In this Psalm is the conflict between reason and faith, reason objecting and faith answering. Faith begins with holy desires towards God and communion with Him. We are not told who penned this psalm, but it was most probably David at a time when, either by Saul’s persecution or Absalom’s rebellion, he was driven from the sanctuary and cut off from the privilege of waiting upon God in public service. If we be in bodily affliction or soul distress, we may be able to empathise with the melancholy expressions we find here. If not we may thank God it is not our case but sympathise with those whose case it is. But let us use it to express and excite holy desires towards God, and of our dependence on Him. Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?
[Slide right to left] No More Mourning You should be always rejoicing; Never go about mourning. It may be dark at present But a new day is dawning. Don’t yield to gloomy anticipations So not listen to what the enemy has to say. He it is who will tell you That the night will never end in day. He it is who will try to convince you That you are all alone and lost That the winter of your discontent Will proceed from frost to frost. Snow and ice may be around the corner Deeper snow and threatening hail But you live in the love of the Father A love that will never fail. Despair may be all around you But you can rejoice and delight In the secure knowledge That day does indeed follow the night. Mourning shall be no more for you. By the enemy you will no longer be oppressed Spring and summer do succeed winter Hope springs eternal in the human heart. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
Psalm 42 – A Psalm of David
As a deer pants for flowing streams, 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? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These 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. Why 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.
My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Why 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.
Love is holy thirsting
Henry says – A holy love to God as our primary aim is the very life and soul of faith. Without it all external professions and performances are but a shell and carcase. Love is a holy thirsting love soaring upwards in holy desires towards the Lord and towards the remembrance of His name (Ps. 42:1, 2): “My soul pants, thirsts for God, for nothing more than God, but still for more and more of Him.”
David expressed his vehement desire towards God when he was barred from his opportunities of waiting upon God in the land of Jordan. Sometimes God teaches us to know the worth of mercies by the want of them. He whets our appetite for the means of grace by cutting us short in those areas. We are apt to loathe the manna, when we have plenty of it. Yet if we have a scarcity of it then it will be very precious to us. When he was deprived of the inward comfort he used to have in God, he went about mourning.
We may take comfort in our earnest desires toward God, which He alone has by His grace, wrought in us. For lamenting after God is evidence that we love Him. Before the psalmist records his doubts, fears and griefs, he premises that he looked upon the living God as his chief good. He had set his heart upon Him and was resolved to live and die by Him.
His eye to God
He thirsts for God. A gracious soul takes little satisfaction in God’s house if it does not meet with God Himself there: “O that I knew where I might find Him! that I might have more of the tokens of His favour, the graces and comforts of His Spirit, and the expressions of His glory.” His eye was toward God as the living God, that has life in Himself, and is the fountain of life and all happiness to those who are His.
He is the living God, not only in opposition to dead idols, the works of men’s hands, but to all the dying comforts of this world. Living souls can never take up their rest any where short of a living God. He longs to come and appear before God—to make himself known to Him. To attend on Him, as a servant appears before his master, to pay his respects to Him and receive His commands.
It is his soul that pants and thirsts, which denotes not only the sincerity, but the strength of his desire. His longing for the water of the well of Bethlehem was nothing to this. He compares it to the panting of a hunted deer after the water-brooks, which is naturally hot and dry. So does a gracious soul desire communion with God. It is impossible to find satisfaction with anything short of that communion. It is so insatiable that even when that communion returns, they are still thirsting for the full enjoyment of Him which will come in the heavenly Kingdom.
We know where our God is
The holy love mourning for the withdrawals of God’s presence causes tears. (Ps. 42:3): “My tears have been my meat day and night during this forced absence from God’s house.” His circumstances were sorrowful. Even the royal prophet was a weeping prophet when he wanted the comforts of God’s house. His tears were his meat day and night. He fed upon his own tears and it satisfied him that he found his heart so much affected with this grievance.
