Psalm 42
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This is one of the most touching, pathetic, and beautiful of the Psalms. It is not possible to decide either its author or the time of its composition. Its tones are very much like the plaintive sounds from David's harp, whether or no he was its writer (but see homily on Psalm 43.). Leaving untouched, owing to want of space, the historical and geographical matters suggested in the psalm, we shall devote ourselves entirely to the opening up of its deep pathos and spiritual fervour, so as to administer instruction and comfort to those saints of God who may even now be ready to say, "All thy waves and billows are gone over me," and from whom, for a while, the face of God seems to be hid. May they find help in tracing the experience of a like sufferer in the ancient days!

I. ONLY THE LIVING GOD CAN SATISFY THE CRAVINGS OF HUMAN SPIRITS. (Vers. 1, 2.) So the writer of Psalm 84:2. The words of Augustine are well known, declaring that our hearts want rest, and cannot find it till it is found in God. There are four lines of illustration along which this thought may be worked out.

1. In the heathen world. There are many Corneliuses longing for the Peters to come and tell them about God. The late Mrs. Porter, widow of a missionary at Madras, assured the writer that her husband and herself often came across instances of this sort, and said, "Oh, if Christian people did but know how men long after God, they surely would hasten to send them the news of his love!" This yearning after God shows itself in what is best in the several religions of the world.

2. In the worldly, even in Christian lands. Men thirst after riches, honour, rank, etc., and yet the raging thirst of the spirit remains unquenched. Some, indeed, may have suppressed the craving till it ceases to be felt. But such numbness of feeling is not to be confounded with satisfaction. At the moment we are writing, an Italian, named Succi, is making the experiment of going without food for forty days, having made similar attempts before, though for a shorter period. He declares that after the first week no desire for food is left. But, for all that, he is a shrivelling, starving man. Will any be so foolish as to mistake the absence of desire for food for the satisfaction and sustenance of his nature? So in spiritual things, a man may trifle with the yearnings of the Spirit, till the yearning ceases. But he wants God, for all that!

3. In the awakened soul, when the first throbbings of the renewed life are felt, the desire after God becomes intelligent, clear, and strong; the soul craves its God, in whom alone it can find light, pardon, friendship, power, to the full extent of its longings.

4. In the experienced believer. He has found God as his God, as his "exceeding Joy;" but there are times in the experience of many such when all that they have known and realized of God's love seems like a dream of the past; when the light of heaven is partially or even totally eclipsed. This may arise from bodily weakness, from overwhelming sorrows, or from mental and spiritual gloom. But let the cause be what it may, it is agony to the saint when he can neither see, nor feel, nor find his God (see Job 23:3-10; also Psalm 21:1, and our notes thereon).

II. AT TIMES OF SORE DEPRESSION, THE BELIEVER LONGS FOR THE JOYS OF BYGONE DAYS. (Vers. 2, 4.) At the time when this psalm was penned, its writer was unable to attend the house of God. He looked back to the time when he used to accompany the throng and to lead them in procession to the sanctuary. In those days, "the Lord loved the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob;" and on many grounds the worship in the courts of Zion played a very large part in the spiritual delights of the saints. And though changes of circumstance and the advance of the Divine dispensations have altered to some extent the relations between temple worship and home life, yet even now it is a sore privation to be debarred from the fellowship of saints, especially when other causes of depression are active at the same time; for in such a case the saints are shut out from the public service when they are most dependent on its helpful aid. Note: Even so, it is far better to have the heart to go and not he able, than to be able to go and not have the heart for it.

III. THE ENEMY OFTEN TAKES ADVANTAGE OF OUR TIMES OF SPECIAL WEAKNESS. (Vers. 3, 10.) "They say daily unto me, Where is thy God?" We know not who these were that could be so intensely cruel to the psalmist when they witnessed his woe. But he was not alone in his experience, though in detail the form of it with us may vary.

1. Very often the taunt of the unbeliever is equivalent to this, when we are pointed to the weaknesses and distresses of the Church, and asked - How can your Christianity be Divine, if this is allowed? And in more private ways:

2. The evil one will take advantage of our moments of distress to insinuate racking doubts. No kindly considerations will ever lead the devil to refrain from tempting us because we are weak. He seized on the Master "when he was an hungred." "The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord."

IV. STILL, THE CHILDLIKE HEART MUST CRY OUT, "GOD!" (Vers. 1, 6, 9.) If the light of heaven is shut out, the soul will cry after it. There is a world of difference between the light being kept out because the eye is closed, and its being hidden behind a dense black cloud. And even if the strength is so feeble that the tongue cannot cry, "Father I" yet the heart will We were once visiting a dear friend in sickness. She said, "I am so weak, I cannot think, I cannot pray, I cannot enjoy God at all." We said to her, "Your little Ada was very ill some time back, was she not?" "Very." "Was she not too ill to speak to you? Yes" "Did you love her less because she couldn't speak to you?" "No; I think I loved her more, if anything." Even so, when all that is possible is for the heart to yearn out, "O my God!" the loving relations between God and the saint are not for a moment disturbed.

V. AT THE DARKEST MOMENT, THERE IS REASONING WITHIN REASONING. (Vers. 5, 11.) If there be any who have not passed through any such experience as that in this psalm, these words will be wonderfully uninteresting, if not unintelligible. They baffle the logic of the intellect; but the heart has a logic and an eloquence too, that are all its own. It is cast down, and yet chides itself for being cast down. It cannot see God, cannot feel him, yet knows he is there. It is in the depths, through billow after billow rolling over it, and yet at the very moment indulges in blessed memories and hopeful faith. Such are the mazes of the soul. It can scarce understand itself; but "He knoweth our frame," with all its complicated and vexing play of doubt and chiding, of hope and fear.

VI. FROM A RIFT IN THE BLACK CLOUD THERE IS A GLEAM OF SUNSHINE. (Ver. 9.) "The Lord will command his loving-kindness," etc. Then all is not lost. The saint may be "perplexed, yet not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" Here is a fine group of words for a man to take upon his lips: "Jehovah;" "loving-kindness in the daytime;" "in the night, a song;" "the God of my life." Downcast soul, take heart. If all these words are true, take heart. The eclipse will soon be over. He whose face is as yet concealed will soon be revealed.

VII. FOR THE WHOLE OF THIS MOANING CRY IS ONE CONTINUOUS PRAYER. Though not every sentence is in orderly petition, yet the outgoing of the soul in this psalm is one prayer from beginning to end. And however broken the prayer may be, it is real, it is intense, it is wrung out of the necessities of a living soul. And such a prayer, with all its ruggedness and brokenness, is infinitely better than one of those orderly, cold, lukewarm petitions which come from no suffering, and cry for no relief. Far better to hear a man who prays as if he had something to pray for, than one who prays as if he must pray for something. For nots: Those who have gone down to the lowest depths in suffering and humiliation will be led up to the noblest heights of glad ness and of honour. Our God never did, never will, never can, desert the soul that leans on him. We are never in a surer or safer position than when, deep in sorrow and care, deserted by friends, slighted by neighbours, taunted by foes, we, in loneliness of spirit, look up to God, and to God alone. Who shall separate us from his love? Let our earthly sorrows now be what they may -

"He who has loved us bears us through, And makes us more than conquerors too!" C.

The scene of this psalm seems to have been on the other side of Jordan, near the shining heights of Hermon. Here we may imagine the writer, probably a Hebrew exile, straining his eyes to catch a glimpse of the dear laud of his fathers that was soon to pass from his sight. To him it seemed as if to be separated from Jerusalem was to be separated from God; as if losing the fellowship of the saints were losing God. The hart panting for the water-brooks imaged the grief of his heart athirst after God. The Jordan with its winding rapids, "deep calling unto deep," reflected the tumults of his soul, and reminded him of his distance from home and from the house of God. But he encourages himself by meditation and prayer, and the hope of better times. We may take the psalm as a picture of spiritual depression.

I. THE GODLY MAN CAST DOWN. His trouble does not arise from outward causes; it is within, it is from the absence of God. There were still faith, affection, the going forth of his whole being toward God in love and desire; but there seemed to be no response. Like the hart, hard pressed by the hunters, "the big tears rolling from his eyes, and the moisture standing black upon his side," and panting for the water-brooks, his soul thirsted, but thirsted in vain, for God. His sorrows were increased by the taunts of scoffers and the remembrance of happier times (vers. 3, 4). Repulsed on all sides and lonely, and feeling as if God had forsaken him, he is in sore trouble, and his own heart sadly echoes the cry of his enemies, "Where is now thy God?" Such experiences are not uncommon. We all know what it is to "thirst;" but what do we thirst after? Is it gain, or pleasure, or worldly honours, or such-like? If so, our thirst will not be satisfied. But if we have been quickened by the Spirit, we cannot but thirst after God. He and he alone can supply our need and satisfy our hearts. And if we "thirst for God," let us remember that this implies far more than longing for outward ordinances and joys which for a season we have lost. We are persons, and want a personal God. We are living souls, and crave a living God. We love truth and justice and goodness, and therefore we cry after the eternal God, in whom all truth and justice and goodness dwell. There will come to us, as to others, times of trial, days of darkness, when God seems afar off and silent. But let us not be cast down with overmuch sorrow. "The feeling of forsakenness is no proof of being forsaken. Mourning an absent God is an evidence of love as strong as rejoicing in a present one." With God, for us to desire is to have; and to hunger and thirst is to be filled.

