For Thy Sake
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ ” Rom. 8:35-36
The apostle Paul is moved to quote the psalmist while iterating to the church the great confidence those in Christ carry in the face of tribulation and persecution. The passage Paul references is found in Psalm 44: 22. Here we offer some of the preceding as well as the verse Paul quoted. “If we had forgotten the name of our God, or extended our hands to a strange god; would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart. But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Ps. 44:20-22 NAS)
Before we take a look at this particular context of Psalm 44, we’ll offer a little background into the book of Psalms.
The book of Psalms is considered to have five divisions within itself. Though there is a pretty clear truncation of the book into five divisions, there is one overarching theme, as Restoration Movement commentator James Smith says of “the pious, trusting, confident boundaries of obedience and praise. Obedience is the launching pad for praise, and praise is the appropriate culmination of obedience. The structure of the Psalter would suggest that only the obedient can truly praise God.” (Old Testament Survey)
Psalm 44 falls in what most commentators consider the second section of the five divisions. The major theme in this section of thirty one Psalms (Ps 42-72) could be classified as devastation and deliverance. God is referred to in these Psalms almost exclusively by the name of ‘Elohim. The name that conveys God’s role as the all powerful creator.
The first eight Psalms of this segment (42-49), which includes Psalm 44, are attributed to the “sons of Korah.” These were the descendents of Korah, the Levite who perished at Kadesh-barnea because of his rebellion against Moses. His family was spared and his descendents consequently rose to prominence in the tabernacle/temple service as singers and musicians. These eight Psalms convey a strong devotion to the temple in particular as well as Jerusalem, the city of the great King. It’s important to note that the Korahites are not mentioned in either the book of Ezra or Nehemiah as having returned to serve in the second temple . We can date these Psalms then, as being written sometime during the first temple era and into the period of captivity.
When you read through this portion of the book of Psalms, you’ll notice that most of the illustrations are from Exodus.
Because of these characteristics, the second subset of Psalms (42-72) is called the Exodus portion of the Psalms, as well as being referred to as Elohimic or Korahitic in nature.
The first eight verses of Psalm 44 opens with a recitation of God’s power to deliver citing the past experience of the nation of Israel in the conquest of Canaan. Beginning with verse nine, the psalmist communicates that he is puzzled at God’s reticence to use that power to deliver the faithful in their current distress, noting their retreat from their adversary, being despoiled, killed and scattered. They have become a reproach, a derision, and a laughingstock to the nations about them. They cower in shame and humiliation at the taunts of their enemy who reproaches and reviles. (Ps. 44:9-16)
The psalmist then pleads the case that they are innocent. They have not turned their backs on God. Why are they being crushed and covered with the shadow of death? They have remained faithful, they know they cannot fool the God who sees the heart. It is then that the psalmist utters the words that the apostle Paul quotes in his letter to the Romans. (Ps. 44:17-22)
The psalmist closes by calling on God to not forget their affliction and oppression. Their souls have sunk down, they are crushed. His final entreaty to God is , “Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness.” (Ps 44:26) What was the psalmist asking for? Deliverance from the final devastation of death.
The apostle Paul is using this teaching opportunity from the Psalms to fortify the faith of the early church. Just like their predecessors, spiritual Israel needed to be aware that God would allow them to undergo peril, persecution, tribulation, famine, and the sword, martyred for their faith.
Ah, but for the church, God did indeed intercede and become their help as was the call of the psalmist. Hear the preceding context to Paul’s utterance of the psalm. “who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” Remember the psalmist’s cry? “Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness.” Let’s see, Jesus was raised, is at the right hand of God to intercede for us and as Paul pointed out earlier in the letter that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us demonstrating God’s love. (Rom. 5:8) Hmmm…redeemed and delivered from a devastating eternal death. Do you see the connection now, brethren? Amen.