A Psalm a Day: Psalm 42

Throughout September 2022, I managed to read and reflect – briefly – on a Psalm each day. For December 2022, I’m going to pick up the discipline. I’ll read the Psalm, pray, and then ponder a few questions:

  • What is this Psalm about?
  • What does this Psalm teach about God?
  • How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?

I’ll close the post with a simple prayer, trying to draw the themes together.

psalm 42

On the fourteenth of December, here’s Psalm 42:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Saviour and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    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 must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Saviour and my God.

What is this Psalm about?

Psalm 42 is interesting – commentators note it was probably one together with 43 – not least as it is explicit about place, and the absence of the Psalmist from his usual worshipping community. It is a Psalm of yearning for God, and also for being honest about how one is feeling. The refrain – which ties it to Psalm 43 – that we see repeated in verses 5 and 11 is a wonderful invitation to emotional honesty and the choice to worship God regardless of how we might feel.

What does this Psalm teach us about God?

Psalm 42 says several things explicitly about God: God is the living God (v2), Saviour (v5, 11), directing His love (v8) and also singing (v8b). God is also ‘my Rock’ and ‘my God’ (v9 and 5/11 respectively), making it clear that God is a personal God, and that the Psalmist understands himself as having a personal relationship with God – alongside the more universal and theological themes. God is also known by those who don’t know Him in the way the Psalmist does – the Psalmists foes (v10) recognise the relationship and taunt the Psalmist.

How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?

Speaking personally, this Psalm is a comforting reminder of the reality of God’s presence – and the necessity of worship – in the midst of depression. There have been times in my life where ‘my tears have been my food’ – and yet Psalm 42 challenges me to be honest, to ‘put my hope in God’, and ‘yet praise him’. I think that the refrain (v5/11) leaves the question open, but the importance of the rhythm of worship and praise remains. Psalm 42 should put pause to those of us who say Christians cannot be depressed, and for those fortunate enough to not resonate with the experiences of the Psalmist here, this is an opportunity to think about and pray for those we know who are ‘downcast’, whatever that may look like.

A prayer drawn from Psalm 41:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Let me come to you and be honest, and in doing so be honest with those around me. Lord, help me to put my hope in you, God, for I will yet praise you, my Saviour and my God. Amen.

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