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Psalms 44 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

This Psalm is the appeal of the nation to God in a time of unmerited disaster and humiliation.

i. It begins by recalling the mighty deeds of God for His people in the days of old. It was God Himself who drove out the nations from Canaan, and planted Israel in their place. By His might and not by their own valour was the victory won (Psa 44:1-3).

ii. From the past they have been wont to draw assurance for the present. To Him they still trust for victory and not to themselves, for He is their King and they are His loyal subjects (Psa 44:4-8).

iii. But facts contradict faith. God has surrendered them to their enemies, and abandoned them to the scorn and derision of neighbouring nations (Psa 44:9-16).

iv. And this suffering is undeserved. No faithlessness on their part accounts for it as a punishment. Nay, it is for His sake that they are being persecuted (Psa 44:17-22).

v. The Psalm closes with an urgent appeal for speedy help (Psa 44:23-26).

This Psalm is one of those which have most generally and most confidently been assigned to the Maccabaean period. It is argued that the general tone of the Psalm and the reference to the dispersion of the nation ( Psa 44:11) prove it to be post-exilic; that we know of no earlier time in the post-exilic period when the nation possessed an army ( Psa 44:9); that then, as never before, it could plead its fidelity to Jehovah. The persecution of Antiochus was preeminently a religious persecution, in which the Jews were slaughtered and sold into slavery by thousands for their faith’s sake. They were fighting not only for their lives but for their laws.

Those however who assign the Psalm to the Maccabaean period are not agreed as to the particular occasion to which it refers. The most plausible suggestion is that which connects it with the reverse sustained by Judas at Beth-Zachariah, which was followed by the surrender of Beth-zur, and the reduction of the defenders of the Temple to the greatest extremities ( 1Ma 6:28 ff.). It cannot refer to the early days of the persecution of Antiochus, for then the Jews had no army: nor to the defeat of Joseph and Azariah at Jamnia ( 1Ma 5:56 ff.), for that defeat was the result of self-willed disobedience, and arrogant self-assertion ( 1Ma 5:61): nor to disasters after the death of Judas (1 Maccabees 9), for the alliance which he had just contracted with Rome (1 Maccabees 8) was incompatible with that exclusive reliance upon Jehovah which the Psalmist so emphatically professes.

No doubt many of the features of the Psalm seem to reflect the circumstances of the Maccabaean period. But the closeness of the correspondence has been exaggerated. Could the Psalmist protest that the nation was faithful to its God, when the high-priest Jason had but recently introduced Greek customs into Jerusalem, and been followed by a multitude of willing apostates (1Ma 1:11 ff.)? Moreover, although an argument from silence is precarious, it would certainly be strange that a Psalm of the Maccabaean period should contain no reference to the desecration of the Temple, or to the attempt to destroy the national religion and enforce heathen customs.

The most convincing argument however against a Maccabaean date for this Psalm is to be derived from the history of the formation of the Psalter. The ‘Elohistic’ collection in which it is found was certainly anterior to the collections contained in Books iv and v ( Introd. pp. lvi. ff.), and must on any hypothesis have been formed earlier than the Maccabaean age, while the subordinate collections which are incorporated in it carry us back to an earlier date still. Now while it is possible that a Maccabaean Psalmist might have “thrown himself into the spirit of the original collector and made his additions Elohistic to correspond to the earlier Psalms,” and might even have furnished the Psalm with a title which no longer had any meaning, it is, to say the least, extremely improbable [24] . The internal indications of a Maccabaean date must be overwhelming in order to justify such a bold hypothesis.

[24] See Robertson Smith, Old Test. in Jewish Church, ed. 2, pp. 207, 437. Sanday, Bampton Lectures, pp. 256, 270, draws out in detail the number of steps implied between the original composition of the Hebrew Psalm and the Greek Version of the Psalter, and shews that if, as many believe, the Greek Version of the Psalter is not later than b.c. 100, it is almost incredible that they can have been compressed into a space of seventy years.

It is however easier to arrive at the negative conclusion that the Maccabaean date is untenable than to suggest a satisfactory alternative. Delitzsch connects this Psalm with Psalms 60, and accepting the title of that Psalm as trustworthy, supposes that the occasion of both Psalms was an Edomite raid upon Judah while David was occupied with his campaign against the Ammonites and Syrians. There is certainly a remarkable affinity between this Psalm and Psalms 60; and in David’s reign the people could boast of their faithfulness to Jehovah in marked contrast to the repeated apostasies of the age of the Judges. Lagarde points to the close resemblance between Psa 44:16 and Isa 37:6; Isa 37:23-24, and assigns the Psalm to the time of Sennacherib’s invasion. Robertson Smith ( O.T. J. C., ed. 2, p. 207) refers it, along with Psalms 74, 79, 80, to the rebellion of the Jews under Artaxerxes Ochus ( circa 350 b.c.), which was put down with great severity.

It is impossible to decide with certainty; but the Psalm produces a strong impression that it belongs to the time when Israel had still an independent existence as a nation, and was accustomed to make war upon its enemies. If so, it must be assigned to the period of the Monarchy, for at no time after the exile, so far as we know, down to the Maccabaean period, was Israel in a position to make war. The exile is not necessarily presumed by Psa 44:11. All that the verse need mean is that prisoners had been taken and sold for slaves, as was the case in the eighth century (Amo 1:6; Amo 1:9), and doubtless in earlier times.

The Psalm stands alone in its confident assertions of national fidelity to Jehovah, which may be contrasted with the confessions of national guilt in Isaiah 63, 64, and Lamentations 3. But it must be noticed carefully that it is not an absolute but a relative assertion of innocence. It resembles that of Job. He made no claim of absolute sinlessness, but protested that he was conscious of no exceptional sin which would account for his exceptional afflictions on the current theory of retribution; and the Psalmist is conscious of no national apostasy which would account for Jehovah’s desertion of His people as a justly merited punishment.

The parallels with Psalms 60 should be carefully studied. The situation is similar: in both Psalms the thought of God, not man, as the deliverer is prominent: and there are several parallels of language. Comp. Psa 44:9; Psa 44:23 with Psa 60:1; Psa 60:10; Psa 44:5 with Psa 60:12; Psa 64:3 with Psa 60:5. Several links of connexion with Psalms 42, 43 will also be found in the notes.

On the title, which should be rendered with R.V., For the Chief Musician; (a Psalm) of the sons of Korah. Maschil, see Introd. pp. xix, xxi, xxxiii; and p. 223.

Consult other comments:

Psalms 44:0 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Psalms 44:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Psalms 44:0 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Psalms 44:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Psalms 44:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Psalms 44:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Psalms 44:0 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalms 44:0 - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett

Psalms 44:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Psalms 44:0 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges