We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the times of old; Psalm 44:2 (Hebrew World Translation)
You performed – Where is God when we need Him? That seems to be the theme of this psalm. If you read a bit further, you will hear David plead for God’s intervention. You will hear him say that he does not trust in his own strength. You will listen to him cry for deliverance. David based his supplications on the history of God’s acts among His people. He knows the stories. So do we. All of this sounds so familiar. In the past, God performed (the verb is pa’al). poal-pa’alta is “the work that you worked,” or “the deeds that you did.” Notice that the verb and the noun are from the same consonant root and are tied together as a single thought. God is what He does, and what He does is care for Israel. That is the covenant promise.
But something is drastically wrong! In spite of David’s declarations of dependence, the psalm turns sour. “You have cast us off. You have put us to shame. You have given us like sheep to the slaughter. You have scattered us. You have sold us for nothing. You have made us a laughingstock.” How can this be? Have we not trusted You? Have we not obeyed Your mishpatim? Then why, Lord, why? Isn’t Your holy name disgraced when Your own people are treated like this?
Perhaps we have experienced similar circumstances. Perhaps even now we find ourselves wondering how it is possible that YHWH allows (?) such despicable treatment of His chosen. But there is something about David’s psalm that might not be part of our worldview; something that we dare not overlook. David’s psalm assumes that everything that happens comes about because of God’s hand. God doesn’t simply allow these circumstances. God initiates them. “You have cast us off. You have given us to the slaughter. You have sold us.” It is not that God simply stepped out of the way. God is actively creating this situation. The difference between David’s world and our world is this: for David there is no distinction between what God does and what happens in the world. What God does is what happens in the world! Sovereignty covers everything! We, on the other hand, often think that our struggle is with Satan or evil or demons and that we need to plead for God to come to the battle on our behalf. I would daresay that we never imagine that God Himself is the active agent behind our catastrophes. So when we read David’s psalm we don’t read what he actually writes. We filter his words through our worldview of the battle between good and evil and since God can’t be on the side of what is evil, we dismiss David’s real claim about God’s total sovereignty. In our world, there are two kinds of spiritual superpowers. In David’s world, there is only One.
Is it any wonder that David can say, “My confusion is before me all day,” and “Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?” David isn’t battling Satan. David is struggling with God. David is entreating YHWH for enlightenment. In David’s view, sovereignty anticipates certainty in spite of temporary obstacles. God certainly has chosen Israel. All David’s experiences seemed opposed to this certainty. BUT HE DOESN’T GIVE UP! In David’s world, it isn’t about some spiritual oppressor or some demonic destroyer. It’s only about God. And that’s all it’s about.
I wonder if we face our trials and confusion with the same perspective. I wonder if we are truly struggling with God Himself or if we somehow think the battle is with someone else. I wonder just how far our views of sovereignty really reach.
Topical Index: sovereignty, perform, pa’al, Psalm 44:2