In verses 17–22, the psalmist maintains that God’s actions were not because the Israelites had sinned. They had not forgotten God or worshiped idols or willfully disobeyed him, but rather were faithful and true to God’s covenant. Their hearts had not turned back, nor had their feet strayed from the path. And yet God still broke them.
Verse 22 is a final word defending their innocence and obedience: “Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” In other words, “We are trusting you, Lord, and we are dying for you. Rather than rescuing us, you are behind our earthly destruction.” That may be the cry of martyrs around the world today, who are proclaiming God’s love while being led to their death. And it may be the lament of faithful Christians who are struggling with terminal cancer, unending pain, and precipitous loss. Our lives are in God’s hands, and we are being crushed.
“God can never forget his people, for they are carved on the palms of his hands.”
This feels shocking. That God would willingly lead us as sheep to be slaughtered when we are faithfully serving him can make us wonder if he cares about us at all. Which makes it even more surprising that Paul would quote this verse in Romans 8:36, as an example of how we can never be separated from God’s love. The implication is that when we are at our lowest — feeling abandoned by God and growing increasingly hopeless — God is actually lavishing his love on us. He is making us more than conquerors in the place where we’ve been tasting bitter defeat and can’t sense his presence.
While we associate the times of abundance and success with God’s favor, Paul is reminding us that God’s love is as strong as ever when we are facing despair and even death. The psalmist mourned that God had rejected and crushed them, implying that God was against them, but Paul reframes that perspective for Christians, asserting that even in our darkest moments — especially in our darkest moments? — God is working for our good.