The theme of despair continues in this chapter – this time describing the mode of suffering prevalent in the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ.
The first eight verses describe the works of God in the lives of the forefathers of the Israelites (v.1), although those seem to have been in the days “of old” (v.1). Indeed, these sons of Korah refer to God’s own hand driving out the nations, afflicting the enemies, but it is the forefathers whom the LORD planted and set free (v.2). This is of course primarily a reference to the great event of the LORD setting people free – the Exodus, the theme of the second Book of the Psalms. For it is not by the swords of the Israelites did they win Canaan – if anything, it is by His own right arm, His own right hand, that the Church was saved (v.3); the same Arm who empowered Moses (Isaiah 63:12); the Right Hand of power (Exodus 15:6, 12; Matthew 26:64) and righteousness (Isaiah 41:13), who helped the Father spread out the heavens (Isaiah 48:13), the Hand who can bring shame (Habbakuk 2:16) and glory (Matthew 20:21-23, 22:44, 26:64). This Right Arm and Hand is the Christ, and the Father achieved these victories by Him who relied on the Father and the Spirit – so also the forefathers of these sons of Korah relied on the Angel to lead them through the wilderness and to the Promised Land.
It is also the order of the King (and not that of David or Solomon or any righteous king, for the true king is the LORD (v.4)) to ordain salvation for Jacob, the first immediate father of the nation Israel (v.4) – for it is through this King of kings that the Israelites can even push down their foes and rise up against those who tread them down (v.5). It is in the Father’s Right Hand and Arm they trust, not their bow nor their sword (v.6). Such was the boasting the Israelites had in the LORD – in the days of old. Thus these first eight verses end with an appropriate “Selah” to mark the moment of recollection.
Whereas, now, the sons of Korah write that the LORD has presently rejected Israel and disgraced them, making them like sheep for slaughter, selling the nation for a trifle (v.9-12); making the Promised nation the taunt of its neighbours (v.13), a byword among the nations (v.14). The sons write that Israel has not, however, forgotten the LORD – and that they have not been false to the LORD’s covenant (v.17), which breaks the assumption that Israel’s punishment was somehow caused by their own sin. No – that is not the purpose of their expression in this chapter. The purpose is to show that even if the hearts of the Israelites are not adorned on the idols (v.18, 20), even if they cling onto the LORD, for His sake they will continue to be killed all the day long, regarded as sheep to be slaughtered (v.22). Is this not so different to understanding Christian suffering today (Philippians 1:29)? Can we not also sing the same song of Korah in this chapter, that there was once a time of the LORD’s protection and victory (i.e. the period of the synoptic gospels and the book of Acts), and now a season of suffering despite our attempts to honour the covenant and relationship with Him (1 Thessalonians 3:4; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1 Peter 3:14, 3:17)?
The sons assume that this suffering is, however, caused by a sleeping God (v. 23) – that He is rejecting Israel because He has opted to sleep than to intervene. And the sons therefore plead for His steadfast love to overcome the Israelites’ affliction, to return Israel to its former glory. Yet – just as Psalm 43 is a more hopeful turn to Psalm 42, so also in the next chapter we see the culmination of such suffering in a glorious wedding and union of love between Bride and Groom, that of Church and Christ. The sons of Korah are not blind – yet they are but building up the momentum towards the real reason of suffering – that Christ should die for us (Isaiah 53) as a lamb led to the slaughter, just as the Israelites have been led to the slaughter as sheep (verses 11 and 22). There is simply no reason, nor justification, and certainly not because the Father was sleeping; rather, it is because through the suffering of the church and of the Christ that the Father’s glory and light may shine ever brightly on all (John 9:3). Is not this love union and His glory most bright on the cross – the pinnacle of the work of the Son, who suffered so that we may not suffer? Who took the blame so that we may not be blamed? Who forsook His beauty and righteous robe that we may become beautiful and exchanging His garb with our rags of shame and sin?
So we call for help – not from a sleeping God, but from a God of salvation who would have us suffer not because of what we deserve, but because of the sufferings of the Son.