II. THE GODLY MAN COMFORTED. "Why?" This question is first of all addressed to the soul. There is self-interrogation. This is good. When we ask, "Why?" this sets us to inquire as to the reason of things. Light will arise. We may see that the cause of depression is not in God, but in ourselves. For us to abide in this state is unreasonable, contrary to our past experiences, and inconsistent with God's mercy and truth. We can therefore call upon ourselves to cast out fear, and still to hope in God as our God and our Redeemer. But though something has been gained in this way, it is not enough. Old foes rise up, and beat down the soul into the deep waters, where the tumult drowns the voice of mercy, and the billows rising higher and higher threaten us with total engulfment. The cry now takes a nobler form. It is not to the soul, but to God (ver. 6). Mark that there is hope. This points to coming good. Further, it is hope in God. This gives rest. Our own feelings vary. We cannot get comfort from them. Neither can we rely upon past experiences. We may deceive ourselves. Nor can we of ourselves change the circumstances which cause us pain. But the living God is a sure Refuge. He cannot change. He is more stable than the everlasting hills. This hope in God also opens up to us a way from the darkness into the bright future. "I shall yet praise him." At last it rises to full assurance, and the joy of inviolable and everlasting possession, "My God." - W.F.

Supposed to be written by some king or priest on his way into exile, perhaps somewhere in the region of Mount Hermon. It is the remonstrance of the spiritual man within him against the despondency of the natural man.


1. An unsatisfied longing for God. He was being carried away from the temple to a land of heathen idolaters, and this aroused in him an intense longing for some manifestation of God which should deliver him from such a calamity. As the hunted stag pants for the watercourses, so he pants for the living God.

2. His enemies reproach him with being forsaken of God. (Ver. 3.) And he can only answer them with tears. His adverse circumstances seem to warrant the reproach; for he sees no prospect at present of a Divine deliverance. They were like Job's comforters. Spiritual calamity the greatest of all calamities.

3. He remembers with anguish the religious privileges he has lost. (Ver. 4.) In former days he had gone up with the pilgrim-processions to worship at Jerusalem, to keep holy day; and now he was going in a very different procession away from Jerusalem, as a captive to Babylon, and he is filled with bitter sorrow. Worship and fellowship with God the very air that he breathed.


1. In the relocated question "Why?" he remonstrates with himself for yielding to it. As if it was only his lower self that was giving way, his higher self was braving itself to courage and strength.

2. He comforts himself with the everlasting resource of the soul. He hopes in God; for God is still the Health of his countenance and his God, who will show his loving-kindness in the open day of his favour, and give him songs of praise in the night of adversity. This is a hope that springs into the highest regions of faith.

3. He anticipates with assurance a time when he shall praise God for his deliverance. (Vers. 5, 11.) Here again is unconquerable faith, which refuses to believe that God will abandon him, though now he has lost the evidence of his presence. Even Christ cried," My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" - S.

Association is a potent factor in life. Here it may have worked by contrast. "Mizar," as a little hill, may have called to the mind of David, in exile, the mountains of Judah, and the far-off land of his fathers and his God. We may take "Mizar" to illustrate -

I. THE CHANGES OF LIFE. As with David, so with us, changes come. We may have rest or be compelled to wander. We may have the joys of home or we may be doomed to solitude and to exile. Wherever we are, let us "remember" God (Psalm 56:8; Daniel 9:3, 4).

II. THE RESTING-PLACES OF LIFE. We may be weary and sad, but God is able to give us comfort. Seated on some "Mizar," we may rest and be thankful. Looking back, there is much to awaken, not only our penitence, but our praise. Looking on, there is much to inspire us with hope. There are heights before us to be won. Let us press on with renewed courage.

III. THE SACRED MEMORIES OF LIFE. The noblest and most inspiring associations are those connected with God. Jacob had Bethel, Moses had the burning bush, Daniel the lions' den. So we too may have our holy places, to remember with gratitude and love and hope. The thought of what God has been to us leads us to remember what we should be to God. Past kindnesses and deliverances assure us of continued favour. Let us walk worthy of our high calling.

IV. THE UNDYING HOPES OF LIFE. Whatever happens, God is with us. He does not change. His purposes and his love are the same now as in the past. From our "Mizar" let us say, "I will remember thee." Thus "Mizar" may he to us as "the Delectable Mountains" to the pilgrims, and though it be little in itself, by faith it may enable us to gaze upon the way before us with hope, and to gain glimpses of the glorious land which, though far off, is yet near, where we shall see the King in his beauty, and serve him in love for ever and ever.

"Not backward are our glances bent, But onward to our Father's house." W.F.

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