You have rejected and humbled us…and our adversaries have plundered us….You have scattered us among the nations….I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame. (Psalm 44:9-16 portion)
The Blues and the Psalms
Blues music originated in the Deep South of the United States in the 19th century by African-Americans building on work songs and spirituals. Its inventors were enslaved people, ex-slaves, and their descendants who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields. Blue notes (or “worried notes”), usually thirds, fifths or sevenths. flattened the pitch. The lyrics often expressed pensiveness, unhappiness, and gloom.1
In the Old Testament book of Psalms, forty-two Psalms are traditionally categorized as laments. Jessica Brodie says: “Lament psalms teach us that it’s never wrong to cry out to God. God hears us in our pain and welcomes us to come close.”2 These laments tell the Lord about our feelings of sadness and sorrow; desolation, dejection, depression, and defeatism. Psalm 44 is a lament. It sings the blues to the Lord (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and we can learn a lot from it.
Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) put together the first and last lines of Psalm 44 as a declaration of faith and petition. In worship, the leader said: “We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.” And the congregation would respond: “Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.” Christians should treat Psalm 44 as part of our Christian inheritance, not as a Jewish antique.3
We Pray Together When We Feel Abandoned
In verses 1-8, God’s people celebrate that He had won victories for their ancestors and for those who are still living. Now in verses 9-16, they complain about their present circumstances which are pathetic. The people feel defeated and humiliated. It’s not just that their enemies are stronger; they feel God has deserted them. That’s how the Israelites felt when they were defeated by Canaanites at Ai, by Philistines who captured the ark, and by Babylonians who sacked Jerusalem.4 They were always the underdogs and once again they feel humiliated, shamed, “the brunt of people’s jokes and the object of their insults.”5 Do you know what that feels like? The Hebrews felt that way again when Psalm 44 was written, but we don’t know what the exact situation was.
When God’s people feel abandoned and up against enemies (physical and spiritual) who overwhelm us, let’s not gripe and vent too much to other people. Let’s lay out our helplessness before the Lord and ask for His help. God can handle our laments and the Bible is full of them. Job suffered so badly he cried, “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?”6 Jeremiah asked, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?”7 Habakkuk said, “I heard calamity coming and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.”8
In praying together, Christians remind each other that God is the sole source of life, truth, power, love, and hope. We assist each other to be God-centered instead of self-centered. The Psalmist prays: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”9 We all need other Christians to help us to think and pray and live that way.
We Pray Together Remembering that Jesus Was Forsaken for Us
As a Jewish man, Christ chanted or sang all the Psalms. When He came to the laments, including Psalm 44, He would have been thinking about how it foretold His suffering before the cross and while on it.
|Psalm 44||Jesus Fulfilled Psalm 44|
|We are rejected and humbled (verse 9).||Christ was despised and rejected by humankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. People hid their faces, He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem (Isaiah 53:3).|
|Our adversaries have plundered us (verse 10).||When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and cast lots for His seamless garment (John 19:22-24, fulfilling Psalm 22:18).|
|We are devoured like sheep (verse 11).||Christ was led like a sheep to the slaughter….He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Acts 8:32; John 1:29, 36).|
|We were sold for a pittance (verse 12).||Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, the price set on Him by the people of Israel (Matt 27:1-10).|
|We are reproached, scorned, and derided (verse 13).||Christ was mocked by the soldiers, chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders (Matt 27:27-43).|
|The peoples shook their heads at us (verse 14).||Those who passed by the cross hurled insults at Jesus, shaking their heads. The rebels who were crucified with Christ also heaped insults on Him (Matt 27:39,44).|
|We are disgraced all day long and shamed (verse 15).||They crucified the Son of God and subjected Him to public disgrace (Heb 6:6; 13:13).|
|The enemy taunted, reproached, and reviled us (verse 16).||A pack of villains encircled Jesus; they pierced His hands and feet. The people stared and gloated over Him (Psalm 22:16-17).|
These are not coincidences. The Spirit of Christ was guiding the Old Testament writers, pointing to and predicting the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. See 1 Peter 1:10-12.
So when we feel abandoned by God, beloved, let’s gather for prayer and complain to Him like Psalm 44 does, and not complain to others. And let’s remind each that because of the Son of God’s doing, dying, and rising for us, misery on Earth is the only “hell” Christians will experience. While Earth is the only “heaven” unsaved people will experience.
Remember Galatians 3:13-14—The Lord Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us….He redeemed us in order that Abraham’s blessing might come to the Gentiles through Christ, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Remember 2 Corinthians 1:3-11—For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ….And troubles happen so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
To be continued
Notes (various translations): 1 “A Brief History of the Blues” by Ed Kopp. 2 “5 Psalms of Lament to Remind Us We Are Not Alone” by Jessica Brodie. 3 Psalms by Derek Kidner, p. 168. 4 Joshua 4; 1 Sam 4; Lamentations 3. 5 Psalms by Tremper Longman III, p. 199 6 Job 3:11. 7 Jer 15:18. 8 Hab 3:16. 9 Psalm 73:25-26.