PSALM 44 TALK: Victory in the Jaws of Defeat

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PSALM 44 TALK

VICTORY IN THE JAWS OF DEFEAT

(GOD’S WILL FOR US AND HIS CHURCH IS NOT ALWAYS CLEAR SAILING)

 INTRODUCTION

 I love to watch rugby football matches on T.V when I can but I will always turn a game off if one side is winning easily. I love to watch a close game and I really get excited when a team managers to win against all odds. The often-quoted expression of the T.V commentators is “they snatched victory in the jaws of defeat”. Psalm 44 has a very unusual message as it speaks in the first half about how the nation of Israel (God’s team) always had victory over its enemies (Satan’s team) by the hand of God. However the second half of the Psalm speaks of the Nation facing defeat seemingly at the hands of God even when they have trusted in God for that victory. The last section seems to be a plea for God to give them victory in the jaws of defeat.

The big question is what incident in Israel’s history is this Psalm referring to?

Many suggestions have been made but most of these don’t fit all of the obvious settings of the situation described in the Psalm.

My theory goes like this. If this Psalm is a Psalm of the Son’s of Korah, a psalm originally part of the Elohistic Psalter which developed at the same time as the Psalms in the first book of Psalms then there is only two time frames for the incident behind this Psalm. The two time frames are the reign of David and the reign of Solomon. Interestingly there is another Psalm in this second book of Psalms which is very similar to this Psalm and we do know its historical setting from its heading.

The heading for Psalm 60 reads,

(All bible quotes from The Holy Bible, New International Version)

“For the director of music. To the tune of “The Lily of the Covenant.” A miktam of David. For teaching. When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah, and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt”.

Psalm 60 verse 10 reads,

“Is it not you, God, you who have now rejected us and no longer go out with our armies”?

While Psalm 44 verse 9 reads,

But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies”.

 I think that Psalm 60 is a David version of Psalm 44 written by the Sons of Korah. This mean the possible historical setting of both Psalms is David’s war with his northern Assyrian neighbors and Joab’s battles with his easterly Edomite neighbors.

The Edomite conflict of David’s time is very interesting because it is presented in two bible references and the second indicates that for a time Israel’s forces did not do so well. The first reference to this conflict is 2 Samuel 8: 13 – 13,

“And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. He put garrisons throughout Edom, and all the Edomites became subject to David. The Lord gave David victory wherever he went”.

This sounds like David had a fairly straightforward victory over the Edomites but the second reference sheds a little light on how David’s victory played its way out. It is a reference to this conflict in David’s time by a conflict Solomon had with the Edomites in his time. It is found in 1Kings 11: 15,

“Earlier when David was fighting with Edom, Joab the commander of the army, who had gone up to bury the dead, had struck down all the men in Edom. Joab and all the Israelites stayed there for six months, until they had destroyed all the men in Edom”.

The reference to Joab going up to Edom to “bury the dead” indicates that at first forces from Israel had suffered a major defeat. Also note how it took Joab and his men six months to have total victory over the Edomites.

This Psalm could have been written at the time when the news of Israel’s defeat reached Jerusalem and the horror of the Nation trusting in God yet being defeated by their enemies caused one of the sons of Korah to write this Psalm. When a nation in ancient times defeats another nation any solders not killed in battle they are usually sold off into slavery which could explain what the writer of Psalm 44 is referring to in verses 10 – 12,

“You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us.

You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations.

You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale”.

 There is no doubt this Psalm would have been an appropriate song for the people of Israel to sing at other times of it’s history when they suffered major defeats at the hands of their enemies like when the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians or in the time when the Babylonians defeated Judah and took most of the people into exile. Calvin believed the Psalm was written during the time of the Maccabees.

However this Psalm and its message would apply to many times in the history of the Church. Even Paul quotes verse 22 in Romans 8: 36 when speaking of persecutions in the time of the early church.

