July 11 – Psalm 42


At different times Psalms 42 and 43 have been read as one psalm or as two; 42:5, 42:11, and 43:5 are all the same refrain, so it was perhaps one long song. However, we’ll keep to the division as it stands and just look at Psalm 42 this week. In it the psalmist describes a situation in which they long to worship God in the Temple but are physically away from Jerusalem and prevented from getting there. In the first stanza the psalmist starts with an image of a deer in the dry, mountainous landscape of Israel, panting for water. That deer is an image of the psalmist’s soul; though they have longed for nourishment, the only food or drink they’ve managed to find is their own tears. This is more than dehydration—this is desperation. And in that desperation this psalm captures the longing we often experience for the refreshment of God’s presence.

Kind of like we saw last week in Psalm 13, the laments in Psalm 42 are followed by self-addressed reminders of hope. Interestingly, the psalmist flips back and forth between addressing God, “my soul thirsts for you,” and addressing themself, “why are you cast down, O my soul?” This combination of God-ward talk and self-ward talk helps address the problem from two different angles; the psalmist is both naming the issue, “I thirst for God and am without him,” and reminding their soul of the solution, “God will satisfy my thirst.” Though this satisfaction hasn’t yet arrived, the psalmist knows where to wait for it. This is an excellent model for prayer in which you simultaneously go to the source of your satisfaction and remind yourself of the source.

In his book Spiritual Depression, Martin Lloyd-Jones asks, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” He goes on to explain that every day, from the moment we wake up, the innate feelings, fears, and lies within us keep up a continual running commentary. And similarly, Psalm 42 would recommend to talk to yourself rather than listen—that’s what the psalmist is doing with their self-ward talk here. In the refrain (v.5-6a and verse 11) the psalmist is reminding themself, multiple times, of the grounding truth that will help them weather the storm of the taunts they are receiving from outside and from within. That inward assault is especially difficult, and this is one of the many spiritual tensions the psalms put into words for us: belief and doubt can both well up from within us. As much as we want to praise God from the depths of our hearts, we must also admit, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jer. 17:9) As we’ve seen thus far in the psalms, that doesn’t mean we override or cover up our emotions. It means that, like in Psalm 42, we bring our emotions to God while reminding ourselves of the truth that adds ballast to our emotional state.

In verse 8 we see the same language we saw in Psalm 13 about God’s covenantal, “steadfast love.” In 42:6b-10 the psalmist gives their second lament of the psalm, but right in the middle of it they confess, “By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” The solution to the discouragement and disquietude we see in this psalm is expressed in the refrain: Hope in God. As we practice the skill of self-ward talk and remind ourselves of the hope we have in God even when we feel hopeless, we must always return to the core truth of the gospel, that Jesus’ death on the cross is the definitive emblem of God’s steadfast love towards us. When we feel God’s absence, we must remember that he took it upon himself to accomplish everything needed to bring us into his presence. And we remind ourselves of this truth because it is both the treatment and solution for the sickness of our unbelief. The return of symptoms doesn’t make the prognosis fatal—it’s simply a cue to return to what cures you! And in Jesus we have every assurance that our healing is inevitable, “For I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.”(Phil. 1:6)

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Psalm 42 for us?

• What stood out to you in this psalm?

• What kind of situation is the psalmist describing here?

• What does the psalmist’s internal dialogue look like? How do you relate to that?

• What does the psalmist do in response to this situation?

• Could someone read Matthew 27:45-50. How does Jesus’ death on the cross help us when we feel God’s absence?

• Thinking back to Psalm 42, is there a specific situation in your life in which you know you lack hope in the Lord?

• Close by praying for one another in those specific situations.