I’m going to preach on both of these psalms today, because most of the Bible scholars believe that these two psalms were originally one psalm. There are a number of reasons for believing that, but the most obvious reason is the fact that the same refrain appears twice in Psalm 42 and once more in Psalm 43. The refrain is:
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.
It appears in verses 5 and 11 of Psalm 42 and in verse 5 of Psalm 43. And the fact that the refrain appears in both psalms is one reason for believing these two psalms were originally one psalm.
If there was ever a psalm for the current coronavirus crisis, then it’s this psalm, because in the psalm, the psalmist laments the fact that he’s unable to go up to the temple as he used to do in order to worship the Lord; and he’s praying to the Lord to bring him once more to the holy mountain and to the place where God dwells. When he refers to the holy mountain, he’s referring to Mount Zion. And when he refers to the place where God dwells, he’s referring to the temple which was located in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. And so, when the psalmist prays that God will bring him up the holy mountain to the place where God dwells, he was asking the Lord to bring him back to the temple to worship the Lord.
Now, Immanuel is not a temple, but we’re longing for the day when we can once again meet together in the church building to worship the Lord together: to give thanks to him in prayer and praise; and to hear his word; and to gather around the Lord’s Table and take part in the Lord’s Supper which he has given us for our good. Listening to these sermons over the internet is good, and the Lord is able to work in us through the reading and preaching of his word to build us up in holiness and comfort. However, what we’re doing now, by way of the internet, pales in comparison to the real thing, because, of course, when we meet together for worship, the Lord is with us and he ministers to us by his Spirit. We can’t see him, but we believe he’s with us when we meet together; and he comes to help us.
And so, what we read here in Psalms 42 and 43 about the psalmist’s longing to go up to the temple resonates with us because we long to return to church. And, of course, what the psalmist says about longing to go up to the temple points forwards and upwards to something even better, doesn’t it? It points to the wonderful hope which God gives to his people that one day we’ll come into God’s presence in the glory of the new heavens and earth to be with him in body and in soul forever and forever. Going up to the temple in Jerusalem anticipates the time when all of God’s people will dwell with him in the new, heavenly Jerusalem where we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest forever.
So, let’s turn to these two psalms to study them. And we can divide the two psalms into three parts. Firstly, there’s verses 1 to 4 with the refrain in verse 5. Secondly, there’s verses 6 to 10 with the refrain in verse 11. Thirdly, there’s verses 1 to 4 of Psalm 43 with the refrain in verse 5. In the first part, the psalmist remembers something in the past. In the second part, he refers to his present circumstances. And in the third part, there’s his future hope.
The first part begins with this image of a deer panting for streams of water. So, we’re to picture in our mind a deer which has perhaps been running through the forest. And now, the deer is panting after its run and its looking for water. If you can’t imagine a deer, think perhaps of a pet dog. It’s a hot day and she’s been running around outside. And when she comes inside, she’s panting. And then she goes over to her bowl and begins to lap up the water and she won’t stop until her thirst has been quenched. Well, the psalm uses this image of an animal panting for water to convey to us how much he longs for the opportunity to go up to the temple in Jerusalem to worship the Lord. Just as the deer longs for the water, and is not satisfied until its thirst is quenched, so he longs for the Lord, and he won’t be satisfied until he can appear before the Lord in the temple. In the second verse, he says that his soul thirsts for God. He’s using the same kind of image, comparing his longing for the Lord to thirst. And he refers to the Lord as ‘the living God’. The nations around Israel worshipped and bowed down before idols and false gods, which were not alive, but which were dead and could do nothing. But his God is the living God, the God who is alive forever and who is the source of all life and who promises everlasting life to all his people. And so, he asks at the end of verse 2 when can he go and meet with this living God?
