Monday: Martin Luther’s Psalm

By James Boice

Theme: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

In this week’s lessons on Psalm 46, on which Luther’s great hymn is based, we are reminded that our complete confidence and trust rests in the Lord, who promises to be with his people forever.

Scripture: Psalm 46:1-11

Almost everyone associates Martin Luther with the book of Romans, particularly Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith” (KJV). However, we forget that Luther was converted not only by his study of Romans, but also by his study of the Psalms. Luther taught the Psalms for years and loved them very much. His favorite was Psalm 46. It is said of Luther that there were times during the dark and dangerous periods of the Reformation when he was terribly discouraged and depressed. But at such times he would turn to his friend and co-worker Philip Melanchthon and say, “Come, Philip, let’s sing the forty-sixth Psalm.” Then they would sing it in Luther’s own strong version:

A sure stronghold our God is He,
A timely shield and weapon;
Our help he’ll be and set us free
From every ill can happen.
We know it as, “A mighty fortress is our God.”

Luther said, “We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh and sin.”1

A great Lutheran scholar, H. C. Leupold, wrote, “Few psalms breathe the spirit of sturdy confidence in the Lord in the midst of very real dangers as strongly as does this one.”2

No part of Luther’s hymn is as close to Psalm 46 as the first stanza, which calls God “a mighty fortress” and “a bulwark” in trouble. In the Hebrew text, as in Luther’s hymn, the emphasis is on God himself, the point being that God alone is our refuge, he and no other. Nothing in the universe can be a comparable refuge.

Some people think they will be secure if only they have enough money. So they lay it up in bank accounts, stocks and other tangible assets. Like the rich man of Jesus’ parable they say, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Jesus called a person who does that a fool, since in the end death comes and he or she must stand before God at his final judgment. Money cannot protect us from judgment. It cannot even shield us against heartbreak, failure, sin, disease or disaster in this world.

Other people think they will be secure because of their specialized training, skills or personal talents. But even the best educated and highly skilled persons suffer sudden reversals of fortune.

Still others expect security from their families, friends or business connections. But these are all only human supports. They are uncertain at best, and at times they are suddenly swept away. The Reformers knew how unstable and uncertain these things could be. They knew that God is unshakable and trustworthy:

Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also: The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.

Study Questions:

  1. Read Psalm 46 and compare it to Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Write down how Luther made use of the psalm in his hymn.
  2. What things do people seek refuge in apart from God? In what ways are these substitute refuges shown to be foolish?

Application: How has God been a fortress and refuge for you? Praise him for how he demonstrates the truth of this psalm in your life.

For Further Study: The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering James Boice’s complete study of the Psalms for 25% off the regular price. Order yours today.

1The story and quotation are from C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 344.
2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 363.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Friday: A Messianic Wedding Song

By James Boice

Theme: “Yes, I Am Coming Soon”

In these lessons we have a description of a royal wedding, but which goes beyond that to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Messiah and Bridegroom.

Scripture: Psalm 45:1-17

In verse 16 the pronouns “you” and “your” are masculine, which means that at this point the writer turns his attention back to the king, offering a kind of benediction or blessing on the marriage: “Your sons will take the place of your fathers” and “you will make them princes throughout the land.” If we think of this in terms of the Messiah, it must refer to the “many sons” who will be brought into glory as a result of his fruitful union (Heb. 2:10, 13). As for the poet himself, “I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever,” he says (v. 17).

This leads us to wonder: Are we doing as the psalmist did? Do we praise him who has purchased us to himself to be his bride? Are we working to see that the nations come to honor him as well?

Even more, are we waiting for his coming, as the bride of this psalm was? Jesus came a first time to join us to himself in a spiritual betrothal. He will come a second time to take us to himself forever. Are you ready for that coming? Are you looking forward to it? The Bible describes Christians as having “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:9, 10). If you are you waiting for him, you will purify yourself in preparation for his coming (1 John 3:3). Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2, 3). Are you looking for that return? Revelation 1:7 says, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” Then, at the very end of the same book, we read, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.” The church rightly replies, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). So let it be. Amen.

