Open your Bibles to Psalm 42.
Psalm 42 is a lament psalm written by men who formerly were able to freely worship God with the Lord's people. But something has changed. And now they find themselves removed from the religious life that they formerly enjoyed. And they miss it greatly.
So, let's start with the superscription of Psalm 42.
Superscription | 1a
KJV Psalm 42:1 <To the [chief Musician/choir director/music director], [Maschil/a well-written song], [for/of/by] the [sons of Korah/Korahites].>
Now, this is the first mention we have in the psalms of the "sons of Korah." So, I think now's a good time to get some background on these men.
We need to start back in the time of Moses. In Moses' day, the Lord set apart the sons of Levi to serve in the Tabernacle. Yet, only Aaron's sons served as priests.
Now, within the Levites there were three groups – the sons of Gershon, the sons of Merari, and the sons of Kohath. The grandson of Kohath was Korah – from whom these men who wrote this psalm descended.
And despite these men's privileged position – and maybe even because of it – they rebelled against Moses' God-ordained leadership. And their punishment was extraordinary and severe – the ground opened up and they all fell in and died.
And yet, apparently some of the children – maybe those who were too young to participate in the rebellion – were spared and went on to be "somebodys" for the Lord.
Samuel the prophet – for example - descended from Korah. Other sons of Korah were doorkeepers in the Tabernacle. Some of them turned out to be worthy warriors alongside King David. And during the reign of David, a number of these men became leaders in the music of the Tabernacle.
So, that's who these men are – men who served the Lord and his people in the Tabernacle – and later the Temple.
They also authored this psalm – of course – as well as Psalms 44 through 49, Psalms 84 & 85, and Psalms 87 & 88. So, 11 psalms!
So, these men are in a unique position to worship the Lord – and actually to lead the Lord's people in worship. They've even been granted the awesome privlege – under the Holy Spirit's guidance – to pen several chapters of Scripture.
Invocation/Petition | 1b-2
And so, these men start off this psalm with an invocation of the Lord as well as a petition to him in verses 1 and 2 expressing their great desire for the Lord whom they love to worship.
As the [hart/deer] [panteth/longs] [after/for] the [water brooks/streams of water],
so [panteth my soul/I long] [after/for] thee, O God.
2 [My soul/I] thirsteth for God, for the living God:
[i.e., I say...] when shall I come and appear before God?
So, picture a deer. A deer that is out in the desert. A dry place – no water. Having to escape from predators – which activity surely causes them to need even more of what they don't have – access to abundant water to quench their thirst – and really, to simply keep them alive.
That's how these sons of Korah picture themselves in relation to God. We'll see that these men have predators who are harassing them – just like the deer does. But instead of thirsting for water, these men thirst for something else that they feel is lacking in some way in their lives. They're thirsting for God. They need God. They want to be in his presence and worship him.
They insistently ask themselves, "when am I going to be able to come and appear before God?!" They want to be in the Temple where the Lord's people met to worship in the Old Testament. And that doesn't surprise us – knowing that these men were the ones who led God's people in worshipping the Lord in song. They want to be with God's people, leading the people – and participating with them – in joyfully worshipping the Lord.
And they thirst for this and need it just as much as a thirsty worn-out deer thirsts for water.
And we have to acknowledge that people like this are rare. You can look around and see an indication of how many people are really even all that interested in being with God's people and worshipping the Lord.
And that's not just the case in our church. It happens everywhere.
We as Christians too easily thirst for entertainment. Or for rest. For sports. Work. Family. Hobbies. You name it – and you'll often find people thirsting for that. As long as it's not the Lord – worshipping the Lord, being with his people in the place in which his people get together to worship.
The sons of Korah were different. And their desire is worthy of emulation in us.
And no doubt – part of what caused the sons of Korah to so greatly desire to worship the Lord with God's people is that they had a handle on who God was. He was – and is – the living God. He's not dead. He's not absent when his people come together to worship him. He is an active onlooker and recipient as we come together to worship him.
And so, the sons of Korah greatly desired to worship this true and living God.
Lament | 3-4
And yet, when desire goes unfulfilled there can be great sorrow and distress. That's what these men express in verses 3 and 4.
3 My tears have been my [meat/food] day and night [i.e., he can't eat because of so much weeping],
while they [continually/all day long] say unto me, Where is thy God?
4 When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul in me:
for I had gone with the multitude,
I [went with/led] them to the [house/temple] of God,
with the voice of joy and [praise/thanksgiving],
with a multitude that [kept/celebrated] [holyday/festival].
And so, apparently what's happening here is that these men are being harassed by those who scornfully ask them about the existence of their God. The living God whom they love to worship with his people. Where is that God?! – they scoff.
And that clues us in to the fact that something has happened that allows their enemies to assume that their God doesn't exist or that he abandoned them. And we'll see more evidence later in the psalm that suggests that these men may even have been in exile at this time.
So, they would give anything to worship God. But they can't do so as they used to because they've been removed from Jerusalem. And that fact has allowed their enemies to question the strength of the God whom they love.
And what makes matters even worse is that the sons of Korah can remember back to a time when they had nearly unrestricted access to worship the Lord with his people. In fact, they just told us that they actually led God's people to the Temple to worship the Lord. They were at the front and center of the religious life of Israel.
There was a multitude of them. They were full of joy at the prospect of worshipping the Lord.