So, in verses 1 and 2, he makes clear to us that he longs to go up to the temple and to stand before the Lord. But then, in verse 3, he makes clear to us his sorrow. He tells us that his tears have been his food, day and night. He doesn’t mean that’s he’s been eating his tears, but he means that tears have been his daily diet. Just as we eat breakfast and lunch and dinner, and perhaps we also eat at supper time and there are snacks in between, so he found himself weeping throughout the day. And not just during the day, but at night as well: ‘day and night’ he says. And one of the reasons he’s been weeping is because of these men who taunt him all day long by asking him, ‘Where is your God?’ He’s surrounded by these unbelieving enemies who are scornful about his faith. And so, he weeps and weeps and weeps, because his enemies taunt him and he’s unable to do what he used to do, which is what? Well, he tells us in verse 4 where he remembers the past and those occasions when he used to go with a multitude of people, leading the way to the house of God which is the temple in Jerusalem. So, he remembers the past and those joyful occasions and days of thanksgiving when he was among the festive throng. According to Exodus 23, the Israelites had to go up to the temple three times each year for the great religious festivals when the people would offer sacrifices to the Lord. And these were occasions of great joy whenever they celebrated God’s goodness to them. Well, the psalmist remembers those days in the past when he used to lead the procession of God’s people up the temple. But those days were now just a memory, as he sat weeping, far away from the temple and surrounded by scornful men who do not believe.
We’ll come back to the refrain later, and move on now to verses 6 to 11 where the psalmist says more about his present circumstances. In verse 6 he tells us that he’s downcast. He means he’s cast down, bent low in despair and overwhelmed with sorrow and sadness.
And he mentions the land of Jordan and the heights of Hermon and a place called Mount Mizar. So, this is where he is as he writes this psalm. The land of Jordan and Mount Hermon are located to the north of the land of Canaan. So, for some reason — and we don’t know what it is — but for some reason, he’s no longer in the Promised Land. No one knows were Mount Mizar is, but the Hebrew word ‘mizar’ means ‘small’; and some commentators think he’s not referring to a mountain called Mizar, but he’s describing Mount Hermon as a small mountain. Hermon is not a small mountain, but perhaps he means that its significance and importance is small compared to Mount Zion where he really wants to be. In any case, he’s far away from Jerusalem. And he’s downcast.
‘Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls’, he says in verse 7. The commentators suggest that wherever he’s located, he’s near waterfalls. That makes sense, because the source of the Jordan River is in the land of Jordan, among the mountains there; and there are no doubt waterfalls all around. And you can imagine, can’t you, the crashing sound a waterfall makes. That’s what he’s hearing. And then he goes on to refer to God’s waves and breakers which have swept over him. So, he’s comparing the waterfalls around him to all the troubles and trials which God has sent into his life. And just as a waterfall or a river in flood or a wave crashing on to the beach is able to overwhelm us, so he’s been overwhelmed by his troubles.
What troubles does he face? Well, look down now to verses 9 and 10 where he asks God his Rock:
Why have your forgotten me?
God is his rock: the one he clings to in times of trouble and the one who gives him security and safety. But now it seems that the Lord has forgotten him. Though he trusts in the Lord, the Lord has not come to help him. And so, he asks why he has to go about mourning and why has has to go about oppressed by his enemy. The word ‘oppressed’ in verse 9 is used in Exodus 3 to refer to the way the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites in the days of Moses. At that time, the Lord came to help his people and he delivered them from their enemies. So, why will he not come and help the psalmist? Why does God let his enemies oppress him? He says his bones suffer mortal agony as his enemies taunt him. He perhaps means that he feels crushed by what they’re saying to him.
So, here’s a description of his present circumstances. His enemies are taunting him and oppressing him. He feels crushed by what they’re doing to him and it seems to him that God has abandoned him. These are the waves and breakers which have swept over him. God has sent these troubles and trials into his life and they’re overwhelming him. He feels he’s going to be swept away by them. Though he’s clinging to God his Rock, trusting in the Lord to deliver him, his present circumstances make him wonder whether God has forgotten him.