Study Questions:

  1. What does verse 16 mean as it relates to Jesus Christ?
  2. Following on this theme of the many sons brought to glory, explain how the theological ideas of adoption and redemption are connected to the work of Christ for us.

Key Point: This leads us to wonder: Are we doing as the psalmist did? Do we praise him who has purchased us to himself to be his bride? Are we working to see that the nations come to honor him as well?

Application: Are you looking forward to Christ’s coming, and does your life reflect that anticipation?

For Further Study: If you would like James Boice’s study on the Psalms for your own personal library, order the three-volume set today and receive 25% off.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Thursday: A Messianic Wedding Song

By James Boice

Theme: Comfort for the King’s Bride

In these lessons we have a description of a royal wedding, but which goes beyond that to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Messiah and Bridegroom.

Scripture: Psalm 45:1-17

While the groom has been on his way to the bride’s home with his attendants, the bride has been waiting in joyful expectancy, but also with just a touch of anxiety since the arrival of the groom will mean leaving her family and ancestral home forever. Therefore, in what is surely one of this psalm’s most engaging touches, the writer turns to the bride in a fatherly manner to reassure her that the future is right. There are three parts to his counsel (verses 10-12).

Forget the past. The writer’s first words of counsel to the bride remind us immediately of God’s call to Abraham to “leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). But this is the same thing Christians are called upon to do. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), and “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Even allowing for a certain amount of Semitic hyperbole in the last statement, the point is still clear that no human relationships must hold us back from a wholehearted following after Jesus, if we would be his.

Speaking of marriage, the Bible says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife” (Gen. 2:24). If we would be Christ’s bride, we must leave all other loyalties behind. Do you hear this counsel yourself? Can you follow it? Here is the way Walter Chantry makes the application: “It is painful to leave behind mother and father, son and daughter, we are attached to the beauties and friendships of this world. Forget them all! The King will more than make up for all. Some day you will look back upon the parting with temporal things and think your hesitation silly and ill-founded. When you sit in the ivory palace, arrayed in the gold of Ophir, at the right hand of the eternal King, you will wonder what you saw in those former things. You will never regret it. Carry through with your discerning choice. The King must be your one and only love henceforth.”6

Honor (obey) your lord. The second word of counsel from the writer to the bride is to “honor your lord.” The word “honor” here literally means to “bow down.” This is a far cry from the popular and generally immoral love stories that so frequently fill people’s heads today. This is a holy relationship in which the sublime love of the bridegroom for the bride and the humble reverence of the bride for the groom are both beautifully maintained (cf. Eph. 5:22-33).

Chantry writes, “If a marriage union is to endure, the husband must express his love to his wife by tenderly cherishing her as part of his own body, by considerateness, by sharing all the goodness of God in his life with her. She in turn must express love by holding her husband in high esteem and by submitting to him in all things. Thus the church must bow down to Christ both because he is her Lord and Sovereign and because he is her Lord and Husband. Since the bride loves her Lord, it is a pleasant thing to serve his interests. She desires to bring Christ honor, to fulfil his will, to worship his name.”7

Look ahead. The last words of advice this wise counselor has for the bride is to look to what the future holds for her as the bride of this great king, knowing that her choice of him was the right choice to have made. The writer sees three things in her future: first, the love of her king (v. 11); second, the honor that will be given her because of her relationship to him (v. 12); and third, the “joy and gladness” that will be hers with him forever.

Then, having advised her to look ahead, the poet himself looks ahead by returning to his description of the wedding procession. In these verses (vv. 13-15) he describes the bride being led out to the king and then accompanying him, together with their many attendants, back to the king’s palace where they enter with rejoicing.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the first piece of counsel the psalmist gives to the bride? What does it mean in the context of her wedding?
  2. How does the bride show honor to the bridegroom, and what are the results?

