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Psalms Series Two

Why So Downcast, Oh My Soul?

Psalm  42

Lesson audio

It is not mentioned at this point, but most scholars think that David wrote this Psalm while fleeing from the revolt of his son Absalom.[1] From this small fact we can learn some things.

First, remember please that David knew he was in this situation because of his own sins.[2] Nathan the prophet told him that such an event would come, and here it is. It’s a classic instance of the hold we give Satan by secret sin.

It’s most interesting, however, to consider just how far David has fallen – and what he really longs for. David was king; wives and concubines in abundance, money and victory, praise and the esteem of men were all his. By the standards of our world – and certainly in David’s thought – his fall has been very great. But David is a man after God’s own heart; therefore the one thing he misses is his fellowship with God. Remember that in these days such fellowship was to be found primarily in the Tabernacle – and David, it seemed, was banned from such worship for life. And that life didn’t look to be too long. But God is constant, and we shall see how this works out.

David’s longing is brought out by great trial. Isn’t that typical of such an experience? Trial and anguish do not create longing, they reveal it. It brings out the very heart of man. David’s love for Absalom is very great, but the one thing he longs for is fellowship with God. It is a longing of great intensity; when you separate lovers, the longing is great.

True Christian Longing

Just what should the Christian long for in times of trial and anguish?

Psalms 42:1-4 NASB For the choir director. A Maskil of the sons of Korah. As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants 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 day long, "Where is your God?" (4) These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

See the intensity of the longing! The poor deer, its tongue hanging out, at all hazards must have water – even if the hunter lurks at the water hole. Let’s look at this in detail:

  • It is the soul that longs for God. The innermost essence of the man seeks for God; it is the total commitment of man.
  • Longs? Thirsts. We know little of thirst these days, but even yet we get a sample of such desire when our designer water bottles are empty. It is a consuming, all-encompassing longing.
  • It is a thirst for the living God. The gods of this world – the flesh, the world and pride – cannot generate such a longing. You may want the pin-up girl on your wall, but that is nothing to the desire for the lady love of your life.
  • David asks “when” – not “if.” He knows he will again appear before God, but the matter is so important it will not wait. The constancy of God is proclaimed – and the weight of our longing for Him.
  • What is the event he has pictured? That he will appear before God.[3] Have you ever considered that your weekly worship is in fact you appearing before God? David is not going to meet his buddy; he’s going to praise his God.

That last is important. Give some thought to the real reason for worship. God wants us to know him as he is – and if we do, the natural, logical reaction is not “howdy buddy” but adoration, praise, thanksgiving – in short, worship.

David complains of two things:

  • His own tears – the sign of a heart in distress. He’s in pain, and he wants the pain to go away. (You don’t?)
  • Perhaps referring to Shimei[4], he complains of the mockery of others. It’s an easy thing to do; if you’re such a great Christian, why hasn’t God rushed to your side and relieved you of this problem?

So what does David do? He knows that he is a creature in time, but that God is timeless, eternal. That which he remembers is just as true as that which he is experiencing. He will recall the joy he once had in worship, and bring that experience before God – and ask why he can’t have that again.

David chastises David

David now takes himself to task for his thoughts. His emotions have ruled over him; now he must come to himself.

Psalms 42:5-8 NASB Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence. (6) O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (7) Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. (8) The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.

David then pins down the matter in two questions:

  • Why do you despair- why have you given up hope in the Hope of Israel?
  • Why are you disturbed – a soul in commotion? Do you not know the peace of God, which surpasses understanding?

Let’s begin with hope:[5]

C.S. Lewis put it this way: 

  "Hope is one of the theological virtues.  This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.  It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this."

  There is a physical analogy to this.  Have you ever been to a circus and watched the tightrope walkers?  You and I would probably keep our eyes on our feet and on the rope;  their eyes are straight ahead - in the direction they are going.  This is how they keep their balance!  So it is with us in our spiritual lives.  If we pay most of our attention to the things of this world, we become a "Protestant tea sipping society" - concerned with good works, indistinguishable from any other charity except by our old customs.  Soon enough such a congregation will wither and die - cut off at the roots.  The root is hope.  By setting our minds on the hope we have, all earthly virtues come with it.

Every football fan knows the two minute drill. If you’re down by four, with two minutes left and the ball, you have to believe you can score a touchdown. If you have no hope, you cannot win – even though hope is an intangible. If your hope is in God, earthly things fall right in.

David then does something that we might know well: he talks directly to God about it. It’s a short, wonderful passage. He remembers the beauty of the Banias Falls at the foot of Mt. Hermon (the source of the Jordan river) as seen from Mt. Mizar. He remembers the roar of the falls (there are several in that location) as if they were the voice of God speaking – and then jumps from God’s natural world to an image of that world (waves and breakers) overwhelming him. In this David gives us three thoughts:

  • I can always appeal to God the Creator – for I can see his power.
  • In his creation I see his nature – deep calls to deep; magnificent!
  • But as his nature can overpower, I am overpowered.

We can be overwhelmed by the waves and breakers – but remember, they are his waves and breakers. Do not rage; appeal to the master of ocean, earth and sky.

In the day I can see his lovingkindness, his mercy. In the night, when I cannot see – the dark night of the soul – I still can hear his song. There is a reason we learned those hymns we used to sing.

David now composes his prayer.

David’s Prayer

Psalms 42:9-11 NASB I will say to God my rock, "Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?" (10) As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" (11) Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.

I will say to –

  • God – the Almighty one, who cares for me
  • My rock – the one who is always strong; my place to hide.

What shall I say? First, don’t you remember me? Things used to be so great! Second, why is it that I’m now oppressed, going around in mourning?

These questions take some answering. God does remember you; the real problem is that things used to be so great. When we see this in others the temptation is to say, “that’s life.” Our real question is – why me? In this instance David should know. See how that fact makes no difference?

One thing this passage does: it defines your real enemies. They are the ones whose “comfort” consists of telling you how you must be a secret sinner – and thus God has abandoned you. Or those who openly mock you for being a Christian. It’s like having your bones broken – pain that won’t go away.

So what’s the answer?

David’s already given it to us.

  • Why are you downcast, in despair? Do you not know the God you serve? This will be for a season, then he will lift your head. Remember the past; look forward to the future in hope.
  • Why are you disturbed? What’s all the commotion in your heart? Receive the peace that passes understanding. Don’t try to understand it; you can’t. But you can have it.
  • Put your hope in God.

God is the “help of my countenance.” Picture someone downcast, eyes on their shoes – and the father comes along, takes them gently by the chin and lifts their eyes. It’s not for a stern lecture; it’s for a hug.

We call him, like David calls him, my God.

  • He is my God – because I have chosen him. Stick with it.
  • He is my God – because he has chosen me, and will never fail me.
  • He is God – Elohim – the Almighty One. Things over your head are still under his feet.

[1] 2nd Samuel 14-20

[2] See 2nd Samuel 12:11

[3] The reason we are using the NASB instead of the NIV in this lesson is the translation of this verse. David “appears before” God; we “meet” our good buddy Jesus.

[4] 2nd Samuel 16:5-13

[5] Next two paragraphs taken from a previous lesson – just couldn’t resist it.

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