Psalm 44

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2006-08-22 11:07.

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The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition meaning “to”) is commonly thought to denote “to the musical director” or “leader.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads pro victoria (“for victory”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” This indicates that there is considerable uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew expression.

Like Psalm 42, this composition is attributed to the sons of Korah, probably meaning the descendants of the Levite who rebelled against the divinely granted authority of Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 16:1-3; 26:10, 11)

The meaning of “maskil” is uncertain. Conjectural interpretations include “contemplative poem” and “memory passage.” In the Septuagint, the corresponding expression is synesis, signifying “intelligence,” “understanding,” or “insight.” The concluding word of the Septuagint superscription is “psalm.”

Israel’s history continued to be transmitted from generation to generation. “O God, with our ears we have heard,” said the psalmist. The report originated with their “fathers” or ancestors, for God’s “deed” (collectively of his acts of deliverance) occurred “in their [forefathers’] days, in the days of old.”

With his hand (representative of his power), God drove out nations from the land lying east and west of the Jordan River and then “planted” the Israelites in this land. He afflicted or brought distress on other peoples and “sent them.” According to the Septuagint, the sending refers to their being cast out, evidently from the land that came to be Israel’s possession. This is the sense conveyed in the Tanakh, “You brought misfortune on peoples, and drove them out.” The Hebrew word for “send” (shalách) can also mean to “let go,” “set free,” “spread out.” This is the reason other translations render shalách in ways that apply to the Israelites. “You afflicted the peoples, but them you set free.” (NRSV) “You crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish.” (NIV) “You...crushed peoples to make room for them.” (NAB) “Then you let our ancestors take over their land.” (CEV)

The Israelite forefathers did not gain the victory because of possessing superior weaponry or by their own strength. They did not take possession of the land by their own sword or defeat the Canaanites by their own arm or power. It was God’s right hand (representative of his might directed against the Canaanites), his arm or power, and “the light of his face” (his favorable attention toward his people) that accounted for the triumph of the Israelites, “for he found delight in them.”

Apparently based on the record of God’s past activity, the psalmist referred to him as “my King,” the God who “commanded,” ordained, or decreed deliverances or victories for Jacob or the descendants of Jacob or Israel.

Through God or with his help, they would “gore” their foes, thrusting against them as with horns to bring about their complete defeat. By God’s name or the person represented by the name, they would trample (“treat with contempt,” LXX) those rising up against them.

Evidently speaking of the nation in the first person, the psalmist said, “I do not trust in my bow, and my sword cannot save me.” Confidence in victory was not based on the possession of weapons.

To God alone did the psalmist give credit for having saved his people from their foes and disgracing those who hated them, the shame evidently resulting from humiliating defeat.

In God they gloried or boasted continually (“all the day”), giving the credit to him for their triumphs. His “name” or God himself they would confess for limitless time to come (“into the age,” LXX) or eternally, apparently in appreciative recognition of what he had done for them.

The then-existing situation, however, proved to be unlike the past. To all appearances, God had abandoned his people, leading to shameful defeat before their enemies. “You have cast us off,” said the psalmist, “and disgraced us. You have not gone with our armies.”

The psalmist continued to portray the defeat as God’s doing, as there was no evidence of his providing aid. God made the Israelites turn back, retreat, or resort to flight before the foe. Those who hated them pillaged them.

God made them like sheep to be consumed as food and scattered them among the nations. Like defenseless sheep, they were slaughtered, and the survivors were scattered among the nations as exiles or slaves.

The price for which God sold his people amounted to nothing. The sale had not been for “wealth” or to gain a fortune. No great or high price had God set for them. The Septuagint rendering is, “You have sold your people without price, and there was no gain from their exchange.”

Their “neighbors” would have included the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Philistines. God had made them a reproach to these neighboring nations and an object of derision and mockery to those surrounding them.

The reversals that had befallen Israel apparently became the subject of a derisive proverb among peoples of more distant nations. In expression of their contempt, they would shake or wag their head.

Again with apparent reference to the nation, the psalmist spoke in the first person. “All the day” or at all times, his ignominy or shame was before him. (This was apparently because of the distressing situation in which the Israelites found themselves.) Shame covered his face.

This shame resulted from hearing the voice of taunters and revilers. The sight or presence (literally, “faces”) of the enemy and the avenger or the ones acting in a vengeful manner also occasioned shame, for the enemy had gained the upper hand and the people suffered humiliation.

The psalmist found it impossible to understand why the Israelites found themselves in great distress. They had not forgotten their God, turning away from him, nor had they proved false to his covenant, indicating that they had not become guilty of seriously violating his law.

Their “heart” or deep inner self had not gone astray nor had their steps departed from God’s way. They had not deviated from the divinely approved course.

Nevertheless, according to the psalmist, God had broken them in the “place of jackals.” This could mean that they were crushed in the battlefield, where jackals would come to feed upon those who were slain. The Septuagint makes no mention of “jackals” but reads, “you have humbled us in the place of affliction.” God’s covering them with the “shadow of death” or deep shadow indicates that all bright prospects had been removed and replaced with gloom or darkness. This would have left the people disheartened and without hope.

To forget the name of God signifies to leave God out of consideration, ignoring his will and commands. To spread out hands to a strange god would have meant assuming the position of a suppliant with outstretched arms and open palms, petitioning a god other than the Most High.

If the people had forgotten him and prayed to nonexistent deities, their God would have “searched” this out or discovered it. It would not have been concealed from him, for he knows the “secrets of the heart” or the deep inner self, including the inmost thoughts, motivations, and attitudes.

“All the day” or continually, the Israelites were being slain for the sake of God, that is, they suffered at the hands of warring enemies because they were his people. They were not treated like humans but accounted as defenseless sheep for slaughter.

The pathetic lot of the people moved the psalmist to petition God to rouse himself in order to take action against the enemy and bring desperately needed relief. God’s seeming abandonment of his people made it appear that he was asleep and unaware of their plight, prompting the psalmist to ask, “Why do you sleep, O Lord?” This question is followed by the plea, “Awake; do not cast [us] off forever.” Thus the psalmist pleaded for God not to continue acting as if he had forsaken his people, failing to take note of their sad plight. For God to “awake” would denote his effecting their deliverance.

The psalmist could not understand why God hid his face and took no note of their poverty or affliction and distress. It seemed to him that the Most High paid no attention to their distressing circumstances. In not responding with needed aid, he appeared to have forgotten the hardships the people were facing.

“Our soul” means the people themselves. In their humiliated state, they were bowed down to the point of touching the dust with their heads. Their “belly” cleaved to the “earth,” probably meaning that they lay prostrate on the ground.

On the basis of God’s compassionate care, abiding loyalty, or steadfast love, the psalmist prayed for help and deliverance. The Septuagint reads, “Rise, O Lord, help us, and redeem us for the sake of your name.”


The psalmist attributes to God whatever may occur by divine permission. He does not draw a distinction between direct divine intervention and divine permission.

In the Masoretic Text, the name YHWH does not appear in this composition.

There is uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew expression “selah” (appearing at the end of verse 8[9]). The Septuagint rendering diápsalma is thought to denote “pause” or “musical interlude.”

In his letter to the Romans, Paul quoted from verse 22(23) of Psalm 44 (43, LXX) when commenting on the suffering and adversity believers may experience but which trying circumstances would not separate them from Christ’s love. (Romans 8:35, 36) With the exception of a different spelling for the opening word meaning “for the sake of,” the quotation and the Septuagint reading are the same.