A Hymn of the Oppressed—Throwback Thursday

Scripture Focus: Psalm 44.23-26
      23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? 
         Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. 
      24 Why do you hide your face 
         and forget our misery and oppression? 

      25 We are brought down to the dust; 
         our bodies cling to the ground. 
      26 Rise up and help us; 
         rescue us because of your unfailing love. 

Reflection: A Hymn of the Oppressed—Throwback Thursday
By John Tillman

When the founding documents of the United States were written, the chief form of religious persecution with which the founding fathers were concerned was not an encroachment of Islam, or secularism, or Marxism. They had in front of mind religious persecution of Christians by Christians.

Despite his popularity as a hymnist, Isaac Watts was a nonconformist who suffered persecution by the Church of England. Like other nonconformists, he suffered exclusion from the best universities and from many employment opportunities, both secular and religious. Watts’s poetic rewrite of Psalm 44 reveals hints of the kinds of persecution he patiently endured.

Psalm 44, Isaac Watts.

Lord, we have heard thy works of old,
  Thy works of power and grace,
When to our ears our fathers told
  The wonders of their days.

How thou didst build thy churches here,
  And make thy gospel known;
Amongst them did thine arm appear,
  Thy light and glory shone.

In God they boasted all the day,
  And in a cheerful throng
Did thousands meet to praise and pray,
  And grace was all their song.

But now our souls are seized with shame,
  Confusion fills our face,
To hear the enemy blaspheme,
  And fools reproach thy grace.

Yet have we not forgot our God,
  Nor falsely dealt with heav’n,
Nor have our steps declined the road
  Of duty thou hast giv’n;

Though dragons all around us roar
  With their destructive breath,
And thine own hand has bruised us sore
  Hard by the gates of death.


We are exposed all day to die
  As martyrs for thy cause,
As sheep for slaughter bound we lie
  By sharp and bloody laws.

Awake, arise, Almighty Lord,
  Why sleeps thy wonted grace?
Why should we look like men abhorred
  Or banished from thy face?

Wilt thou for ever cast us off,
  And still neglect our cries?
For ever hide thine heav’nly love
  From our afflicted eyes?

Down to the dust our soul is bowed,
  And dies upon the ground;
Rise for our help, rebuke the proud,
  And all their powers confound.

Redeem us from perpetual shame,
  Our Savior and our God;
We plead the honors of thy name,
  The merits of thy blood.

When we read of persecution, either in the scriptures or in history, we tend to think we ought to learn to be like the heroic victims. This is a worthy goal. However, history might be very different if rather than idolizing the martyrs, we could study how not to become the oppressors.

*Poem from The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament:

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My mouth shall recount your mighty acts and saving deeds ll day long; though I cannot know the number of them. — Psalm 71.5– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 6  (Listen – 2:49)
Psalm 44 (Listen – 2:44)

Read more about What Is Persecution?
It is a sign of great uncharitableness and cruelty, when men can find in their hearts to persecute others for little things — Richard Baxter

Read more about Complete Our Joy — Guided Prayer
Joy permeated the church despite the pervasiveness of persecution and the pressures of the surrounding culture.

A Generational Lament

Psalm 44.25-26
We are brought down to the dust;
   our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
   rescue us because of your unfailing love.

Reflection: A Generational Lament
By John Tillman

Psalm 44, attributed to the Sons of Korah, seems to be written by a generation who knows the tales of the miracles of God but hasn’t experienced them. The bright and inspiring victories of the previous generation have faded into stories. In their world there is no prosperity. In their world there is little security. In their world they experience only danger and disappointment.

Young Christians today can identify with the crisis of faith portrayed in this pleading psalm. For many Millennials and those in Gen Z, prior generations of prosperity and ease have melted into a constant fear of scarcity. They are threatened by things no one wants to address. They experience dangers that they didn’t create which threaten their lives and livelihoods.

Mike Rutherford and B.A. Robertson wrote poignantly in 1989 that, “Every generation blames the one before,” but then as now, blame is hurled at every generation by every generation. Old and young scoff at each other’s sufferings, separating into camps of division and bias.

Instead of dividing, Christians can choose to unite in lament for our various sufferings. Those who take their complaints to the Lord in faith will not be turned away or scoffed at by our God. God accepts the prayer of the despairing and the cries of the frustrated and broken more quickly than the prayers of the proud and the self-assured requests of those who think themselves worthy.

Prayers of lament and complaint are a healthy and fulfilling spiritual practice that can be entered into by individuals and communities. Lament is more than complaining. It is an act of faith undertaken in the belief that God will hear and God will act.

We can see the fruit of faithful, complaining prayer in the other psalms of the Sons of Korah. Later in Psalm 48, the Sons of Korah will proclaim that they have both heard and seen good things from the Lord:

As we have heard,
   so we have seen
in the city of the Lord Almighty,
   in the city of our God:
God makes her secure
Within your temple, O God,
   we meditate on your unfailing love…
For this God is our God for ever and ever;
   he will be our guide even to the end.
 — Psalm 48.8-9, 14

Lamenting together for our sufferings lifts us into the presence of God and acknowledges that those we share this world with matter to God and to us.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble. — Psalm 55.24

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 8 (Listen – 3:27) 
Psalm 44 (Listen – 2:44)

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Read more about Lamenting Materialism :: A Guided Prayer
We confess that we equate security and safety with the accumulation of wealth. We store up for many years and say to ourselves, “I am secure.”

Read more about Lamenting Our Detestable Things
Just as ancients made idols from their environment—the sun in the sky, a stone from the ground, a tree from the forest—we make idols from our environment. Ours are less likely to be made of durable goods.