The fact is this Psalm is teaching us that God’s will for us and his church is not always clear sailing. God in his infinite wisdom does allow his followers to face times of persecution and difficulty. However as Paul implies in his application of verse 22 no matter what God’s enemies might do to God’s people they will always in the end snatch victory from the jaws of defeat something I will explore with you as we look closely at this Psalm together.

I have divided this Psalm into 5 sections:

          1.     VICTORY BELONGS TO GOD ALONE (1 – 3)

          2.     VICTORY LEADS TO MORE FAITH IN GOD (4 – 8)

          3.     DEFEAT IN THE JAWS OF VICTORY (9 – 16

          4.     FAITHFULNESS IN THE JAWS OF DEFEAT (17 – 22)

           5.     VICTORY In THE JAWS OF DEFEAT (23- 26)

 

            1.     VICTORY BELONGS TO GOD ALONE (1- 3)

This Son of Korah starts his song striking a very high note; he speaks of what he has learnt from his forebears about God in the past, verse1,

We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago”.

 Interestingly this gives us an insight into how the story or history of the bible actually first came into being. It was essentially an oral history something passed on verbally from one generation to the next. Of course Moses is the first person, we believe to write down some of the oral history in the first five books of the bible.

However even in Moses time we have instructions for oral history to continue. We see this in the story of the Exodus in Moses institution of the Passover celebration when God defeated Egypt and their king Pharaoh through the killing of all first born sons in Egypt except for those who kept the first Passover feast. In Exodus 13: 14 – 16 after Moses commands the dedication of all first born men and animals we read these words,

“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

Modern people might doubt the accuracy of oral history because we have become so dependant of things being written down. Some might sight the well-known party game of Chinese whispers where one person whispers a sentence into another person’s ear and then this is passed on to each person sitting in a circle. The message always gets distorted and usually is so far from the original message that it is hilarious. However ancient people and even modern more primitive people are far more gifted at passing on oral stories and history as their culture depended on its accuracy and they practiced the art of rote learning and their memories were much more reliable than ours.

What did the “fathers” tell this Son of Korah, verses 2 – 3,

“With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. 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 “fathers”, the past generations of Israel have informed this Son of Korah that God and God alone gave Israel the land of Israel. This work of God establishing the people of Israel in the land of the Canaanites started with what we just read in Exodus how God miraculously brought them out of Egypt and defeated the armies of Egypt. A few days after Israel left Egypt Pharaoh and his mighty army is drowned in the red sea when God closed it after Israel went through it unharmed. During Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness God gave them victory over many enemies and of course under the leadership of Joshua God helped them defeat the people of Canaan to take possession of the Promised Land.

This is not saying Israel did not have to fight but most of the time Israel was outnumbered and out gunned but they won great miraculous victories. Recently I was studying again the story of the Exodus and I came across these words spoken by Egyptian soldiers as their wheels of their chariots fell off while they attempted to cross over the parted red sea,

“Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” (Exodus 14: 25)

 What then is the meaning of the words,

The light of your face, for you loved them”.

 Charles Spugeon explains the meaning of, “The light of your face” when he writes,

“The divine hand actively fought for them, the divine arm powerfully sustained them with more than human energy, and the divine smile inspired them with dauntless courage. Who could not win with such triple help, though earth, death, and hell should rise in war against him?”

 Finally note why God did it. It was because he loved them. Not that they had anything in them for God to love. I find the people in the wilderness and even in the promised land a bunch of grumbling and unfaithful people yet God’s grace is so great he still continued to love them by giving them victories before there enemies.

We too must realize that without the death of Christ for us we are powerless before the enemies of God. Paul writes in Romans 8: 37,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”.

          2.     VICTORY LEADS TO MORE FAITH IN GOD (4 – 8)

From the foundation of what God did for his nation in the past this Son of Korah now declares who he and his nation put their trust in and reveals three things:

          1.     Who he puts his trust in (vs. 4)

          2.     Why he puts his trust in him (5- 7)

          3.     What that trust in him leads to (8)

          1.     Who he puts his trust in (vs.4)

Who he puts his trust in is declared in verses 4,

“You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob”.