Once again we’ll leave the refrain until later and we’ll turn to verses 1 to 5 of Psalm 43 where we read about his future hope. He asks God to vindicate him and to plead his cause against an ungodly nation. So, he’s surrounded by all these enemies, who do not believe what he believes and who are taunting him because of his faith. And he asks the Lord to vindicate him, which means he’s asking the Lord to make clear to his enemies that he was right to trust the Lord. So, vindicate me and defend me and rescue me from these deceitful and wicked men.
He professes his faith in verse 2, saying that God is his stronghold. He’s relying on the Lord to keep him safe. And again he asks the Lord why has the Lord rejected him and why must he go about mourning and oppressed by his enemies? Since he trusts in the Lord, why won’t the Lord come and save him? And so, he pleads with the Lord in verse 3 to send forth his light and his truth to guide him and to bring him to God’s holy mountain and to the place where God dwells. It’s not entirely clear what he means when he refers to God’s light and truth. Light often represents life and joy and salvation and it dispels darkness. And God’s word is true and he’s always true and faithful to his promises. However, it’s not entirely clear how God’s light and truth were to guide the psalmist. Nevertheless, the point of this verse is clear, because the psalmist is asking the Lord himself to guide him and to lead him to God’s holy mountain and to the temple where God dwells. The psalmist is hoping that God will bring him to the temple in Jerusalem to stand before the Lord. On that day, he’ll go up to the altar and offer sacrifices to the Lord, who is his joy and delight. He finds joy and delight in knowing God. And he wants to praise the Lord with a harp.
So, in the first part of these two psalms, the psalmist remembers the times when he used to go up to the temple to worship the Lord. In the second part, he describes his present circumstances: he’s far from Jerusalem; and he’s surrounded by unbelieving enemies who taunt him for what he believes; and it seems that God has forgotten him. And in the third part, there’s his future hope: coming into the presence of the Lord in God’s dwelling place.
As I said at the beginning, if there was ever a psalm for the current coronavirus crisis, then it’s this psalm or these two psalms, because this is now the sixteenth Sunday we’re been unable to go up to the church to worship the Lord together. We remember the days before lockdown, when we were able to meet together without difficulty. And we miss those days, don’t we? And we’re longing for them to return and we’re praying for them. And so, this psalm resonates with all of us at this time.
However, even if we disregard the current crisis, this is still a psalm for all of us; and it speaks to all of us, because there are so many things in the world which cause us to be downcast and discouraged and make us want to weep. All of God’s people are continually surrounded by enemies, because everyday we encounter those who do not believe; and often they despise us for what we believe and they’re scornful about our faith. They think we’re foolish for believing the Bible and for trying to live our life according to it; and they think we’re fools for trusting in the Lord and for trying to live our lives for him. They do not believe in God and they’re scornful of all those who do. And so, every day, the people we meet and the people we hear on the radio and on TV and over the internet, mock us and ridicule us and they despise us for what we believe.
And, of course, behind the scenes, there’s the Devil, our great enemy, who hates the Lord and all of the Lord’s people and who is doing everything he can to destroy our faith. In the beginning of the book of Job, the Lord is praising Job for his faithfulness. And the Devil is scornful, isn’t he? He’s scornful and he immediately wants to bring Job down and to destroy his faith in the Lord. And the Lord let Job do his worse; and so the Devil used enemy nations to steal some of his livestock; and he used lightning to destroy the rest of his livestock; and he used a storm to destroy his children. The Devil is our great enemy and he will do what he can to destroy our faith and to make us weep as Job wept because of the afflictions that came on him.
