The Cry of the Slaughtered Sheep
to their Shepherd

a brief study of Psalm 44, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 1 Feb 2008

I believe all the Psalms are Christological. They may all be spoken of as the “word of Christ” (Col 3:16). However, not every Psalm is directly about Christ. Some of the Psalms are given by Christ for His church that they may worship Him with. Psalm 23, for example, is a Psalm given by the Shepherd to His sheep so that they could sing about Him.

Now, apart from Psalm 49, Psalms 44-50 are like that. They are given by the Shepherd for His sheep to sing unto Him.

Psalm 44 in particular may be entitled, “The Cry of the Slaughtered Sheep to their Shepherd.”

It is a Psalm about the suffering of the church. We don’t really know the occasion for which it was first written. But we know that it is included in the hymnbook of the shepherd so that His flock may sing unto Him , especially, when they find themselves being, as it were, slaughtered like sheep.

This Psalm has 4 parts:

·        v. 1-8         Past Blessings

·        v. 9-16       Present Crisis

·        v. 17-22     Ponderous Reflections

·        v. 23-26     Plea for Deliverance

Let’s consider these 4 parts briefly.

1. Past Blessings
(v. 1-8)

Whenever we are troubled, whether as individuals or as a church, it is good for us not to focus all our attention on the present difficulties. It is good for us, whether in prayer or in contemplation, to diversify our attention.

In particular, it is good for us to recall the Lord’s past goodness toward us. This is what we are led to do as we begin to meditate or sing this Psalm:

1 We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.

What did the Lord do for His people in the past? He redeemed them from Egypt. He led them to the Promised Land. He drove out the Canaanites from the Land (v. 2).

The Israelites were as grasshoppers in their own eyes when they first went to spy out the land. It is clear that they could not have possessed the land had the Lord left them to fight for themselves. It is clear that it was not their arm or their sword that brought them victory. It was the ‘arm’ and ‘right hand’ of the Lord, and the light of His countenance or His favour and blessing that gave them victory (v. 3).

But the history of God’s deliverance must not be left in the history books. It must be translated to present assurance and future hope.

So we sing in verse 4—

 4 Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob. 5 Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.

Individually and corporately we must ride upon past deliverance to trust in the Lord rather than in our own abilities or the means we have at hand. We must boast in the Lord all day long—not vacillating between doubt and faith, but constantly looking to the Lord, trusting Him. He has done well; He is perfectly able to do it again.

So let us remember and trust and hope, whatever trial we may be facing at the moment. Remember to think much about how God had given victory to His people in days past, and perhaps even in your own lives in the past. This will encourage you to live as more than Conquerors in Christ.

But that does not mean that you should not think or talk about the present crisis.

2. Present Crisis
(v. 9-16)

It is good to talk. It is important to talk about the crisis we are faced with. But it is important not just to talk, but to talk about it from a right perspective. What is the right perspective?

See how the Psalmist does it, verse 9-14—

·  9 But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies.

·  10 Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy…

·  11 Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat; and hast scattered us among the heathen.

·  12 Thou sellest thy people for nought…

·  13 Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours…

·  14 Thou makest us a byword among the heathen…

Do you see the point? Things do not happen by chance or by some bad luck. They happen according to God’s sovereign will and providential Hand.

When bad things happen to us, never, never forget that God’s Hand is in it. Satan may have a hand in it—by permission of the Lord. Circumstances may play a part. But ultimately, whatever happens, happens in the Hand of the Lord. We must not forget that. We must not neglect that in our prayers.

Yes, pour out your heart unto the Lord. Tell Him of your grief as in verse 15. Tell Him of your shame because of those who reproach you as in verse 16. And tell Him of your indignation because of those who take advantage of the situation to blaspheme God.

But do not forget to acknowledge that God is ultimately in control. What happens? Was it an accident? Was it a disaster? A fall into sin? A squabble? A church split? A failure? It is important for us to acknowledge God’s Hand in our thoughts and prayer.

As we do so, it is good for us to consider the reasons for which God sent the affliction. This consideration is implied in the third section of this Psalm, which we may entitle:

3. Ponderous Reflection
(v. 17-22)

We live in such a busy world that we often fail to pause and reflect. But reflect we must, especially when God sends trials and tribulations into our lives—whether corporately or individually.

