The Righteous One in His Weariness,
Looking Up

a brief study of Psalm 42, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 13 Apr 2007

Psalm 42 was no doubt written by David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at a time when he was facing severe discouragement and perhaps depression.

Commentators believe that David was at this time fleeing from his son Absalom and wandering in the wilderness beyond Jordan (cf. v. 5, 2 Sam 15-18).

It is as such a psalm that is particularly comforting and instructive for those who are suffering spiritual depression or discouragement.

One of the things which I learn from this psalm, for example, is to talk to my soul when I am depressed.

David does that in verse 5—

5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

Notice that I said: “Talk to my soul,” not “talk with my soul.” When you are depressed, you must not talk with your soul. If you do that you will spiral further into depression. You must rather talk to your soul. David, under inspiration, shows us how. Ask your soul why you are cast down. No, no; don’t wait for an answer. That would be to talk with your soul. When you ask your soul why he is cast down, you must ask in a way that suggests that he has no good reason to be cast down! Then exhort your soul to hope in God, to believe Him that help is nigh and He will soon lift up His countenance upon you.

Depression and discouragement is something that is very real in the lives of Christians. In fact, it is part of fallen human nature to experience depression and discouragement. Yes, when we are perfected in glory we shall no more experience depression and discouragement, but while we live in this fallen world, we will experience it.

Is it sin to feel depressed or discouraged, someone asked? Well, I do not think so. A failure to trust in God is sin. But it is possible to feel depressed and discouraged while still trusting in God. To trust in God is an act of the will on the basis of knowledge. Depression and discouragement have to do with emotions or feelings.

This is the reason why the psalmist could talk to his soul to hope in God. He does hope in God, but the circumstance that he is in plays on his emotions so that he feels discouraged and depressed.

It is all very confusing, but I am sure you know what I mean if you have experienced it yourself.

It is important for us to understand that it is no sin to be depressed or discouraged. One of the worst thing to do to a depressed or discouraged believer is to admonish him for his sin,—whether of feeling depressed or of something that you perceive may be leading to the depression. It will exacerbate his feelings of guilt. He may not be guilty, but if you admonish him, he will certainly feel a terrible sense of guilt. There is, of course, a place for loving admonishment, but it must be done with gentleness and at the right time.

And so beloved brothers and sisters, if you are feeling discouraged or depressed, I will encourage you with the knowledge that you are not alone and the LORD has not forsaken you.

You are amongst the many, many godly believers who have at one point experienced discouragement and depression. I think of Moses, David, Elijah and Jeremiah. I think of Luther, Edwards, Brainerd, Timothy Rogers, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, etc. Yea, I think of the Lord Himself.

Indeed, I believe that this Psalm is not only about David. David wrote in the Spirit of Christ so that what is recorded in this Psalm provides us with a glimpse of the Lord’s thoughts and emotions during His incarnation. I believe Andrew Bonar is right in calling this psalm: “The Righteous One in his weariness looking up to the Father for refreshment.”

This psalm has two stanzas or strophes, each ending with the refrain, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul &c” (v. 5 and 11). It is believed that Psalm 43 is actually the 3rd stanza of this psalm because it ends with the same refrain.

If this is so, then this is a three-part psalm, the first part, vv. 1-5 contains an outpouring of the heart in regard to its longing and discouragements; the second part vv. 6-11 contains an outpouring of the heart in regard to the sorrow and confusion that it is experiencing. Psalm 43, on the other hand, contains an outpouring of the heart’s desire unto the Lord to send forth His light to dispel the darkness of the soul.

This evening, the Lord helping us, we shall only be able to consider briefly, Psalm 42.

1. An Outpouring of Longing
& Exasperation

1 As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. 2 My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?

A hart is a deer. Think of a deer being hunted and running for his life. He is thirsty. He needs a drink badly, but there is no water to be found. He longs for water to quench his thirst.

David was being pursued by his son Absalom. But what was his longing? Not simply safety! His longing was God, of a sense of God’s favourable presence.

Our Lord, especially, experienced the same longing as He was arrested and driven to the cross.

It was the Passover season when our Lord was arrested. It should have been a time of joyous religious observance and celebrations. But our Lord was bound, and deprived of freedom to appear before the Father with the people.

And moreover, He was bearing the sin of His people so that the shadow of God’s wrath casting darkness over His soul was lengthening by the minute.

Our Lord was feeling depressed and discouraged.

3 My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?

Over and over again, the Lord was ridiculed: “If thou be the Son of God” save thyself, come down from the cross (Mt 27:40). “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (Mk 15:31). “He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. ” (Ps 22:8).

“Where is thy God?” they taunted. Tears could not wash away the exasperation of hearing God’s name blasphemed and not being able to defend it.

Our Lord longed for the vindication of God’s name, and He longed to be able to worship the Father with the people who fear and love Him.