Two things aggravated his grief. One being the reproaches with which his enemies teased him: They continually say to me, Where is Your God? Because he was absent from the ark which was the token of God’s presence. They concluded he had lost his God. Those are mistaken who think that when they have robbed us of our Bibles, and our ministers, and our solemn assemblies, they have robbed us of our God. For, though God has tied us to them when they are to be had, he has not tied Himself to them. We know where our God is, and where to find Him. Wherever we are there is a way open heaven-ward.
Because God did not immediately appear for his deliverance they concluded that He had abandoned him. Nothing is more grievous to a gracious soul than that which is intended to shake its hope and confidence in God.
Whatever others do, he would serve the Lord
Another thing that grieved him was the remembrance of his former liberties and enjoyments, Ps. 42:4. Son, remember your good times. David remembered the days of old, and then his soul was poured out, he melted away, and the thought almost broke his heart. He poured out his soul within him in sorrow, and then poured out his soul before God in prayer. In times past he went to the house of God, though in his time it was but a tent. But the meanness and obscurity of the place did not lessen his esteem of that sacred symbol of the Divine presence.
David was a prince, a man of honour, a man of business, and yet very diligent in attending God’s house and joining in public ordinances. This even in the days of Saul when he and his great men enquired not at it, 1 Chron. 13:3. Whatever others did, David and his house would serve the Lord. He went with the multitude, and thought it of no contempt to be at the head of a crowd in attending upon God. The more the better in the service of God for it is all the more like heaven.
He went with the voice of joy and praise, not only with joy and praise in his heart, but with the outward expressions of it, proclaiming his joy and speaking the high praises of his God. When we wait upon and attend to God we have reason to do it with cheerfulness and give to God the glory for the liberty of access we have to Him.
They shall not prevent our endless hallelujahs
(Ps. 42:5): Why are you downcast, O my soul? His sorrow was for good reason, but it must not prevail to depress his spirit. He communes with his own heart for relief. “Come, my soul, I have something to say to you in your heaviness.” “Let the cause of this uneasiness be weighed to see if it be a just cause.” Our agitations would vanish in many cases if we were to give them strict scrutiny. “Why am I cast down? What is the real cause? Do others not have more cause and not make as much fuss? Those who commune with their own hearts will often have occasion to rebuke them, as David did here. “Why do I dishonour God by my melancholy spirit? Why do I discourage others and do so much injury to myself? Can I give a good account of this disturbance?”
The cure is to Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him. A believing confidence in God is a sovereign antidote against prevailing despondency and agitation of spirit. When we catch hold of the power and promises of God, it keeps the head above water. Hope in God, that He shall have the glory from us: “I shall yet praise Him. It is the greatest honour and happiness of a man, and the greatest desire and hope of every good man, to be for God for a name and a praise. What is the crown of heaven’s bliss but this, that there we shall be forever praising God? And this is our support under our present woes that they shall not prevent our endless hallelujahs.
Leave our case with Him
We shall have comfort in Him. We shall praise Him for His help, His favour and the support and satisfaction we have in it. Those who know how to value and improve the light of God’s demeanour will find a suitable and sufficient help in the worst of times. It will furnish them with constant matter for praise. David’s believing expectation of this kept him from sinking. His harp was a palliative cure of Saul’s melancholy, but his hope was an effectual cure of his own.
Yet he complains of the griefs in his spirit, but comforts himself with the thoughts of God, Ps. 42:6. In his troubles his soul was dejected, and he goes to God and tells Him so: O my God! my soul is downcast within me. It is a great support to us, whenever we are distressed, that we have the liberty of access to God. We have liberty of speech before Him, and may open to Him the causes of our dejection. David had communed with his own heart about its own bitterness, and had not as yet found relief and so now turns to God. When we cannot get relief for our burdened spirits by pleading with ourselves, we should try praying to God and leaving our case with Him.