And as well as that, there are all the other daily troubles and trials we face and have to endure, because we live in a fallen world which is under God’s curse. In the beginning, before Adam sinned, the world was very good and there was nothing to spoil Adam’s happiness. But then, he sinned against the Lord and the Lord warned that as a consequence there would be trouble in the home, with husbands and wives trying to overpower one another; and there would be trouble in the workplace, because work would be frustrating and difficult and only by the sweat of his brow would he produce food to eat. And it’s been the same ever since, because we live in a fallen world, and every day we face troubles and trials which make us weep and make us downcast. And, of course, the Lord warned Adam that after a lifetime of toil and trouble, they would eventually die. And so, sickness and death came into the world.
And so, this psalm, or these two psalms, are for everyone, because this is our life in this world. There are so many things which make us downcast and which cause us to weep; and there’s so much sorrow and sadness; and there are enemies who are against us. And, of course, think about this: even once we get back to church, the very people we are longing to see again will perhaps upset us one day and they will frustrate us and they will grumble and complain about us and speak unkindly to us. They will do that to you and you will do that to them, because we’re sinners who sin against one another continually.
And when we pray to the Lord and seek his help, very often it seems that he has forgotten us, because instead of coming immediately to our aid, he makes us wait for his deliverance.
So, since this is a psalm for all of us, what should we do when we are downcast and troubled and faced with enemies who taunt us and hurt us and when it seems that the Lord has forgotten us? What should we do? Well, that’s what the refrain is for. The psalmist wrote this psalm under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit inspired him to write the refrain three times. And in the refrain he talks to himself and says:
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.
He’s saying to himself: Come on, you. I know you’re downcast, but put your hope in God. Wait for him. And why should we wait for God? Well, because he’s my Saviour and my God. That’s what the psalmist tells himself about God in verses 5 and 11 and 5 again. But more than that, the God we’re to put our hope in and the one we’re to wait for is also what? Well, look at verse 8. He’s the LORD. And it’s LORD in capital letters, which means the psalmist is using God’s covenant name which speaks of his commitment to his people, because the LORD has bound himself to his people with a promise. And it speaks of his steadfast love; and the psalmist refers to the LORD’s steadfast love in verse 8, though the NIV only uses the word ‘love’. But this is God’s covenant love, his steadfast love, his never-ending love for his people.
God has bound himself with a promise. And his promise to his people is to deliver them from their sin and misery and to give them everlasting life in the new and better world to come. And in order to keep his promise, he sent his one and only Son into the world as one of us to live the life we ought to have lived, but cannot, which is a life of perfect obedience to God; and to give up his life as the ransom to pay for all our sins. He sent his Son into the world to reconcile sinners to God.
And God has promised to give to all who trust in his Son forgiveness so that he will remember their sins no more. And has promised to give to all who trust in his Son his gracious help to cope with this life’s troubles and trials. And even in this world, he blesses us with good things to enjoy as a foretaste of the glory to come. And God has promised to give to all who trust in his Son the hope of everlasting life, because the Lord Jesus Christ who died, but who was raised, and who ascended to heaven, will come again one day. And when he comes he will gather together all of God’s people — all who have trusted in him — so that they can live together on God’s holy mountain in the new heavens and earth, where they will be with the Lord forever and they’ll never have to leave his presence as the psalmist had to. That’s God’s promise to you, if you trust in his Son. And he promises you that you’ll have perfect peace and rest in the world to come, because there will be no-one and nothing to hurt you there.
That’s the great future hope that God gives to his people. It’s the great future hope that God gives to you, if you trust in his Son. The psalmist longed to go up Mount Zion and to enter Jerusalem. But if you trust in Jesus Christ, then God promises to bring you to his holy mountain in the new world to come to live with him forever. That’s your great hope.
In this world, there will always be trouble and sorrow. There will always be trouble and sorrow and things which make us downcast and weep. We’ll never find true happiness in this world. But the Lord our God has given us the hope of everlasting life in the new and better world to come. Then we will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and delight. And I will praise him forever.
So, why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Well, there is much in this world to make us downcast and to disturb us. But hope in God. Wait for him, because he has better things, wonderful things, in store for those who trust in his Son.