Sheep for Slaughter
(9) Yet, you have rejected and humiliated us. You do not go out with our armies. (10) You cause us to retreat from our adversary, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. (11) You have given us as sheep for the slaughter and have scattered us among the nations. (12) You sell your people for almost nothing, not profiting from their selling price. (13) You make us a reproach to our neighbors, the mocking and derision of those around us. (14) You make us a byword among the nations, a wagging of the head among the peoples.
In the first verse of this segment, we encounter one of the most abrupt changes of mood to be found in the psalms. With one word, “yet,” we move from verses filled with triumphant faith to a segment crying out with the tragic lament of national disgrace (vs. 9).
Note the psalmist’s word choices: “rejected and humiliated” (vs. 9), “cause us to retreat” (vs. 10), “given us” and “scattered us” (vs. 11), “sell your people” (vs. 12), “make us a reproach” and “mocking and derision” (vs. 13), “a byword…a wagging of the head or laughingstock” (vs. 14). One repetition in particular stands out: “among the nations/peoples” (vss. 11 & 14). Note also the repetition of the second person singular in each of the verses. The psalmist has no hesitation to voice his complaints directly to God, seeking to understand why Yahweh would allow his covenant nation to be treated like his enemies.
God seems to stand against us
- when we are defeated by our enemies. (9 & 10)
- when we are dispersed among our enemies. (11 & 12)
- when we are disgraced before our enemies. (13 & 14)
When we fail to grasp why God seems to stand against us, we must cry out to him for understanding.
The Apostle Paul chose to use a phrase from today’s passage, “You have given us as sheep for the slaughter,” in his epistle to the Romans (Rom 8:36). Since this quotation occurs in the middle of one of the most uplifting chapters in the New Testament, we are forced to ask, “Why did Paul use this statement where he did?”
As is often the case, context helps us determine an answer. In Romans, Paul assures his readers that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). In the following two verses he uses “foreknew,” “predestined,” “called,” “justified,” and “glorified” to describe how God has manifested his grace to all who are his by faith in Christ (Rom. 8:29 & 30). He goes on to assure believers that if God gave his Son to redeem us, no one can be against us (Rom 8:31 & 32). Moreover, if anyone should dare to bring a charge against God’s elect or try to condemn us, we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, pleading for us at the Father’s right hand (Rom. 8:33 & 34).
However, Paul recognizes the harsh reality of what it means for committed believers to live in a fallen, sinful world under the control of demonic forces opposed to the lordship of Christ. In asking “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” he uses several words that describe what those living in a hostile environment might experience from time to time: “hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, sword” (Rom. 8:35). It is at this point that he quotes today’s psalm: “You have given us as sheep for the slaughter” (Ps. 44:11). Our sufferings may well result from the commitment we have made to follow a Savior who suffered, “leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
When we undergo times of undeserved affliction, we should cry out to God for the wisdom and insight he has promised to give us. Only then we can rest on his promises and trust in his purposes no matter what life in this fallen world may bring our way.