After a much needed holiday, internet free in the remote parts of the Norfolk Broads, I am back and taking up again, the poetic thread of my journey through the psalms. We come now to psalm 44, a psalm at once of despair and hope, and a challenging psalm for Christians to read. It speaks to our moments of despair because it describes the experience of feeling that God is ‘far off’ or even absent, and it laments the experience of defeat that we often endure in the world:
But now thou art far off, and puttest us to confusion: and goest not forth with our armies.
Thou makest us to turn our backs upon our enemies: so that they which hate us spoil our goods.
Thou lettest us be eaten up like sheep: and hast scattered us among the heathen.
And yet it also renews our hope for it invokes the very presence whose absence it laments:
Up, Lord, why sleepest thou: awake, and be not absent from us for ever.
But it is challenging because its context is battle and warfare, and we are rightly wary of invoking God to be partisan in our own bloody and sinful conflicts. One way for a Christian to read these battle psalms is to see them in the context not of our partial conflicts but of the ultimate struggle between good and evil whose front line runs through the centre of every human heart. In that ultimate and cosmic struggle Christ has already won the victory, and won it, not by bloody conquest, shedding the blood of others, but by shedding his own heart’s blood for all of us on the cross. The psalmist here complains that we have been ‘smitten into the place of dragons’ and ‘covered with the shadow of death’, but it is Christ who can really pray that line, for he entered death’s abode and fought with the devil, ‘that old dragon’ for all of us, and so my psalm ends with the passion and victory of Christ, which is, and always was, our only true hope.
As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.
The living fountain whence I drink my fill,
Must rise in me before I sing this psalm
How could it ever be God’s Holy will
To raise an army, to inflict the harm
The special horror of a holy war
How could we ever conquer in his name?
Oh Jesus, did you sing this psalm before
You girded strength to brave your agony,
To fight the only holy battle for
The world you loved, and heal the misery
Of all mankind? As for us you were smitten
Into the place of dragons, victory
Was won for all of us, as it is written
And so in Christ shall all be made alive
And still we live as if we have forgotten.
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8 responses to “Smitten Into the Place Of Dragons: A Response to Psalm 44”
I signed up to these mailings a while ago. Some speak to me, some don’t, but I’m sending it to you in case you enjoy poetry and In case another view might speak into you.
I have no agenda with anything I send you. Delete the lot if it’s not for you. It won’t worry me at all.
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An inspiring interpretation of a sombre psalm, Malcolm. Thank you. We often feature your poems on our website.
Thanks that’s good to know
Welcome back Malcolm. I missed you! So much that I was worried I had inadvertently disabled receiving your posts. This is a happy day; you help us “get over” such words of battle that are found in the Psalms and in the whole of the Old Testament here and there. You guide us into the arms of Christ.
Thanks Eleanor glad this one was helpful
Welcome back! So glad for your “messing about in boats” time and for your return.
Dear Malcolm, Firstly, thank you for your posts and your innovative style of worship – I very much appreciate all that you contribute to my spiritual life. Now, I have a question – I recently purchased ‘The Quarantine Quatrains’ which I have now read many times and continue to relate to. I thought of recommending this book to others but I realised mine says it is copy number 518 of 600 limited edition, so this begs the question whether or not it can still be purchased? I look forward to hearing from you. God bless David
I think there are still some left. There will be a notice on the website when they’re gone M