Reflection: How does each part of the psalmist’s counsel apply to the Christian life?

Application: In what ways do you need to improve on any of this counsel?

6Walter J. Chantry, Praises for the King of Kings (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), pp. 100, 101.
7Ibid., p. 104.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Wednesday: A Messianic Wedding Song

By James Boice

Theme: The King’s Victory and Wedding

In these lessons we have a description of a royal wedding, but which goes beyond that to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Messiah and Bridegroom.

Scripture: Psalm 45:1-17

The King’s military victories. Though expressed in graphic battle language, we must remember that the victories of Jesus during his lifetime and in this present age are not military conquests but victories won on behalf of “truth, humility and righteousness” (v. 4). This was the way Jesus triumphed during his earthly ministry. From a purely physical point of view Jesus’ enemies were victorious, since they succeeded in having him condemned and executed. But in terms of truth, humility and righteousness, Jesus won, since he upheld these characteristics in his person and conduct, even when he was being unjustly treated. This is the truth captured in the hymn “Ride on, Ride on in Majesty,” based on verse 4.

Christians must remember that their victories are to come in the same way, not by force or coercion. Whenever the church has succumbed to the use of force as a way of asserting Christian truth or values, as it did in the Middle Ages, it has lost the spiritual battle and has become like the world, adopting the very evils it is opposing.

To put it in other terms, the only sword we are to use is the sword of Jesus, which is the truth of the “word of God,” the Bible (Eph. 6:17).

The King’s wedding. The final verses of this section (vv. 8, 9) turn from the personal qualities and military victories of King Jesus to the wedding, which is the occasion for the psalm. Jesus is dressed in robes “fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia” and has come from “palaces adorned with ivory” (v. 8). This verse inspired the hymn “Out of the Ivory Palaces,” which describes Jesus entering this “world of woe” out of love for his espoused bride. The marriage, this long-anticipated event, is amplified in the New Testament as the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Verse 6 is an extraordinary verse that calls for special comment. It is extraordinary because it addresses the bridegroom of this wedding ode as God: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.” Then, in a manner which is puzzling to some, the next verse speaks of the groom as a man once again, saying, “Therefore, God, your God, has set you above your companions.” Naturally, there have been many attempts to side-step what is being said. For example, some take the word “God” as meaning “divine” and translate the phrase as “your divine throne.” Others say things like “Your throne is like God’s throne, eternal” and “Your throne is God’s forever and ever.” Thus, the Revised Standard Version has “your divine throne,” the New English Bible has “your throne is like God’s throne,” and other versions likewise try to avoid the clear meaning of the text.

It needs to be noted, however, that the ancient versions all support the Hebrew and that the New Testament takes this meaning as well when it applies verses 6 and 7 to Jesus in Hebrews 1:8, 9. As for these two verses, their words are incomprehensible unless they are understood to refer to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Only he can be called God and at the same time have the Father as his God.

Did the writer of this psalm understand what he was saying? It is hard to know how much the Old Testament writers understood the truths the Holy Spirit led them to put down. But J. J. Stewart Perowne is probably right when he concludes “that in the use of such language the psalmist was carried beyond himself, and that he was led to employ it by a twofold conviction in his mind, the conviction that God was the King of Israel, combined with the conviction that the Messiah, the true King, who was to be in reality what others were but in figure, was the son of David.”5

That the Septuagint translates these verses as the New International Version has them indicates that even the ancient Jewish translators regarded these words as referring to the Messiah.

Study Questions:

  1. How is the theme of the king’s military victories to be applied to Jesus?
  2. Why is verse 6 said to be extraordinary? How does Hebrews 1 use it?

Application: When the Bible uses military language to describe the work of Christians, how is that to be understood?