He sees God and God alone as his King and His God so he trusts in him alone. Interestingly he does not say, King David is his king. Of course we know from Psalm 2: 2 that,

“The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather against the Lord and against his anointed one”.

 David was God’s appointed king on earth but he too is answerable to a higher king namely God in heaven. So when the enemies of Israel seek to bring down Israel led by David they are attacking God and when they are defeated by David and his people they are defeated by God. Note how he uses the name Jacob who becomes Israel. Jacob had to learn the hard way to fully trust in God so he could change from Jacob (the sup planter) to Israel (one who prevails with God). So God’s grace or unmerited love is hinted at again in that God gives victories to the nation even though they don’t deserve it like their forefather Jacob.

2.     Why he puts his trust in him (5 – 7)

 This Son of Korah now states again why he and his nation can trust fully in their God. He writes in verses 5 – 7,

“Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes.

I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame”.

 Just like his words in verses 1 – 3 he declares how all his nations victories of the past are a result of God’s interventions. Note how he still sees Israel has a role to play in the words, “through you we push back our enemies”. All ancient people went out to battle with emblems and belief that there God or God’s were with them. Even on modern movies on ancient nations like Greeks and Romans you often hear the words spoken by the leaders of armies, “May the God’s be with us”. In Israel’s case they believed the one true God of heaven and earth was with them and went before them in battle.

Note how he speaks of how victory comes through the name of God. The name represents the true and real character of God and when we fight God’s battles in this life we must do it with faith in the God of the bible in our minds and hearts. Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 6: 10 – 12,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

 Note also how this Son of Korah speaks of his nations true weapons in their battles against God’s enemies in the words,

“I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame”.

 For Israel they went out with bows and swords but these alone did not give them victory as most times other nations had better and more bows and swords. No God made the difference not their weapons.

Paul speaks about our weapons in our spiritual battles of life in 2 Corinthians 10: 4 – 5,

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”.

3.     What that trust in him leads to (8)

 The high point of this Son of Korah is now reached in verse 8 where he tells us what this trust in God leads him to,

“In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever”.

He has been leading up to this and in fact has been actually doing it, boasting in how great and loving is his God. So often when you here what some call successful Christians speaking they sound like it was a combination of their gifts and God’s power that made them successful. But we are nothing without God. We are powerless without God and we have nothing to contribute to our success in God but God himself. The great Apostle Paul spoke this way on many occasions. Let me remind you of one, 2 Corinthians 10: 17 – 18,

“But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends”.

 It is on this high note of boasting in the power and love of God that this Son of Korah completes this first section of the Psalm. However a big surprise awaits us in the next

Verse.

      3. DEFEAT IN THE JAWS OF VICTORY (9 – 16)

Section two of this Psalm starts with the word, “But” that little word that appears 4,487 times in the bible and most times something significant is about to be said. Like the word, “therefore” you must understand what comes before it to fully appreciate what followers it.

The argument goes something like this, God guides and protects Israel because he loves them and gave them victory in the past but our present experience is telling us that this is not true and in fact God has rejected Israel and turned them over to their enemies for destruction.

Let me put my theory of the background of this Psalm into what the original composer of this Psalm is saying and why?

If this Psalm was written at the time of the initial defeat of Israel’s forces by Assyrians in the North and Edomites to the east then this Psalm really starts to make a lot of sense. Let me remind you what 1Kings 11: 15 says,

“Earlier when David was fighting with Edom, Joab the commander of the army, who had gone up to bury the dead, had struck down all the men in Edom. Joab and all the Israelites stayed there for six months, until they had destroyed all the men in Edom”.

When Jerusalem learnt of their armies defeat in Edom and defeat also in the at the hands of Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah to the north (as the heading at the top of Psalm 60 tells us) great terror and distress would have overcome the people. We know for sure that David reacted in two ways he wrote Psalm 60 and sent a new force to Edom under the control of Joab.

