Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him…
These words occur thrice, at short, intervals, in this and the preceding psalm. They appear there twice, and here once. Quite obviously the division into two psalms has been a mistake, for the whole constitutes one composition. The first part of each of the little sections, into which the one original psalm is divided by the repetition of this refrain, is a weary monotone of complaint.
I. THE DREARY MONOTONY OF COMPLAINT. We all know the temptation of being overmastered by some calamity or some sad thought. We keep chewing some bitter morsel and rolling it under our tongues so as to suck all the bitterness out of it that we can. You sometimes see upon the stage of a theatre a funeral procession represented, and the supernumeraries pass across the stage and go round at the back and come in again at the other end, and so keep up an appearance of numbers far beyond the reality. That is like what you and I do with our sorrows. A bee has an eye, with I do not. know how many facets, which multiply the one thing it looks at into an enormous number; and some of us have eyes made on that fashion, or rather we manufacture for our eyes spectacles on that plan, by which we look at our griefs or our depressing circumstances, and see them multiplied and nothing but them. "That way madness lies."
II. WISE SELF-QUESTIONING. There are a great many of our griefs, and moods, and sorrows that will not stand that question. Like ghosts, if you speak to them, they vanish. It is enough, in not a few of the lighter and more gnat-like troubles that beset us, for us to say to ourselves, "What are we putting ourselves into such a fuss about? Why art thou cast down?" We cannot control our thoughts nor our moods directly, but we can do a great deal to regulate, modify and diminish those of them that need diminishing, and increase those of them that need to be increased, by looking at the reasons for them. And if a man will do that more habitually and conscientiously than most of us are accustomed to do it, in regard both to passing thoughts and overpowering moods that threaten to become unwholesomely permanent, he will regain a firmer control of himself — and that. is the best wealth that a man can have. Very many men who makes failures, morally, religiously, or even socially and commercially, do so because they have no command over themselves, and because they have not asked this question of each sly temptation that. comes wheedling up to the gate of the soul with whispering breath and secret suggestions — "What do you want here? What reason have you for wishing to come in? Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" — question yourselves about your moods, and especially about your sad moods, and you will have gone a long way to make yourselves bigger and happier people than you have ever been before.
III. AN EFFORT TWICE FOILED AND AT LAST SUCCESSFUL. In the cathedral of St. Mark's, Venice, there is a mosaic that represents Christ in Gethsemane. You remember that, like the psalmist, He prayed three times there, and twice came back, not having received His desire, and the third time He did receive it. The devout artist has presented Him thus: the first time prone on the ground, and the sky all black; the second time raised a little, and a strip of blue in one corner; and the third time kneeling erect, and a beam from heaven, brighter than the radiance of the Paschal moon, striking right down upon Him, and the strengthening angel standing beside Him. That was the experience of the Lord, and it may be the experience of the servant. Do not give up the effort, at self-control and victory over circumstances that tempt to despondency or to sadness. Even if you fail this time, still the failure has left some increased capacity for the next attempt, and God helping, the next time will be successful.
IV. THE CONQUERING HOPE. The psalmist's question to his soul is not answered. It needed no answer. To put it was the first struggle to strip off the poisoned sackcloth in which he had wrapped himself. But his next word, his command to his soul to hope in God, completes the process of putting off the robe of mourning and girding himself with gladness. He makes one great leap, as it were, across the black flood that has been ringing him round, and bids his soul: "Hope thou in God." The one medicine for a disquieted, cast-down soul is hope in God. People say a great deal about the buoyant energy of hope bearing a man up over his troubles. Yes! so it does in some measure, but there is only one case in which there is a real bearing up over the troubles, and that is where the hope is in God. But the hope that is in God must be a hope that is based upon a present possession of Him. It is only if a man has a present experience of the blessings of strong and all-sufficient help that come to him now, when he can say, "My God, the health of my countenance," t, hat he has the right, or that he has the inclination or the power to paint the future with brightness. And we shall not attain either to that experience of God as ours, or to the hope that, springing from it, will triumph over all disquieting circumstances without a dead lift of effort. There is a great lack amongst all Christian people of realizing that it is as much their duty to cultivate the hope of the Christian as it is their duty to cultivate any other characteristic of the Christian life.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: Why are you in despair, my soul? Why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God! For I shall still praise him: my Savior, my helper, and my God. For the Chief Musician. By the sons of Korah. A contemplative psalm.