named Paul was writing a letter to the believers in ancient Rome. After laying out the Gospel, in chapter 7 he turns a bit to address the tension we feel between our desire for the Gospel and the selfishness of sin in us. He describes in extraordinarily relatable prose this push and pull where we want to do what is right and good, but keep falling back into the sinful habits of our flesh. It’s an agonizing place to be. His cry at the end of chapter 7, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” is almost cathartic by the time we get to it.
Then comes chapter 8.
Romans 8 opens with the incredibly hopeful declaration: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” He goes on to extoll the glories of the hope we have in Christ. Toward the end of the chapter, though, it almost seems like he is anticipating the pushback his audience is waiting to give him: But what about the struggles we still face? What about the times when we seek to do right, and the world still comes after us? What about those times when we nonetheless feel utterly abandoned by God?
Into this tension – the very tension we found in Psalm 44 – Paul asks a piercing question: “If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything?” In other words, if God has already committed Himself to us to the point that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son for us, by what measure of logic could we possibly find ourselves thinking He won’t have our backs at all times no matter how grim things may seem in a given moment? And yet, like Paul’s audience was doing, we can think of circumstances where it feels an awful lot like God has abandoned us. Paul knows this and anticipates the pushback again. “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
And then in the next verse he quotes from the Old Testament. In fact, he quotes from the Psalms. Actually, he quotes from the very verse you found at the top of this post. “As it is written: Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.” I have always puzzled over exactly what Paul meant by that quote. I’ve seen that it came from Psalm 44, but somehow, I’ve never actually read Psalm 44 with this in mind. What Paul does here is to tell us something that is absolutely incredible. The tension that remained at the end of Psalm 44 and which we have experienced again and again in our own lives – even our lives as followers of Jesus – is gloriously resolved in Christ.
Paul resolves the tension for us in three of the most glorious verses in all of the Scriptures: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In other words, in Christ, we are not overwhelmed by that tension. We can’t be. Because His love is too strong. If you feel like you are being overwhelmed by it, lean harder into Jesus’ love for you. You will find it because it has never gone anywhere. You cannot be separated from it by any means of this world or beyond. Listen to this: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, 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 that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When everything feels like it is falling apart around you and the brokenness is landing with extra weight in your own lap; when it feels like God has left you all by yourself to face the firing squad in spite of your faithfulness to Him; when you are lost in your journey after Jesus, and you just don’t understand why, lean into God’s love for you in Christ. It will be there. It never goes anywhere. Lean into it and rest. You are not alone. You cannot be overcome in Him. His love won’t quit. Stay strong, my friend. Jesus has your back.