A Study of Psalm 42 & 43
Introduction: Restlessness is the frustration of not being where we want to be. Maybe you aren’t where you want to be geographically, vocationally, financially, physically, or relationally. What do you do at such times, especially when you can’t see a resolution to things?
Biblical Background: Let me give an example from an obscure Old Testament story. After the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel split apart like a shirt torn down the middle. The northern kingdom kept the name Israel; and the southern kingdom became known as Judah, with Jerusalem its capital. In 2 Kings 14, King Jehoash of Israel attacked Judah. Verses 12-14 say: Judah was routed by Israel, and every man fled…. Then Jehoash went to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner gate—a section of about 400 cubits long. He took all the gold and silver and all the articles found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace. He also took hostages and returned to Samaria.
Notice those words: He also took hostages. I wonder who he took? Perhaps he took someone responsible for planning and leading worship at the temple. Perhaps he took one of Judah’s great musicians and worship leaders. Imagine such a man. He had the best situation in the world. Every day he was on the Temple Mount, looking over the Judean hills, looking down on the holy city, opening the temple gates, watching the worshippers praise the Lord. God Almighty Himself dwelled amid clouds of glory in the inner sanctum of the Temple. Every day this man was near God’s glorious presence, composing new music, writing new lyrics, leading new crowds. He loved his daily routine. He loved his weekly rituals. He loved his calling in life. Then one day, rough, godless soldiers burst into his sanctuary, surrounded him, lifted him by his arms, shackled his hands, shoved him into a line of hostages, and forcibly marched him mile after mile, day after day, nearly starving him to death, dragging him from family and friends, and finally interring him in a POW camp in the north of Israel, in the foothills of Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar, in the cold regions at the headwaters of the River Jordan. There he languished and lost hope. He grew homesick and discouraged. He was nowhere near where he wanted to be. What did he do? I can’t prove it with historical exactitude, but I think this wrote Psalm 42 and 43. Let’s use that as our working hypothesis.
Stanza 1 (Psalm 42:1-5)
Many ancient Hebrew manuscripts join Psalm 42-43 as one Psalm with three stanzas. Each stanzas ends with the same refrain. The first is Psalm 42:1-5. Verses 1-2 say: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, My God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? This man isn’t separated from God’s fellowship or love or grace—he is praying and singing this Psalm. But he is not able to worship God where he most wants to do it—at the Temple. In the Old Testament, remember, God literally, geographically dwelt in the Holy of holies in the Temple. He filled the place with His manifested presence. God was there in all His Shekinah Glory. When Solomon had dedicated the Temple, God had visibly descended and filled the house with His clouds of glory, and this man had been driven away from it. He knew God was with him wherever he was; but this man missed the manifest Shekinah Glory of God in the temple. He is thirsting, panting, to get back to his normal routines of worship, even though it may never happen. He is distraught, and his captors and mocking him and ridiculing him. He had been driven away from God’s Temple Presence.
Verses 3-4: My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.
That sentence is one of the greatest descriptions of public worship in the Bible. This is the attitude that should characterize our worship services. We go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng, among the happy crowds. That’s what we are missing when we don’t come to church, or when we come to church with the wrong attitudes. This man is homesick for congregational worship, for the trumpets, cymbals, choirs, chants, hymns, and celebrations on Temple Mount. But notice how he ended this stanza in verse 5:
Verse 5: Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.
Stanza 2 (Psalm 42:6-11)
Now we come to the second stanza, which begins with verse 6 as he starts the cycle of his woes all over again: My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. This man is in the far north, in the shadows of cold Mount Hermon, feeling sorry for himself.
Verses 7-10: Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God? This man is battling rough weather, spiritual depression, physical pain, and a taunting enemy.
Verse 11 circles back to his concluding refrain: Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why are you disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.
Stanza 3 (Psalm 43:1-5)
Psalm 43 picks up at that point and opens with verse 1 as the hostage cycles through his problems one more time: Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked. You are God my stronghold. Why have You rejected me? Why must I go about mourning oppressed by the enemy?
In verses 3-4, this man crafts a beautiful prayer: Send me Your light and Your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell. Then will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise You with the lyre, O God, my God.
He ends his third stanza with the familiar refrain in verse 5: Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.
Become Your Own Preacher
What lesson is this hostage teaching us? He’s showing us a technique to help us when we feel downcast. He is showing us what to do when we are not where we want to be. This man is teaching us to be our own preacher. Three times here he talks to himself, he preaches to himself, he gives himself a sermon. He says to himself: “Why are you cast down, my soul? Why are you disquieted within me, my soul? Don’t you know God will keep His promises? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the help of my countenance and my God.” This man is not praying. He is not addressing a multitude of people. He is talking to only one person–himself!
All my life, I’ve studied the history of preachers and preaching, but the greatest preacher in your life is you. I want you to think of yourself as a preacher—as a preacher who needs to study the Bible, who needs to know God’s Word, who needs to understand theology. Instead of listening to yourself, you need to preach to yourself. Instead of listening to the gloomy, despondent thoughts flowing through your mind, you must pick yourself up, push yourself against the wall, point your finger at yourself, and say, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why are you so disquieted? Hope in God! Exercise your faith. Trust Him. Hope thou in God for you shall yet praise Him, who is the help of your countenance and your God.”
First, preach to yourself about God’s sovereignty. God possess ultimate, absolute control over the universe, over the tides of history, over the details of life. He is the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, enthroned in heaven. No one orders Him around or thwarts His purposes. Remind yourself of that.
Second, preach to yourself about God’s strength. Much of our distress comes from physical and emotional exhaustion, but God is never exhausted. He supplies the voltage for the universe. He lights up every sun and every star. His energy pulsates through the cosmos, yet it is never diminished, for He is omnipotent. Isaiah 40 says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”
Third, preach to yourself about God’s shepherding heart. The Bible says, “Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need! He lets me rest in meadows green and he leads me beside the quiet streams. He keeps on giving life to me, and He helps me do what honors him the most.” Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.”
Fourth, preach to yourself about God’s Scriptures. A good preacher only has one textbook, the Bible. We may have many books in our library, but only one is true from its first word to its last, and a good preacher becomes very familiar with that book. That’s why we study the Bible every day. It isn’t just an academic exercise or religious ritual. We study the Bible every day to prepare sermons to preach to ourselves. This is why we work hard to become familiar with certain passages of Scripture that help us. We remind ourselves of passages like Psalm 125: “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be removed but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.”
Fifth, preach to yourself about God’s Son. As the hymnist said, “Jesus, what a friend for sinners, Jesus lover of my soul, / Friends may fail me, foes assail me; He my Savior makes me whole.” The reason we can be encouraged when we’re not where we want to be is because Jesus went to a place where He didn’t want to go—to the cross, where He bore our sins and shed His blood and give His life for us. Then He rose from the dead and ascended to where He will always be, so that where He is, there we may be also.
Conclusion: When you feel downcast and restless and you are not where you want to be, learn to preach to yourself. Quote Scripture to yourself. Remind yourself of God’s sovereignty, strength, shepherding heart, Scriptures, and Son. And learn to say to yourself: Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? Hope thou in God. Hope in God’s sovereignty. Hope in God’s strength. Hope in God’s shepherd’s heart. Hope in God’s Scriptures. And most of all, hope in God’s Son. Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise, who is my Savior and my God.