5J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. l, p. 351. Original edition 1878-1879. For a fuller discussion of this point see Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983) pp. 336, 337; Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 172; and H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 360, 361.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Tuesday: A Messianic Wedding Song

By James Boice

Theme: In Praise of King Jesus

In these lessons we have a description of a royal wedding, but which goes beyond that to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Messiah and Bridegroom.

Scripture: Psalm 45:1-17

In a psalm unique among the Psalter, we also find a unique introduction (v. 1). In it the poet tells how the theme assigned to him as court poet has stirred his emotions. His is “a noble theme,” and he has been moved to pour all his considerable skill into the effort.

And well he might. This would be a moving challenge if the wedding were only that of an earthly monarch and bride. But as we have seen, it is at the same time a picture of that heavenly wedding in which the divine groom, Jesus Christ, takes the church, his bride, to himself. So this is not only a noble theme; it is the theme of themes. It is the ultimate meaning of all history, the story of the ages. No wonder the poet is stirred as he considers what he is to say in praise of this great King and the advice he is to give to this highly favored bride.

The language here is so unusual that some commentators believe the poet claims special inspiration in this verse. Herman Gunkel even translates it, Mein Herz wallt ueber von begeisterten Worte (My heart overflows with inspired words).”4

The main body of the psalm begins with praise of the divine King and bridegroom, who is Jesus (verses 2-9). If these words were written of a mere earthly king, they would need to be understood as conventional court flattery. But as a description of him who is “the fairest of ten thousand” they are only the smallest part of what needs to be said. There is something of a natural sequence in these themes.

The King’s character. The divine King of this beautiful wedding ode is called “the most excellent of men” (v. 2), which leads some scholars to observe that in the ancient world the chief praiseworthy characteristics of a monarch were physical attractiveness and gracious speech or words. So what is new? These are exactly the characteristics that get politicians elected to high office today. But it would be a mistake to limit this phrase to physical attractiveness. In fact, in a list of praiseworthy attributes, mere physical attractiveness would come fairly low in God’s scale, far behind such traits of character as “truth, humility and righteousness,” which are mentioned in verse 4. Jesus excels in all these desirable characteristics. There is no good quality, no grace that is not found to the highest possible degree in him.

The King’s words. When Jesus was on earth he spoke with authority and charm, so much so that when his enemies sent soldiers to arrest him, the soldiers returned, saying, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). On another occasion, when the masses of the people were deserting Jesus and he challenged the twelve, asking if they wanted to leave too, Peter replied for all of them, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). When he was on earth, the words of Jesus had power to still the storm, send demons from those who were possessed, restrain enemies, and draw men and women who were trapped by sin to faith. They still do today.

Study Questions:

  1. How is the introduction also unique?
  2. List and describe the first two themes of this psalm. How is Jesus the perfect example of them?

Reflection: How does the truth, humility, and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ contrast with what the world considers to be valuable character traits?

For Further Study: To learn more about how Jesus is the bridegroom of his church, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Bride and the Bridegroom.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

4Cited by H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 354.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Monday: A Messianic Wedding Song

By James Boice

Theme: The Ideal King and Bridegroom

In these lessons we have a description of a royal wedding, but which goes beyond that to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Messiah and Bridegroom.

Scripture: Psalm 45:1-17

Psalm 45 is different from any psalm we have studied thus far. In fact, it is unique. There are no other psalms like it. It is a beautiful poem prepared on the occasion of a royal wedding, evoking all the sights, sounds, movement, splendor and emotion of such an important occasion. It is at the same time a messianic psalm, as the words “O God” in verse 6 and the use of verses 6 and 7 in the first chapter of Hebrews in reference to Jesus Christ, clearly show.

