Read: Psalm 42
Psalms 42 and 43 were at one time considered as a single psalm, beginning the second book of the five books of Psalms. The first eight psalms of the second book are attributed to the sons of Korah. Korah was a Levite who rebelled against Moses at Kadesh-barnea, and who died for his rebellion. His sons survived (Numbers 26:11) and became connected with the musical ministry of the Temple. Heman was a “son of Korah”, and his sons led fourteen of the twenty-four courses of Temple musicians (1 Chronicles 25:4ff). Korahites were still serving as Temple singers during the days of Jehoshaphat, nearly a century after the days of King David.
Psalm 42 deals with the most terrifying experience of human existence: the apparent absence of God (vv. 3, 9, 10). If hell is the place where God’s presence is not felt, then this experience is hell on earth. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul.” The psalmists’ enemies taunted him with the question, “Where is your God?” and it seemed that he could offer them no convincing evidence of the reality of God. Making matters even worse, the psalmist felt in his own heart abandoned by God: “I will say to God my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’ ” The spiritual reality is that God does not abandon his children; the spiritual experience of His children is that they may nevertheless at some point lose the sense of His loving presence. This experience is well represented in Scripture – for example in Psalm 22:1, in Elijah’s agony in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:3 – 4), by the bride in Song of Solomon 5:6.
Think About It: What kinds of life experiences can produce the sense that God is absent, and/or has forgotten His people? Have I ever experienced anything like “the dark night of the soul”?
Prayer: Lord, please grant that I might always be aware of Your loving presence.
Read: Psalm 42:1 – 2; Exodus 32:1
Psalm 42, while presenting the “dark night of the soul” dilemma, presents several possible ways out of that dilemma. Heading the list in verses 1 – 2 is the importance of having a thirst for God. On this topic C. S. Lewis commented “I want to stress what I think that we. . .need more; the joy and delight in God which meet us in the Psalms. . .(the psalmists) knew far less reason than we for loving God. They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence, which comes only to the best Christians or to Christians in their best moments. . . I have rather . . . called this the ‘appetite for God’ than ‘the love of God’ . . . it has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire” (C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, pp.50-51). The “dark night of the soul” is essentially a time of spiritual fasting. God has not abandoned us, but we feel that He has. The only correct response at such a time is to let the thirst for God grow unchecked. We must suffer with it, and above all, not attempt to satisfy that thirst with something other than God. God will satisfy the thirst for Him in His time.
Think About It: What are some ways a person might attempt to satisfy their thirst for God with something other than God? What happens when we attempt to satisfy our thirst for God in ways that do not involve Him? Do I recognize within my soul a thirst for God – does my soul pant for God like the deer pants for flowing streams? How can I cultivate a thirst for God?
Prayer: Lord, help me to purify the longings of my soul, so that You are my only joy.
Read: Psalm 42:4; Psalm 35:18; Psalm 122:1; Zechariah 8:21; Revelation 7:9 – 11
Not surprisingly, since the Sons of Korah who wrote Psalm 42 were involved in music and worship, Psalm 42:4 suggests remembrance of public worship as an antidote to the dark night of the soul. We will be encouraged, when alone and discouraged, to pour out our hearts to God and remember those times when we exulted with the throng in glad shouts and songs of praise. Surely it does no violence to the interpretation of Psalm 42:4 to assume that it suggests more than just remembering experiences of worship in which we have participated, but includes the idea of remembering to continue to worship. What better way to deal with the feeling of God’s absence than to join in public worship with those who are joyfully celebrating God’s presence. Isolation is not helpful for those who feel abandoned (Proverbs 18:1). If we thirst for the Lord’s presence, we need to seek His presence where He has promised to be (Matthew 18:20).
Think About It: What memorable experiences have I had in worship? When have I especially sensed the Lord’s presence in a public worship service? When has a public worship service given me great encouragement in a time of difficulty?
Prayer: Lord, when I’m feeling forgotten, help me to remember to go to the place you have promised to be.