One of the first things we must reflect on is whether the tribulation was sent because of any particular sin in us.

The writer of Hebrews says:

“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb 12:6).

God, out of His love for us, will chastise us when necessary. He chastises us to sanctify us. He does not punish true believers. Christ was punished for them. So they would not be punished again. But God does chastise us in order that we might be holy as He is holy.

So it is needful, as we reflect upon the Hand of God to consider how the Lord is dealing with us. What sinful attitude in me is He dealing with? Is it pride? Is it stubbornness, high-mindedness, selfishness, idolatry, covetousness, disobedience, unbelief, etc?

Now, in the circumstance leading to the penning of Psalm 44, God’s chastisement had come upon the Church as a whole.

When that happens, the faithful remnant must especially plead for the Lord’s mercy. And this Psalm is especially inspired for the faithful remnant to use.

This is the reason why instead of confessing that the sin of the Church had occasioned the chastisement, there is a mention of their steadfastness and seeming injustice that had fallen upon them.

The Psalmist says:

17 All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. 18 Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way;  19 Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.

Now, this sounds almost like a self-righteous Pharisee lamenting God’s harsh chastisement.

But we must understand that these words are the reflection of the faithful remnant. This is not a Psalm of national confession. National confessions are found in other Psalms, such as Psalm 106:6—

We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly.

But here in Psalm 44, we are calling upon the Lord to hear the cry of the faithful remnant, of the sheep of Christ who are being slaughtered. Christ’s sheep are His elect.

Taking the cue from the apostle Paul who quotes verse 22 in Romans 8:36, we see this Psalm as teaching us to pray:

“Lord, we know that we have sinned as a nation and as a church. We know that we deserve Thy chastisement. But O Lord wilt Thou have mercy upon Thy people for the sake of Thy elect remnant—who love Thee and bear Thy name with all sincerity.”

We know that Thou dost search our hearts. We know that our sin cannot escape Thy knowledge (v. 21).

Thou dost know how, O Lord we love Thee and sought to walk according to Thy covenant. We did not turn from Thy ways.

And yet Lord, Thou hast chastised us with those who sinned.

We know that all things work together for good to them that love Thee, and who are called according to Thy purpose.

We know that nothing shall separate us from Thy love that is in Christ Jesus—though we be killed all day long and counted as sheep for the slaughter.

For this reason, we come boldly to Thy throne…”

Yes, beloved brethren and children, if you love the Lord, you may come to Him boldly and pray as the psalmist teaches us. You may do so when you are made to suffer with the church. You may do so when you undergo trials individually. You must not be afraid to claim the promises that all things will work together for your good and that nothing shall separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Indeed, it is with this confidence that you can plead with God according to the final section of this Psalm.

4. Plea for Deliverance
(v. 23-26)

23 Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever. 24 Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression? 25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth. 26 Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies’ sake.

Only someone who loves the Lord can so pray. Only one who desires a closer walk with the Lord will so pray.

If you are seeking to walk with the Lord, then you may so pray when you find yourself tried by the Lord.

If as a church we are serious about magnifying the name of the Lord, then let us so pray. Let us not continue to wallow in the dust and mope around in the affliction that comes upon us.

Let us go to the Lord confidently to plead His mercy for His name’s sake.


The LORD has brought upon us one sorrow after another. We have shed many tears individually and as a church. What shall we do as we gather for worship this Sabbath? Shall we come with heads hanging down as a defeated people? Nay, we are more than conquerors through Him who love us with an everlasting love! Shall we not come, rather, with the confidence that as Christ our shepherd laid down His life for us, He will hear our cries?

For this reason, we must not pray like one who has no forgiveness and no confidence. We must not pray like one who is constantly beating up himself and lamenting his unworthiness. We must pray with confidence as those who look unto Christ.

We must pray with confidence that our Shepherd will see to it that we will emerge out of this present crisis with praises and thanksgiving on our lips!

We must pray with confidence that our Lord who delivered our fathers, does not fail to continue to deliver us for His mercies sake.


            —JJ Lim