Confidence/Praise | 5
And that remembrance of what things used to be – as well as the fact that their God is still alive – these realities fuel the sons of Korah to express confidence in the Lord and to praise him in verse 5.
5 Why art thou [cast down/in despair/depressed], O my soul?
and why art thou [disquieted/disturbed/upset] in me?
[hope/wait] thou [in/for] God:
for I shall [yet/again] praise him for the help of his [countenance/presence] [i.e., his saving intervention].
So, if the sons of Korah worshipped a God who lives, then they have no reason for despair.
And I'm not sure what you think about your church right now. Are we smaller than we've been in the past? Yes. Are we just as needy as ever? Yes. Should we be discouraged about these things – as if God didn't exist? No.
Do you have the same concerns about Christianity at large? Does it seem like everything that is both Christian and biblical is shrinking in your life? If so, then your tendency and mine is to be discouraged and to start to think almost as if God is not involved anymore. That he's kind of left town – that he's not all that concerned about what happens in his world nowadays.
But that's wrong. He is living. He is concerned. And his people need to hope in him – wait for him to act for us and for his own name.
Hope in God. Wait for God. If he lives, then you know he can still hear and answer us. You know he can keep us going as a church, as families, and individuals who want to worship him.
The sons of Korah were convinced that God would intervene and save them from their troubles. We worship the same powerful and living and faithful God as they.
Lament | 6-7
And yet – how easy is it to become discouraged even after receiving a great encouragement from the Lord? And so, the sons of Korah go right back into lamenting their situation in verses 6 and 7 – and yet, they take this lament – this complaint – to the Lord.
6 O my God, my soul is [cast down/in despair] within me:
therefore will I remember thee [from/while I am trapped in] the land of [the river...] Jordan,
and [of the Hermonites/the peaks of Hermon],
from [the hill/Mount] Mizar.
7 [Deep/One deep stream] calleth unto deep at the [noise/sound] of thy [waterspouts/waterfalls]:
all thy [waves/breakers/billows] and thy [billows/waves] [are gone over/have rolled over/overwhelm] me.
And so, here it seems that these sons of Korah are communicating that they are trapped in the land north of Israel. I tend to think that this would have happened when Israel or Judah were exiled. Typically, the exiles would travel north out of the land of Israel.
And that’s where these geographical features are found – the Jordan River is the river that runs north to south and starts basically in the area just southeast of Mount Hermon. And then Mount Mizar is a smaller mountain near to Hermon.
And in this area with this high mountainous terrain – you see these waterfalls or waterspouts as the KJV says. And the sons of Korah are apparently imaging their being exiled as if God is putting them under one of those violent waterfalls and just pummeling them with this hard and heavy stream of water falling from a cliff of Mount Hermon.
And that might seem to be an unjust accusation against God – and yet, if the context of this psalm is these men being led away into exile, then it was truly God who made that happen to Israel and/or Judah for their sins against him.
Confidence/Praise | 8
And yet, it appears that these sons of Korah – though being led away into exile with their rebellious fellow citizens – they were not themselves rebellious like their countrymen. And that’s further evidenced in verse 8 with their expressions of confidence and praise for the Lord.
8 Yet the LORD [will command/decrees] his [lovingkindness/loyal love] in the daytime,
and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the [God of my life/my living God].
So, even though these men feel like God is drowning them in a raging river fed by waterfalls – yet they also understand that God doesn’t abandon his true people ever. God’s loyal love – they are assured – will be with them all the time.
And therefore, the sons of Korah will have a prayerful song in their hearts to the God of their life – or again, their living God. The God who – although here in this psalm is giving his people over to punishment – yet, lives and exists and rewards those who diligently seek him.
Lament | 9-10
And yet, once more, the sons of Korah slip back into a lament of their circumstances in verses 9 and 10.
9 I will [say/pray] unto God my [rock/high ridge], Why hast thou [forgotten/ignored] me?
why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
10 As with a [sword in/shattering of] my bones, mine enemies [reproach/taunt] me;
while they say [daily/all day long] unto me, Where is thy God?
So, the chastening that these men are receiving – they perceive as God forgetting and ignoring them.
And part of that difficult chastening is these enemies taunting them and claiming that the Lord doesn’t exist. Or if he does exist, he’s no match for their gods – since their gods – they think – are enabling these enemies to take captive the people of the Lord.
Confidence/Praise | 11
But for one final time, these men – the sons of Korah – are going to speak to their souls and insist that their souls trust in the Lord – verse 11.
11 Why art thou [cast down/in despair/depressed], O my soul?
and why art thou [disquieted/disturbed/upset] within me?
[hope/wait] thou [in/for] God: for I shall [yet/again] praise him,
[who is/for] the [health/help] of my countenance, and my God [i.e., his saving intervention...].
And so, this verse is something of a refrain that is now repeated a second time in this psalm.
And this sets an example for us as to how we should respond to things going bad in our lives. Even when they're bad to the point that they look as if God has forgotten us.
Hope in God.Wait for him to act to help you. You can be assured that you will yet again praise him.
And if things get their absolute worst in this life – you know that this isn't the end. We have a glorious future in store for us. We'll be taking eternity praising God like the sons of Korah so greatly longed to do. Our enemies – who now question the existence of our God – will know the awful truth – but too late to be of any help for them.
And the thirsting that we experience in this life to worship the Lord will be completely quenched forever.
Why are we cast down, brethren? Let's hope in and wait for God to help us.