To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, Maschil
1 We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work Thou didst in their days, in the times of old.
2 How Thou didst drive out the heathen with Thy hand, and plantedst them: how Thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.
3 For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the light of Thy countenance, because Thou hadst a favour unto them.
4 Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob.
5 Through Thee will we push down our enemies: through Thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.
6 For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.
7 But Thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.
8 In God we boast all the day long, and praise Thy name for ever. Selah.
9 But Thou hast cast off, and put us to shame: and goest not forth with our armies.
10 Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves.
11 Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat: and hast scattered us among the heathen.
12 Thou sellest Thy people for nought, and dost not increase Thy wealth by their price.
13 Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us.
14 Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people.
15 My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me,
16 For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth: by reason of the enemy and avenger.
17 All this is come upon us: yet have we not forgotten Thee, neither have we dealt falsely in Thy covenant.
18 Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from Thy way:
19 Though Thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.
20 If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god:
21 Shall not God search this out? for He knoweth the secrets of the heart.
22 Yea, for Thy sake are we killed all the day long: we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.
23 Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever.
24 Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?
25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth.
26 Arise for our help, and redeem us for Thy mercies’ sake.
God’s people hold on to Him with a relentless faith through the storms of trials that He sends against them.
We feel as though we were a negligible and despised remnant. This psalm is for a congregation, a church, or a nation that faces severe trials: war, disease, or dissension. While some psalms issue a personal cry for help, this psalm is corporate, and the church body together cries out for help. We are all under attack here. Often the church confronts demonic oppression. Divisive wolves work to split the congregation. Heresies or false teaching rip the church to shreds. In some countries, civil governments and anarchic bands persecute the church of Jesus Christ. Even in this country, the church of Christ is despised. The world does not see that Jesus is sovereign over all things for the benefit of the church. So as we recite this psalm, we retain a sharp sense of our own weakness and our ignominy in the face of the world around us. We are a ragtag band. We are despised. But we still appeal to the Ruler of the universe who has chosen to take our side and will redeem us by His unfailing love.
Verses 1–8. This psalm begins with a confession of faith and a history lesson. Do you remember what God has done for His people in the past? Faith looks at God’s record in history. For six thousand years, God has protected His people (or His church) on this earth. Beginning with righteous Seth and Enoch who walked with God, and that pilgrim Abram who offered a sacrifice at Bethel and bought a grave for himself and his family in the promised land, God’s people have experienced periods of both ignominy and oppression in various places.
Looking back at the history of Israel, we find God’s people taking the land of Canaan in the days of Joshua and David. But were their victories rooted in their own indomitable strength? Of course not. When God removed His hand from His people for one day, they ran like scared rabbits from the armies of Ai! The Israelites took the land only because God took it for them. Any progress we have made for God as we take His Kingdom to every country and every area of life can only be attributed to the power of God working through us.
Faith also counts on God’s help for the future. Faith is optimistic. We are confident that we will overcome in future battles in the name of our God! Where is our trust then? It cannot be in our bows and swords. It cannot rest in our military might or in our own skill and wealth. For this alone is ineffectual in the day of battle. The people of God will boast with confidence in God. Here in this psalm, faith brings God back into full center. When a king or president of a country finally acknowledges God as the object of his trust and the source of the nation’s protection, you will know it because he will publicly praise God in his speeches. In a day where humanism predominates, you rarely hear that sort of thing. But here is a man of God, a military leader and a king, who acknowledges his trust in God and commits to praising the name of God forever.
Verses 9–16. Now the Psalmist describes the plight of God’s people. Does he sound bitter as he says, “You have sold us into abject slavery, and You didn’t even get a good profit out of it”? Like the church in Laodicea, God’s people are reduced to a miserable, poor, blind, and naked lot (Rev. 3:17)! This condition of shame and ignominy that marks the people of God is also applied to the Psalmist himself. In verse 15, he shifts to the first person singular as he tells God, “My confusion is ever before me!” Note also that the Psalmist clearly recognizes the sovereignty of God behind his trials. “You have cast us off and put us to shame. You have made us turn our backs to the enemy,” he says.
