What does Psalm chapter 44 mean?This psalm implies Israel was recovering from an especially embarrassing defeat. No explicit event is mentioned. However, various clues in the text suggest an incident with Edom. There, Israel was surprised and battered by their enemies while the main army was occupied elsewhere (Psalm 60; 85; Amos 1:6; 2 Samuel 8:13). Since no other details are offered, connecting this passage to its inspiration is mere speculation.
The psalmist begins by acknowledging that God was responsible for Israel's great victories in the past. Tales of these triumphs were passed down from generation to generation. They were also recorded in books such as Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. There is no question in the writer's mind that the Lord deserves praise for those events. For the same reason, the writer notes that any success he might have in the future will depend on God's power, not his own (Psalm 44:1–8).
However, the Lord has allowed Israel to suffer defeat. In fact, this loss has shattered the psalmist's confidence. The people are subject to shame, ridicule, and taunting from their enemies. The situation is so dire that the name of Israel is being used as a punchline: a joke referring to their current situation. The psalmist experiences humiliation and embarrassment and feels God had completely abandoned them during the recent debacle (Psalm 44:9–16).
Making matters worse, the psalmist sees no reason for this defeat. Israel had been defeated in the past when they ignored God or His commands (Numbers 14:39–45). God promised that idolatry and other national sins would lead to negative consequences (Deuteronomy 30:15–18). Yet the psalmist is convinced Israel is guilty of no such sins. The writer does not go as far as to claim that the nation is perfectly following the Law. Yet he insists the people are loyal to God, not false idols. The psalmist agonizes to think that God has allowed such suffering, though Israel has not been disloyal. In the New Testament (Romans 8:36), Paul cites verse 22 when teaching that suffering does not imply God has ceased to love His people (Psalm 44:17–22).
Scripture often records statements of raw, unfiltered anguish towards God (Habakkuk 1:2–4; Psalm 73:2–3). These can be uncomfortable, but always return to an acknowledgement of the Lord's goodness and truth (Habakkuk 1:5–11; Psalm 73:15–19; Job 13:15). Verse 23 repeatedly suggests God is uncaring or oblivious to their pain, using the metaphor of being asleep. The writer employs the question human beings ask amid suffering: "why?" Despite that angst, the psalmist prays for God's help. The final statement of the psalm is a reference to God's unending love and loyal care for His people. Despite his pain, the psalmist still prays to the Lord, whom he assumes will come to the rescue (Psalm 44:23–26).