What if the people’s response at this time is our current Psalm written for them by the Sons of Korah and Psalm 60 is David’s response.

Even if this is not the background to this Psalm it does help us understand what the writer is saying. He is speaking about how God has given his people defeat in the jaws of victory.

He seems to be saying God did four things to them in these two defeats:

1.     He rejected them (9)

2.     He caused there defeat (10 – 11)

3.     He sold them into slavery (12)

4.     He made them a laughing stock among their enemies (13 – 16)

 

1.     He rejected them (9)

Verse 9 reads,

“But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies”.

In the first section the writer speaks of God going before them in battle and fighting for them. He attributes their victories solely to God but now it is as though God decided to stay home or not go with his people into battle. It appears by what happened in the North and in Edom God rejected them as his special people and just wanted them to suffer great humiliation.

Over the centuries many religions have taken up arms in the name of their God or faith and have arrogantly proclaimed that God is on their side. In recent years we have heard that some Muslims have engaged in a Holy war against the evil west. We should remember that back in the dark ages Christians did the same thing. My personal view on this is summed up by the words of Jesus when Peter took up arms the night Jesus was arrested and cut of the ear of a High Priest servant. Jesus words are found in Matthew 26: 52,

 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword”.

 Jesus is saying “you want to take up arms in my name then realize the consequences that which is if you live by violence you will die violently”. As Christians we are fighting a holy spiritual war and our weapons of this battle

are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10: 4)

Sometimes it will look like God has rejected his people and caused their humiliation at the hands of the evil one and his followers.

Many times throughout history the forces of evil seem to be winning and God’s people are going down but so often God rescues his people and gives them victory in the jaws of defeat.

The fact is that God’s will for his church is not all clear sailing. There will be times of testing and persecution and we only have to look at the story of Job to realize this great fact.

2.     He caused there defeat (10 – 11)

Verses 10 – 11 read,

“You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us. You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations.

In my theory of the background to this Psalm it appears that the first army to attack Edom in the war between David’s army and the army of Edom was defeated. It is only the short reference to this in 1Kings 11: 15 that tells us this.

From this one verse we can glean that a army from Israel was defeated in Edom and Joab had to go to Edom obviously with a fresh army to bury the dead and try again to overcome the Edomites which he was able to do in six months.

This battle must have been very ferocious because the writer says that the army was,

Devoured like sheep” and “scattered us among the nations”.

Sometimes God has very good reasons for causing hardship and persecution on his people. In the book of acts we read in Acts 8: 1,

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria”.

 Persecution here was used to push Christians out of Jerusalem to achieve God’s will of the Gospel going out from Jerusalem into the whole world starting with Judea and Samaria as predicted by Acts 1: 8).

3.     He sold them into slavery (12)

Verse 12 reads,

“You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale”.

 It was the custom of many Nations in ancient times to sell the enemy survivors into slavery and any Israelite who survived the unsuccessful battle against the Edomites would probably have been sold into slavery.

So the news hits Jerusalem of the defeats in the North and the east and how many of their fighting men were now forced into slavery.

Recently I have seen two movies that are set in the background of Slavery in the southern states of the US before the American civil war and they depicted the horror and inhumanity of slavery. The bible does not openly condemn slavery but verses like Galatians 3; 28,

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Teach that in Christ all men are equal and therefore the concept of slavery is wrong.

It is an interesting fact that in the first two centuries a great number of the Christian following were in fact slaves maybe they understood clearly the concept of spiritual liberation more than anyone else.

4.     He made them a laughing stock among their enemies (13 – 16)

Verses 13 – 16 read,

“You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations the peoples shake their heads at us. I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge”.

This was probably the most serious charge against God this writer makes that through the victories of Israel’s neighbours in the North and East Israel was made a laughing stock amongst its many enemies. Now the writer feels all of their enemies will now pay out on Israel as they inflict revenge of them.

