Unit: Psalms (Part 1)
Lesson Text: Psalms 42–43
Supplemental Text: Psalm 63; 1 Peter 5:6-7; 1 Samuel 1:1-20
Aim: Put your hope in God’s reality when life appears to deny his care for you.
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By Mark Scott
A line from the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” says, “We should never be discouraged.” Really? Is that reality in a fallen world? Discouragement comes from several fronts. The sons of Korah evidently knew that and sang about it. Psalms 42 and 43 are combined as a single psalm in many Hebrew manuscripts. The refrain that admits the reality of discouragement and yet hope in God unites the psalms (42:5, 11; 43:5). This is a maskil, a kind of musical notation or liturgical term.
How the Psalmist Felt
While our emotions can lie to us, they can also be very real. “Feelings” and the Psalms are inextricably linked. The psalmist behind these two psalms admitted several feelings. He felt a longing for God (42:1-2). This longing or spiritual thirst was as strong as the deer panting for water. The psalmist also admitted his tears (42:3). They flowed so strongly that they were his source of nourishment. But these tears may have been caused by mockers (“Where is your God?”) and enemies (42:3, 9). This reality caused the psalmist to feel rejected by God himself (43:2).
In addition to these things, the psalmist admitted physical suffering (“My bones suffer mortal agony”—evidently some kind of deadly wound, 42:10). The psalmist felt forgotten (“Why have you forgotten me?” 42:9). All of this caused the psalmist to feel downcast (to bow low or bow down). He was disturbed (to roar or clamor). This was real. But hope in God also was (and is) real. So, the psalmist reminded himself to put his hope in God. Praising God is good therapy for overcoming discouragement.
What the Psalmist Remembered
In times of deep discouragement, we must draw upon the worship of God and the love of God. The psalmist longed to meet with God. He wanted to be in Jerusalem near the tabernacle (or temple) to worship God among the festive throng. He longed to go to the house of God and experience joy and praise. The psalmist seems to have been in the Jordan Valley near Galilee. Mount Mizar is in the northernmost part of Israel (this is the Mount Hermon region). The psalmist compared his troubles to the region’s waterfalls (“all your waves and breakers have swept over me”). The idiom deep calls to deep describes the longing in his soul.
The psalmist reminded himself of the love of God. In fact, he mentioned that special Hebrew word chesed in verse 8. This is God’s loyal or covenantal love, or his loving-kindness. In his despair, the psalmist reminded himself of the love of God by day and God’s song in his life by night. There is much spiritual therapy going on in these psalms. We must admit reality. Things hurt in a fallen world. God’s hand (presence) is not as evident in the world as it was in Genesis 1–2 and as it will be in that new Eden (heaven on steroids) in Revelation 21–22. But this veil between the glories of heaven and the discouragement of earth gets thinner as we remember God and praise God.
What the Psalmist Wanted
Psalm 43 helps flesh out the dilemma of Psalm 42. If Psalm 42 admits the reality of our pain, then Psalm 43 admits the reality of our victory over that pain with help from God. As he sang his song of despair, the psalmist wanted four things. Starting out, he wanted vindication from God. This means he wanted God to judge on his behalf or plead his case. The unfaithful nations had come at him with their criticisms and mockeries. He wanted God to contend or strive for him. As part of this vindication, the psalmist also wanted God to rescue him. This request meant he wanted to be delivered or helped to escape from those who are deceitful and wicked.
The psalmist also wanted light (probably referring to understanding or insight into life) and faithful care (probably referring to the truthfulness of God’s Word). He knew God was his stronghold (fortified place), which is why he also wanted to worship. When we enter God’s sanctuary (Psalm 73:17), we begin to see our way through our distorted views and discouragements. The psalmist wanted to go to God’s holy mountain and to the altar of God (references to Jerusalem and the temple). He wanted the privilege of praise, expressing his joy and delight with the lyre, a musical instrument. There are troubles in this world. But more importantly, there is hope in God.