Some observe that most of the psalms that are entitled Maschil—psalms of instruction, are sorrowful psalms; for afflictions give instructions, and sorrow of spirit opens the ear to them. Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest and teachest.
In these verses the church, though now trampled upon, calls to remembrance the days of her triumph, of her triumph in God and over her enemies. This is very largely mentioned here, 1. As an aggravation of the present distress. The yoke of servitude cannot but lie very heavily on the necks of those that used to wear the crown of victory; and the tokens of God’s displeasure must needs be most grievous to those that have been long accustomed to the tokens of his favour. 2. As an encouragement to hope that God would yet turn again their captivity and return in mercy to them; accordingly he mixes prayers and comfortable expectations with his record of former mercies. Observe,
I. Their commemoration of the great things God had formerly done for them.
1. In general (Ps. 44:1): Our fathers have told us what work thou didst in their days. Observe, (1.) The many operations of providence are here spoken of as one work—“They have told us the work which thou didst;” for there is a wonderful harmony and uniformity in all that God does, and the many wheels make but one wheel (Ezek. 10:13), many works make but one work. (2.) It is a debt which every age owes to posterity to keep an account of God’s works of wonder, and to transmit the knowledge of them to the next generation. Those that went before us told us what God did in their days, we are bound to tell those that come after us what he has done in our days, and let them do the like justice to those that shall succeed them; thus shall one generation praise his works to another (Ps. 145:4), the fathers to the children shall make known his truth, Isa. 38:19. (3.) We must not only make mention of the work God has done in our own days, but must also acquaint ourselves and our children with what he did in the times of old, long before our own days; and of this we have in the scripture a sure word of history, as sure as the word of prophecy. (4.) Children must diligently attend to what their parents tell them of the wonderful works of God, and keep it in remembrance, as that which will be of great use to them. (5.) Former experiences of God’s power and goodness are strong supports to faith and powerful pleas in prayer under present calamities. See how Gideon insists upon it (Jdg. 6:13): Where are all his miracles which our fathers told us of?
2. In particular, their fathers had told them,
(1.) How wonderfully God planted Israel in Canaan at first, Ps. 44:2, 3. He drove out the natives, to make room for Israel, afflicted them, and cast them out, gave them as dust to Israel’s sword and as driven stubble to their bow. The many complete victories which Israel obtained over the Canaanites, under the command of Joshua, were not to be attributed to themselves, nor could they challenge the glory of them. [1.] They were not owing to their own merit, but to God’s favour and free grace: It was through the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour to them. Not for thy righteousness, or the uprightness of thy heart, doth God drive them out from before thee (Deut. 9:5, 6), but because God would perform the oath which he swore unto their fathers, Deut. 7:8. The less praise this allows us the more comfort it administers to us, that we may see all our successes and enlargements coming to us from the favour of God and the light of his countenance. [2.] They were not owing to their own might, but to God’s power engaged for them, without which all their own efforts and endeavours would have been fruitless. It was not by their own sword that they got the land in possession, though they had great numbers of mighty men; nor did their own arm save them from being driven back by the Canaanites and put to shame; but it was God’s right hand and his arm. He fought for Israel, else they would have fought in vain; it was through him that they did valiantly and victoriously. It was God that planted Israel in that good land, as the careful husbandman plants a tree, from which he promises himself fruit. See Ps. 80:8. This is applicable to the planting of the Christian church in the world, by the preaching of the gospel. Paganism was wonderfully driven out, as the Canaanites, not all at once, but by little and little, not by any human policy or power (for God chose to do it by the weak and foolish things of the world), but by the wisdom and power of God—Christ by his Spirit went forth conquering and to conquer; and the remembrance of that is a great support and comfort to those that groan under the yoke of antichristian tyranny, for to the state of the church under the power of the New-Testament Babylon, some think (and particularly the learned Amyraldus), the complaints in the latter part of this psalm may very fitly be accommodated. He that by his power and goodness planted a church for himself in the world will certainly support it by the same power and goodness; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
(2.) How frequently he had given them success against their enemies that attempted to disturb them in the possession of that good land (Ps. 44:7): Thou hast, many a time, saved us from our enemies, and hast put to flight, and so put to shame, those that hated us, witness the successes of the judges against the nations that oppressed Israel. Many a time have the persecutors of the Christian church, and those that hate it, been put to shame by the power of truth, Acts 6:10.
II. The good use they make of this record, and had formerly made of it, in consideration of the great things God had done for their fathers of old.
1. They had taken God for their sovereign Lord, had sworn allegiance to him, and put themselves under his protection (Ps. 44:4): Thou art my King, O God! He speaks in the name of the church, as (Ps. 74:12), Thou art my King of old. God, as a king, has made laws for his church, provided for the peace and good order of it, judged for it, pleaded its cause, fought its battles, and protected it; it is his kingdom in the world, and ought to be subject to him, and to pay him tribute. Or the psalmist speaks for himself here: “Lord, Thou art my King; whither shall I go with my petitions, but to thee? The favour I ask is not for myself, but for thy church.” Note, It is every one’s duty to improve his personal interest at the throne of grace for the public welfare and prosperity of the people of God; as Moses, “If I have found grace in thy sight, guide thy people,” Exod. 33:13.
2. They had always applied to him by prayer for deliverance when at any time they were in distress: Command deliverances for Jacob. Observe, (1.) The enlargedness of their desire. They pray for deliverances, not one, but many, as many as they had need of, how many soever they were, a series of deliverances, a deliverance from every danger. (2.) The strength of their faith in the power of God. They do not say, Work deliverances, but Command them, which denotes his doing it easily and instantly—Speak and it is done (such was the faith of the centurion, Matt. 8:8; Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed); it denotes also his doing it effectually: “Command it, as one having authority, whose command will be obeyed.” Where the word of a king is there is power, much more the word of the King of kings.
3. They had trusted and triumphed in him. As they owned it was not their own sword and bow that had saved them (Ps. 44:3), so neither did they trust to their own sword or bow to save them for the future (Ps. 44:6): “I will not trust in my bow, nor in any of my military preparations, as if those would stand me in stead without God. No; through thee will we push down our enemies (Ps. 44:5); we will attempt it in thy strength, relying only upon that, and not upon the number or valour of our forces; and, having thee on our side, we will not doubt of success in the attempt. Through thy name (by virtue of thy wisdom directing us, thy power strengthening us and working for us, and thy promise securing success to us) we shall, we will, tread those under that rise up against us.”
4. They had made him their joy and praise (Ps. 44:8): “In God we have boasted; in him we do and will boast, every day, and all the day long.” When their enemies boasted of their strength and successes, as Sennacherib and Rabshakeh hectored Hezekiah, they owned they had nothing to boast of, in answer thereunto, but their relation to God and their interest in him; and, if he were for them, they could set all the world at defiance. Let him that glories glory in the Lord, and let that for ever exclude all other boasting. Let those that trust in God make their boast in him, for they know whom they have trusted; let them boast in him all the day long, for it is a subject that can never be exhausted. But let them withal praise his name for ever; if they have the comfort of his name, let them give unto him the glory due to it.
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