Psalms 42–43 — Don’t Give Up on Your Ministry

42 As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

2 My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?

3 My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?

4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.

5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.

7 Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.

8 Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.

9 I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

10 As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?

11 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

43 Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.

2 For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

3 O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.

4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.

5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

Despair, or what we might call spiritual depression, is common to the life and ministry of a Christian. The world is a mess. Satan has his seemingly impregnable strongholds. The battlefield is often inside the church because savage wolves and saboteurs infiltrate to ruin churches by leading the sheep away from Christ. Posing as angels of light, their methods are subtle and seductive. The promise of change after change leads to an immobilized and discouraged flock. Complex ministries work to busy church members with inessential fluff; or a downright coup d’etat occurs to separate the so-called clergy from the so-called laity. There is a temptation to quit one’s ministry in favor of a more “peaceful or prosperous” line of work.

As we begin Psalm 42–43, we begin Book II of the compiled Psalter. The five books of the Psalter (1–150) carry the themes of the Pentateuch. Book I gave us foundational themes as in Genesis. Book II will guide us through themes of the Exodus, such as: ruin and redemption. The titles of many of the Psalms in Book II (Psalms 42–72) attribute ownership to ones other than David. The Korah Psalms (Ps. 42–49) is where we begin. Korah, a Levite and descendant of Aaron, rebelled against Moses and suffered the wrath of God for his unrighteous rebellion (Num 16). However, his sons were spared and continued the work of the ministry in the tabernacle for generations afterward. During David’s reign, these were entrusted with Psalms for the task of setting them to music.

Psalms 42 and 43 represent one unit. Despite their separation in both the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint, the reader can easily detect the connection (see also Psalms 9 and 10). Together, they form an individual lament. Structurally, three inquiries are complemented by three refrains: I. (42:1–5) Remembering pacifies despair as the suppliant recalls the people and place of worship he is now denied; II. (42:6–11) Remembering succors despair as he recalls God and His lovingkindness; III. (43:1–5) A prayer for vindication and vow to praise leads the suppliant toward the exit of despair.

It is reasonable to identify David as the author and key figure. The suppliant and the setting are not known for sure, but they fit two possible scenes in David’s life: his wilderness exile from Saul or his wilderness exile from Absalom. Clearly, the Psalmist was a leader of worship (42:4), who was banished from the temple (42:6) by evil men (42:9). Like Israel before him, David lives and ministers in the wilderness. His despair is comingled with hope. An internal conversation erupts in three movements of lament and hopeful refrain.

From our author we learn how dry existence can be without fellowship and worship. We also note the despondency of drowning in the perceived absence of the Almighty. The remedy is prayer, with hope in God, and with the anticipation of a return to peace offerings and praise.

Korah is credited with this maskil (Title). For the choir director is consistent with many of the Davidic Psalms. A maskil is a type of Psalm used in some form of teaching. Korah, as noted above, was a descendant of the tabernacle servants who held a musical vocation.

David longed for God Himself (42:1). The opening simile paints one of the most vivid pictures in the Psalms. The hearty hart has been reduced to fragile fugitive. Deer pant for water in the race for their lives during hunting season. The pangs of famine are hurtful, but they do not compare with wretched thirst. The introduction of God in this Psalm is noteworthy for one’s continuing study through Book II and into Book III. These Psalms are distinguished by their use of the title “God” or in the Hebrew elohim. The elohistic psalter increases the use of the term “God” while decreasing the covenant name “YHWH” (Yahweh). The emphasis of elohim is on the mighty strength and power of God.

David, separated from YHWH, inquired about the time of their reunion (42:2). Thirst for the living God is David’s problem state. Life is unbearable without living water. A recent advertisement for a beverage equates excitement in life with staying thirsty (so to be satisfied by their product). “Stay thirsty, my friends” is a message from hell. It proves that the dead god of consumerism is no match to the living God. Satisfaction and contentment are only found in Him. We were made to delight in Him, alone. When? is the first of several questions stated and repeated throughout Psalms 42–43. When shall I come and appear before God? Separation causes anxiety, which heightens our awareness of time. Time seems to have a velocity to it based on circumstances related to the presence or absence of God. I have often noted how quickly time seems to move when I am actively engaged in the ministry, but it drags when I am aimlessly wandering in the dark forest of other things to do.

