Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
A Litany of Israel, Hard Pressed by the Enemy, and Yet Faithful to Its God
The Korahitic Maskı̂l Psa 42:1-11, with its counterpart Psa 43:1-5, if followed by a second, to which a place is here assigned by manifold accords with Ps 42-43, viz., with its complaints (cf. PsPsa 44:26 with the refrain of Psa 43:1-5, Psa 42:1-11; Psa 44:10, Psa 44:24. with Psa 43:2; Psa 42:10), and prayers (cf. Psa 44:5 with Psa 43:3; Psa 42:9). The counterpart to this Psalm is Psa 85:1-13. Just as Ps 42-43 and Psa 84:1-12 form a pair, so do Ps 44 and Psa 85:1-13 as being Korahitic plaintive and supplicatory Psalms of a national character. Moreover, Psa 60:1-12 by David, Ps 80 by Asaph, and Ps 89 by Ethan, are nearest akin to it. In all these three there are similar lamentations over the present as contrasting with the former times and with the promise of God; but they do not contain any like expression of consciousness of innocence, a feature in which Ps 44 has no equal.
In this respect the Psalm seems to be most satisfactorily explained by the situation of the חסידים (saints), who under the leadership of the Maccabees defended their nationality and their religion against the Syrians and fell as martyrs by thousands. The war of that period was, in its first beginnings at least, a holy war of religion; and the nation which then went forth on the side of Jahve against Jupiter Olympius, was really, in distinction from the apostates, a people true to its faith and confession, which had to lament over God's doom of wrath in 1 Macc. 1:64, just as in this Psalm. There is even a tradition that it was a stated lamentation Psalm of the time of the Maccabees. The Levites daily ascended the pulpit (דוכן) and raised the cry of prayer: Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord?! These Levite criers praying for the interposition of God were called מעוררים (wakers). It is related in B. Sota 48a of Jochanan the high priest, i.e., John Hyrcanus (135-107 b.c.), that he put an end to these מעוררים, saying to them: "Doth the Deity sleep? Hath not the Scripture said: Behold the Keeper of Israel slumbereth not and sleepeth not!? Only in a time when Israel was in distress and the peoples of the world in rest and prosperity, only in reference to such circumstances was it said: Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord?"
Nevertheless many considerations are opposed to the composition of the Psalm in the time of the Maccabees. We will mention only a few. In the time of the Maccabees the nation did not exactly suffer any overthrow of its "armies" (Psa 44:10) after having gathered up its courage: the arms of Judah, of Jonathan, and of Simon were victorious, and the one defeat to which Hitzig refers the Psalm, viz., the defeat of Joseph and Azaria against Gorgias in Jamnia (1 Macc. 5:55ff.), was a punishment brought upon themselves by an indiscreet enterprise. The complaints in Psa 44:10. are therefore only partially explained by the evmnts of that time; and since a nation is a unit and involved as a whole, it is also surprising that no mention whatever is made of the apostates. But Ewald's reference of the Psalm to the time of the post-exilic Jerusalem is still more inadmissible; and when, in connection with this view, the question is asked, What disaster of war is then intended? no answer can be given; and the reference to the time of Jehoiachin, which Tholuck in vain endeavours to set in a more favourable light - a king who did evil in the eyes of Jahve, Ch2 36:9, with which the descriptions of character drawn by Jeremiah, Jer 22:20-30, and by Ezekiel, Eze 19:1-14, fully accord - is also inadmissible. On the other hand, the position of the Psalm in the immediate neighbourhood of Psalms belonging to the time of Jehoshaphat, and also to a certain extent its contents, favours the early part of the reign of king Joash, in which, as becomes evident from the prophecy of Joel, there was no idolatry on the part of the people to be punished, and yet there were severe afflictions of the people to be bewailed. It was then not long since the Philistines and Arabs from the neighbourhood of the Cushites had broken in upon Judah, ransacked Jerusalem and sold the captive people of Judah for a mere song to the Greeks (Ch2 21:16., Joe 3:2-8). But this reference to contemporary history is also untenable. That unhappy event, together with others, belongs to the category of well-merited judgments, which came upon king and people in the reign of Jehoram; nor does the Psalm sound like a retrospective glance at the time of Jehoram from the standpoint of the time of Joash: the defeat of which it complains, is one that is now only just experienced.
