Psalm 44

Of this Psalm, Walter Brueggemann says: “This psalm is a complaint about some public crisis wherein the community of Israel has suffered and has been reduced to helpless shame,” (Brueggemann: pp 85-86).

It is worth reminding ourselves that we are only considering one strand in any possible range of interpretations of the different passages of Scripture on which we are reflecting. Nonetheless the theme of ‘shame’ can be signifcant. In this Psalm it is explicit. Verses 9 to 16 make it abundantly clear that Israel believes that she has been shamed by YHWH.

Verses 9 to 14 “[indict] YHWH for infidelity” (Brueggemann: p86). These verses repeat strong accusations against YHWH: “you have rejected; you have abased; you turned back; you made us; you scattered us; you sold your people; you made us; you made us. YHWH has acted as Israel’s enemy. Verses 15 and 16 are a reflection on the outome of YHWH’s savge action: disgrace; shame; taunt; revile; avenge.” (Brueggemann: pp86-87.) The ‘shame’, vocabulary in verses 13 to 16 is strong, and so are the images invoked: we are a byword among the nations; people shake their heads at us; my face is covered with shame.

The psalm forms a petition that YHWH will act. Brueggemann asserts that “the extended repetition of phrases in accusation and innocence [in the psalm as a whole] is in order that the sorry situation of Israel and the sorry failure of YHWH should be given full and in-depth coverage. The purpose of such reiteration is to make the petition all the more demanding. For the community that listened to the entire poem, the imperatives must have come as a surprise. For YHWH who hears the prayer, the verses that precede the petition put YHWH in a poature wherein YHWH musr, if YHWH cares at all, make a new saving initiative. The prayer, in its fullness, forces YHWH’s hand.” (Brueggemann: p88 – his emphasis.)

So, here in this psalm, we see evidence of the writer calling on God in a way that places an obligation on God to act. God’s honour is at stake, if nothing else. God’s reputation as a faithful God requires action if that reputation is not to be lost. Here in this psalm, God is the patron who has failed to meet up to his obligations in the covenant made between God and Israel. Israel believes she has been faithful, but God hass not been faithful. As a result Israel’s shame is God’s shame. God must act.

This is one response to a sense that God has failed to respond to petitions. It is an honest, open and truthful response. It expresses faithful trust, and the deep shame felt when that trust appears not to haavr been honoured. The final petition is trong and clear. God must act: “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us for ever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery snd oppression. We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.” (Psalm 44: 23-26).

References:

Walter Brueggemann; “Redescribing Reality: What We Do When We Read the Bible;” SCM, London, 2009.

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