What Will You Do With Despair? (Psalm 42-43)
GIST: There will be good reasons for despair, but the reasons to hope are better!
Welcome to our fifth Summer in Psalms! Fifth. That’s crazy! That means we’re still on the 15-year pace (which would bring us to the end around 2033 ☺️), but Psalm 119 could take us a whole summer by itself, and we hit some longer ones last summer and only got through four…so ☺️. Honestly, though, I love this study and am excited to continue it with you guys.
This year we’re starting with Psalm 42 which is also the first psalm in Book 2 of the psalter. The entire text is divided into five “books”, and these divisions are older than the oldest manuscripts we have…so they’ve been around for a long time. That number, five, could also be designed to remind us of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). In general, though, the psalms are not divided up by chronology but seem to have been sorted intentionally to cover broad themes. In the biggest of pictures, they focus primarily on songs of lament and praise—addressing our hardships and pointing us to truths about God. Gradually, those laments become overshadowed by praise as if the psalms are drawing us nearer and nearer to the presence of God.
We won’t notice that fade this summer though. Book 2 continues to hit the struggles we’ll face in life in full force. The first two psalms of the book, in particular, hit despair head-on. In fact, they are so similar in both theme and wording (they even share a refrain), some scholars assume they were originally part of the same song. Either way, I think they’re addressing such a similar topic, we’re going to try and address them together.
Psalm 42 is also the first psalm we’ve come to so far that has a designated author who isn’t David, so that’s worth pointing out. It is attributed to the Sons of Korah. There are several Korahs in the Old Testament, but the most famous one is found in Numbers 16. He led a rebellion against God and His chosen leader, Moses, and he and those supporting him were swallowed up by the earth. Still, Numbers 26 tells us his line survived. That has led many to speculate that this group, which penned many of the psalms and were known as great worship leaders, were descendants of that rebel. If that’s the case, even the title of this psalm is a redemption story. Let’s start by reading it and Psalm 43 together.
Psalm 42: "1 To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah. 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. 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. 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."
Psalm 43: "1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! 2 For 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? 3 Send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling! 4 Then 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. 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 and my God."
This psalm brings us face to face with despair. Though we could speculate, we aren’t given any specific context for what this psalm might be referencing. What we do know, is that this brings us straight into the heart of someone deeply broken. This is a reality many of us understand, some at deeper levels than others, and that’s one of the most precious aspects of the psalms for me. They are raw and bring us face to face with real emotions and circumstances we still really struggle with. I know I’m opting to deliberately bite off a larger chunk this morning, so let me give you our gist and dive straight in: There will be good reasons for despair, but the reasons to hope are better!
I. There Will Be Good Reasons For Despair
These two psalms list… a few. I’d say there are at least six. Now, these are by no means the only situations in our world that lead to these feelings, but they’re the ones here, so they’re the ones we’ll walk through together this morning.
1. Longing For The Presence Of God & Christian Fellowship & Feeling Isolated From It (42:1-2, 4, 6). This is one of the biggest points made in the psalm. He feels isolated from God and fellow believers. Look at a few verses here. “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?... 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… My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.”
Deer only pant for water when it’s not there. He’s longing for something he once experienced but is now separated from. He wants to feel the presence of God again. He wants to be fellowshipping with the multitude singing praises to Him. But he’s far away from Jerusalem, the center of worship, and his soul is mourning as it remembers God and that sweet company from a distance.
2. Taunted By Those Who Call Faith Into Question (42:3b, 9b-10). “3… while they say to me all the day long, "Where is your God?" 9… 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?" He’s broken and separated from the encouraging fellowship of other believers (which —as we’ll touch on later—is why being part of a local church is so important!). Instead, people see his despair, know about his faith, and call God’s existence into question. When you’re already weak and what you think is your strength is now being questioned, it’d be like having the air knocked out of you.
3. Being Overcome By Great Need (42:3a,7). Let’s look at two of the most poignant lines from these psalms: “3 My tears have been my food day and night…7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have gone over me.” Would you say he feels a little overwhelmed by his sorrow? Sorrow, which by the way, this psalm gives no indication is the result of any particular sin he’s committed. He’s in the depths of despair. Tears are his food. It’s what fills him up. It’s all he’s consuming. And the depths just keep coming like waves crashing over and over. Now, he doesn’t deny that these, too, are subject to God’s control (they are “His” waterfalls and “His” waves). Nonetheless, he feels like every time he gets hit, another wave comes before He has a chance to stand back up. Have you been there?