Thus we seem consequently driven back to the time of David; and the question arises, whether the Psalm does not admit, with Psa 60:1-12, with which it forms a twin couple, of being understood as the offspring of a similar situation, viz., of the events which resulted from the Syro-Ammonitish war. The fact that a conflict with the foes of the kingdom in the south, viz., with the Edomites, was also mixed up with the wars with the Ammonites and their Syrian allies at that period, becomes evident from Psa 60:1. when compared with Sa2 8:13, where the words ἐπάταξε τὴν Ἰδουμαίαν (lxx) have fallen out. Whilst David was contending with the Syrians, the Edomites came down upon the country that was denuded of troops. And from Kg1 11:15 it is very evident that they then caused great bloodshed; for, according to that passage, Joab buried the slain and took fearful revenge upon the Edomites: he marched, after having slain them in the Valley of Salt, into Idumaea and there smote every male. Perhaps, with Hengstenberg, Keil, and others, the Psalm is to be explained from the position of Israel before this overthrow of the Edomites. The fact that in Psa 44:12 the nation complains of a dispersion among the heathen may be understood by means of a deduction from Amo 1:6, according to which the Edomites had carried on a traffic in captive Israelites. And the lofty self-consciousness, which finds expression in the Psalm, is after all best explained by the times of David; for these and the early part of the times of Solomon are the only period in the history of Israel when the nation as a whole could boast of being free and pure of all foreign influence in its worship. In the kindred Psa 60:1-12; 80 (also Ps 89), it is true this self-consciousness does not attain the same lofty expression in this respect Ps 40 stands perfectly alone: it is like the national mirroring of the Book of Job, and by reason of this takes a unique position in the range of Old Testament literature side by side with Lam. 3 and the deutero-Isaiah. Israel's affliction, which could not possibly be of a punitive character, resembles the affliction of Job; in this Psalm, Israel stands in exactly the same relation to God as Job and the "Servant of Jahve" in Isaiah, if we except all that was desponding in Job's complaint and all that was expiatory in the affliction of the Servant of Jahve. But this very self-consciousness does somewhat approximately find expression even in Psa 60:4. In that passage also no distinction is made between Israel and the God-fearing ones, and the battle, in which Israel is defeated, but not without hope of final victory, is a battle for the truth.
The charge has been brought against this Psalm, that it manifests a very superficial apprehension of the nature of sin, in consequence of which the writer has been betrayed into accusing God of unfaithfulness, instead of seeking for guilt in the congregation of Israel. This judgment is unjust. The writer certainly cannot mean to disown the sins of individuals, nor even this or that transgression of the whole people. but any apostasy on the part of the nation from its God, such as could account for its rejection, did not exist at that time. The supremacy granted to the heathen over Israel is, therefore, an abnormal state of things, and for this very reason the poet, on the ground of Israel's fidelity and of God's loving-kindness, prays for speedy deliverance. A Psalm born directly out of the heart of the New Testament church would certainly sound very differently. For the New Testament church is not a national community; and both as regards the relation between the reality and idea of the church, and as regards the relation between its afflictions and the motive and design of God, the view of the New Testament church penetrates far deeper. It knows that it is God's love that makes it conformable to the passion of Christ, in order that, being crucified unto the world, it may become through suffering partaker of the glory of its Lord and Head.
(Heb.: 44:2-4) The poet opens with a tradition coming down from the time of Moses and of Joshua which they have heard with their own ears, in order to demonstrate the vast distance between the character of the former times and the present, just as Asaph, also, in Psa 78:3, appeals not to the written but to the spoken word. That which has been heard follows in the oratio directa. Psa 44:3 explains what kind of "work" is intended: it is the granting of victory over the peoples of Canaan, the work of God for which Moses prays in Psa 90:16. Concerning ידך, vid., on Psa 3:5; Psa 17:14. The position of the words here, as in Psa 69:11; 83:19, leads one to suppose that ידך is treated as a permutative of אתּה, and consequently in the same case with it. The figure of "planting" (after Exo 15:17) is carried forward in ותּשׁלּחם; for this word means to send forth far away, to make wide-branching, a figure which is wrought up in Ps 80. It was not Israel's own work, but (כּי, no indeed, for [Germ. nein, denn] = imo) God's work: "Thy right hand and Thine arm and the light of Thy countenance," they it was which brought Israel salvation, i.e., victory. The combination of synonyms ימינך וּזרועך is just as in Psa 74:11, Sir. 33:7, χείρα καὶ βραχίονα δεξιόν, and is explained by both the names of the members of the body as applied to God being only figures: the right hand being a figure for energetic interposition, and the arm for an effectual power that carries through the thing designed (cf. e.g., Psa 77:16; Psa 53:1), just as the light of His countenance is a figure for His loving-kindness which lights up all darkness. The final cause was His purpose of love: for (inasmuch as) Thou wast favourable to them (רצה as in Psa 85:2). The very same thought, viz., that Israel owes the possession of Canaan to nothing but Jahve's free grace, runs all through Deut. 9.