We saw how painful the taunts of the writers enemies was to him in the last two Psalms and in Psalm 43: 1, he cries out for vindication from God,

“Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked”.

Down through the ages God’s people have had to face verbal persecution that has often led to physical persecution. Christians of all ages have had to face rejection and unfair abuse from non-believers. Jesus in fact warned his disciples that this would happen in John 15: 18 – 21,

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me”.

Again notice how Jesus is not promising the Christian life to be plain sailing. There are “road humps” in the Christian life. If you don’t know what a road hump is then let me explain. In my country, Australia, when the authorities want you to slow down on a road or street they put a tar hump on the road to force you to slow down. On one road I travel on regularly there is some kind of specially designed strips of some substance that if you go over 70 Ks per hour you will experience a annoying vibration in your wheels.

Maybe the difficulties God throws at us in life are his speed humps that slow us down or cause us to change direction in our lives and this is another reason why God’s will for his church is not always clear sailing.

4.  FAITHFULLNESS IN THE JAWS OF DEFEAT (17 – 22)

The writer is not just content to spell out to God how he has inflicted on them defeat in the jaws of victory but now argues how unjust it is that God is doing this.

His argument is a threefold argument:

1.     It has happened even though we have kept your covenant (17 – 19)

2.     It happened even though we have not turned away from you (20 -21)

3.     It has turned us into condemned animals (22)

 

1.     It has happened even though we have kept your covenant (17- 19)

Verses 17 – 19 read,

“All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness”.

 

The “covenant” or agreement the Israelites should have lived by is best expressed by Exodus 19: 5 – 6,

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

In Deuteronomy 27 Moses lists a number of curses that Israel will have come upon it if it disobeys this covenant. Then at the start of Deuteronomy 28 we read these words, Deut. 28: 1- 2,

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God”.

This is what the writer of Psalm 44 is referring to and is saying we are keeping our part of the covenant agreement.

This is why the background to this Psalm could not be the exile or any other period of Israel’s history where God caused some kind of exile because God’s judgment for Israel not keeping their part of the covenant caused that exile.

Throughout most of David’s reign Israel kept God’s covenant except maybe during the time of Absalom rebellion. This is because David was one of the few kings of Israel who was loyal to the covenant. Even his son Solomon later in his reign strayed from God’s covenant when under the evil influence of foreign wives helped introduce false worship practices.

This Son of Korah certainly is painting a dark and gloomy time in Israel when news came of the defeats in the North and East of the country. His words in the second half of verse 19 express this well,

“You covered us over with deep darkness”.

Sometimes in the history of God’s people dark times have descended upon them. During the inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church in the middle ages many faithful followers of Christ suffered greatly as a deep darkness descended on true believers of that time. However these times of darkness are always followed by a time of great light and blessing like the reformation that came out of the great persecution of the inquisition. Church history teaches us that the God’s will for his church is not always clear sailing.

2.     It happened even though we have not turned away from you (20 -21)

Verses 20 – 21 read,

If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god,

Would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?

This point of the writer argument follows the previous one about keeping true to their part of God’s covenant. They did not turn from their faith in the one true God, which is expressed in the concept of “the name of God” which always means the character, and will of the God of the bible. They did not turn to other false God’s, which other generation in Israel will do in years to come.

He then draws on one of the bibles revealed character of God his all knowingness called omniscience when he says,

“Would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?”

 This is a concept David referred to in a number of Psalms like Psalm 139: 23- 24,

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”.

 So the writer really believes the Nation has really got a rough deal from God that is totally out of character and contrary to God’s word.

As I said before we could site many times in history where God’s true church has seemed to have got a rough deal from God but all Christians need to have the faith Paul expressed in words like Romans 8: 28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.

 3.     It has turned us into condemned animals (22)

With enemies to the North routing one of its armies and enemies in the East doing the same people in Jerusalem would feel they were like sitting ducks to their enemies. This unfortunate set of circumstances also spoke about by King David in Psalm 60 really unnerved the whole nation of Israel at that time. This feeling of being at the mercy of their enemies is what is behind the expression found in verse 22, which reads,

“Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered”.

