In Psalm 44, the psalmist seems to be mourning over the present conditions they are facing in Babylon.

You handed us over like sheep to be eaten; you scattered us among the nations. (Psalms‬ ‭44:11‬ ‭NET)

All this has happened to us, even though we have not rejected you or violated your covenant with us. (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭44:17‬ ‭NET‬‬)

This seems to contradict other books in which the reason Israel is given over is due to disobedience to the covenant.

This is what the Lord says: “Where is your mother’s divorce certificate by which I divorced her? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Look, you were sold because of your sins; because of your rebellious acts I divorced your mother.” (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭50:1‬ ‭NET‬‬)

The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭24:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Can someone offer an explanation?

2 Answers 2


The context of the Psalm does not need to be Babylonian. Commentators ascribe a wide range of possible moments for its composition, from the days when the First Temple still stood, to the Exile, to the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century when the Jews were temporarily defeated by the forces of Antiochus IV (as per John Calvin and others).

The most likely pre-exilic setting for the Psalm would be during the reign of Hezekiah, one of the "good kings." He barely staved off conquest by Sennacherib of Assyria, whose armies successfully attacked every major city of Judah except Jerusalem.

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.” The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace. (2 Kings 19:13-15)

This was a truly desperate situation. Even though Hezekiah had done some wrong, the Covenant had not been broken. Earlier, Assyria had conquered the northern tribes and forced many of them into exile. According to his annals, Sennacherib took 46 fortified cities of Judah and small cities beyond number. He also reports "leading off" an enormous number of prisoners:

As for Hezekiah, the Judean, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46 of his fortified cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity …. I led off 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horse, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and counted them as booty.

Thus, although the phrase "you scattered us among the nations" was applied to other situations where the Covenant had indeed be broken, it might have been used here to describe 200,000 Judeans who were "led off" by Sennacherib after the northern tribes had already been scattered. If so, the psalmist was right to say that this had happened even though the Covenant was still intact.

But if the context is indeed Babylonian, then the OP question is apt. The psalms were not written by just two or three people, and it logically possible that a few of the psalms do not reflect the traditional idea that the Exile was a just punishment for the Judeans breaking their Covenant with God. After all, the Bible includes the Book of Job. In that scripture the Lord declares that Job "is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." Yet God removes his protection from Job, and Job suffers terribly as a result. Job dares to ask:

How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. Why do You hide your face and consider me your enemy? Will You torment a windblown leaf? (13:23-25)

If the blameless Job could utter those words, perhaps the author of Psalm 44 did likewise.

In the end we are left with two possibilities: either Psalm 44 actually refers to a situation where large numbers of Judeans where captured and led off, or it is a Job-like questioning of what the author thinks is an unjust punishment. For those who find the latter option unacceptable, the explanation that it refers to the time of Hezekiah is a sensible alternative.

APPENDIX From Calvin's Commentaries Vol. 9:

It is uncertain who was the author of this psalm; but it is clearly manifest that it was composed rather by any other person than by David. The complaints and lamentations which it contains may be appropriately referred to that miserable and calamitous period in which the outrageous tyranny of Antiochus destroyed and wasted every thing. [prior to the Maccabean Revolt] Some, indeed, may be disposed to apply it more generally; for after the return of the Jews from the captivity of Babylon, they were scarcely ever free from severe afflictions. Such a view, doubtless, would not be applicable to the time of David, under whose reign the Church [meaning the people of God] enjoyed prosperity. It may be, too, that during the time of their captivity in Babylon, some one of the prophets composed this complaint in name of all the people.


Verses 1-16 seem to have historical background. From verse 17 on, the psalm as a prophecy seem to have eschatological meaning and in my opinion should be read messianically. As a matter of fact, Paul interprets verse 22 messianically when he quotes it in Romans 8. Qumah (ק֭וּמָֽה) "arise" of verse 26 (anasta in Greek Septuagint G450) speaks prophetically about Jesus' resurrection. And not only here, but in other psalms and books of the OT too.

Being a true disciple of Jesus brings a high risk of prosecution and even martyrdom. It was true back in the time of the early church. And in many places it is still true today.

Jesus has scattered His disciples among the nations:

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Matthew 28

And they have been like sheep among the wolves:

16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18 And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. Matthew 10

9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. Revelation 6

The old covenant people usually suffered because they were disobedient. The new covenant people have suffered because they have been obedient.

As Dan Fefferman rightly pointed out, the Maccabean Revolt and the time leading to it may also be a partial fulfilment of this psalm.

  • That's interesting but how does it explain the OP's question? What is the eschatological or messianic significance of "You handed us over like sheep to be eaten; you scattered us among the nations.... All this has happened to us, even though we have not rejected you or violated your covenant with us." (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭44:17‬ ‭NET‬‬) Sep 11, 2022 at 21:50
  • I have expanded my answer to address your question. Sep 12, 2022 at 21:47

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