4. Feeling Forgotten By God (42:9). “9 I say to God, my rock: "Why have You forgotten me?” This isn’t true. God has not forgotten Him because God never does. However, when everything keeps going the wrong way, it’s easy to feel like He has. Jesus experienced this for you on the cross, and it was devastating. He was despised and rejected, so you’d never have to be. Still, our hearts forget this, and feel alone and left behind. It’s then salt in the would when we are→
5. Facing False Accusations (43:1) Psalm 43 starts with a familiar request. It’s one we saw David ask in our earlier studies: "1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” This psalmist, too, is feeling the injustice of being falsely accused. His name and reputation are being run through the mud. If you’ve experienced this, you know how bad it hurts. You want to stand up and fight for your name and character, but sometimes doing that just adds fuel to their fire.
6. Feeling Rejected By God (43:2) Deeper, though, than the rejection of man is feeling like your God has left you. “2 For 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?” Like before, this is never true. But these feelings are real, and the brokenness they cause is shattering.
Let’s never downplay this. There will be plenty of reasons in our lives to feel despair. Experiencing that doesn’t make you “less Christian”. However, there is hope in Christ that can pull us from those depths and→
II. The Reasons To Hope Are Better!
One of the lessons we can learn from these psalms is one that comes up frequently in this book of the Bible. When you are facing the effects of living in a broken, sinful world→
Talk To Yourself (42:5, 42:11, 43:5). Remind yourself of the truths of God’s word…even when you’re not “feeling it”. That’s exactly what’s happening in this thrice-repeated refrain: “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.”
The first thing the psalmist reminds us to do here is→
Consider The Source Of Your Turmoil. You’re going to have it. Your life won’t always be easy. But take time to step back and ask yourself why you’re feeling overcome by it. Your pain is real, but so is His grace. We can’t ever forget either of these truths. Let me just break down how the psalmists actually do this in the psalms themselves.
WHAT IS THE CIRCUMSTANCE?:
Longing For The Presence Of God & Christian Fellowship And Feeling Isolated From It (42:1-2, 4, 6)
Taunted By Those Who Call Faith Into Question (42:3b, 9b-10)
WHAT TRUTH SHOULD WE REMEMBER?:
Don’t Neglect Or Take For Granted The Fellowship. Ok, this one isn’t directly stated in the text, but it is definitely here by implication. Being separated from consistent fellowship with other believers can be devastating. Yes, I keep up with the modern religious trends, so I know deconstruction and church abuse are buzzwords. I also know that many terrible things have been done in the name of “the church”. That’s inexcusable. However, people misusing God’s design is not a reason to throw it out. Find a church that loves Jesus and wants desperately to point you to Him and get plugged in. They won’t be perfect, but if they are willing to struggle through this walk with you, they’re vital.
Follow His Truth & Light to His Presence (43:3-4). Now, look at what the psalmist tells himself in verses 3-4. “3 Send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling! 4 Then 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.” You might feel distant from God. People might taunt you by calling His existence and movement into question, but none of that changes His reality or His character. Cry out for Him to send you light in the dark world and point you to the truth when you’re wading through lies and let those lead you to His presence where you’ll praise Him!
WHAT IS THE CIRCUMSTANCE?:
Being Overcome By Our Great Need (42:7)
WHAT TRUTH SHOULD WE REMEMBER?:
He Is Our Rock & Refuge (42:9a & 43:2a). Even though these two verses express that he feels forgotten and rejected at the moment (which we’ll come to next), they start with the truth he needed reminded of—the truth we need to remind ourselves when we’re overcome with despair. No matter how many hits keep coming, we have a solid rock to stand on and a refuge in which to take cover. The rain might continue to pour, but we can remain safe in His unshakeable arms.
WHAT IS THE CIRCUMSTANCE?:
Feeling Forgotten—or even—Rejected By God (42:9 & 43:2)
Facing False Accusations (43:1)
WHAT TRUTH SHOULD WE REMEMBER?:
Look at the only verse we haven’t talked about yet this morning: 42:8 “By day the LORD commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”
His Love Is Steadfast. It will never forget or reject you. It will stand no matter what opposition you face.
His Song Is With Us. You know I’m a sucker for songs, and this resonated with me. His song, which is a prayer for the psalmist, comes to him at night—when we are most susceptible to despair. He is always with you. He’ll bring to remembrance His words and speak for you in your groanings too deep for words!
He Is The Source Of Life. You might feel cut off from Him, but your very life is a testimony of His existence.
So, talk to yourself about the truth and→
Determine To Praise Him. The psalmist makes a conscious decision to praise God even though he’s not “emotionally prepared” to do that. Praise is a choice. Choose to do it, and→
Remember Why You Can. You can and will praise Him again. Despair doesn’t have to be the end of your story because He is your salvation and your God!
There will be good reasons for despair. Life will hurt.
But the reasons to hope are better! God is good.
Talk to yourself!
Consider the source of your turmoil.
Determine to praise Him.
And remember why you can! (He is your salvation and your God!)