Of what earthly king and bride was it originally composed? We do not know the answer to that question, though it might fit the marriage of Solomon to the princess of Egypt, as many of the older commentators supposed. Other guesses have been Solomon and a princess of Tyre, Joram and Athaliah, a Persian king and his bride, or even Ahab and Jezebel.1 Yet, even as a hymn depicting the wedding glories of Solomon (the most likely choice), the psalm still seems to require much more for its interpretation, because the language is so exalted. As Alexander Maclaren wisely wrote, “Either we have here a piece of poetical exaggeration far beyond the limits of poetic license, or ‘a greater than Solomon is here.’”2 We are to assume, then, that the poet is writing of a specific Jewish king, whose identity is unknown, but that he is also looking ahead and upward to that ideal promised King whose perfect and eternal reign was foreshadowed by the Jewish monarchy.

Walter J. Chantry, author and pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has an excellent new study of three messianic psalms in which he argues that in order to understand Psalm 45 we need to know something about ancient betrothal and wedding customs.3 He rightly uses this background to trace the psalm’s description of a procession from the home of the husband to the home of the bride and back again, along the lines of traditional wedding day processions.

In ancient times the first step leading to a wedding was the betrothal. This was a very formal act, usually arranged by the parents of the future bride and groom, though quite often taking the wishes of their children into account. Betrothal meant more than engagement does to us. It was a legal procedure enacted before witnesses and confirmed by oaths taken by the couple. It was so weighty a matter that the couple could be called husband and wife, even though there had been no physical union. That was the case with Joseph and Mary at the time Jesus was conceived. It required something like a divorce to break this covenanted union.

One normal feature of the betrothal was a commitment on the part of the husband’s family to provide a dowry. This feature, as well as propriety and the possibly young age of the couple, meant that there was often a long delay between the betrothal and the time of the wedding itself.

When the day of the wedding finally came, the friends and attendants of the bride gathered at the bride’s home, where she prepared herself in her finest clothing and jewelry. At the same time, the attendants of the groom would gather at his house. Then there would be a grand procession through the streets of the city as the groom and his attendants went to fetch the bride, followed by a second procession of the entire party, both the bride and the groom’s entourage, from the bride’s home back to the groom’s. At the groom’s home there would be a joyful wedding feast which could last as long as one or two weeks, depending on the status and wealth of the groom’s family. Jesus’ parable about the five wise and the five foolish virgins has as its setting such a returning procession and feast.

We have to keep these movements in mind as we study Psalm 45. In verses 2-9 we see the king coming for his bride. In verse 10-12 we find advice being given to the bride as she waits anxiously for her bridegroom. In verses 13-15 the bride is led out to the king, the procession makes its way to his home, and the wedding party enters the palace. The final verses are the poet’s personal blessing upon the marriage and its union.

Study Questions:

  1. Why is this psalm different from the others we have studied thus far? What is it about?
  2. How do we know it is a messianic psalm?
  3. Explain how the movement of this psalm fits with what we know about ancient wedding customs.

1For a discussion of these suggestions and their proponents see J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 366, 367. Original edition 1878-1879.
2Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), p. 307.
3Walter J. Chantry, Praises for the King of Kings (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991).


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Sheep That Conquer, Friday

By James Boice

Theme: Prayer for Deliverance in the Future

From this psalm we learn that although we sometimes may not understand what God is doing in the present, we know how God has helped us in the past, and can therefore confidently come to him in prayer for the future.

Scripture: Psalm 44:1-26

So what is the explanation? Will you be impatient with me if I say that there is no explanation, at least none that is given in this psalm. There is a suggestion of one. I will come to that. But the answer the psalmist finds is not an explanation, however much he might have appreciated one, but rather a practical clinging to God and beseeching God for help in spite of God’s apparent sleep or silence.

Does God seem to be asleep? “Forget whether he really sleeps or not or what he may or may not be sleeping for,” the psalmist seems to be saying. “Pray to him. Get practical and rouse him, if you must, with your prayers.” As the psalmist goes on to say, “Awake, O LORD! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? . . .Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.”

One of the older commentators expressed the psalm’s thought like this: “You helped us in the past. You must help us now. But you are not helping us, even though we have done nothing to prohibit your helping us. So help us.”3 The psalm is as simple as that.

