SSL 13 - Psalm 42:1-11
Prayers & Announcements
LAST WEEK: We studied Psalm 141, written by David. Many scholars believe it was written during the period when David was being hunted down by Saul in the rocky wilderness of En-gedi as reported in 1 Sam. 24:1-7. The main thrust of the psalm is a prayer asking not only for protection against his enemies, but also protection against himself-weaknesses in his own character that could lead him into the temptation to sin. The broad truth of this psalm not only highlights the importance of our prayers, but also focuses on the nature and content of what we ask for. Every word we pray is important. The three major points of practical application were:
1. When we find ourselves in difficult or life-threatening circumstances, we should pray with urgency. Always remember that when we pray, we are praying as God's chosen people, so God not only hears the our words but hears our voice, and we must remember that when God hears the voice of His people crying out to Him for help, He will be moved to action. And like the "incense" and "lifted hands" mentioned in v.2, our prayer should be prepared and pure (i.e., honest, with God-honoring motives) and should express both praise to God (for hearing it) and our complete dependence upon God (for the outcome).
2. When facing a desperate situation, we should ask God to deliver us from temptation. We need to pray that God will help us control and guide our speech and also help us overcome our own temptation (heart) to say or do something that is evil in His sight (i.e., lying, dissembling, exaggerating, or avoiding or running away from the problem, etc.). We should never consider ourselves as "better" than the people we're dealing with, and as sinners, we should recognize that we are fully capable of acting on bad advice or being drawn into solutions that don't honor God.
3. When facing a desperate situation, we should ask God for His (not our) justice and vindication. We know God is always just. No matter how desperate the situation we find ourselves in, we must place all of our hope and trust in God to judge our enemies and to ultimately vindicate us.
THIS WEEK: Today we will cover Psalm 42. The Superscription reads: Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul? To the Choirmaster. A Maskil (contemplation) of the Sons of Korah. The sons of Korah were Levites who served in the Temple sometime following David's time. Their ancestor, Korah, led a rebellion against Moses during the wilderness days of the Exodus (Num. 16:1-50). God judged Korah, and he and his leaders all died, but the sons of Korah were spared. Though phrased with terms like cast down, in turmoil, and mourning, this psalm was written by a person struggling with spiritual depression. The psalmist not only found himself exiled far from the Temple and the worship festivals of God's people in Jerusalem but also facing ridicule and mockery from the people with him, all of which combined to drive him into a deep depression. As he writes, we see his moods vacillate between doubt and faith, despair and hope, pessimism and optimism, and focusing on his circumstances rather than focusing on God.
Read Ps. 42:1-4 - The Deep Need of the Psalmist
1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, "Where is your God?"
4 These 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.
v. 1: "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God" - The psalmist starts off with a powerful image of a deer aching with thirst. Whether from drought or from being pursued, the deer visibly longed for and needed water. This image suggests an analogy to a spiritual drought-the lifeless existence that can be felt even by God's people whenever their life becomes devoid of joy and hope. Any of us can find ourselves in the same situation.
v. 2: "My soul thirsts for God...When shall I come and appear before God?" - The word "thirst" signifies an urgent need: we can go days without food, but thirst is insatiable and maddening. The psalmist expresses a longing for God that was the equivalent of a raging thirst, a longing that only God could quench. The question he asks, "when shall I come...appear before God," refers to a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. The psalmist shows us a single-minded priority, one we all should share-to seek fellowship with God, to seek His face. According to Boice, this not to say that the Psalmist doesn't believe God is everywhere, because, here, we see him praying to God, but because he's so far from home, he's depressed and feels God is somehow distant. This can happen to us, too, when we've not been in church for a long time and miss the fellowship of other believers.
v. 3a: "My tears have been my food day and night - These tears can be interpreted in two ways: (1) they demonstrate unhappiness (to the extent of losing his appetite) that make the psalmist long to be refreshed by God; and/or (2) they demonstrate his heartache over his perceived distance from God (i.e., from Temple worship and fellowship).
v. 3b: "while they say to me all the day long, 'Where is your God?"' - This statement explains his dejected feelings in vv. 2 and 3b. The "they" refers to pagans or critics he was in company with who taunted and ridiculed him with accusations to the effect that his God had abandoned him. Whenever we are "down and out," we might hear the same thing from non-believers: where is your God now?
v. 4: "These 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" - Here we see psalmist contrast the present, which has become a time of unhappiness and gloom for him, with the past, where he recalls happier times of joyful worship in the house of God. A "multitude keeping festival" speaks of the excitement and elation that marked the great feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. He feels isolated and distant from those happier days.