He can still these winds
We cannot still these winds and waves, but we know who can. In his devotions his soul was elevated. “My soul is plunged and to prevent it sinking, I will remember You, meditate upon You, and call upon You.” The way to forget the sense of our miseries is to remember the God of our mercies. He was now driven to the utmost borders of the land of Canaan, to shelter himself there from the rage of his persecutors. But wherever he went he took his faith with him. In all these places, he remembered God, and lifted up his heart to Him, and kept his secret communion with Him.
This is the comfort of the banished, the wanderers, the travellers and of those who are strangers in a strange land. Undique ad caelos tantundem est viae—wherever they are there is a way open heavenward. Distance and time could not make him forget that which his heart was so much focused on.
He complains of the tokens of God’s displeasure against him, but comforts himself with the hopes of the return of His favour in due time. He saw his troubles coming from God’s wrath, and that discouraged him (Ps. 42:7): “Deep calls unto deep, one affliction comes upon the back of another. He may have been in an agitated state from the terror under the apprehensions of God’s anger. One frightful thought summoned another as is usual in melancholy people. He was overpowered and overwhelmed with a deluge of grief, like that of the old world, when the windows of heaven were opened and the fountains of the great deep were broken up.
Those waves are under Divine check
Whatever waves and billows of affliction go over us at any time we must call them God’s waves and His billows. They are to cause us to humble ourselves under His mighty hand. We may encourage ourselves to hope that though we be threatened we shall not be ruined, for those waves and billows are under a divine check. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of these many waters. Do not let good men think it strange if they be under many and various trials, and if they come thickly upon them, God knows what he is doing.
Jonah made use of these words of David in the whale’s belly, Jonah 2:3 (they are exactly the same in the original), and of him they were literally true, All Your waves and Your billows have gone over me. The book of psalms has been designed to reach everyone’s case. David expected his deliverance to come from God’s favour (Ps. 42:8): Yet the Lord will command His lovingkindness. Things are bad, but they shall not always be so. After the storm there will come a calm, and the prospect of this supported him when deep called unto deep.
He promised himself that the Lord will command His lovingkindness. He eyes the favour of God as the fountain of all the good he looked for. That is better than life and God will gather those from whom he has, in a little wrath, hid His face, Isa. 54:7, 8. God commands His favour which intimates the freeness of it. We cannot pretend to merit it, it is sovereignly bestowed. He makes us to hear His lovingkindness. He speaks and it is done.
And they shall obey Him
God commands deliverance (Ps. 44:4), commands the blessing (Ps. 133:3), as One having authority. By commanding His lovingkindness, He commands down the waves and the billows, and they shall obey Him. This He will do in the daytime, for God’s lovingkindness will bring daytime in the soul. Though weeping has endured for a night, a long night, yet joy will come in the morning.
David promises that if God commands His lovingkindness for him, then he will welcome it with his best affections and devotions. He will rejoice in God: In the night His song shall be with me. The mercies we receive in the day we ought to return thanks for at night. When others are sleeping we should be praising God. See Ps. 119:62; At midnight will I rise to give thanks. In silence and solitude, when we are retired from the hurries of the world, we must be pleasing ourselves with the thoughts of God’s goodness.
Even in tribulation the saints can rejoice in hope of the glory of God and sing in hope Rom. 5:2, 3. It is God’s prerogative to give songs in the night, Job 35:10. We are to seek God in a constant dependence upon Him: My prayer shall be to the God of my life. Our prayers are to be quickened in the believing expectation of mercy. God is the God of our life, in Whom we live and move, the author and giver of all our comforts. Therefore to whom should we pray, but to Him? And from Him what good may not we expect?
God is our Rock
He complains of the insolence of his enemies, and yet comforts himself in God as his friend, Ps. 42:9-11. They oppressed him to such a degree that he went mourning from day to day, from place to place, Ps. 42:9. He silently wept out his grief, and went mourning. Yet David ought not to have concluded that God had forgotten him and cast him off. Why do I go about mourning? why have You forgotten me? We may complain to God, but we are not allowed to complain of Him.
