Sheep for the Slaughter

Every once in a while you go through a period of time when you are afraid to ask what might happen next because of how much bad news you have received. Not that long ago, it seemed like members of the congregation were passing away at an unprecedented rate. The heartache and sorrow this brings can lead to despair rather quickly. At other times, serious illness and injury step in, so much so that attendance seems to drop in chunks and the work to care for others increases dramatically. Then there are those times when every stressful thing that can happen seems to happen almost simultaneously. The car needs new tires. The house needs a new air conditioner. The children need braces. And insurance rates just went up. Regardless of which one of these scenarios—or all of them—describe some aspect of your life, it can seem like you have a target on your back. However, God’s people must also endure the challenges presented by Satan’s relentless pressure in pursuit of their souls (1 Pet. 5:8). It can be hard to express the frustration and difficulty that all these things can create in life.

In Psalm 44 the sons of Korah wrote from this very perspective, expressing dismay because they found themselves in great difficulty without understanding why. The psalm begins by recounting the many times that God had delivered Israel from difficulty and secured victory over a mighty foe (Psa. 44:1-7). In fact, this history formed the foundation of national pride (Psa. 44:8). However, the sons of Korah found that they did not enjoy this same kind of experience, suffering shame and dishonor among the nations instead of victory and honor (Psa. 44:9-17). What makes their case more disconcerting is that they remained true to God through it all (Psa. 44:21). However, even then, this did not assure them of victory in the field or deliverance from their foes. Instead, they bemoaned,  “Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Psa. 44:22). The psalm closes with a poignant cry asking for an explanation.

They felt as if they existed just to suffer. And this is why Paul quoted it in Romans 8:36 at the close of a passage explaining that, yes indeed, mankind’s very nature is designed to suffer. The writer of Hebrews, however, is the one that explains why: for the suffering of death and the deliverance that ultimately makes victory possible (Heb. 2:5-18). However, both in this psalm and in Paul’s conclusion in Romans, there is a reminder of why we can and should persevere. The first is found in the determination expressed by the sons of Korah and the second in the assurance offered by the apostle Paul. This life is indeed fraught with difficulty, filled with heartache, and characterized by suffering. But no matter how much Satan works to fill our lives with sorrow, to cause our bodies pain, and to create hardship in life itself, there is absolutely nothing he can do to separate us from God’s love. The nature of this life requires that we prepare ourselves to endure and persevere faithfully to the very end, but through it all—and especially at that end—God’s love is there for us. We will all face challenges throughout our lives—and not just small ones. But God offers assurance that despite the necessity of this in the nature of life, He is still with us and will deliver us beyond this life. Suffering is real in this life, but hope is real in the next. It is this perspective that will get us through, and keeping ever focused on the example of Jesus provides the way.

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