 Already twice in this second half of this Psalm similar expressions are to be found,

Verse 11,

“You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations”.

 And verse 19,

“But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness”.

 Adam Clarke explains the significance of the expression “a haunt of Jackals”, with these words,

We, as a people, are in a similar state to one who has strayed into a wilderness, where there are no human inhabitants; who hears nothing round about him but the hissing of serpents, the howling of beasts of prey, and the terrible roaring of the lion; and who expects every moment to be devoured”.

The same idea is in the expressions,

“Devoured like sheep” verse 11,

 And  

 “Considered as sheep to be slaughtered”, verse 22.

 The writer is arguing that God has turned his back on Israel’s forces in the North and East and has therefore turned all Israel into condemned animals. People who now wait for fierce forces from two sides to attack and destroy viciously the people of Israel.

Interestingly this was the situation Israel faced throughout its long history.

They were always surrounded by lots of hostile nations who attacked and often plundered the Nation of Israel. In 740 B.C the Assyrians attacked and destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Then through a series of Babylonian campaigns between 597 and 582 the Kingdom of Judah was defeated and most of its people were taken into exile.

Paul quotes verse 22 in Romans 8: 36, indicating that many faithful believers of his time suffered at the hands of their enemies not because of unfaithfulness but because of their allegiance to Christ. Mark Driscoll quotes the  following words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed in 1945 by the Nazi’s,

“Suffering is the badge of the true Christian. The disciple is not above his master. Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer.”

 Derek Kidner calls suffering,

“A battle scar rather than a punishment”

 And Paul goes on to say these amazing words after quoting the Psalm 44: 22,

Romans 8: 37 – 39,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Jesus himself said in Matthew 10: 28,

 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.

Of course the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell is God himself. Jesus is telling future generations of suffering persecuted Christians that no matter what the forces of evil will attempt to do and will do to you, ultimately you have nothing to fear because you will spend eternity with him in heaven and those who sought to destroy you will be themselves destroyed in hell.

 5.  VICTORY FROM THE JAWS OF DEFEAT (23- 26)

The link between the last verse and this final section is the words in verse 22,

“Yet for your sake”

Even though the writer has just presented a case for the seeming injustice of what happened to the two armies of Israel he has not given up his faith in God.

Even when he declares they feel like sitting ducks he uses the words, “yet for your sake” so he is still totally committed to his God even though he does not understand what he has currently been doing. He will endure because he knows he has a God who will somehow come through for him.

This last section is a prayer to God for God to rescue the nation even in the face of certain death and defeat. He wants God to snatch victory for them in the jaws of defeat.

This prayer has three elements:

1.     A call for God to spring into action (23)

2.     A question about why God has not already acted (24-25)

3.     An appeal to the God of love for Salvation (26)

 

1.     A call for God to spring into action (23)

The writer uses the human failing of going to sleep on the job to frame a prayer for God to spring into action for his people.

“Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself ! Do not reject us forever”.

Psalm 121: 4, says,

“Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”.

This verse is saying that God never goes to sleep on the job he is always watching and never nods off to sleep. Many years ago I preached on this verse and spoke of the true story of how I did basic training for the Australian army when I was 20 years old. One night I was put on guard duty at the main gate of the army base. That day we had done a 10-mile forced march in full battle gear and I was very tied. During my time on watch I fell asleep in the little guardhouse at the gate I was supposed to be minding. The whole base relied on me that night and I let them down because I was so tied. My point of this story is we can rely on God because unlike us he will “neither slumber nor sleep” as he watches over us.

So why is the writer asking God to wake up from his sleep?

The answer is to him and to his nation what had happened in the North and the East of their country it was like God had gone off to sleep. He is asking for God to stop his seeming inaction and to spring into action for them. He is asking for God to give them victory in the jaws of defeat.

