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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Psalms 42



Verses 1-3

Psalms 42:1-3

I. The Christian must often share feelings such as these. The iron fetters of his oppressors—namely, the sins which are ever besetting him—are sore and heavy. These fearful foes which he bears within his own bosom—sins of unrestrained appetite, sins that spring of past habits, sins of criminal weakness and cowardice—they triumph over him sometimes; and when he falls, they seem to say, "Where is thy God?" But it is not his fall only and God's absence that afflict him. It is that he knows how these enemies are carrying him away—carrying him into captivity; and he knows not how or when he shall again return to appear in the presence of his God. When apathy has silently crept over our souls till we begin, not exactly to disobey, but to be careless about obedience; when we have wandered away from Christ and from the Cross, not indeed on purpose, but simply from not heeding our steps, what shall startle us and bring us back better than to have our hearts touched and our feelings stirred by the return of a festival or a fast unlike common days?

II. But there are dangers, it may be said, in such observances; and the observances themselves are more like Jewish discipline than Christian liberty. Both these things are true. We may say that we will not have a special season for penitence, and will make our penitence extend over our whole life, and as we are always sinning, so always be repenting. But if we try it, we find that the result is that if we are much engaged, as many of us ought to be, in the work which God has given us to do in the world, the penitent spirit, instead of being spread over our lives, threatens to disappear altogether, and our characters sink down to a lower level; less spiritual, less pure, less lofty, less self-denying. We need such seasons in order to keep alive in our minds the high standard by which the pure conscience ought to judge.

III. The natural expression of our feelings at such seasons is that expressed in the verse of the Psalms, "To commune with our own hearts and in our chambers." Real, earnest self-examination has taken the place of all other penitential expressions.

Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, p. 254.

I. The figure of intense thirst is current coin in the figurative language of all ages; and with this thirst, says the Psalmist, "My soul longeth for the living God." There is something more here than mere intellectual conviction. To believe in God is much; to be athirst and to long for Him is much more.

II. The language of the text not only transcends mere belief in God as the great Creator and Governor of the world; it also surpasses any language which could be adopted by the belief in God as the Benefactor and Preserver of the man who used the language. It is just when David seems to be deserted, when his enemies are triumphing over him, when his whole prospect is as black as night, that his soul is thirsting for God, even for the living God.

III. This language by no means stands alone. It is no exaggeration to say that the connection between the human soul and the living God and the consequent appetite of the pure soul for God's presence constitutes the very first principle of the book of Psalms.

IV. The thirst of the human soul after God is a great argument that there is a God to be thirsted for. Men would not thirst for that for which they have no affinity. The human soul longs for the sympathy of some being higher than, and yet like, itself. The presence of God can only be imagined as, in some sense, a human presence. The practical proof of the being of God—not of God as a mere power, or a mere synonym for nature, or a mere hypothesis, but of God Who has created man, and Who loves him with the love of a Father, and desires a return of love for love—is to be found in the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 289.

References: Psalms 42:1.—R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 410. Psalms 42:1-3.—F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 106.

Verse 2

Psalms 42:2

I. When the Psalmist says, "My soul is athirst," he certainly describes no rare or peculiar state of feeling. The thirst of the soul is as generic as the thirst of the body.

II. The Psalmist said, "My soul is athirst for God." He knew that all men in the nations round him were pursuing gods. Pleasure was a god; wealth was a god; fame was a god. What the Jew had been taught was that the Lord his God was one Lord. He was not to pursue a god of pleasure, a god of wealth, a god of fame. He was made in the image of the God. The God was not far from him. The thirst for happiness means and ends in the thirst for God.

III. The Psalmist goes on, "Even for the living God." It is no idle addition to the former words. The gods which the Israelites had been taught they were not to worship were dead gods. There is a thirst of the soul to create something in its own likeness, but the first and deepest thirst is to find in what likeness it is itself created, whence all its living powers are derived, who has fixed their ends, who can direct them to their ends.

IV. Finally, the Psalmist says, "When shall I come and appear before God?" A bold petition! Ought he not rather to have prayed, "O God, prepare me for the day when I must appear before Thee"? This is the modification which we who live under the New Testament generally give to words which those who lived before the incarnation and epiphany of Jesus Christ could utter in simple fulness. What they held was that God prepared them for His appearing by teaching them to hope for it. If they did not expect it, did not hope for it, they would be startled and confounded by it; if they did, every step in their history, every struggle, every joy, was an education for it.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 129.

