Psalms 42 & 43 Study

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalms 42 & 43 (see notes)

Psalm 42
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?
3My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
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.
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
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? 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?”
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.

Psalm 43
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?
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.
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.

Question 1. Psalm 42:1-2. What condition is the psalmist experiencing? If the writer himself is likened to a deer, what do the dried up “streams” represent?

Consider the simile in verse 1: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” Deer don’t sweat much and have to pant to cool themselves in hot weather. So a panting deer is thirsty, hot, and maybe desperate. The psalmist is conveying a sharply felt need in verse 1. He compares himself to that deer in his felt need for God. He is thirsty and desperate, and recognizes that his need is God; would that we also recognized this keenly that our need is God! Instead, we often look to more money, a better job, or some other idol. We should also recognize that our need for God is not only met immediately (that is, without mediation), from the ether. God comes to us via means: prayer, the study and application of His word, the sacraments, and, critically, Christian fellowship.

The question is somewhat sloppy; what dried up streams? Verse 1 only refers to flowing streams. Nothing in vv. 1-2 refers to any stream being dried up.

The only dry things in vv. 1-2 are the deer’s constitution and the psalmist’s soul; so if the psalmist is thirsty in his soul, he is suffering from separation from God; we know from Psalm 1 that a blessed man is “like a tree planted by streams of water; …” Since a tree planted by streams of water always has its roots connected to the stream, thirst must convey separation. The psalmist confirms the fact of his separation by asking, “When shall I come and appear before God?” This can also be read as: “When shall I come and see the face of God?” according to my bible. Only by sensing his separation from God could he ask this question.

The psalmist does not indicate the reason for this separation.

Question 2. Since the cause was not sin or suffering, what elements appear to have triggered his condition? Look through the entire psalm (that is, both Psalms 42 and 43.) How does each “trigger” factor apply to you today?

In verses 42:3-4, the psalmist says that his tears are always with him, so he is grieving or depressed. His tears also ask, “Where is your God?” This is a key insight. The psalmist acknowledges that his savior God’s presence ought to cheer him, but since he’s down, his God must be absent. I often feel guilty when I am down; it is as if I am not really a Christian because I’m not cheerful. This is the first trigger in the psalm.

The psalmist also remembers a time he led the procession to worship. He is feeling the loss of this position and those relationships. Also, the worship he remembers is festive and joyful; that’s also gone. Because these great memories are rooted in the worship of his savior and his brothers and sisters in the procession, there is no escaping an association with God in this memory. As we grow more mature in Christ, we will always remember a rosy, less compromised past with our savior, whether accurate or no, and will be tempted to sadness. These heavy losses are the second trigger.

In verse 42:7 the psalmist invokes Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish, especially Jonah 2:3.

For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.

In the psalmist’s case he is likening himself to Jonah by making the same prayer, but from Sheol. This is instructive; the psalmist uses another saint’s prayer as his own. This is an invitation to use his prayer for ourselves – maybe to pray the whole psalmbook! Thus the title of this study: Praying Through the Psalms. In verse 42:9 he laments that God has forgotten him, and in verse 42:9b he notes that his adversaries ask the same impertinent question as his tears: “Where is your God?” In verse 43:2 the psalmist escalates this lamentation: God’s rejection (not just forgetting) and his enemies’ presence. These are struggles the psalmist has to face – depression and opposition.

These are all long-term struggles. It’s easy as a Christian to think that my walk has failed because of the jagged nature of my walk toward glory – and if the struggles of my life (the ones not involving my own sins) aren’t resolved, I begin to think wonder whether I’m really a son or not. This is easy to do – my version of asking “Where is my God?” as the psalmist’s tears and enemies do. The combination of enemies or deep sadness casting doubt on God’s presence is the third trigger.

Question 3. What does the psalmist do to face this condition? Look through the entire psalm.

The psalmist first pours out his soul; we know that confessing sins to God brings forgiveness and cleansing (1 Jn. 1:9), but also closeness (indeed, the theme of 1 Jn. is assurance.) Sometimes it’s good to let it all out before Him. See John Calvin in the author’s preface to his commentary on the book of Psalms:

Only it appeared to me to be requisite to show in passing, that this book makes known to us this privilege, which is desirable above all others — that not only is there opened up to us familiar access to God, but also that we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities which we would be ashamed to confess before men.

The psalmist also reminds himself (and the singing congregation reminded itself, repeatedly over the years in worship whenever this psalm was sung), to: 1. Hope in God (biblical, assured hope, not pagan, doubtful hope), and 2. praise God for His salvation. These two lines are the chorus of this psalm and are repeated twice. We should take notice when God repeats Himself; here, God is commanding us to repeat Him.

Question 4. “The ultimate cause of spiritual dryness is God. Sometimes God allows us to experience dryness as a way to strengthen and grow us.” Do you agree with this statement? Could you share an example from your own life?

I agree with this statement. Early in my Christian walk I studied the Westminster Confession of Faith. While still brand new, I briefly thought that the Christian life would be smooth sailing and obedience would be a common Christian trait. Then I read Chapter 18, Paragraph 4 of the Confession:

True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair. (emphasis mine)

This passage is on topic: the wounding of the assurance of a believer, which can happen as a result of man’s sin or God’s unilateral action (God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance.) This was very depressing to my immature Christian mind. At the time I wished that this was not true.

However, time has proven this passage accurate – I have felt and many times feel like my walk with God is “dry”; and others have told me of the same affliction.

Question 5. What have you learned in these psalms that can help you “pray your difficulties” better?

Here are the main things I’ve learned, in order:

1. Spiritual “dryness”, or the removal of God’s countenance for any reason, happens. If it didn’t, why would God address it? But he does – so if a man is spiritually dry for an extended period of time, he should recognize it as a trial, not merely as “the way it is.”

2. It can happen to anyone – like David, a man after God’s own heart! More to the point, the fact that it happened to a giant of the Christian faith tells us that God has no regard for merit, good looks or talent when He challenges His children with this trial. Any man who finds himself in this kind of dry spell should not add to his woes by concluding that he’s also a loser.

3. God wants us to understand this topic and to remember that He is faithful to us in it. So He inspired David to compose it for the divine songbook – so His people could sing it again and again! Interesting: the Old Testament “hymnal” had songs with much more honesty about human emotions than much of the modern stuff we sing today.

4. Since God had everybody sing this, we can know that this is a universal trial. We’re not alone, either in a vertical sense (relationship with God), or in a horizontal sense (with our fellow believer). In aviation, we have a saying about common errors (like the inadvertent use of the emergency radio frequency to make a routine radio call): “There are those who have, and those who will.” Likewise, we are either remembering or awaiting a trial of spiritual dryness. This suggests that should any of us men acquire the guts to confess this problem to a brother, he will receive empathy. Experience sadly tells me that this exchange won’t happen anyway.

Notes:
Using Praying the Psalms Group Study Product
All Bible quotes ESV

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