However, I said I would return to the suggestion of an explanation for trouble we find in the psalm. Let me do that now. There are actually two clues or, as we might say, “starters” for further thinking.

First, there is the phrase “for your sake” in verse 22, the verse Paul quotes in Romans. Psalm 44 has no elaboration of this idea, but we cannot miss remembering that it was developed at length by Jesus who spoke of those who would be “persecuted because of righteousness” and “because of me” (Matt. 5:10, 11), and who told his disciples, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Paul was using the same idea when he quoted Psalm 45:22 in Romans, because it is for God’s sake that the people of God often suffer.

Second, there is the last phrase of the psalm: “your unfailing love” (v. 26). That is a very important ending. Although nothing like it has appeared in the psalm thus far, it means, if it is to be taken at full value, that the love of God is of such quality that even the terrible defeats of the present moment are not without a purpose and will not, even in the worst extremity, sever the believing one from God.

This is exactly how Paul handles the problem of suffering in Romans 8 as well. Early in the chapter he explains that sharing in Christ’s sufferings now means that we will share in his glory later, concluding, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17, 18). Then, at the end of the chapter, after having quoted from Psalm 44, he concludes, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God, that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38, 39).

With a faith like that, those who are accounted only as “sheep to be slaughtered” always will conquer, whatever defeats they may suffer in this life. They will conquer because God is in control of all history, his love is unfailing, and he guarantees the ultimate outcome of everything that happens to us…and the victory.

Study Questions:

  1. Although we do not always understand what God is doing in our lives, what does this psalm encourage us to do?
  2. What two clues do we find that help us to begin to think through why the Lord sometimes acts as he does? How do these help you to mature in your faith?

Application: In the uncertainties and puzzlements of life, pray for your response to become like that of the psalmist’s.

For Further Study: We as Christians can only conquer because of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has already conquered sin and death for us. Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message from Romans 8, “More Than Conquerors.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

3E. W. Hengstenberg, Kommentar ueber die Psalmen, 4 vols. (Berlin: Ludwig Oehmigke, 1849). Cited by H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 345.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Sheep That Conquer, Thursday

By James Boice

Theme: Desperate for an Explanation

From this psalm we learn that although we sometimes may not understand what God is doing in the present, we know how God has helped us in the past, and can therefore confidently come to him in prayer for the future.

Scripture: Psalm 44:1-26

Perhaps God was temporarily looking the other way, and the people’s enemies used that moment to gain the upper hand. What about this explanation for the difference between what is happening to us in the present, as compared with how we have seen God at work in the past? That explanation might work for pagans, who know nothing of the true God. But it can never work for the followers of Jehovah. Jehovah is not indifferent. He is not sleeping, even though that seems to be the case. If he is not sleeping or is not indifferent or is not impotent, then he must be behind what is happening.

Note the repetition of the word “you.” “You have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy….You gave us up to be devoured like sheep….You sold your people for a pittance….You have made us a reproach to our neighbors….You have made us a by-word among the nations….You crushed us” (vv. 9-14, 19). The people’s defeats are no accident. God is behind them, because God is responsible for all things.

This is what makes the problem so puzzling, however. A mere accident is not puzzling. A disaster is only puzzling if God is in control, is favorable to us, but lets it happen anyway. Nevertheless, although it makes the situation puzzling, the realization that God is in control is still both the proper way to approach such problems and the only possible way to find a solution to them. The secularist has nowhere to turn. Not only does he not have an answer, he does not even have a way of finding one.

As for the believer, he may not understand God’s ways, but he knows that the only way to proceed is by recognizing that God is as active in defeats as he is in victories and wait for his explanation.

Perhaps the defeat is not as bad as it appears, and the people are exaggerating. This is the second approach the psalmist is rejecting. It is the Pollyanna approach. It will not do here, because there is no escaping the magnitude of the disaster. The soldiers have been slaughtered like sheep and scattered (v. 11). Even worse, the people have been made a reproach to their neighbors; they have been disgraced and covered with shame (vv. 13-16).