This verse expresses the attitude and mission of the Christian Church. The attitude. For what are the struggles of Christian souls except, in the midst of a world that is quite complicated with difficulties, in the midst of a world that is overwhelmed with sorrow, in the midst of a time of severe temptation, to constantly rise and gaze high above the thought of evil, and gaze towards the sun of brightness, and cry for God? And what is the mission of the Christian Church? Is it not to help men and women in their struggle and their sorrow to forget, at least at times, their pettinesses and degradation, to rise to better standards and loftier ideals, and to cry for God?

I. In such a verse as this we are face to face with one of those great governed contrasts that are found throughout Scripture and throughout human life. There are at least four forms of attraction which are presented to our souls. There is (1) the attraction of natural beauty; (2) the attraction of activity; (3) the attraction of the intellect; (4) the attraction of the affections. There are many things given; there are many attractions to draw: they will stimulate; they will help; they will console; they will give pleasure: there is one thing that satisfies the immortal; there is one life that meets your need. "My soul is athirst for God." There is something deeper in man than his aesthetic desire or his active practice, something deeper beneath us all than anything that finds expression, certainly than anything that finds satisfaction. You yourself, the foundation of your life, must be satisfied; and being infinite and immortal, you can know but one satisfaction.

II. What is meant by the thirst for God? (1) It means thirsting for and desiring moral truth. The thirst for God means the thirst within us to fulfil His moral law. (2) The thirst of the soul for God is the thirst to love goodness because it is right.

III. It is our privilege, beyond the privilege of the Psalmist, to know in the Gospel, to know in the Church, Christ, God expressed in humanity. Is your soul athirst for the Highest? You may find it if you come in repentance, if you come in desire, if you come in quiet determination to do your duty—you may find it satisfied in Christ.

J. Knox-Little, Anglican Pulpit of To-Day, p. 267 (see also Manchester Sermons, p. 193).

I. Let us learn from these words a great law of our being. God made us that He might love us. God has given us the capacity of loving Himself, and He has made it a law of our being that we must love Him if we are ever to be happy, that there is no happiness for us but in fulfilling that law of our being which requires us to love the living God.

II. Again, we learn when we look at the text and think of the longing that filled the heart of the Psalmist how wonderfully little our lives and our hearts correspond to this purpose of God's love. How little of this longing there is in our hearts, this thirst for God, the living God; and all the while God, looking down upon us in His infinite mercy, is longing for our hearts, the hearts of His children. We may say it with reverence that the heart of God is athirst for our love, and longs that our hearts should be athirst for Him.

III. This expression of the Psalmist may be the expression of a soul that has known what it is to love God and to enjoy God's love, who is mourning under the hidings of God's countenance, the sunshine of whose love has been clouded, who is walking in darkness and having no light. Never did a soul thirst for God, cry out for God, the living God, but God sooner or later, in His own good time, filled that soul with all His fulness, flooded that soul with all the sunshine of His love. It is for the Holy Spirit's help that we must pray; it is on His help we must lean; it is He from whom we must ask the power to thirst for God, the living God.

Bishop Maclagan, Penny Pulpit, No. 731.

Taken in their original sense, the words of our text apply only to that strange phenomenon which we call religious depression. But I have ventured to take them in a wider sense than that. It is not only Christian men who are cast down, whose souls "thirst for God." All men, everywhere, may take this text for theirs.

I. There is in every man an unconscious and unsatisfied longing after God, and that is the state of nature. Experience is the test of that principle. (1) We are not independent. None of us can stand by himself. No man carries within him the fountain from which he can draw. (2) We are made to need, not things, but living persons. Hearts want hearts. A living man must have a living God, or his soul will perish in the midst of earthly plenty, and will thirst and die whilst the water of earthly delights is running all around him. (3) We need one Being who shall be all-sufficient. If a man is to be blessed, he must have one source where he can go. The merchantman that seeks for many goodly pearls may find the many, but until he has bartered them all for the one there is something lacking.

II. There is a conscious longing, imperfect, though fully supplied; and that is the state of grace, the beginning of religion in a man's soul. There can be no deeper truth than this—God is a faithful Creator; and where He makes men with longings, it is a prophecy that these longings are going to be supplied. "He knoweth our frame," and He remembereth what He has implanted within us. The perfecting of your character may be got in the Lamb of God, and without Him it can never be possessed. Christ is everything, and "out of His fulness all we receive grace for grace." Not only in Christ is there the perfect supply of all these necessities, but also the fulness becomes ours on the simple condition of desiring it. In the Divine region the principle of the giving is this—to desire is to have; to long is to possess.

III. Lastly, there is a perfect longing perfectly satisfied; and that is heaven. We shall not then be independent, of course, of constant supplies from the great central fulness, any more than we are here. Thirst as longing is eternal; thirst as aspiration after God is the glory of heaven; thirst as desire for more of Him is the very condition of the celestial world, and the element of all its blessedness.