Read: Psalm 42:5; Lamentations 3:20, 24; John 12:27; Romans 8:24 – 25
Another encouragement for those suffering the dark night of the soul is the cultivation of hope. In Psalm 42:5 the psalmist reassures himself that the day is coming when this dark hour will be a memory, when he will praise God spontaneously. Hope in this future is a strong antidote for a depressed soul. How we think about the future is a spiritual issue. Hope looks beyond the present, hopes for what it does not yet see, and resolves to wait with confidence and patience for the blessing that God has promised. Hope is meaningful only while we are waiting for what we do not yet see. Hope together with faith and love is one of the three abiding virtues of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 13:13). Hope is cultivated in the very times when things are the darkest and most difficult. Hope is both nurtured by and helps to provide relief from the suffering that comes in the dark night of the soul.
Think About It: What have been some of the most difficult times in my life? What did I learn about myself during those times? What did I learn about God at those times? How was my faith affected by those difficulties?
Prayer: Lord, help me to hope – to have confidence in where I am going – even in the darkest hour.
Read: Psalm 42:6; Psalm 61:2; Psalm 77:11; Jonah 2:7
Yet another way Psalm 42 suggests dealing with the dark night of the soul is found in v. 6: through remembering God in relationship with actual places. The psalmist mentions Mt. Hermon, the Jordan, and Mt. Mizar. The melting snows of Mt. Hermon provide the source of the Jordan River. Mt. Mizar is a smaller mountain in the vicinity of Hermon. Some commentators think “Mizar” should just be translated “small” or “young,” in reference to a mountain lower and humbler than Hermon – perhaps referring even to the Temple Mount, or to Sinai, the inference being that God passed over the loftiest height and revealed His glory in the smaller and humbler locations. What encouraged the psalmist in Psalm 42:7 were actual geographical places where he had previously encountered a sense of God’s presence. We might say those places involved mountain-top experiences (Mt. Hermon); also more mundane, less spectacular locations where God’s glory was nevertheless revealed (Mt. Mizar); also experiences with God which continued to have influence as life flowed along (like the Jordan). These were places where the psalmist had experiences of communion with God. Remembering time and place helped recall to his mind the tangible reality of the living God, and encouraged him in his distress.
Think About It: Where in time and space has God been particularly real to me? Where is my “holy ground”?
Prayer: Lord, thank You for those sacred times and places where I became especially aware of Your presence.
Read: Psalm 42:8; Deuteronomy 28:38; Isaiah 41:10; Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28
The psalmist deals with his distressing circumstances by proclaiming a truth about God’s attributes and actions. The attribute mentioned in Psalm 42:8 is God’s chesed – His steadfast love, lovingkindness and mercy. God’s action is that He commands His steadfast love, lovingkindness and mercy. God’s attributes are not passive theological concepts to be discovered through research in some obscure, dusty tome. God lives and acts, and He acts towards His children in ways which are kind, compassionate, consistent, and helpful. God’s attributes and actions do not depend on my spiritual sensitivity to them; God is God, whether or not I sense His presence or notice His works. Regardless of my spiritual awareness, God always acts based on His nature: steadfast love, lovingkindness and mercy.
Think About It: How can I sharpen my spirituality sensitivity to God’s attributes and actions, having “the eyes of my heart enlightened” (Ephesians 1:16 – 21)?
Prayer: Lord, I praise You that You are alone are God. I praise You for Your attributes and actions. Please open my spiritual eyes that I might see what You are doing in my life.
Read: Psalm 42:4, 8, 9; Psalm 77:6; Acts 16:25
The psalmist practiced private worship, including prayer, meditation, and singing, in order to lift his heart from the depths of despair and the feelings of abandonment. He said in v. 4 that “he poured out his soul” to God; he held nothing back in prayer, for example in v. 9 getting right to the point of feeling abandoned by God and depressed because of the oppression of the enemy. He sang a prayerful song to God in the night, an example followed by Paul and Silas, who were whipped, bound in stocks, and stuck in the Philippian dungeon, but who nevertheless at midnight were found praying and singing songs of praise.
Think About It: Do I have a repertoire of praise songs that I can sing (aloud or in my heart) to God in my darkest hours? What are some songs that lift my heart? Do I make it a regular practice to pour out my soul to God – to talk to him about what is really troubling me? In light of the teaching of Psalm 42, are there any changes I need to make in my public and private worship practices?
Prayer: “Lord, let me remember my song in the night, let me meditate in my heart.”