Book 2 of the Psalms begins with this desperate desire for God expressed by men who shouldn’t even be alive. Psalm 42 is the 1st of a dozen Psalms (42-49, 84-85, 87-88) written by the sons of Korah and is intended to be coupled with Psalm 43 (cf. 42.5, 11; 43.5 – same chorus). Their daddy (or distant relative) led a rebellion against Moses with 250 community leaders. See Numbers 26.9-11, their daddy & his band died, but the sons of Korah did not die. In fact, Korah was one of five major Levitical families (see Numbers 26.53; 1 Chronicles 6.31-33). The sons of Korah are a family of Levites David organized into a musical guild; they were a Levitical family of singers. In gratitude to God they devoted themselves to producing praise. God is the craving and desire of the depressed and despairing soul. How vital is knowing God to the saint? Psalms 42-43 reveal how vital God is to the soul.
The superscription of this psalm calls it “a maskil.” A maskil could mean this is 1) a contemplative song [think about it, hmm…]; 2) a psalm imparting moral wisdom; 3) a well-written psalm (NET). Psalms 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89, & 102 are also maskil Psalms.
Desire for God (42.1-5)
1As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
Thirst (1-2): “My soul” speaks to the Psalmist’s inmost self, his deepest life, his essential being; this is what is most desperate for God. This desire for God is just as vital as the body’s need to drink. Is communion with God an urgent need of your soul, even as drink is vital to your body?
3My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
Tears (3): Tears are the bread of the brokenhearted & the drink of the despairing (cf. Psalm 80.5). Tears come because of the hatred of his enemies
4These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.
Tabernacle/Temple (4): Although the temple may yet to be built, they certainly had the tabernacle as the house of God. Regardless, this verse communicates the Psalmists intense desire to be in God’s presence & seek His face. Essentially he says he was the 1st one through the doors when they were opened. He probably would have lingered as long as possible, being the last one out the door when the shouts & songs were over. What about us in the temple of the Lord today? Do we have this intense longing for God’s presence? Wild dogs couldn’t drag us away from being here!
5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation
Chorus (5, 11; 43.5): “Cast down” is the language of depression. “Why?” Persecution? Sure, v.3, 9-10; 43.1 all indicate this is the case. Deprived from word & worship of God? Absolutely, v.1-2 indicates this is probably the primary reason for a downcast disposition. Ever been here? Drowning in tears, with a heavy heart. Feelings of sadness like a prison you can’t break free from?
Depressed Over God (42.6-11)
6and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
8By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
9I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me?
Abandoned by God (6-9a): This is how the Psalmist feels. Verse 6: “Jordan…Harmon…Mount Mizar” are all places east of the Jordan River & are a long way off from Jerusalem. It is as far as you can go and still catch just a glimpse of the Promised Land. “God, I feel far away from you” whether physically or figuratively. Verse 7: Billow upon billow like he is lost as sea with the waves crashing upon him. The Psalmist is overwhelmed by trials. Rarely is it just on trial, one problem; it is not single file trials, but a battalion of billows. Verse 8: I know He loves me & I sing songs of His steadfast love every day. Verse 9: God is not acting quickly enough; it feels like He has forgotten me.
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
Attacked by His Enemies (9b-10): Builds from verse 3. “When you need Him your God is absent!” All day long they taunt. Non-stop.
11Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Reasons People Get Depressed: Even the saints of God can struggle with depression. “Why?” Could be because of temperament, physical conditions (weather, environment), down reaction following great blessing, attacks from Satan, attacks from unbelievers, unbelief (in self or others), disappointment with life, personal failure, burden of growing old. In these Psalms there are several reasons also: 1) Absence from God’s presence (1-2); 2) Challenges from unbelievers (3, 10); 3) Remembering better times (4); 4) Overwhelming trials (7); 5) Impatience with God acting (9) – God is not acting quickly enough; 6) Attacks from ungodly people (43.1). These and other reasons are why people struggle with depression.
How to Overcome Depression: Not only does this Psalm give reasons for depression but it also gives us hope in overcoming it. 1) Long for God (1-2) – run to the living water just as a deer flees to the flowing streams. 2) Remember (4): Those happy memories are meant to help not hurt you. 3) Self-reflection (5, 11; 43.5): “Why do I feel this way?” Think about your thinking, identify the lies & replace those with truth. 4) Hope in God (5, 11; 43.5): He is a recourse for your soul. 5) God still loves you (8): We are reminded of His “steadfast love” upwards to 50 times in Scripture for a reason. 6) Wait for God’s defense (9; 43.1-2): We don’t like to wait, esp. when times are hard. We get impatient & want to fight our own battles. But it is God who justifies. 7) Worship (43.4): The soul is nourished by coming into His presence & seeking His face.
Defense from God (43.1-5)
1Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!
2For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
Remember God’s Defense (1-2): Let God fight your battles.
3Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!
4Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.
Rest in God’s Goodness (3-4): Come taste His goodness & worship Him.
5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Revel in God’s Hope (5): “Why?” is asked over & over. It is the question which won’t go away. After each one – “Hope in God.” A stunning, surprising declaration. He is the answer which won’t go away. We are surprised by hope in God who saves & secures us. For us under the New Covenant we have the added promise of the peace of Christ (Phil 4.6-7).
We were dead in our trespasses & sins; we are not supposed to be alive & yet we live forevermore because of God. If by grace God has spared us a fate worse than death, wouldn’t we desire to be in His presence, thirsting for His living water?
At its heart this is a psalm for the depressed, those down in the dumps, those saints of God who are feeling blue. In gratitude, praise God for His mercy & grace.