A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, 1863, p. 135.

References: Psalms 42:2.—S. Macnaughton, Real Religion and Real Life, p. 13; T. G. Rose, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 261; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 36.

Verse 4

Psalms 42:4

I. The literal reference is to the place at which the Jews were accustomed statedly to worship God, which had been selected by Divine appointment, and by whose institutions were mainly preserved the objects of the Jewish economy.

II. Notice the advantages of the sanctuary. It is the scene (1) of instruction; (2) of consolation; (3) of fellowship with God; (4) of preparation for heaven.

W. M. Punshon, Sermons, p. 101.

Verse 6

Psalms 42:6

I. Man's natural instinct, when his soul is cast down within him, is to forget God, and not to remember Him, to let God and the higher world slip out of his relaxing hand. Despair is reckless, and deep misery tends strongly to despair.

II. Consider the reason, nature, and fruit of David's remembrance of God when "his soul was cast down within him." (1) The reason. I will remember Thee, for I am not my own, but Thine. Here is the fundamental principle of relief from crushing burdens of care. God cares more for me, for my present and my future, than I care for myself. Here is a fountain of inspiration, the kindling of an unconquerable hope. (2) The nature of the remembrance. What about God did he recall? (a) That the Lord was his portion, of which neither earth nor hell could rob him. (b) "God my rock" opens a new idea. Firmer than the granite mountains, more enduring than the everlasting hills, was this portion of his spirit. (c) He remembered that God was the health of his countenance, and the spring of his everlasting joy. (3) The fruit of his remembrance of God in the depths. "In the night His song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life."

J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, p. 287.

Verse 7

Psalms 42:7

I. Notice the force of the image which is here employed. Resistless power, impassive fixedness of purpose, and a certain solemn sadness make the ocean waves the grandest image of the calamities of life.

II. Let us try to estimate the experience which the image portrays. (1) There are two spheres of pain. The one comprehends the common experience of mankind. Every life has its toils, cares, burdens, perils. But (2) we mean something quite different from this when we speak of calamity, the anguish through which a soul may be called to pass, and the despair in which it may be lost. It is the "wave upon wave" which is so exhausting. One shock we can breast and master, but shock after shock is crushing.

III. There is one wave which a strong hand holds back, one last crushing blow which is spared. He hath not suffered your hope to be removed. A sure Pilot steers thy storm-tossed vessel through the billows. He will not leave the helm till He has landed thee on the blessed shore.

J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, p. 252.

Reference: Psalms 42:7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 865.

Verse 8

Psalms 42:8

I. The first thought we would draw from this verse is that there must be changes in every true life. (1) These changes give to life the most opposed conditions—light and darkness. There is day and there is night. These represent the shiftings of colour that pass across our history, from the broad, bright sunshine of prosperity to the darkest and heaviest of our trials. If our life is to be of any value, these must come in some form, outwardly or inwardly. (2) These changes are according to a fixed law. It is a law of alternation. It is day and night, and, let us thank God, it is also in due time night and day. Each has its time and use. (3) In the general, God sends us a portion of the day before the night. The Christian life is usually at first a simple, humble apprehension of God's mercy which gives the love of youth, and knows not the pains of backsliding nor the chillness of decline. It is in kindness that God begins our life with such a daytime. It strengthens for the trial, and creates a memory within which can be nourished into a hope. (4) But after day it is God's manner, sooner or later, to send night. It is night that lets us measure the day. At night we can tell our work, and count our gains, and resolve, if another day be granted, that to-morrow shall not be as this day, but much more abundant. (5) And yet we cannot wish that God should close our view of this life with night. We long to have the night break up before we die, to have some horizon streak of the coming day.

II. The second thought contained in this passage is that to suit these changes in life there are Divine provisions. For the day God commands His "loving-kindness;" for the night He gives "His song." The loving-kindness is God's goodness on and around us, the song His goodness in and passing through us.

III. The third thought is that there is a constant duty on our part amid all. "And my prayer unto the God of my life." The day and the night call upon us to sanctify each, by its own form, to God; and some days and nights in their temptations and sorrows demand those wrestlings that have power with God to prevail.

J. Ker, Sermons, p. 213.

References: Psalms 42:8.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. viii., p. 15. Psalms 42:9.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 204.

Verse 10

Psalms 42:10

An atheistic suggestion.

One of the greatest strains upon human faith when any disaster overtakes us is the thought, How can it be that God is omnipotent and infinitely tender, as we believe He is, and yet can allow such things to happen? It is the old question of the origin and allowance of evil, which philosophers have debated from ancient days without resolving; yet it is a question which comes home like a sword to the humblest and least cultivated. The strain is as old as the world, and David felt its force, and in this poem expresses it.