This feeling of longing and exasperation was intensified each time He recalled the joy of joyful praise and worship with the multitude—such as during His triumphal entry when a multitude welcomed Him into Jerusalem singing “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.

That is to say: My heart overflows with emotion each time I recall the joy of worship with God’s faithful people.

Beloved brethren and children, have you ever felt this way? Perhaps you were prevented from joining God’s people in worship due to illness or circumstance. Perhaps you are feeling very low and have lost the joy of worship. Tell your soul that the Lord felt the same longing and exasperation.

And talk to your soul as our Lord would have done, verse 5—

5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.   

The child of God does not need to be down cast. Our hearts can be at peace. Emotions will arise rather inexplicably to cause us to feel discouraged and depressed. Often we cannot help when sad feelings overwhelm us. But we can help our soul by talking to our soul and exhorting ourselves to continue to hope in God and to looking forward to the day when we shall yet worship the Lord joyfully with the multitude who keep holy day.

2. An Outpouring of Sorrow
& Confusion

6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.  7 Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.

David was deep in the woods hiding at the base of a waterfall in the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites from the hill Mizar. As he heard the roaring noise of the water cascading down the face of the rock, and see wave after wave of water and the billows or breakers rushing down the brook, he found expression for the pain that he was feeling.

His heart was full of confusion. There was a roaring in his soul. And wave after wave of sorrow was sweeping over his soul.

Our Lord felt the same way as He headed to the cross and as He hung on the cross. He was a man of sorrow. He was exasperated.

But He never lost sight of His Father. Not once! He knew that behind the dark cloud is a loving Father.

8 Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. 9 I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

Our Lord knew the answer to His question, of course. He came to do His Father’s will. He came to be our sin-bearer. This is why He must go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy. It must be so. In the volume of the book it is written of Him that it must be so. The shepherd must be smitten that the Father’s hand of blessing may be turned upon the lambs.

But sad feelings are inexplicable. And it is aggravated by what others say, however untrue it may be—

10 As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?

Anyone who has felt depressed or discouraged would have experienced this. Here we are dealing with sorrow and discouragement, and there they are stabbing us with sharp words, thrusting their sword of cutting words into our ribs and twisting it.

I remember the experience many times. Many times for me it has to do with preaching. I struggle to be clear and faithful, and get discouraged because I see very little result. Then comes someone who has an axe to grind. What does he tell me: “I have never benefited from a single of your sermons,” he or she says. “I was just tolerating all these time!”

Oh how that felt like a stab and a twist in the heart.

Our Lord felt the same. But for Him it was always the taunting question: “Where is thy God?” that did it. 

The reason is obvious. He is the eternal Son of God, only begotten and beloved of the Father. But because He was bearing our sin, His sense of the Father’s favour was fading by the hour as He approached the hours of darkness.

It had to be so because our Lord must experience the full brunt of the Father’s wrath for our sin. He must come to the point where He would have to endure the full wrath of God against our sin. He must taste hell on our behalf. Hell is not the absence of God. Hell is hell because God is there in His perfect wrath.

Our Lord would have to endure the darkness of the Father’s countenance during those three hours of darkness when even the sun refused to shine.

During the three hours, the words of His tormentors, “Where is thy God?” no doubt played itself over and over again in His soul, threatening to drive Him to despair—so that despite His faith in His Father, the feelings of being forsaken grew more and more intense.

It is no wonder that at the end of the three hours, our Lord cried out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Now, we must make no mistake. Our Lord was not just feeling that the Father had forsaken Him. The wrath of God that He experienced was real, just as the pains of hell will be real for all who remain unrepentant.

But our Lord knew and believed that the Father would receive Him back again once the sacrifice is complete. Never did our Lord doubt His Father. Doubt is sin. Our Lord had no sin. He never doubted.

But equally real was our Lord’s feeling of sorrow and confusion. It was to give expressions to these feelings that our Lord must have meditated and would have us sing these words.

And it is to address these feelings of sorrow that our Lord asks again:

11 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

There is no reason to be cast down. I must hope in God, for it is a fact that I will yet praise the Lord. It is a fact that I will again experience the nourishing grace of the Father’s love.

The Father will never leave me nor forsake me. He is a faithful God who will keep His promises.


What is this psalm to you, dearly beloved brothers and sisters and children in the Lord Jesus Christ?

This psalm has been a tremendous encouragement to me. It is so, firstly, because this psalm assures me that our Lord felt and therefore understands the depressing and discouraging feelings that I am sometimes overwhelmed with.

It is so, secondly, because I find the way that the Lord dealt with the feelings of discouragement most helpful. Brethren, the next time you feel discouraged or depressed remember to talk to your soul as our Lord did.

But finally, this psalm is tremendously encouraging to me because when I sing it, I am again brought to a wholehearted realisation of how much my Lord went through for me and therefore how much He loves me. Amen.                  —JJ Lim