Sometimes in our lives or our church we might think God is asleep or rather not active. We might find that we have prayed about something for a while and God does not seem to be listening. The reality according to the bible is that God is always active and he is always listening but that may not always seem obvious to us at the time. It took God 70 years for God’s answer of Christian’s prayers for the fall of communism in Russia and the Eastern block and it took 6 years for God’s answer of Christian’s prayers for Nazi Germany to fall.

Was God asleep during those long dark years for Christians suffering at the hands of those evil Governments?

No, many stories have been told and many books have been written about how God was active in helping Christians in so many ways as they endured their times of suffering. So often we can see by looking back how God used dark times in an  believers life to achieve things for him and by doing that bring glory to his name.

We must always remember what the prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 55: 8,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD”.

Also God’s time table is different than ours as Peter says in 2 Peter 3: 8,

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”.

2.     A question about why God has not already acted (24-25)

The writer returns to his original way of reasoning in this Psalm in verses 24 – 25,

“Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.

Using another human failing, hiding our faces or turning a blind eye to another persons misfortune he is trying to convey how God’s seeming inaction in the destruction of the armies in the North and Eastern boarders. He would have known that God never hides his face from us as he would have read or sung David’s Psalms that speak of God’s never ending love and concern for his people Israel.

Like the words of Psalm 17: 6 – 8,

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings”

 God is so close to those he loves that they are the apple of his eye, the reflection of us in the iris of our eye when we are so close to another person (see my talk on Psalm 17).

The writer is not holding back the pain and misery of his people at this dark time as he describes their plight as being like being thrown down into the dust and unable to get up (our bodies cling to the ground).

He is asking again why the great saving God of the past who fought great victories for his people now allowed them to face a terrible defeat at the hands of their Godless enemies.

I have seen and heard of Christians in the public eye ridiculed and belittled because of their Christian stand and some might ask where was their God why did he allow them to be publically shamed?

The answer is again, God’s ways are not our ways as we saw from Isaiah 55: 8 and one day all people will come into judgment. Revelation 1: 7 teaches us that when Jesus returns,

“Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen”.

 Not one thing in this world escapes the notice of God and all injustice that happens in this world will be brought into God’s judgment as Revelation 20: 11 – 15 says,

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire”.

3.     An appeal to the God of love for Salvation (26)

The whole Psalm has been leading to this last verse, which is an appeal to God for his help and redemption in the jaws of defeat,

In the first section verses 1 – 8 the Psalmist declared how God had given his people victory against their enemies in the past. How he went out with them and fought for them but verses 11 – 16 he speaks of how Israel’s armies in the North and East faced terrible and humiliating defeat and it appeared that God had rejected Israel as his chosen people. In verses 17 – 22 the Psalmist speaks of how Israel at this time had been faithful to God and had kept his covenant agreement. He then asks God to stop appearing to be asleep and come to the help of his people in verses 22 – 25.

Now in this final verse he asks God,

“Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love”.

The situation might seem beyond help but this writer knew how God had helped Israel in the past and there were many examples of God coming to Israel’s aid and giving them victory in the jaws of defeat.

The example of this that comes to my mind is at the time of the Exodus when Israel had left Egypt after the Passover and the death of the first born and were trapped with their backs to the red sea and a fast and ferocious Egyptian army were coming straight at them. Here the people’s faith melted and Exodus 14: 11- 12 records what the people said to Moses,

“Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

They certainly are expressing the idea that they faced certain death and there is no hope for them but God had other ideas and through Moses performed a great miracle for them. He miraculously divides the waters of the red sea and they walk across on dry ground. However when the Egyptians follow them in their chariots God steps in again causing havoc with their chariots and eventually once the Israelites are safely across he closes the walls of water and all of the Egyptian army is destroyed. Israel had a victory in the jaws of defeat and death.

This Son of Korah is asking God to do the same for them in his day, he pleads,

“Rise up and help us”

On what grounds does he finally make this call for miraculous help?