Read Ps. 42:5-8 - Bringing the Need to God
5 Why 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.
6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
v. 5a: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me" - Here we see the psalmist depart from the memories that sadden him to challenge his own soul. This is a long way from the complete surrender that often traps a spiritually depressed person. He's demanding of himself-his soul-to explain the reason why he is "cast down." While there are some valid reasons for discouragement as we saw vv. 3 and 4, there were many more reasons for hope. As Boice put it, "You have to take yourself in hand, your have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: 'Why are you cast down-what business have you to be troubled?'" In the modern vernacular, we'd say "you need to stop having a pity-party and get real."
v. 5b: "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation" - As the psalmist questions and preaches to himself, we see a change: while he doesn't feel filled with praise at the moment, he's now confident that he's done what he can to redirect his hope in God, and that praise would be forthcoming. The term "My salvation" translates literally as the face of God and essentially means that he's also confident that God will look favorably upon him.
v. 6a: "and my God" - A refrain to the end v. 5b, that should read "my salvation and my God."
v. 6b: "My soul is cast down within me" - But here we see the psalmist falling back into depression again, but in a more detached sense. He feels despair but at the same time he's being transparent with God, not trying to hide or allow himself to be completely separated.
v. 6c: "Therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar" - This explains a big part of his problem. The location he describes is north of the Sea of Galilee, at the source of the Jordan River, far, far away from Jerusalem and the house of God (especially in those days). Very simply, the great distance from the place he cherished made him feel far removed from God.
v. 7: "Deep calls to deep at the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have gone over me" - In a powerful and poetic description of despair, the psalmist either saw or thought of a waterfall in the high country, how the water plunged down into a deep pool at the base of the waterfall and thought, metaphorically, that, in the same way, he felt buried under his own misery. Imagine yourself in that pool struggling to rise up. In the second image, he pictured his despair as being like waves of the ocean surf, wave after endless wave breaking over him-relentless and never-ending. Notice, too, how the flowing streams of v.1, a serene picture, contrast with the plunging falls and crashing surf of this verse, indicating a deepening sense of despair. Yet, out of all this gloom we see a ray of hope as he describes these forces as Your waterfalls, Your breakers and Your waves, intimating that God was down in these depths with him. Through all his travails, he clings to God.
v. 8: "By day the LORD commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life" - But even through the depths of his misery, we see the psalmist rising up to a greater level of confidence, both in daytime and the night, and in the more lonely and desolate nighttime, he felt the comforting embrace of God's "song" with him. Added to this, he says the song will be a prayer, not to the God of his death but to the God of my life-showing hope and faith!
Read Ps. 42:9-11 - More Honest Telling of the Psalmist's Discouragement
9 I say to God, my rock: "Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, "Where is your God?"
11 Why 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. "Where is your God?"
v. 9-10: "God, my rock: "Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy... my adversaries taunt me, while they say... Where is your God?" - Have you ever had days like the psalmist seems to be experiencing in these verses, intense mood swings, up and down? Notice the seeming contradiction in this verse: he confidently refers to God as his "Rock," an immovable place of safety and refuge, while in the next breath he asks why God has "forgotten" him. But there is no real contradiction: it was because he regarded God as his rock that he could pour out his soul to Him so honestly. The "enemy" and "adversaries" in vv. 9 and 10 are the antagonists first mentioned in v.3 who continue to mock him and put him down, just making it worse.
Read Ps. 42:11 - Return to a Confident Challenge of Self and Focus Upon God
11 Why 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.
v. 11a: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?" - Here the psalmist repeats the personal challenge of v.5b, a dialogue between the two aspects of himself: on the one hand, a man of great conviction in God, but at the same time, one who also subject to abrupt changes in mood between despair and hope, back and forth.
v. 11b: "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God" - Here at the end of the psalm, he rallies again, preaching to and exhorting himself not to feel depressed or dejected, but to challenge himself-his very soul-to hope in God. He expresses again the certainly that he will praise God as my salvation and my God. Having at this moment realize the source of true comfort, his mind is calm and he is at peace--he never gave up on God and God never left him.
APPLICATION: It shouldn't surprise us that the Bible has much to say about depression, though it may be called sorrow, grief, despair or something else. Psalm 42 can give us some solid counsel. We see the psalmist in a deep depression, but he doesn't stay there. He grabs himself by the shoulders, takes stock of his situation, confronts his depression, and seeks God with renewed intensity. The psalm gives us three points of practical application for dealing with depression:
1. When depressed, recognize it and begin to challenge yourself as to why you're depressed. The first step to conquering depression is to admit it. Providing us with a good example, the psalmist readily admits his despair both to himself and to God. If you refuse to recognize it, you can't deal with it. And notice the symptoms of his depression: (1) sadness and dejection [vv.4,11]; (2) loss of appetite [v.3]; (3) frequent crying [v.3]; and (4) being emotionally exhausted [v.4,7].
2. If, like our psalmist, your depression stems from overwhelming circumstances, think about them biblically. Learning to respond biblically to trials is one of the most crucial lessons we can learn as Christians. The Bible is replete with examples of mature believers dealing with depression: (1) Elijah in 1 Ksg. 19:1-4; (2) John the Baptist in Mt. 11:2-3; (3) and Peter in Mt. 26:69-75. Living by faith means you must choose to believe in God and His Word rather than in the circumstances the world throws at you. In today's lesson, the psalmist seemed to be overpowered by his circumstances, with no where to go except to pray fervently. If that's where you are, then pray fervently! As long as we have access to God in prayer, there's hope. The Bible is clear that we should take joy in the Lord no matter how difficult our circumstances (cf., Jn. 15:11, Acts 5:41; 16:25, Gal. 5:22, Phil. 4:4, Jas. 1:2-4).
3. When you're depressed, your main need is to seek God Himself, not just relief. When we're in emotional pain, we should see it as an opportunity to seek God and grow in Him, rather than just crying out for quick relief. Though the psalmist was in deep despair, he realized that his real need was God. Indeed, he began the psalm by recognizing that above all else, he needed God and God alone; then by the end of the psalm, he had fully connected with God and achieved a sense of peace.