Sheep for Slaughter
(20) If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, (21) would God not search this out, for he knows the secrets of the heart? (22) Yet, for your sake we are killed all day long. We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. (23) Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Arise! Do not reject us forever. (24) Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression, (25) for our soul has sunk down to the dust? Our body clings to the earth. (26) Rise up and help us! Ransom us for the sake of your steadfast love.
Four rhetorical questions anchor the message of this segment. With the first (vss. 20 & 21), the psalmist reiterates the point he previously made (vss. 15-19), that Israel has done nothing to warrant the kind of treatment they were receiving at the hands of their enemies (vs. 22).
With his next three rhetorical questions, all introduced by the interrogative, “Why”(vss. 23 & 24), the psalmist urgently calls on the Lord to arouse himself and come to the rescue of his covenant people in their desperate state. Note also that verse 22 reiterates a simile found earlier (vs. 11): “You have given us as sheep for the slaughter.” Paul cited this verse in his chapter on the triumphant love of Christ (Rom. 8:36).
I. Our plight: enemies slaughter us although we have not forgotten God. (20-22)
II. Our plea: arise and ransom us for your love’s sake. (23-26)
Because God knows we have remained faithful to him, we cry out to him for deliverance in our desperate need.
In 1981, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, in response to the death of his son from an incurable disease, published a widely read book entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. In this volume he addressed the age-old question, “Why do good people suffer?” He arrived at an understandable but sadly erroneous conclusion: either God is all-powerful but not all-loving or he is all-loving but not all-powerful. Neither response reflects what the Bible reveals to us about this difficult dilemma.
Paul at the end of Romans 8 wrote of a God who is both all-powerful and all-loving but who, at the same time, allows those whom he loves to endure suffering for his own gracious purposes (Rom. 8:28-39). Paul chose to quote Psalm 44:22 in the middle of this great treatise on the unfailing love of Christ (Rom. 8:36). In doing so, he acknowledged that the suffering of the righteous is a perplexing problem that has been with us ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. The author of Psalm 44 wrestled with this issue in the last segment of his psalm, never attempting to give us a definitive answer to the problem, but instead crying out to God to “ransom us for the sake of your steadfast love” (Ps. 44:26).
Peter offers another perspective on this thorny issue (1 Pet. 2:18-25). If our Savior had to suffer and die in order to accomplish our salvation, we should be willing to suffer for his sake. We can do this knowing that God is accomplishing through our sufferings great benefits which we may not be able to comprehend at present but which we someday will come to appreciate. In view of this, we should reconsider what Paul wrote in Romans 8: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:35-37).
We who belong to Christ are destined to suffer because we live in a fallen world ruled by God’s enemy, the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). While we may never fully understand why we undergo such afflictions, we can know that God has promised to keep us safe through whatever we may have to endure. His love will sustain us and will never let us go. We can rest in the same confidence that upheld Paul as expressed in the conclusion of Romans 8: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38 & 39).