Perhaps the people themselves are at fault, and God has sent defeat as a judgment for their sins. This is the best explanation so far since it takes both the sovereignty of God and the magnitude of the defeat at full value. What is more, the people often had sinned and had been judged for it. Their past history was as much a testimony to that fact as it was to the intervention of God on their behalf. The problem is that, at this point of their history, the people were keeping God’s covenant and following God’s way faithfully. At least that is what the psalmist says: “All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path” (vv. 17, 18). He is arguing that they were obeying God and yet were defeated.

Can this really be? We are conscious of sin in ourselves. Very few Christians would want to claim utter faithfulness in following after God, as the psalmist does. Perhaps the writer is mistaken. Perhaps the explanation of this tragic defeat is to be found in precisely this self-righteousness. That explanation does not work here for two reasons.

First, because of verses 20 and 21. These verses say, “If we had forsaken the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God have discovered it,

since he knows the secrets of the heart?” This does not mean merely, “If we had sinned, God would know about it since God knows everything.” That would lead to the conclusion, “Therefore, we must have sinned, since God is punishing us,” and that is not what the psalm is saying. There would be nothing puzzling under those circumstances. The words “would not God have discovered it” mean “would not God have discovered it to us.” That is, “Wouldn’t God have told us what we have done wrong, if we had done wrong? Therefore, since he has not revealed any particularly outstanding sin to us, our sin cannot be the explanation of why we are suffering these military setbacks.” An example would be the defeat at Ai following the conquest at Jericho, where the cause of the defeat was revealed to be Achan’s disobedience (cf. Joshua 7).

The second reason why we cannot handle the text this way—which also brings it directly into our own experience—is that Paul quotes verse 24 in Romans as a confirming statement that the people of God suffer innocently. The quotation comes in Romans 8 in that powerful affirmation concerning the keeping love of God: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:35–37). Paul and other Christians had served God faithfully, yet they were made to face death all day long.

So, as easy as it would be to say that the people of God suffer defeat because they are being punished for their sins, this is not a fully adequate explanation, at least not in all instances, including Psalm 44 and Romans 8.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the proper way to approach a disaster that affects us? What do we need to remember?
  2. Review the third possible explanation. Why does it not work in the case of the psalmist?

Application: Perhaps you are struggling to understand God’s working in your life in the present, especially considering things he has done for you in the past. What explanations have you considered that need to be dismissed? What truths do you need to remind yourself? What is the Lord teaching you through this puzzling time?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Sheep That Conquer, Wednesday

By James Boice

Theme: The Puzzling Present

From this psalm we learn that although we sometimes may not understand what God is doing in the present, we know how God has helped us in the past, and can therefore confidently come to him in prayer for the future.

Scripture: Psalm 44:1-26

The immediate past. The second part of this opening section recalls victories in the immediate past, acknowledging, as in the preceding section, that they were achieved not by any strength or virtue of the people, but by God. In this stanza the subject of the sentences becomes singular (“my” and “I”), rather than plural (“we,” “us” and “our”) as in stanza one. This does not mean that we suddenly have another speaker at this point, as if this were a liturgical exchange between a priest and the people, as some scholars like to think. Rather, it is a way of intensifying the poet’s testimony to God’s past acts of deliverance. It is as if he says, “It is not only that you did those things long ago for other people. You have also done them for us, for me. I can testify to such victories.” As the psalmist says: “I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we praise your name forever” (vv. 6-8).

Putting this in terms of our own experience, it is as if we were to say, “We have also experienced what those who came before us did. Not to the same degree perhaps, but you have nevertheless worked in our days as you worked in theirs. We give you glory.”

If Psalm 44 had ended with verse 8, it would have been a victory hymn. It is positive, expectant, trusting. However, the psalm does not end here. It goes on to the lament of verses 9 and following, which means that these opening verses, in spite of the positive statements, must have been uttered in a puzzled tone of voice. As we will see in part 2, God had not been helping the people currently, which raised the question: “How come? Why is he not helping us when he has so effectively helped us in the past?”

