This is a psalm depicting the most depressed and almost hopeless state of the Church…
…and then contrasts that with the great history of God’s doings for his church and for his people. The Psalm then closes with a piercing heart cry for new mercy from God.
James Melville in his diary, at the year 1572, says: ‘Our Primarius (Principal of the University of St. Andrews), Mr. James Wilkie, a guid, peaceable, sweet auld man, caused sing commonly this year the 44th and 79th Psalms, which I learned by heart, for that was the year of the bloody massacres in France and great troubles in this country.’
John Knox died that same year, with firm faith in God, but with his spirit clouded by the dark signs of the time in Scotland as well as France; for Regent Murray had fallen by the shot of the assassin in the streets of Linlithgow, and the plots of the Guises against the Reformation were constant and far-reaching.
Verse 22. The words quoted by the Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, and enshrined in a triumphant hymn of victory,were sung by the noble Bohemians, who were executed in the midst of a terrible persecution of the Protestants by Ferdinand of Austria, in the Grosser Ring at Prague, June 21, 1621. Forty-seven were executed on two separate days, and among them were those men of the nation most distinguished for rank, learning,and piety. As the first passed on to their death, those still in prison sang to them;
‘Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long,
we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.’
They spent the night after in psalms, prayer, and mutual exhortation. Early in the morning they washed, put on their best apparel as if going to a marriage feast, and cut off the collars of their doublets, that, when they came to the scaffold,they might need no making ready.
When called forth, one by one, they went to their death with undaunted heart, and took leave of each other with the words:
‘Farewell, loving friends; God give you the comforts of His Spirit, patience and courage, that what you have confessed with your mouth you may confirm with your death.’
Ferdinand, persuaded by his counselors, Cardinals Clesel and Caraffa, had sworn to extirpate heresy. The Protestant churches were closed, the leaders and ministers executed or banished, and the Jesuits sent forth to work at the conversion of the people.
Pescheck, in his History of the Bohemian Church, gives short biographies of the sufferers in 1621. and the touching incidents in their life and death. It was the custom to have a sword, similar to that of the executioner, engraven with the names of the condemned and preserved as a record. One of these, which had been brought to Edinburgh among a collection of ancient Armour, was recognized lately by a Bohemian student to whom the graven names were household words, and was sent back with him to his native land, where freedom and gospel truth are slowly rising from the blood-stained soil.
To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, Maschil.
We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.
How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.
For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.
Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob.
Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.
For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.
But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.
In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever. Selah.
But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies.
Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves.
Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat; and hast scattered us among the heathen.
Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase thy wealth by their price.
Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us.
Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people.
My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me,
For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth; by reason of the enemy and avenger.
All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant.
Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way;
Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.
If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;
Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.
Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth.
Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies’ sake.
Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”
Edited for thought and sense.