Matthew 5:10-12 – Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
As I was reading through Psalms, I came across Psalm 44 and it seemed as if I was reading it for the first time. I understood that the psalmist was feeling dismay over the situation of Israel being scattered among the nations. This would normally be a context of asking for forgiveness for their unfaithfulness, and a plea for restoration.
Psalm 44:9-16 – But you have rejected and humiliated us; you do not march out with our armies. You make us retreat from the foe, and those who hate us have taken plunder for themselves. You hand us over to be eaten like sheep and scatter us among the nations. You sell your people for nothing; you make no profit from selling them. You make us an object of reproach to our neighbors, a source of mockery and ridicule to those around us. You make us a joke among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. My disgrace is before me all day long, and shame has covered my face, because of the taunts of the scorner and reviler, because of the enemy and avenger.
This would be understandable in the context of Israel’s national sin and constant turning to idols. God had forewarned them that if they did not keep to his commands and his covenant, that they would be sent throughout the nations and there suffer at the hands of foreign gods and other cultures. The psalmist may lament their condition, but it would be as a result of their own sin.
However, I was struck by the larger context of the psalm. In verses to follow, the psalmist recounts how they had not forsaken God, and yet were still suffering at the hands of their enemies.
Psalm 44:17-22 – All this has happened to us, but we have not forgotten you or betrayed your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back; our steps have not strayed from your path. But you have crushed us in a haunt of jackals and have covered us with deepest darkness. If we had forgotten the name of our God and spread out our hands to a foreign god, wouldn’t God have found this out, since he knows the secrets of the heart? Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
Then I recognized that last line as having been applied by the apostle Paul to their situation in the first century:
Romans 8:35-36 – Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
Paul was taking the entire context of this psalm and applying it to the condition of the believers in the mid-first century. They had not forsaken God; they had not betrayed God by worshiping other gods; they had not strayed from the path of righteousness, and yet they were still being hunted down as sheep to be slaughtered. They went without food, without clothes, and were in constant danger for their lives, and yet they were living lives of integrity and faithfulness!
Psalm 44:23-26 – Wake up, LORD! Why are you sleeping? Get up! Don’t reject us forever! Why do you hide and forget our affliction and oppression? For we have sunk down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up! Help us! Redeem us because of your faithful love.
This was the cry of that faithful generation. They longed for God to deliver them from their brutal affliction and the oppression they faced in the company of their own people who had turned against them because of their belief in Messiah. They were savagely treated and violently persecuted; yet, they maintained their hope in the faithful love of God!
Why would they do that? How could they do that? Paul provides an answer in the following verse:
Romans 8:37 – No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Paul knew that no matter what happened to them physically, they could endure because of love; God’s faithful, covenantal love for them which was expressed through the Messiah.
Romans 8:38-39 – For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.
That was all Paul needed: the love of God. That was the motivator that allowed them to continue to maintain their integrity in the face of the most intense hatred and persecution that God’s people have ever seen.
Even today, God’s redemptive love in calling his people to himself is so strong that nothing in creation can overcome it. It is a rock-solid destiny for all time.
1 Corinthians 13:6-8 – Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
This is where it plays out in real time. No matter how dire, unforgiving or treacherous the situation, God’s love never fails. When Paul says that “love never fails,” the word he used literally means that love never falls down because the strain is too great. This is the type of love that always endures. Always.
And Yeshua’s admonition is that the blessing of God and kingdom of God belong to those who are enabled to endure all because of, and for the sake of, this type of never-failing love.
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