Psalm 44: No guns

‘I do not rely on my bow, and my sword does not give victory (6)

In this song of the Korahites one finds moments of grief, fear, shame or anger caused by conflict of one sort or another. A first reading can suggest a flavour of violence; while Psalm 44 is thus omitted from the weekly lectionary readings, it should not be ignored. The poet argues for reliance on divine truth and protection rather than the sword.

The psalmist first draws strength from divine guidance and support in the story of Exodus. The conquering of the promised lands is not attributed to armed force. In a precursor to Jesus’ command to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane to put down his sword, so here:

I do not rely on my bow, and my sword does not give me the victory; surely you gave us victory (vs. 6, 7)

The psalmist is aware that God searches our hearts (v. 21; both this verse and the next are quoted by Paul in Romans 8). The remainder of the song is a lament at some grievous reverses. Despite humiliation:

yet we have not forgotten you nor strayed from your covenant. Our heart never turned back (vs. 17, 18)

Settings are few in the ether but Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) used verses 5 to 9 for an attractive composition for solo bass and choir. Verses 6 and 7 quoted above are also used as the refrain in The Emergent Psalter.

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