David wept while his tormentors taunted (42:3). Tears have been my food is not a recommended diet, but the author informs us to the depth of despair. Have you been there? It is common for people not to eat when crisis leads to distress. Day and night is a Hebrew idiom that means, “continually.” There seems to be no end to his lamentable state. His position is worsened by the presence of his enemies, who are not in his immediate vicinity. Rhetoric from afar is a weapon employed by foes in many of David’s Psalms. “Where is your God?” is the repeated jeer. Has David been abandoned? Has God forsaken him? The frequency of derision is all day long. Been there? Felt that? One reason God wants us in community (Heb 10:25) is that he knows how much we need it.

David employed his memory to recall the good times of leading Israel in worship (42:4). Remember is a crucial concept in the Old Testament. We are not so accustomed to oral traditions in an oral society, but remembering was especially important. The fact is human beings forget. Good memories can help us through difficult seasons in life. David recounted the many festival seasons, in which he lead the throng of worshippers. Israel came together as a people three times each year: Passover; Pentecost; and Tabernacles. Feast, fellowship, and festival were centered in Jerusalem around the place of worship, the house of God. Joy was the spirit at these great gatherings when a multitude of people would pilgrimage to their big family reunion. Thanksgiving is a holiday most of us are familiar with in America. But David was not welcome.

David’s first refrain comprised the question of despair and the answer of hope (42:5). Each of the three refrains of hope say essentially the same thing. Each begins with a question directed at oneself. The Hebrew poetry affords a repeating of the question using slightly different words. “Why?” is the question. The quest for reasonable answers to our problem states is not easy. Today, we call it, “soul searching.” No answers appear from the suppliant’s query, but a resolution is introduced, “Hope in God.Elohim is mighty to save. Hope requires waiting; hence, we might define hope as, “waiting on God.” The statement of confidence is the epitome of hope, “for I shall again praise Him.” Why do we praise God? The only rationale is for the help of His presence. God’s help is our salvation. It occurs when He is near…very near.

David uttered his debilitating emotional state and revealed his physical location (42:6). The grammar shifts to direct address. The suppliant’s state is simply stated, “despair.” David revealed his strategy to God, “I remember Thee.” Above we noted his remembering the people and place of worship, but here it is personal. Just as Moses, in Midian, was separated from his people in Egypt, so David, in the wilderness, was separated from his flock in Jerusalem. Jordan was hostile territory to Israel. It was home to enemy tribes. Hermon is the highest peak in Israel. It is the logical “high mountain” for Jesus’ transfiguration, located north and east of the Sea of Galilee. Mount Mizar is an unidentified hill, presumably in the same vicinity. Jesus left this wilderness region and returned to Jerusalem to die as a sacrifice for the sins of His people.

David used the imagery of drowning to further describe his mental state of being (42:7). In this rocky region is the beautiful Banias waterfalls, which are created by the upper Jordan River. In despair, David may have sat on the rocky cliffs of the Banias canyon and imagined his end in the waters far below. Jonah captured David’s words two hundred years later while the deep Mediterranean Sea encompassed him (Jonah 2). David was drowning in Thy waterfalls, Thy breakers, and Thy waves. There is no place we can go that God is not there. David is far from the place of worship (Jerusalem), yet he is praying, which requires faith and intimate fellowship. David is drowning at God’s hands. The resistance we feel from the world and our enemies is ultimately controlled by the sovereign Lord. He is working it together for our good.

David redirected his mind to his faithful Lord and this caused him to pray (42:8). The covenant name, YHWH, is a marker to show the radical shift from lament to confidence. David remembered his circumstances were in God’s hands, and this put his focus off of his situation and onto God. His first thought was God’s lovingkindness. YHWH’s covenant faithfulness is representative of His love for His people. He will not leave them in the daytime, and His song will be with me in the night. Continual tears (42:3) are met with continual hope. David is immersed in prayer to the God of my life. The release of one’s life into the hands of the Mighty God is to lose one’s life in Him; but He gives new life, abundant life, and secures eternal life.

David prayed and inquired about the reason for his suffering enemy oppression (42:9). God my rock is addressed in the midst of the chaos of uncertain billows. As terrifying as the furious rapids of a river may be, the object is clear, a firm rock to stand on. This is a picture of salvation. Jesus promised to Peter at Caesarea Philippi that on this rock of truth (Himself) He would build His church in the midst of a torrent of false religion and philosophy (Mt 16:13–20).

Still, the question remains, “Why hast Thou forgotten me?” God’s time is not our time. In waiting so long, David does not hide his grief because of the oppression of the enemy. The enemy was alluded to in 42:3, but here they come under closer scrutiny. Your position and function in ministry (I am assuming all believers know they are to serve Him) is threatened by the work of principalities and powers in heavenly places. Influencing and sometimes occupying people, these demons work to discourage and destroy you. They would like nothing more of you today than for you to abandon your calling and commission for the likes of Tarshish. John Mark was plagued by fears, quit, and later divided the ministry when he returned. He proved faithful and helpful to Paul when the final words about him were written. Are you afraid? Do you see where that comes from?

