Psalm 44 begins with a celebration of what God had done for Israel in the past, and it appears to be a psalm of celebration. Verse 1 is reminiscent of Habakkuk 3:2, where Habakkuk opined to God, “I have heard the report of what you did; I am awed, LORD, by what you accomplished.” Here, the Korahites were celebrating God’s victories on behalf of Israel (Psalm 44:1-8). They recognized that their victories were not won by their own strength and weapons, and this would be true for future battles as well.
In Psalm 44:9, however, there is a massive shift of tone, from celebration to lamentation. Apparently in a recent event they had been defeated. The writers moaned that God had stopped helping them and instead handed them over to their enemies (Psalm 44:9-16). Our natural response would be, “Of course he did this. You rejected him and began to disobey him, and he promised that your enemies would overrun you if you rejected him.” The writers rejected this answer, though. They insisted that they had not turned away from God (Psalm 44:17-22). They had not been unfaithful to the Mosaic Covenant or bowed down to other gods, yet Jehovah still allowed them to suffer defeat. The only explanation they could come to was that this defeat was “because of you” (Psalm 44:22) or “for your sake” (NASB, ESV, NIV). They concluded that their defeat would somehow work to God’s glory, so even if they did not understand it, they would accept it.
Paul quoted this same verse later in Romans 8:36 when explaining that nothing in all of creation could separate us from God’s love through Christ. These writers knew nothing of Christ’s love, but they did know God and chose to trust that he always does right (Psalm 44:23-26). In the final verses, they pled for God’s renewed help on their behalf, placing their lives into his hands. Believers today should follow the Korahites pattern: celebrating God’s past faithfulness, earnestly praying in difficult situations, and trusting that God is always right, even when we cannot understand it.