(Heb.: 44:5-9) Out of the retrospective glance at the past, so rich in mercy springs up (Psa 44:5) the confident prayer concerning the present, based upon the fact of the theocratic relationship which began in the time of the deliverance wrought under Moses (Deu 33:5). In the substantival clause אתּה הוּא מלכּי, הוּא is neither logical copula nor predicate (as in Psa 102:28; Deu 32:39, there equivalent to אתּה הוּא אשׁר, cf. Ch1 21:17), but an expressive resumption of the subject, as in Isa 43:25; Jer 49:12; Neh 9:6., Ezr 5:11, and in the frequently recurring expression יהוה הוא האלהים; it is therefore to be rendered: Thou-He who (such an one) is my King. May He therefore, by virtue of His duty as king which He has voluntarily taken upon Himself, and of the kingly authority and power indwelling in Him, command the salvation of Jacob, full and entire (Ps 18:51; 53:7). צוּה as in Psa 42:9. Jacob is used for Israel just as Elohim is used instead of Jahve. If Elohim, Jacob's King, now turns graciously to His people, they will again be victorious and invincible, as Psa 44:6 affirms. נגּח with reference to קרן as a figure and emblem of strength, as in Psa 89:25 and frequently; קמינוּ equivalent to קמים עלינוּ. But only in the strength of God (בּך as in Psa 18:30); for not in my bow do I trust, etc., Psa 44:7. This teaching Israel has gathered from the history of the former times; there is no bidding defiance with the bow and sword and all the carnal weapons of attack, but Thou, etc., Psa 44:8. This "Thou" in הושׁעתּנוּ is the emphatic word; the preterites describe facts of experience belonging to history. It is not Israel's own might that gives them the supremacy, but God's gracious might in Israel's weakness. Elohim is, therefore, Israel's glory or pride: "In Elohim do we praise," i.e., we glory or make our boast in Him; cf. הלּל על, Psa 10:3. The music here joins in after the manner of a hymn. The Psalm here soars aloft to the more joyous height of praise, from which it now falls abruptly into bitter complaint.
(Heb.: 44:10-13) Just as אף signifies imo vero (Psa 58:3) when it comes after an antecedent clause that is expressly or virtually a negative, it may mean "nevertheless, ho'moos," when it opposes a contrastive to an affirmative assertion, as is very frequently the case with גּם or וגם. True, it does not mean this in itself, but in virtue of its logical relation: we praise Thee, we celebrate Thy name unceasingly - also (= nevertheless) Thou hast cast off. From this point the Psalm comes into closest connection with Psa 89:39, on a still more extended scale, however, with Psa 60:1-12, which dates from the time of the Syro-Ammonitish war, in which Psalm Psa 44:10 recurs almost word for word. The צבאות are not exactly standing armies (an objection which has been raised against the Maccabean explanation), they are the hosts of the people that are drafted into battle, as in Exo 12:41, the hosts that went forth out of Egypt. Instead of leading these to victory as their victorious Captain (Sa2 5:24), God leaves them to themselves and allows them to be smitten by the enemy. The enemy spoil למו, i.e., just as they like, without meeting with any resistance, to their hearts' content. And whilst He gives over (נתן as in Mic 5:2, and the first יתּן in Isa 41:2) one portion of the people as "sheep appointed for food," another becomes a diaspora or dispersion among the heathen, viz., by being sold to them as slaves, and that בּלא־הון, "for not-riches," i.e., for a very low price, a mere nothing. We see from Joe 3:3 in what way this is intended. The form of the litotes is continued in Psa 44:13: Thou didst not go high in the matter of their purchase-money; the rendering of Maurer is correct: in statuendis pretiis eorum. The ב is in this instance not the Beth of the price as in Psa 44:13, but, as in the phrase הלּל בּ, the Beth of the sphere and thereby indirectly of the object. רבּה in the sense of the Aramaic רבּי (cf. Pro 22:16, and the derivatives תּרבּית, מרבּית), to make a profit, to practise usury (Hupfeld), produces a though that is unworthy of God; vid., on the other hand, Isa 52:3. At the heads of the strophe stands (Psa 44:10) a perfect with an aorist following: ולא תצא is consequently a negative ותּצא. And Psa 44:18, which sums up the whole, shows that all the rest is also intended to be retrospective.