I. Some have answered this question by denying the omnipotence of God. Believing in a god or in gods, they also believed that the Divine powers were limited, that there were powers as great or greater than those of the gods; in other words, they recognised either gods which were equal and opposite, or one stern power to which even the gods themselves must ultimately submit. The latter was a Greek faith; the former was Oriental, appearing in different forms in different religions. Such systems are too remote from our ways of thinking to prove attractive to us.

II. But there is another system of religion, and there is also a form of Christianity, neither of which absolutely denies the infinite tenderness of God; but they explain everything by the bare assertion of Divine sovereignty. They say it is enough that God does a thing, and that man has no right to question the justice or propriety of it. Now, whether this creed be held by the Mussulman or the Calvinist, it lands us in terrible difficulties. There are deeds done in the world which all men see are evil, and are we to teach that God is the Author of evil? Arbitrary sovereignty will not explain the mysteries of life.

III. The truth is, the world is a great machine which moves according to definite and ascertainable laws. It was not the Maker's will that the machinery should work destruction, but the constructive power becomes destructive when misapplied. The more we know of the world, the more we discover the working, constant and uninterfered with, of law—of law which brings happiness to those who act in accordance with it and disaster to those who transgress it.

IV. The Positivist triumphantly asks, Where is your God? I see nothing but law, and now you, a Christian, say that you see nothing but law. You are no better off with your God than I am without Him. Our answer is, (1) If there were no advantage in believing in God, we should still be obliged to believe in Him, because there is a God to believe in, because He is real, and we cannot help believing in Him. (2) There is a blessed mitigation of our sorrows which he who knows no God but law cannot share. The man who in his bitterest need can look up even dumbly to God becomes possessed (a) of a sense of sympathy, and comfort, and courage, and (b) of a Divine patience.

W. Page-Roberts, Law and God, p. 1.

Verse 11

Psalms 42:11

There were two things under which at this time—probably the time of Absalom's short-lived and wicked triumph—David's soul was suffering. It was "cast down," and it was "disquieted." To be "cast down" is depression of spirit; to be "disquieted" is agitation—restlessness of mind.

I. When he was low and very "cast down," David reasoned with his own soul, for thus we are to take it, not as an impassioned ejaculation, but as a deliberate question and an investigation of the matter within himself. "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" The worst part of almost every trouble is a certain vagueness which there is about it. It is the indefiniteness of an evil which constitutes the greatness of the evil. Whenever, therefore, you feel distress and a general sense of wretchedness coming over you, at once deal with the matter deliberately and searchingly, and ask yourself, What is the real nature and what is the root of this discomfort?

II. The next step which we note in David's way of escape is that he finds refuge in God Himself. He looks away from what his circumstances are, from what he is, to what God is. "Hope thou in God." The great cure for all evil lies somewhere in the work and character of God, and he will reach his refuge the surest and the quickest who can most forget everything else, and concentrate himself and absorb himself in something that God says, or something that God does, or something that God is.

III. David's hope saw at once the present darkness only as a passage which was leading out into a bright future. "I shall yet praise Him." He regarded and valued his joy, not for what that joy was in itself, but for the honour it should bring to God. Not "I shall be happy," but "I shall praise Him."

IV. There is yet one more lesson—a felt personal property in the love of God. "Who is the health of my countenance, and my God." Till you can say that, you must always be the slave of circumstances and the prey of every kind of temptation and distress; but when your faith is high enough to enable you to feel that all the sunshine that plays in your face is a reflection of the light of God's countenance, and that not only the gifts, but the Giver, is yours, then that "my God" will carry you on, and bear you up, superior to all the vexations of life; and the possession of God will be the dispossession of care.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 21.

References: Psalms 42:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1226; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 111; J. P. Chown, Old Testament Outlines, p. no. xlii.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xx., p. 89.

Psalm 42

This Psalm contains a prescription for a downcast soul, consisting of three ingredients.

I. The first is inquiry: "Why art thou cast down?" Religious despondency must have a cause; and if we can discover it in any case, the old proverb holds good that a knowledge of the disease is half its cure.

II. The second ingredient of the prescription is remembrance: (1) the Psalmist's remembrance of his own experience and (2) his remembrance of God's gracious dealings with others.

III. The third ingredient is hope: "Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him." (1) The hope is to be in God. (2) The downcast soul must hope in God, and not in change of circumstance. (3) Hope is a different thing from faith, while the operations of the two are nevertheless closely allied.

M. R. Vincent, Gates into the Psalm Country, p. 145.


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 42:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

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