Psalms 1 - 50by Mike Raiter
Psalms 42 and 43 are very likely to have been originally one psalm. Taken together, the two psalms can be divided into three parts, each concluding with the same chorus: ″Why, my soul, are you downcast?″ (42:5, 11; 43:5). They are the first psalms of the second book in Psalms (consisting of Psalms 42 to 72), and the first of the psalms attributed to the Sons of Korah, who were probably musicians responsible for worship in the temple.
The two psalms tell the story of a man's sense that God has abandoned him. Psalm 42 begins with the powerful image of a deer lost in the wasteland. It is cut off from the life-giving source of water. The psalmist feels the same sense of desperation. He longs to come back into God's presence (vv. 1-2).
The man is in a foreign land. He is full of sorrow because he cannot participate in the worship that takes place in the temple (vv. 3-4; 43:3). His sense of alienation reaches its lowest point in the second part, when foreigners mock the supposed absence of his God (42:9-10). We see here the struggle in his soul. When we are depressed, our emotions ebb and flow. The psalmist confesses: ″My soul is downcast within me″ (v. 6, see v. 9), but then he reminds himself: ″By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me″ (v. 8).
In the third part, the poet longs for God to rescue him (Psalm 43). Again, we are not told what caused this crisis in his life. The details are kept vague so that we, too, can sing this song when the Lord seems far from us. The final verses are words of hope (Psalm 43:3-5). The psalmist is confident that God's light and truth will bring him back to Jerusalem and to God. Again he will praise Him in the assembly of God's people.
Today, we Christians have God's presence by His Spirit everywhere we go. Still, many will testify to times in their lives when God feels distant. Psalms 42 and 43 give us a song to sing at such times, and a reminder that we will return to God, ″my joy and my delight″ (43:4).
Psalms 42 and 43 describe the experience of one man who felt abandoned by God. They remind us of Jesus, who on the cross experienced even greater abandonment than this man. In Gethsemane He prayed: ″My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death″ (Matthew 26:38). Yet He, too, put His hope in God.
Since the Day of Pentecost, God's people have known the presence of God by His Spirit, all the time and everywhere. In our experience of God, what do we share in common with the writer of Psalms 42 and 43, who lived under the old covenant? How is our experience of God's presence different from his?
When he is downcast, the psalmist rebukes himself: ″Why are you downcast?″ What can we learn from him about letting our thoughts and feelings lead us into despair?