Psalm 44: What Does It Mean to be Chosen?
Remember those days of waiting in the school gym to be picked for dodgeball? Maybe you weren’t the last one left standing. Maybe you were second to last. Or maybe you were the first one chosen each time, leaving the rest of us peons to wallow in our jealousy! Most of us know the pain of being passed over, losing a coveted job or award to another, less deserving person. But what of the pain of being chosen? The writer of Psalm 44 knows something about this.
God’s Chosen People
The Jewish people are God’s chosen people. God chose this rag-tag bunch of nomads when he called Abraham and promised him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. It was considered a privilege, however, with the privilege came responsibility.
“The nail that sticks out gets hammered in,” a Chinese proverb tells us. To be chosen, set apart or above other people, put us in a place to be hammered. So much better to hide in obscurity, free from the responsibility of leadership and far from the easy target that we put on those who stand out in the world.
Throughout the centuries, the Jewish people have been targets of hatred and violence. From Russian pogroms to Nazi concentration camps and most recently shootings at synagogues. I can’t help but wonder whether they sometimes wish God had chosen someone else. It seems those chosen for greatness are also chosen for suffering. Jesus was God’s chosen one, his only son. Look what happened to him.
In Psalm 44 the writer remembers God’s favor in the past. He remembers how God gave the Hebrews victory over the Canaanites when Joshua led them into the Promised Land. “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their day, in the days of old.” (1) It was God who gave them victory, “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.” (3a) In verses 4-8 he asserts his trust in God, “for not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me.” (6) It’s good to be God’s chosen people.
But then he turns to the nation’s present condition which is one of being conquered, possibly during the revolt against Persia in 351-349 BCE or possibly from the Maccabean period. In contrast to the success Israel experienced under Joshua’s leadership, they have been beaten down. If it was God who gave them victory in the past, then it is God who gave them over to defeat, the writer surmises. “You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations.” (11) “You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those about us.” (13) In the face of so much hardship he sinks into depression, “For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our body cleaves to the ground.” (25)
In his sadness over the condition of his people, God appears to the writer to be asleep, unaware of the trials of his people, “Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake! Do not cast us off forever.” (23) A recounting of history would recognize that the Israelites were in slavery for hundreds of years before they were brought out of Egypt. They cried out to their God as well and wondered if God heard. They spent forty years in the desert before entering the Promised Land and were in exile in Babylon for many years before they returned to Jerusalem. Sometimes many generations passed before these large saving acts of God happened. God does hear and does respond, but it may take a while.
One commentator states, “They struggled with being God’s special people amid divine silence, yet they continue to pray.”
In the end, all we can do is fall on our knees before our God and trust in God’s steadfast love, as the writer of Psalm 44 does. “Deliver us for the sake of your steadfast love.” (26b) Whether chosen or unchosen, we all have our trials in this life that call us to prayer.
What has been your experience of being chosen? Has it been positive? How do you treat those who have been chosen?
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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