They said to him daily, Where is your God?–it was a reproach which was very grievous to him. Grievous because it reflected dishonour upon God and was intended to discourage his hope in God. This he knew was apt to fail of itself. Yet his comfort is that God is his rock (Ps. 42:9) –a rock to build upon, a rock to take shelter in. The rock of ages, in whom is everlasting strength, would be his rock, his strength in the inner man, both for doing and suffering.
He encourages himself to fix himself upon God
To Him he had access with confidence. To God his rock he could say what he had to say, and be sure of a gracious audience. He therefore repeats what he had before said (Ps. 42:5), and concludes with it (Ps. 42:11): Why are you downcast, O my soul? His griefs and fears were troublesome. They were not silenced though they were again and again answered. But here his faith came off a conqueror and forced the enemies to quit. He gains this victory by again rebuking himself for his agitations and encourages himself to trust in the name of the Lord and to stay himself upon his God.
It is of great use to us to think good thoughts over and over again. When the heart is in tune with our words, it is no vain repetition. We have need to press the same thing over and over again upon our hearts. David says, “if God smile upon me, that will make me look up, look forward, and look round with pleasure.” He adds, and my God is, “related to me and in covenant with me. All that He is, all that He has, is mine, according to the true intent and meaning of the promise.” This thought enabled him to triumph over all his griefs and fears. God’s presence with the saints in heaven, and in simply being their God, is that which will wipe away all tears from their eyes, Rev. 21:3, 4.
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
Prayer for the Day
Father, I come to You. May my primary aim be to always have a holy love toward You. For it is the very life and soul of my faith. May my love be a holy thirsting love soaring upwards in constant desires towards You. Cause me to always lament after You that I may take comfort in this as evidence that I love You. I have set my heart upon You and am resolved to live and die by You.
May I have more of the tokens of Your favour, grace and comforts of Your Spirit. May I always have an eye to You as the living God. For You are the fountain of life and all happiness to me. There is no satisfaction with anything else other than of communion with You. Thank You that wherever I am I know where to find You. Wherever I am there is a way open to heaven.
I declare that whatever others do, I shall serve You. May I wait upon and attend to You with all cheerfulness. I give You glory for the liberty of access I have to You. Whenever I am agitated I pray that I may put them under strict scrutiny and so watch them vanish. For I know that others suffer far more in this world with less fuss. Cause me to have a believing confidence in You as sovereign which is the antidote against all agitation of spirit.
It is my greatest honour
May I catch hold of Your power and promises and so keep my head above the waters. It is my greatest honour and happiness, and my greatest desire and hope that I be to You for a name and a praise. Teach me to value and improve the light of Your demeanour that I be furnished with a constant matter for praise. When I cannot get relief for my burdened spirit by pleading with myself may I promptly pray to You and leave my case with You.
When I cannot still these winds and waves, remind me that I know who can. Whatever waves and billows of affliction go over me at any time may I call them Your waves and billows. Humble me under Your mighty hand. May I encourage myself to hope that though I be threatened I shall not be ruined, for those waves and billows are under a Divine check. You command Your favour. I cannot pretend to merit it, for You sovereignly bestow it. You make me to hear Your lovingkindness. You speak and it is done.
May I be found dwelling on You
In silence and solitude, when I retire from the hurries of the world, may I be found dwelling on the thoughts of Your goodness. May I seek to be in constant dependence upon You. Cause my prayers to be quickened in the believing expectation of Your mercy. For You are the God of my life, in whom I live and move. You are the author and giver of all my comforts. You are God, my Rock. The rock of ages, in whom is everlasting strength. You are my strength in the inner man, both for doing and strength for suffering.
Remind me to think good thoughts over and over again. For You are related to me and are in covenant with me. All that You are, all that You have – is mine, according to the promise. And I thank and I praise You. In Jesus Name I pray. Amen.