The second section of the psalm opens with the contrasting words “but now.” we find these words again and again in the Bible, usually comparing our sad condition apart from God’s grace with what we have because of it. A classic example is in Romans 3:21, where Paul passes from his description of the hopeless condition of the human race in its sin to what God has done in providing a way of salvation through Jesus Christ. The text says, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.”

The contrast is exactly the opposite in this psalm. Instead of moving from a sad past to a glorious present, the words move us from a glorious past to a tragic present. Look at the contrast:

Verse 7: “You gave us victory over our enemies.”

Verses 9, 10: “But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us.”

Is that what the people of God are to expect from the One who has been their champion in past days? This situation is so painful and puzzling in view of the people’s past experience of God that this second section seems to be searching desperately for an explanation.

Study Questions:

  1. What is meant by the change from the plural to the singular concerning the psalmist’s reflection on the immediate past?
  2. What is the contrast beginning in verse 9?

Reflection: How have you seen God’s hand in the more recent past?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Sheep That Conquer, Tuesday

By James Boice

Theme: God’s Past Acts of Deliverance

From this psalm we learn that although we sometimes may not understand what God is doing in the present, we know how God has helped us in the past, and can therefore confidently come to him in prayer for the future.

Scripture: Psalm 44:1-26

A person would never expect this psalm to be a lament from reading the beginning stanzas. This is because it begins with a remembrance of God’s past acts of deliverance (vv. 1-8), and these by their very nature are both positive and grounds for thanksgiving. At this point we would expect the psalm to be a thanksgiving psalm, a praise psalm, or a psalm of confidence. These remembrances are mature remembrances too, in the sense that the author and his contemporaries know that Israel’s past military victories had not been achieved by their own exceptional might or skill, but by the power of God.

J. J. Stewart Perowne recognizes this in his study:

The psalm opens with a glance at the past history of the nation and the acknowledgment that, from the first, every victory which they had won had been won not by their own strength, but by the immediate hand of God. This was, it might be said, the perpetual lesson of their history. They did not rise upon their Egyptian masters, but God bowed the heart of the monarch and the people by his signs and wonders, till they thrust them out in haste. At the Red Sea they did not turn to fight with the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh; they were but to stand still and see the victory of Jehovah. When they came to Canaan, their first exploit was not a feat of arms, for Jericho fell by a miracle. The Roman army by the lake Regillus attributed its victory to the two mysterious horsemen who, on their white horses, led the charge. The Jewish host with a better faith believed that in every battle an invisible Captain led them and knew that, whenever they conquered their enemies, it was because an invisible arm gave them the victory.2

A quick look at this opening section (vv. 1-8) will show that it has two parts, separated into two stanzas in the New International Version.

The distant past. The first part recalls victories of the distant past which the writer’s generation had heard about and rightly understood to have been accomplished by God and as the sole result of his favor. He refers to these as things “our fathers have told us, what you did in their days, in days long ago” (v. 1). What follows makes clear that what is being referred to is the conquest of Canaan by the tribes that came out of Egypt. In those days God drove out the nations that were in the land before them and crushed their enemies. The section concludes: “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them (v. 3).”

Our equivalent of this memory would be reflections on our own spiritual heritage, on events like the Protestant Reformation, the Wesleyan Revivals or the Great Awakening. Those distant past events are part of what we are, and we acknowledge rightly that they were accomplished by the will and power of God. Our “fathers” told us of those things, and we are thankful for them.

Study Questions:

  1. Why does this psalm not appear at first to be the lament that it is?
  2. What is the first part of the opening stanza, and what event does it refer to?

Application: Following the example of the psalmist, write down items of your own spiritual heritage, and give praise to the Lord for his grace shown to you through them.

2J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 360. Original edition 1878-1879.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.