It is on the grounds of God’s unfailing love. Note he stops speaking about how faithful the people have been and returns to what he learnt from his fathers that God only fought for Israel because he loved them (verse 3). Yes Israel had been seeking to keep God’s covenant agreement but they and King David had both fallen short of God’s standards or requirements. Even here the grace of God is the real foundation for God’s acts of Salvation for his people.

Once Christ died for our sins on the cross all who look to him and what he has done for them are his people as Paul says in Galatians 3: 28,

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

We as the new Israel of God are like the old Israel saved by grace, the unmerited love of God and our salvation is a victory won by Jesus Christ from the jaws of death.

The greatest example of victory from the jaws of defeat in the bible is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just when all seemed lost, his death, we learn that he defeats death by rising to life in three days. This resurrection of Jesus gives us also victory over death and Paul speaks of our victory from the jaws of death in 1 Corinthians 15: 54 – 57,

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks are to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

CONCLUSION

The Psalm ends with a confident call to God for help against the certain death by Israel’s enemies but was that prayer answered?

Interestingly even though both Psalm 44 and Psalm 60 seem to be set in the background of a terrible hopeless situation for Israel at the time of David’s battles with the Assyrians in the North and the Edomites in the east not much is said about them in the historical texts.

The Northern conflict is mentioned almost in passing in 2 Samuel 8: 3 – 10 and the Edomite victory in 2 Samuel is only one verse a little latter, 2 Samuel 8: 12.

It is only the 1Kings 11: 15 reference in the time of Solomon that gives us a small window into this terrible time that is the probable background of both these Psalms and it reads like this,

“Earlier when David was fighting with Edom, Joab the commander of the army, who had gone up to bury the dead, had struck down all the men in Edom. Joab and all the Israelites stayed there for six months, until they had destroyed all the men in Edom”.

The other mention of this difficult time is the heading the original editors put at the top of Psalm 60, which says,

“For the director of music. To the tune of “The Lily of the Covenant.” A miktam of David. For teaching. When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah, and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt”.

This scant reference to what both Psalms see as a very difficult time in Israel I believe hints at the fact that God answered the prayer of the last verse of Psalm 44,

“God rose up and helped them; rescuing them because of his unfailing love”.

Sometimes when I look back at difficult times in my life as a Christian I see them in a different light because I have come through them with God’s help. At the time of testing and difficulty all seemed like I had my back to the wall and was facing defeat from the jaws of victory but on the other side when I look back and see that through the grace of God I actually had victory from the jaws of defeat.

VICTORY IN THE JAWS OF DEFEAT

 Victory in the jaws of defeat

Through the help of a mighty Lord

Not through the weapons of this world

But through God’s powerful word

I pray to God

I pray to God

And I know that I am heard.

 

You are my King and my God

Please help my misery

I will trust in you Oh Lord

To give me victory.

I boast in you

I boast in you

You give so much to me.

 

Defeat in the jaws of victory

Sometimes it seems that way

When life goes wrong and I am lost

And Satan holds the sway

I ask you Lord

I ask you Lord

Why are you far away?

 

Sometimes my enemies say to me

Where is your God today?

They seek to bring you down Oh Lord

When will this go away?

Why Oh Lord?

Why Oh Lord?

Do I feel this way?

 

Wake up Oh Lord and rescue me

From all my fears and doubts

I know you’re always there for me

Through all life’s ins and outs
I call to you

I call to you

My soul calls out and shouts.

 

Victory in the jaws of death

Redeemed by Christ the Lord

Unfailing love has recued me

Revealed by your word

I trust in you

I trust in you

My faith has been restored.

Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

Dear father in heaven we know from your word how you gave your people in the past great victories from the jaws of defeat help me to know you saving power in my life. Help me with my doubts and fears and through your love Oh Lord help me to trust in you even in the difficult times of life. Give me victory in the jaws of death as I put my faith and trust in what your Son has done for me on the cross. This I ask in the mighty powerful name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen