Psalm 42: A Soul Thirsty for God
Spiritual depression has been a major problem in our world and God’s children have experienced it also through the centuries. It was such a problem that Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a Welsh Protestant minister and medical doctor, published a book entitled Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure in 1954. It became one of the most widely circulated books he ever wrote. I had that book in my library, but it has disappeared over time. As Christians we too sometimes feel depressed and sing the blues. In fact, we can identify with Erma Bombec, the younger generation will not know this lady, when she asked in the title of one of her best-selling books, “If life Is a Bowl of Cherrie, Why Am I Living it the Pits? Depression affects nearly all of us at some point in our lives, if only to a minor extent
With this Psalm we open Book II of the Psalms. Most scholars will agree that Psalm 42 and 43 were originally one song: They point to three strong signs supporting their view:
- The common theme and continuous flow of both psalms.
- The lack of a title or heading to Psalm 43.
- The repeated refrain in both psalms (42:5, 11; 43:5).
Several scholars believe Psalm 42-49 were written by the sons of Korah for their use in temple worship. However, others believe that the sons of Korah wrote the Psalms but that they were based on David’s life. Regardless of the authors, they were inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Whatever his circumstances, the author was suffering through a period of intense trials, trials so severe that they plunged him into deep depression. God is teaching us in these Psalms what to do when we find ourselves in a period of discouragement or even depression.
The first case of distress which the psalmist reports in this chapter is about his great desire for the fellowship with and worship of God. He has evidently been cut off from worship (cp. I Sam. 26:19) and mourns the fact of his lack of time with God. Away in desert places the psalmist's thoughts are on what he would normally be doing at that time: leading the procession to the house of God (v. 4). He would be in godly company and together they would be singing with shouts of joy and thanksgiving. How different it was here! Instead of the festive throng there were just these bedraggled refugees for company; instead of sharing the thanksgiving, people were taunting them with where is your God? (v. 3); instead of shouts of joy there were floods of tears (v. 3). I can now appreciate what David was experiencing since Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic took over and everything was shut down and we were unable to meet for worship for some time. There were numerous times I wished, prayed, and longed for the opportunity to meet with my brethren in person. Yes, the zoom programs helped but it was not the same. Our Lord knew what He was doing by commanding us to assemble, even with masks. Loneliness has been a serious problem all over the world because of this pandemic.
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (1-2). A likely translation of the end of verse 2 is, “When will I come and see the face of God?” There is a sense in which we can feel that we are in the company of God every day, but it is not the same as when we enter His presence in public worship (Acts 17:27-28). There is a deep spiritual hunger in all our hearts that can only be satisfied by the presence of God himself. The presence of God satisfies our deepest spiritual longings. The fellowship is sweet for those who walk with the Lord in obedience and faith. But the sweet fellowship that comes from obedience, trust, and worship of the Lord is not a passing feeling. It sustains us, especially during trials, for “the joy of the Lord shall be your strength” (Neh. 8:10). I cannot express the gratitude and joy that I experienced when we first were able to assemble again. Some have been hindered for a long time and we miss everyone, and I want you to know that we love you and miss you tremendously, but we understand the danger and the fear that still confronts us. I pray that the time will soon come when we can feel safe in the assembly. It is my prayer and heartfelt desire to experience the gathering of all the saints at that time. From this beautiful psalm let us learn to tell God how deeply we yearn for Him.
The second important lesson to learn from this Psalm is to remember God regardless of how terrible our situation may be (vv. 6-11). When we are separated from the people and places, we love, we are prone to feel separated from God, as if He too were far from us. But the truth is that God is never far from us: Acts 17:27 says, “He is not far from each of us.” God does not play favorites; all people can enjoy God’s presence. But many do not. They plod through life as if there is no God to love them. As if the only strength is their own. As if the only solution will come from within, not above. The psalmist determined, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You, God.” Put your hope in God. You will get through this! This is what the psalmist remembered: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore, I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar” (vv. 5, 6). The psalmist refused to give in to his depression, choosing instead to battle it by remembering God.
Note three life-changing applications here that can help us when we are having a bad time.
First: The psalmist focused on the truth of God’s word.
Second: He focused on God’s unfailing love during his trouble.
Third: He chose to praise God during his depression.
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
“The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore, with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3).
How much have we experienced this thirsting like the deer panting for the water brooks? Or have we become desensitized, callused, and so unable to recognize the symptoms of seeking to quench our thirst at the wrong fountains? Have we become dissatisfied with the baubles of this world that we have begun to change our values, priorities, and pursuits to please God rather than ourselves?