(Heb.: 44:14-17) To this defeat is now also added the shame that springs out of it. A distinction is made between the neighbouring nations, or those countries lying immediately round about Israel (סביבות, as in the exactly similar passage Psa 79:4, cf. Psa 80:7, which closely resembles it), and the nations of the earth that dwell farther away from Israel. משׁל is here a jesting, taunting proverb, and one that holds Israel up as an example of a nation undergoing chastisement (vid., Hab 2:6). The shaking of the head is, as in Psa 22:8, a gesture of malicious astonishment. In נגדּי תּמיד (as in Psa 38:18) we have both the permanent aspect or look and the perpetual consciousness. Instead of "shame covers my face," the expression is "the shame of my face covers me," i.e., it has overwhelmed my entire inward and outward being (cf. concerning the radical notions of בּושׁ, Ps 6:11, and חפר, Psa 34:6). The juxtaposition of "enemy and revengeful man" has its origin in Psa 8:3. In Psa 44:17 מקּול and מפּני alternate; the former is used of the impression made by the jeering voice, the other of the impression produced by the enraged mien.
(Heb.: 44:18-22) If Israel compares its conduct towards God with this its lot, it cannot possibly regard it as a punishment that it has justly incurred. Construed with the accusative, בּוא signifies, as in Psa 35:8; Psa 36:12, to come upon one, and more especially of an evil lot and of powers that are hostile. שׁקּר, to lie or deceive, with בּ of the object on whom the deception or treachery is practised, as in Psa 89:34. In Psa 44:19 אשּׁוּר is construed as fem., exactly as in Job 31:8; the fut. consec. is also intended as such (as e.g., in Job 3:10; Num 16:14): that our step should have declined from, etc.; inward apostasy is followed by outward wandering and downfall. This is therefore not one of the many instances in which the לא of one clause also has influence over the clause that follows (Ges. 152, 3). כּי, Psa 44:20, has the sense of quod: we have not revolted against Thee, that Thou shouldest on that account have done to us the thing which is now befallen us. Concerning תּנּיּם vid., Isa 13:22. A "place of jackals" is, like a habitation of dragons (Jer 10:22), the most lonesome and terrible wilderness; the place chosen was, according to this, an inhospitable מדבר, far removed from the dwellings of men. כּסּה is construed with על of the person covered, and with בּ of that with which (Sa1 19:13) he is covered: Thou coveredst us over with deepest darkness (vid., Psa 23:4). אם, Psa 44:21, is not that of asseveration (verily we have not forgotten), but, as the interrogatory apodosis Psa 44:22 shows, conditional: if we have (= should have) forgotten. This would not remain hidden from Him who knoweth the heart, for the secrets of men's hearts are known to Him. Both the form and matter here again strongly remind one of Job 31, more especially Job 31:4; cf. also on תּעלמות, Job 11:6; Job 28:11.
(Heb.: 44:23-27) The church is not conscious of any apostasy, for on the contrary it is suffering for the sake of its fidelity. Such is the meaning intended by כּי, Psa 44:23 (cf. Psa 37:20). The emphasis lies on עליך, which is used exactly as in Psa 69:8. Paul, in Rom 8:36, transfers this utterance to the sufferings of the New Testament church borne in witnessing for the truth, or I should rather say he considers it as a divine utterance corresponding as it were prophetically to the sufferings of the New Testament church, and by anticipation, coined concerning it and for its use, inasmuch as he cites it with the words καθὼς γέγραπται. The suppliant cries עוּרה and הקיצה are Davidic, and found in his earlier Ps; Psa 7:7; Psa 35:23; Psa 59:5., cf. Psa 78:65. God is said to sleep when He does not interpose in whatever is taking place in the outward world here below; for the very nature of sleep is a turning in into one's own self from all relationship to the outer world, and a resting of the powers which act outwardly. The writer of our Psalm is fond of couplets of synonyms like ענינוּ ולחצנוּ in Psa 44:25; cf. Psa 44:4, ימינך וּזרועך. Psa 119:25 is an echo of Psa 44:26. The suppliant cry קוּמה (in this instance in connection with the עזרתה which follows, it is to be accented on the ultima) is Davidic, Psa 3:8; Psa 7:7; but originally it is Mosaic. Concerning the ah of עזרתה, here as also in Psa 63:8 of like meaning with לעזרתי, Psa 22:20, and frequently, vid., on Psa 3:3.