Everything that befalls the Christian happens because God is ultimately behind it. While it was God who gave His people the victory, He also handed them the defeat. He has given them over to the hand of their enemy as sheep for the slaughter. He has reduced the church to an ignoble, fragmented, seemingly powerless mass of dirt. God did all of that. But you say, “I thought this devastating slaughter was the work of the enemy!” The enemies would never have done it had all of this not been part of the sovereign plan of God.
Verses 17–22. At this point, the psalm crescendos into a confession of intense faith in God. Although God has broken His people down to a small, despised number, we still refuse to give up on Him. We will still be true to the covenant He made with us. Our hearts are still inclined towards Him. We will refuse to rebel against Him, even when He has dealt such a severe blow to us. You will not find a better picture of faith anywhere in the Bible. What are our other options? Are we going to let go of God and turn to some other god? Of course, the gods of the heathen are idols. If we gave up on God and turned to the idols of materialism, entertainment, self, or the state, we would still have to deal with the living and true God. Certainly God knows when His people turn away from Him, and this would only further intensify His anger and our chastisement. The Christian has but one option in all of the trials of his life—trust in God, hold to His covenant promises, and believe in His salvation even when things are really tough.
Verse 22 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible: “We are as sheep for the slaughter.” Romans 8:36 gives a clear explanation of this verse, reminding us that we are more than conquerors by our trials and suffering. This is the way God chooses to bring about victory in our lives and in the life of the church. Trials and suffering should never appear strange to us. Jesus went as a sheep to the slaughter too, and that is how He won the victory for us (Is. 53:7). We identify with Christ in His sufferings, and we are crucified with Christ in this life, that one day we might live with Him forever.
Verses 23–26. When we are under attack, it is not always clear that God is with us. The Christian’s prayer to the Lord is, “We cannot do this alone. We will not survive without you, Jesus.”
Is there some small element of disrespect toward God in such a prayer? While God has forsaken His people, we insist that we have not forgotten Him! Obviously, the Psalmist does not intend to imply that God has forgotten us in the sense that He doesn’t know that we exist or that He doesn’t know about our troubles. Nevertheless, he does rightly acknowledge God’s removal of His favor from His people. There are times when God does not show His favor to His people because He is chastising them for their disobedience. This is a prayer of a people who are returning to God in an effort to renew a relationship with Him. As in the case of some marriage relationships that have gone through a long period of conflict, bitterness, and estrangement, these relationships are not renewed overnight. Even so, as we renew our relationship with God, it will take some time to restore it, requiring the issuance of prayers like this. We describe our humble condition and affirm our love for God. Then we cry out for God to awake, rise up, turn back to us, and save us in the time of trouble.
1. Let us not trust in our own wealth and strength. We may possess some special gifts such as intelligence or competence in leadership, but we should never trust in ourselves. When a church or a country begins to trust in its own strength, that is the beginning of the end for that body.
2. No matter how tough things get, we should never give up on God. He may be testing our faith by holding out on us. But we should hang in there through the trial and trust in God’s deliverance. He will deliver us in the end.
Almost every psalm contains a different pattern of human emotion. The psalms give us a string of connected thoughts for our worship. We look at the world around us and then we look to God, and cry out, “HELP!” This psalm begins with a confession of faith, continues with a description of the opposition that we face, and ends with a cry for help. Worship swims in faith. Even when it seems as if God has abandoned us, we will not give up on Him.
1. How does the Psalmist betray his faith when he speaks of God’s works in history?
2. How does the Psalmist speak of God’s sovereignty in this psalm?
3. What does the Psalmist say about forgetting in this psalm?
4. Give an example of an occasion when we might want to use this psalm in worship.
5. Does our nation trust in God or in its own military might?
1. Does it ever appear that God has abandoned us? Have we ever experienced a time of spiritual deadness in our family or in our church? What should we do during times like these?
2. When something bad happens to you, can you say that God brought this on you? If you know that God brought this tragedy about in your life, what is your feeling towards God?