Updated: Aug 11, 2020
The Word: Psalm 42:1-11
Have you ever experienced such grief or sorrow that all you could do was cry or sob, moan or complain? This common and normal human reaction to sickness, death, or other forms of loss is often referred to as “lament.” A lament is an expression of sadness, grief, or sorrow about something. It is also an expression of regret, annoyance, or disappointment about something. I have a lot of regret and disappointments about not being able to do the things that I did six months ago. I regret not being able to go to Sunday School and church. I get annoyed at people when I have to go get groceries that aren’t following the guidelines set down for the virus.
Psalm 42 and 43 is a single prayer of lament expressing an individual’s agony of soul and body—a condition that you may recognize in your own history or in the experience of someone you know and love. Psalm 42-43 were originally one psalm with a common theme: the experience of God’s vindicating presence.
Today’s psalm is a passage where the author bears his soul to the Lord; a time when the hurt was deep and there were no easy answers.
What are some examples of times when the pain goes beyond what we can express in words and we are tempted to think God has abandoned us? (Terminal illness, death of a loved one, financial ruin, etc.)
What are some of the clichés (pat-answers) we are given by others during times like these?
Do these clichés (pat-answers) ever really help in those moments? Why or why not?
The psalmist in today’s passage is writing from one of those kinds of experiences. Even when it seems nearly impossible to even pray, Psalm 42 brings words of honest worship to the Lord in the form of a lament. Perhaps it will help us when we are too hurt for words.
We will focus on the first two stanzas of this lament. Each stanza contains a prayer to God, followed by a word of self-encouragement. (verse then chorus)
A. Stanza 1: Desperate Thirst (Read Psalm 42:1-4) The psalmist is thirsting for God to speak as a thirsty animal longs for a spring of water. Instead, all he has to drink is his salty tears.
The psalmist not only pants, he thirsts for God. (Psalm 63:1 AMP) O God, You are my God; with deepest longing I will seek You; My soul [my life, my very self] thirsts for You, my flesh longs and sighs for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
What does it mean to “pant” and “thirst” after God? (The psalmist wants to encounter God in a way that makes a difference that restores life and hope. Like a person seeking an audience with the king, the psalmist wants an encounter with the living God that will change his circumstances.)
How does this relate to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”? (Jesus is telling us that if we earnestly desire all that God offers and requires, and to fervently long to see right prevail, then He will satisfy our longings for His salvation.)
B. Refrain: Why Downcast? (Read Psalm 42:5) Verse 5 is the chorus of this mournful worship song. The psalmist reminds himself—and us—to trust in the Lord even when our soul is disturbed and downcast. Sometimes that’s not easy to do.
Do you feel free to pour out your true feelings to the Lord in prayer? Why or why not?
What might it mean, even in the midst of complete, painful honesty before the Lord, to say with the psalmist, “I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God!”?
C. Stanza 2: “Have You Forgotten Me?” (Read Psalm 42:6-10) The psalmist describes his suffering in terms of sinking into the dark depths of the ocean. Instead of fulfilling the thirst in verse 1, the author feels he might drown in the salt water.
What does it mean for the song of the Lord to be with us in the night? (Jesus suffered at Gethsemane as He prayed to God. He suffered again by the hands of the soldiers. Then He suffered on the cross. So in Christ, God knows what it is like to suffer. God has been there and done that. God offers to walk through the darkness with us, and that Presence makes all the difference in the world.)
Our lesson writer writes: In the closing phrase of verse 9 (oppressed by the enemy) and the opening phrase of verse 10 (My bones suffer mortal agony), we see an example of a literary device known as intensification. The psalmist has chosen terms that grow more serious; it is something serious to be oppressed by one’s enemy, but something even worse to suffer to the point of death.
D. Refrain: Why Downcast? (Read Psalm 42:11) It’s important to remember the psalms of lament like Psalm 42-43 are still part of Israel’s hymnbook. This psalm was intended to be read aloud or sung in worship, together with God’s people.
Disappointment and despair are facts of life. Our concern is not that they come, but that we know and be aware of the divine help available to comfort and sustain us.
The Psalmist has recognized God in the midst of his challenges and asked some hard questions of his own. Yet he reasserts God as the source of his deliverance (my Savior and my God). Even with increased confidence, the psalmist must remember to continue to put his hope in God and wait for Him.
Conclusion Read again Psalm 42 and add 43 to your reading. There are three stanzas and three refrains.
What are the key issues of life that can cause discouragement? Can these issues be avoided? Why or why not?
How can the fellowship of Christians help during times of discouragement?
How does our hope in God help us during times of discouragement?
This psalm begins with a desperate cry to God for His presence. By the time we reach verse 11, the psalmist has discovered the power of memory to restore hope. He has recognized God’s presence, even in those moments where divine absence is most keenly known. He has understood God’s faithfulness even where that faithfulness is not felt.