Thursday, 24 March 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
24 March 2022 (Psalms 44)

‘You with your own hand drove out the nations’ (Psalm 44: 2) … war and banquet reliefs on a Lycian sarcophagus in Fethiye in present south-west Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was due to take part this afternoon (24 March 2022) in a webinar on Celtic Spirituality with the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). I am one of the contributors to the USPG Lenten Study, ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’ However, a minor stroke last Friday and my contuing stay in hospital in Milton Keynes have caused me to withdraw from the webinar, although I hope I may have an opportunity to follow part of it online.

Meanwhile, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (24 March 2022) for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 44:

Psalm 44 is a psalm of communal lament, indicating that the suffering, in this case from being defeated by enemies, is communal. This psalm is said to have been written by the sons of Korah and is classified in the series of lamentations of the people.

In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this psalm is numbered Psalm 43.

The superscript reads ‘To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Maskil.’ It is addressed to the leader of the Korahites, probably a group of people who played a role in the music or worship of the temple. The term ‘Maskil’ means an ‘artistic song’ and its inclusion in the superscript of this Psalm indicates that it was originally written with artistic skill.

In its central message, this psalm contrasts past and present events. In Jewish traditions, it is viewed as suffering in the face of the golden past, which highlights the plight of the current situation. This Psalm reflects each of five key elements of a psalm of lament or complaint:

1, Address (verse 1);
2, Complaint (verses 9-16, 17-19);
3, Statement of trust in the reliability of God as known by the Psalmist or community (verses 4-8);
4, Petition for God's active intervention (verses 23-26);
5, Vow of Thanksgiving (verse 8).

Usually, Psalm 44 is organised in this way:

1, Verses 2-9: healing historical review;
2, Verses 10-23: describing the current disaster;
3, Verses 24-27: a final request for an end to the disaster through the intervention of God.

Another scheme using the English versification suggests:

1, Verses 1-3: remembering that God performed mighty deeds in the past for his people;
2, Verses 4-8: desiring God to perform mighty deeds now;
3, Verses 9-16: lamenting God’s recent chastening of his people;
4, Verses 17-22: appealing to God that his chastening is not a result of their sin;
5, Verses 23-26: calling on God to again engage in his mighty deeds on their behalf.

The psalm begins with a recounting of the days of old (verse 2), when God had driven out the nations and planted the Israelites. This places this psalm well after the periods of conquest and the judges.

The reference to scattering the Israelites among the nations (verse 11) could point to a date after either the Assyrian captivity in 722 BCE or after the Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE. However, some have noted that the reference to God not going out with their armies (verse 9) indicates that the Jewish nation still had standing armies at the time of the writing of this psalm, and thus the setting would be prior to Judah’s exile to Babylon.

In addition, the psalmist insists their plight was not due to national sin (verses 17 and 18), further confirmation that the psalmist is not referring to a time after the Babylonian exile, which the prophets see a result of idolatry and turning away from God.

By no means conclusive, a conflict is recorded in Isaiah 36, II Chronicles 32, and II Kings 18 matching this suggested timeline for Psalm 44.

The Jerusalem Bible suggests verses 17-22 ‘may perhaps have been added later to adapt the psalm to the persecutions of the Maccabean period.’

‘Shame has covered my face’ (Psalm 44: 15) … classical masks on display below the slopes of the Acropolis in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 44 (NRSVA):

To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Maskil.

1 We have heard with our ears, O God,
our ancestors have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old:
2 you with your own hand drove out the nations,
but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
but them you set free;
3 for not by their own sword did they win the land,
nor did their own arm give them victory;
but your right hand, and your arm,
and the light of your countenance,
for you delighted in them.

4 You are my King and my God;
you command victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push down our foes;
through your name we tread down our assailants.
6 For not in my bow do I trust,
nor can my sword save me.
7 But you have saved us from our foes,
and have put to confusion those who hate us.
8 In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name for ever.
Selah

9 Yet you have rejected us and abased us,
and have not gone out with our armies.
10 You made us turn back from the foe,
and our enemies have taken spoil for themselves.
11 You have made us like sheep for slaughter,
and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You have sold your people for a trifle,
demanding no high price for them.

13 You have made us the taunt of our neighbours,
the derision and scorn of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations,
a laughing-stock among the peoples.
15 All day long my disgrace is before me,
and shame has covered my face
16 at the words of the taunters and revilers,
at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.

17 All this has come upon us,
yet we have not forgotten you,
or been false to your covenant.
18 Our heart has not turned back,
nor have our steps departed from your way,
19 yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals,
and covered us with deep darkness.

20 If we had forgotten the name of our God,
or spread out our hands to a strange god,
21 would not God discover this?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22 Because of you we are being killed all day long,
and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

23 Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off for ever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
25 For we sink down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up, come to our help.
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

Today’s Prayer:

The USPG Prayer Diary this week has a particular focus on ‘Lingering Legacies’ and remembering the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary this morning (24 March 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Church as a community as we preach and pray for the spreading of God’s love and acceptance for all of us as his children.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow</b>

‘You have made us a byword among the nations’ (Psalm 44: 14) … flags of the nations outside an hotel in Valencia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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