Fifth Decade of Psalms
This next psalm is not attributed directly to David, although it is almost certainly his. The psalm is given to the chief musician, for the sons of Korah to sing. These were probably the descendants of the same Korah who rebelled against Moses in the wilderness (Num. 16).
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God . . .” (Ps. 42:1-11).
Summary of the Text
The psalmist is parched in his soul, and thirsts after God the way a hart longs for a brook (v. 1). He repeats this— his soul thirsts for Elohim, the living Elohim. When will he be able to appear before Elohim in worship (v. 2)? He is in such trouble that he is unable to eat at all—tears are his only food (v. 3). His adversaries know how to taunt him in a way that really hurts; they ask “where is your God” (v. 3)? There was a time when the psalmist was able to rejoice with God’s people in God’s house, but all he has now are memories (v. 4). But David chides himself—why are you downcast (v. 5)? But having said this, he returns immediately to the problem, which is that he is downcast (v. 6). He recalls God’s goodness to Israel in the past—crossing the Jordan, for example, and Hermon is where Og and Sihon had been defeated. Mizar was (perhaps) a small mountain near Sinai (v. 6). But though he remembers great deliverances from the past, he is still in deep trouble now. He is caught between water below and water above, and the breakers of Jehovah have gone over his head (v. 7). Nevertheless, all appearances to the contrary, God will command His lovingkindness to come in the daytime, and will command His song to come at night (v. 8). David will pray (v. 8). What will he say? He will say to his rock, “Why have you forgotten me” (v. 9)? They say, “where is your God”? Why should I have to say it too (v. 10)? David chides himself again, and with the same words. Why are you cast down? Hope in God, who will deliver (v. 11).
Talking and Listening
The trouble here is very great. In the midst of such trouble, we have only two options. We may listen to ourselves, which is not healthy. Or we may do what David does here, which is talk to himself. He takes himself in hand— David talks, requiring David to listen. This is very different than simply accepting whatever your murmuring heart might churn up. Don’t doubt in the dark what you knew in the light, and speak to yourself deliberately in terms of what you knew in the light. This is the way of wisdom. The way of folly is to sit in the dark giving full credence to whatever thoughts drift into your head. The necessity of this distinction is underscored by the n eed that David has to do it twice in the course of just eleven verses. If you don’t listen the first time, say it again (vv. 5, 11).
The Godly May Do What the Ungodly May Not
One of the most striking things about this psalm is the way David rejects the taunts of the ungodly, knowing the malice that was driving them, while at the same time asking the same question himself. The difference is that they did not want an answer, and would refuse to accept one if it came. David was hungry for an answer, wanting it desperately. But it was still the same question. His soul thirsts for God because he does not know when he can appear before Him (v. 2). But these malicious adversaries touch him in that tender spot by asking, “Where is your God?” This is just the question David was asking. The question gets to him, and so he has to speak to himself firmly (v. 5). But this is not the double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (Jas. 1:8). Rather, deep faith and profound desperation are woven together. Notice how it goes: Why am I downcast (v. 5)? I am downcast, bad (v. 6). God has always delivered His people (v. 6). This is the worst trouble of my life—caught in a tornado at sea, and wave after wave from Yahweh goes over my head (v. 7). Yet God will deliver me (v. 8). I will say to God my rock, why have you forgotten me (v. 9)? My enemies say you have forgotten me—am I supposed to agree with them (v. 10)? Why am I disquieted (v. 11)? God will deliver.
All the Bible belongs to all of us, and we are particularly called to pray the psalms. This is not the same thing as cherry picking from the psalms to suit your personality type. If you like rolling around in despair, there are plenty of passages for you. If you are a happy happy joy joy type, there are also plenty of passages. But if you are a normal person experiencing the grace of God throughout the course of your life, the whole Bible is yours. And only the grace of God can equip you to appropriate all of it—as David does here. One of the great things the grace of God does is integrate and unify. But there is a certain kind of immature mind that simply asks if it is “in the Bible,” and not whether it is balanced with everything else in the Bible. We must long for Spirit-given balance. Why does the Bible have to say that no one can say Jesus is accursed by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 12:3)? Well, perhaps because certain unstable types seized on the fact that Jesus became a curse for us when He was hanged on a tree (Gal. 3:13).
Public Worship, Real Truth
David thirsts after God. At the same time, he does not conceive of a privatized relationship with God—everything is geared to appearing before God. The way the mind turns after privation reveals a great deal about its true loves (v. 4). David wants to appear before God (v. 2), meaning that he wants to worship publicly at the appointed place. David remembers what it was like when he was with the multitude of worshippers, and praising God with the corporate voice that was like the sound of many waters (v. 4). David longed for a public holy-day.
Come to Particulars
When your enemies come against you and say, “Where is your God?” you must say that He is commanding His lovingkindness to be at your right hand during the day, and He has ordered His music to stand sentry around you tonight. That is what you say to your adversaries. In the meantime, to God your rock you say, “That was a good question. Have you forgotten me? That can’t be . . . You cannot let me down. If that happened I could not praise You in the public assembly, and I am going to praise You in the public assembly. Right?”
And when your enemies repeat—continually, daily—as they do here, “Where is your God?” then you may apply the words of Mr. Greatheart in Pilgrim’s Progress, right before he killed the giant Maul. “These are but generals, said Mr. Great-Heart; come to particulars, man.”
The Breakers of Jehovah
David here says that all God’s waves came over his head (v. 7). Strictly speaking, this has only been true of one man —the Lord Jesus. Remembering this will enable us to plead the words of this psalm, and others like it, without becoming whiners or moaners. The whiner complains his way through every other verse. The chirrupy one wants to put all his troubles into a great, big box, sit on the lid and grin. Instead of these two options, get a real life and serve a real God.