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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 17–26
Verses 17–26

The people of God, being greatly afflicted and oppressed, here apply to him; whither else should they go?

I. By way of appeal, concerning their integrity, which he only is an infallible judge of, and which he will certainly be the rewarder of. Two things they call God to witness to:—

1. That, though they suffered these hard things, yet they kept close to God and to their duty (Ps. 44:17): “All this has come upon us, and it is as bad perhaps as bad can be, yet have we not forgotten thee, neither cast off the thoughts of thee nor deserted the worship of thee; for, though we cannot deny but that we have dealt foolishly, yet we have not dealt falsely in thy covenant, so as to cast thee off and take to other gods. Though idolaters were our conquerors, we did not therefore entertain any more favourable thoughts of their idols and idolatries; though thou hast seemed to forsake us and withdraw from us, yet we have not therefore forsaken thee.” The trouble they had been long in was very great: “We have been sorely broken in the place of dragons, among men as fierce, and furious, and cruel, as dragons. We have been covered with the shadow of death, that is, we have been under deep melancholy and apprehensive of nothing short of death. We have been wrapped up in obscurity, and buried alive; and thou hast thus broken us, thou hast thus covered us (Ps. 44:19), yet we have not harboured any hard thoughts of thee, nor meditated a retreat from thy service. Though thou hast slain us, we have continued to trust in thee: Our heart has not turned back; we have not secretly withdrawn our affections from thee, neither have our steps, either in our religious worship or in our conversation, declined from they way (Ps. 44:18), the way which thou hast appointed us to walk in.” When the heart turns back the steps will soon decline; for it is the evil heart of unbelief that inclines to depart from God. Note, We may the better bear our troubles, how pressing soever, if in them we still hold fast our integrity. While our troubles do not drive us from our duty to God we should not suffer them to drive us from our comfort in God; for he will not leave us if we do not leave him. For the proof of their integrity they take God’s omniscience to witness, which is as much the comfort of the upright in heart as it is the terror of hypocrites (Ps. 44:20, 21): “If we have forgotten the name of our God, under pretence that he had forgotten us, or in our distress have stretched out our hands to a strange god, as more likely to help us, shall not God search this out? Shall he not know it more fully and distinctly than we know that which we have with the greatest care and diligence searched out? Shall he not judge it, and call us to an account for it?” Forgetting God was a heart-sin, and stretching our the hand to a strange god was often a secret sin, Ezek. 8:12. But heart-sins and secret sins are known to God, and must be reckoned for; for he knows the secrets of the heart, and therefore is a infallible judge of the words and actions.

2. That they suffered these hard things because they kept close to God and to their duty (Ps. 44:22): “It is for thy sake that we are killed all the day long, because we stand related to thee, are called by thy name, call upon thy name, and will not worship other gods.” In this the Spirit of prophecy had reference to those who suffered even unto death for the testimony of Christ, to whom it is applied, Rom. 8:36. So many were killed, and put to such lingering deaths, that they were in the killing all the day long; so universally was this practised that when a man became a Christian he reckoned himself as a sheep appointed for the slaughter.

II. By way of petition, with reference to their present distress, that God would, in his own due time, work deliverance for them. 1. Their request is very importunate: Awake, arise, Ps. 44:23. Arise for our help; redeem us (Ps. 44:26); come speedily and powerfully to our relief, Ps. 80:2. Stir up thy strength, and come and save us. They had complained (Ps. 44:12) that God had sold them; here they pray (Ps. 44:26) that God would redeem them; for there is no appealing from God, but by appealing to him. If he sell us, it is not any one else that can redeem us; the same hand that tears must heal, that smites must bind up, Hos. 6:1. They had complained (Ps. 44:9), Thou hast cast us off; but here they pray (Ps. 44:23), “Cast us not off forever; let us not be finally forsaken of God.” d3c 2. The expostulations are very moving: Why sleepest thou? Ps. 44:23. He that keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps; but, when he does not immediately appear for the deliverance of his people, they are tempted to think he sleeps. The expression is figurative (as Ps. 78:65; Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep); but it was applicable to Christ in the letter (Matt. 8:24); he was asleep when his disciples were in a storm, and they awoke him, saying, Lord, save us, we perish. “Wherefore hidest thou thy face, that we may not see thee and the light of thy countenance?” Or, “that thou mayest not see us and our distresses? Thou forgettest our affliction and our oppression, for it still continues, and we see no way open for our deliverance.” And, 3. The pleas are very proper, not their own merit and righteousness, though they had the testimony of their consciences concerning their integrity, but they plead the poor sinner’s pleas. (1.) Their own misery, which made them the proper objects of the divine compassion (Ps. 44:25): “Our soul is bowed down to the dust under prevailing grief and fear. We have become as creeping things, the most despicable animals: Our belly cleaves unto the earth; we cannot lift up ourselves, neither revive our own drooping spirits nor recover ourselves out of our low and sad condition, and we lie exposed to be trodden on by every insulting foe.” 2. God’s mercy: “O redeem us for they mercies’ sake; we depend upon the goodness of thy nature, which is the glory of thy name (Exod. 34:6), and upon those sure mercies of David which are conveyed by the covenant to all his spiritual seed.”