Psalm 44 and Identity: The Human Response to Perceived Divine Rejection
Jerome Skinner, Ph.D.
Andrews University SDA Theological Seminary
Principle Themes: Identity; covenant; anxiety; memory
The concept of anxiety is not foreign to the Psalter. At its core, Psalm 44 expresses human vulnerability, instability, and incognizance. It expresses not only the limits of human cognition that can lead to the aforementioned issues but also their resident estrangement in relation to divine sovereignty. The movement from memory to victory to devastation coalesces around the query of divine forgetfulness or, rather, the human perception of the bounds of God’s covenant promises.
Peter Craigie has astutely noted the shifts between the first-person singular “I,” and the first-person plural “Us.” His observation assumes that these shifts represent a change in speakers. However, the shifts can also represent a shift between the impact on Israel’s corporate identity (Us, including the psalmist) and the impact on the psalmist as representative (I). The human disposition of anxiety is brought to the fore as the psalmist wrestles with the justice of God in the context of His covenantal sovereignty over the individual and community. This apprehension of the viability of the trustworthiness of the covenant is evoked in the inner dialogue of the psalmist. The psalmist’s anxiety wrestles with whether God is for him/them or against him/them.
In its broader context, Psalm 44 is found in the larger grouping of the “Sons of Korah,” which deal with anxiety in a complex manner. Psalms 42-43 deal with the internal anxieties of hopelessness and the search for the presence of God. Psalm 46 expresses the instability of nature and the nations, where the faithful are called to “Be still,” before God. This appeal is a veritable expression of dealing with the anxiety that stems from a sense of instability. Psalms 47 and 48 seem to answer the question of anxiety raised in Psalm 44. Psalm 49 concludes this grouping by dealing with a constant source of humanity’s anxiety, and times of trouble. The psalmist’s question, “Why should I fear…?” (v. 6a MT) begins a series of reflections on the sources and activities that create anxiety in the human experience and ultimately address what it means to be human in light of the reality of God.