23 Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
our belly clings to the ground.
26 Rise up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 44:23–26). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Prayer for Deliverance (44:23–26)
The questions of faith usually do not receive an answer. The reason for and purpose of suffering for the people of God find no resolution in this psalm. There is neither despondency nor evidence of anger with God. The voice of collective and individual lament expresses the difficulty of suffering without cause. The mood of confidence in the Lord has been set by the two beginning strophes. It is faith that looks up to God for his deliverance.
23 The questions of faith express the conviction that a chasm exists between the promises of God and reality. It is out of deeply felt need and, to some extent, out of wonder that the people of God ask, “Why do you sleep?” It is not that they believe that their God is asleep (cf. 121:4); rather, it emphasizes their need of his immediate attention to their plight. They plead with him to “awake,” i.e., rouse himself up as the Divine Warrior (cf. 7:6).
24–26 The present adversity has created darkness, for “the light of [God’s] face,” which their forefathers had experienced (v. 3), is hidden (cf. 13:1; 22:24; 88:14). They ask how God can ignore them and fail to see their “misery and oppression.” In dependency on God’s favor, they prostrate themselves to the ground (v. 25). They do not have the power to rise up, but in prayer they implore their covenantal God to rise up on behalf of them. The petition begins and ends with two imperatives: “Awake …! Rouse yourself!” (v. 23); “rise up and help us; redeem us” (v. 26; cf. 94:1–2).
Redemption pertains to the welfare of God’s people in body and soul. The people come to Yahweh and petition him to look again at their low estate (v. 25; cf. 119:25). In the conclusion of their prayer, they submit themselves to the love of God. He covenanted himself to the people and promised them his “unfailing love” (ḥesed, v. 26; cf. 6:4; Ex 34:6–7; Mic 7:18, 20). This is also Paul’s response to suffering, when he affirms that no adversity can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Ro 8:36–39).
44:23–26 / The closing and the shortest section contains the only petitions. Perhaps because Yahweh seems unaware of the people’s continued allegiance to him, the first petition is Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? This marks a curious twist in the psalm’s depiction of God’s activity. To this point Yahweh has actively opposed his people; here he is negligent. The reason for this can probably be traced to an implicit shift in the role attributed to God. In verses 1–16, he is the divine warrior on the battlefield and the selling shepherd in the marketplace, but from verse 17 onwards he is the divine judge overseeing the covenant relationship (see esp. 50:5–6). As judge, he is to rouse himself to the facts of their case, and so rise up and help us.
Supporting these petitions are laments. The first questions why Yahweh has done what a covenant judge should not do to a loyal partner, that is, estrange himself and disregard their plight (v. 24). The second emphasizes that the people’s situation is desperate (we are brought down to the dust) and that only a divine judge can remedy it (“rise up and help us”). The final petition may echo the earlier image of the shepherd selling his sheep. Redeem means literally “buy back,” that is, “your people” whom “you sold … for a pittance” (v. 12).
What is perhaps most remarkable about this psalm is that it is part of Scripture at all. Included within this sacred collection that reveals God is this public liturgy that expresses utter disappointment in God. And no editorial comments are appended to make clear that God eventually came through for his people. As it stands it is left unanswered. If we take this canonical shaping seriously, we have here a testimony that such disappointment in God may occur for believers; nonetheless, this does not invalidate other testimonies of the saving God. Both of these experiences have their legitimate place in the life of faith. If we encounter an inexplicable loss in our lives, we are not guaranteed an explanation from God. If one is not forthcoming, this should not catapult us into doubting all other testimonies of God’s salvation that we have heard and made ourselves.
We may be offended at the direct way Psalm 44 accuses God, especially of betrayal. But in fact, this psalm shows us a response to disappointment with God that is better than what we tend to make. When we encounter tragedy, we sometimes in our heart of hearts blame God. We may not even admit this to ourselves, let alone to God, since our piety tells us that fault must lie elsewhere, especially with ourselves. So our response to disappointment with God is to withdraw. But this psalm presents the way of direct confrontation. It displays a higher view of God’s integrity and does not fear embarrassing God. It acknowledges that he alone can solve the dilemma—especially since he may be its cause. It also displays a higher view of personal integrity. The whole, integrated person, even with one’s embittered feelings, addresses God, not just the acceptable, pious parts of human personality.
44:23–26 The Psalm reaches a peak of bold urgency in verse 23, when the Lord is roused from His apparent slumber and asked to intervene for His people. It is more than the psalmist can understand—how God can hide His face in neglect and indifference while His people lie prostrate in the dust. And so he sounds reveille once again:
Arise for our help,
And redeem us for Your mercies’ sake.
23–26 The God of the future: a cry for help. All unite in an urgent cry for help. They pray against apparent divine idleness and forgetfulness (23–24); they plead the extremity of their need and call for action because they know that his love remains unchanged (25–26). 23 The boldness of prayer. 25 We are so personally precious to the Lord that we can come pleading our need. 26Redeem, ‘pay the price’, i.e. provide out of your own resources whatever is required to meet our need. Unfailing love, love centred in the will, the love to which the Lord has obligated himself.
44:23–26 Israel’s God does not sleep (121:3, 4; Is. 40:28). The cry to awake is an appeal for God to act on behalf of His people. The cry is based on the people’s faith that the Lord will forgive. redeem us: In v. 12, the people suggested that God had sold them; here they ask Him to redeem them—to buy them back for Himself.
The prayer for victory (44:23–26)
44:23–26. The nation asked God for help (rouse Yourself!) for she saw no reason why He should ignore her misery. Moreover, the nation felt that God must rescue her (rise up and help us) because she was at her lowest (brought down to the dust; i.e., about to die). Though the nation was seemingly rejected by God and had apparently lost a battle (even though she had been faithful), she wholeheartedly trusted in the Lord to redeem (cf. comments on 26:11) her. This is the proper age-old response of the genuine believer to suffering (cf. Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him”).
 VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 394–395). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hubbard, R. L. J., & Johnston, R. K. (2012). Foreword. In W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston (Eds.), Psalms (pp. 204–205). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 618). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 514). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (pp. 677–678). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 827). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.