David lamented the verbal abuse he endured from those who asked about YHWH’s seeming absence (42:10). Another simile is employed by the author. Adversaries revile me and it is like shattering my bones. My first African mission trip was led by a rural citizen of Ghana, who had twice broken his neck in different places. One of his legs was shorter than the other as a consequence of his spinal damage. Sometimes for days he would lay immobilized by the excruciating pain of the headaches caused by his shattered bones, which were never reset properly. All day long the gibe continues, “Where is your God?” Christians under this type of pressure don’t have an answer, either. Sure, theologically we could say, “He is on His throne” or “in my heart,” but our foes are looking for evidence, and only He can provide a suitable answer in His time.

David’s second refrain closes out Psalm 42 (42:11). The same two questions as in 42:5 are complemented by the same answer. Some ancient manuscripts read, “the help of my countenance and my God.” God is our help and Warren Wiersbe suggests our health. Our spiritual state is in His hands. When you focus on unfavorable situations and circumstances, your spiritual depression will drag you down. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote an entire book on the subject because he witnessed its prevalence during and after World War II in London. The daily bombardment by the enemy punished the spirits of that fair city day after day. There is demonic oppression of God’s people to keep them in fear and to paralyze their labors for the kingdom.

David pleaded for YHWH to be his advocate and his judge in the case against his opponents (43:1). Confident of his position in relationship to his opponents, he cries out for justice from the only One who can give justice. Vindicate me is a grammatical imperative for YHWH to correct what is wrong in the situation. His foes are seen as an ungodly people. They come into churches to steal, kill and destroy (Jn 10:10). The request to deliver me clarifies even further that one man is orchestrating the coup d’etat against David. This character is typed as Saul or Absalom, but J. Vernon McGee finds fulfillment in the Antichrist coming into the world. He is described as the deceitful and unjust man. Our enemies are one and many. When in trouble, there always seems to be one archenemy. Can I hear an “Amen!”

David inquired about YHWH’s rejection of him, which made him easy prey for his oppressors (43:2). The argument of his case continues (42:9), Thou art the God of my strength. We know we are nothing without Jesus, and we can do nothing apart from Him. If foes question, “Where is your God?” then it is a taunt against the Most High; and yet, together, everyone wants to know what He is doing. Reliance upon the Lord means we are at the disposal of His will.

David acknowledged the necessary elements from God that would restore him to worship (43:3). The remedy comes from God, Thy light and Thy truth. Jesus personified both of these divine elements in self-identification statements like, “I am the light of the world,” and “I am the truth.” Truth is the Word that gives the light of understanding to God’s people. As YHWH led Israel in their wilderness wanderings, so David wished to be led back into the Promised Land, in particular, Thy holy hill. Mount Moriah was the place of sacrifice for Abraham, and it was the chosen place for David’s heart desire for the house of God on Mount Zion. These were one and the same, in the heart of Jerusalem, surrounded by the many hills or Thy dwelling places. Today, these are localized in each believer’s heart. Our physical exile is typed by David, but we cannot be banished from the throne of grace by man.

David vowed to praise YHWH (43:4). Upon the lyre with exceeding joy he promised to sacrifice at the altar of God. God you are my God, and I will praise Thee. Worship is in trusting His Word. Worship is a prayer of deliverance. Worship is waiting on God, but worship is most recognizable as a praise song.

David’s third and final refrain is the key verse of the combined Psalms (43:5). In 43:4 relief appears imminent. Climax is almost assured. However, no resolution is granted from the cyclical tensions. The exact quote of 42:5 and 42:11 is our zenith of faith. We are troubled, and yet, hope is the final word.

In sum, we have been blessed with the image of a deer panting for water and a suppliant drowning in despair. The oppression of the enemy is incessant. Lament turned to prayer for David. Resolution was known but not afforded. Faith waits today in hope for a future deliverance.

In conclusion, you can identify with David, a man of sorrows. The conversation in your head regarding your life and ministry is very real. If Winston Churchill told his fellow Britons, “Never, never, never give up,” then we of all people should heed the Word of God with its even more exalted promises granted to us. Don’t give up on your ministry because it is His ministry in and through you. Hope in God and in our only hope, Jesus Christ.

David Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

July 1, 2021

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David Norczyk

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher