Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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.
Psalm 42 was written by the sons of Korah. They were a guild of singers from the tribe of Levi that sang at the Temple as the people of God gathered for worship. They wrote as one man. Throughout this Psalm, therefore, they wrote in the singular. And so we will speak of the psalmist (singular).
This Psalm was written in connection with the flight of David from Absalom into the wilderness of Jordan. The psalmist experienced the same terrible plight as did David.
The theme of this Psalm is “longing for God.” In the exile of the wilderness the psalmist was far from the house of God in Jerusalem. He longed to return to the house and presence of his God.
Due to the difficult circumstances that he faced, the psalmist was cast down and disquieted. How easily this happens. The psalmist confronted himself. He rebuked himself with a question, Why art thou cast down? He turned his attention to the help of God’s countenance that would surely come. On that basis, he counseled himself to hope in God. We must do the same in times of discouragement.
A horrible reality.
The psalmist’s soul was cast down and disquieted within him. One who is cast down is bowed down. He walks in a stooped manner, giving out sighs and groans because he is dejected. This goes along with being disquieted. To be disquieted is to be in turmoil. All peace and quiet have been disrupted. This described the psalmist. There was no peace or quiet within his soul. His mind was in turmoil. He knew only grief and sorrow. He walked about bowed down, sighing and moaning. Tears had been his food day and night.
That which brought about this downcast state was the situation the psalmist faced. He had accompanied David and his small following into the wilderness of Jordan as they fled from Absalom. David’s exile was God’s judgment on David for his sin with Bathsheba. God had said that the sword would never depart from David’s house. Absalom’s rebellion was just one of many horrible incidents. David’s exile was God’s judgment, not only upon David, but in a real sense upon all those who stood with David. And so God seemed far from them. It appeared to the psalmist that God had forgotten him (v. 9). Those who witnessed David and his band concluded that their God was strangely absent (v. 3). The psalmist panted after God, even as a thirsty deer would stagger in the wilderness, panting after the water brooks (v. 1).
Small wonder the psalmist was cast down and disquieted.
The psalmist’s experience is not unique.
We find many similar examples in Scripture. It was in the belly of the fish that Jonah cried out, “I am cast out of thy sight” (Jonah 2:4). David himself felt cast away from God’s presence after his sin with Bathsheba (Ps. 51:11). Even our Lord Jesus Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
This is also our experience from time to time. We too can feel that God has forsaken us, cast us off, and no longer cares for us. Affliction is often our companion in life. Sometimes affliction comes in the form of a debilitating illness. Sometimes God takes a loved one away and leaves us alone. Sometimes there is a family member that causes us untold grief. Or it may be that we are opposed for Christ’s sake. Many are the afflictions of life. As we struggle with the pain of affliction, God often seems to have forsaken us and cast us off. Especially is this the case should our affliction be an obvious judgment of God for some sin or fault in our life.
Then do we become downcast and disquieted.
Hope in God.
The psalmist counseled himself. He asked his soul, “Why art thou cast down?” There is a note of rebuke here. His cast down soul was not in keeping with reality. The psalmist then focused his attention on the help of God’s countenance and counseled his soul to hope in God.
Hope is an earnest expectation and longing for some future good. Hope has several elements. Hope is an earnest expectation for some future good. Yes, there is affliction for the present. But this will not continue forever. Good things await us in the future. Hope lives in daily expectation of this future good. Hope is also a longing for this future good. Contrary to our usage of the word, hope is also a certainty of this future good. Those who live in hope do not live in doubt but in confidence. Finally, hope is a patient waiting for deliverance and the coming of a better tomorrow.
The psalmist instructed his soul to hope. When there is hope, then one’s soul is not cast down. One is cast down and disquieted within only when he has lost hope. And so the psalmist instructed his soul to hope, to live in the expectation of better things to come. We must do the same. As you face affliction, make sure that you live in hope.
The psalmist could live in hope because of the help of God’s countenance. His hope was in God. Without this help of God’s countenance there is no hope, only false hope.
One’s countenance is one’s face. The help of one’s countenance is the help provided by one whose face is turned to you and whose loving, caring eyes are watching your every move. Think of a parent who watches his little child with loving eyes. His child may not even be aware of it, but his parent’s eyes are never diverted from him. These loving eyes bring help to provide for every need the child has and to keep him in safety.
In like manner can we speak of the help of God’s countenance.
God has His face turned towards His people. They may not know it. The circumstances of life may even seem to contradict it. But the truth is that His eyes are always upon His people, watching them, loving them, and caring for them.
Because His face is turned towards them, He is always present to help them.
His face was turned toward them when they fell in Adam in the garden. In love He sent His only begotten Son into the world as their Mediator to save them from their sins. How wonderful and powerful is the help of God’s countenance!
The help of God’s countenance is also present when it comes to affliction.
Sometimes God helps us by keeping us from affliction. One way the powers of darkness would destroy us is to afflict us with evil. Satan thought that by touching Job with evil he could get Job to curse God and die. Satan would do the same with us. We do not fully realize just how much evil is averted from our lives by the help of God’s countenance that limits the power of Satan to hurt us.
But sometimes God does send evil into our lives. And when He does, we often ask, Why? Sometimes this evil is to correct us. Let’s be humble enough to acknowledge that every child of God is in need of correction. This correction often comes in the form of affliction. Then again, God sends evil into our lives simply for the sake of maturing our faith. By maturing our faith, God causes us to live closer to Him. By the maturing of our faith God also prepares us for greater service in the future.
Because this is the nature of affliction, we may be assured of the help of God’s countenance. Always God’s face is turned towards us in affliction. The eyes of God are full of love and compassion. He will indeed help in time of need. He will preserve us in the midst of our affliction. He will one day deliver us from our affliction and will even turn it to our profit.
This gives the child of God hope for the future.
Hope in God! Look in hope for the help of His countenance. Be assured in hope that affliction is only for a time. Great good awaits us, even through affliction. This is the cure of the cast down soul.
I will yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.
Certainly praise is the appropriate response for the help of God’s countenance.
This praise consists in pointing out and extolling the blessings of God’s help. This is to be done in prayer, in song, and in our confession to others.The psalmist speaks of praising God yet, i.e., yet again. In the past the psalmist experienced the help of God’s countenance. And for that help he had praised God. Now the psalmist anticipated doing so again. Because He lived in hope, he not only anticipated the help of God’s countenance but also anticipated praising God for it.
Let us not overlook the fact that the psalmist could live in hope in this present situation exactly because he had praised God for the help of His countenance in the past. Those who receive the help of God and fail to praise Him are those who overlook and minimize that help. Neither are they grateful. This has sad consequences for them in the future. For affliction will come again. Because they have overlooked and minimized God’s help in the past, they will not be inclined to lay hold of the help of God’s countenance for the present. They suffer affliction without hope. Quickly they are cast down and disquieted within.
Let us praise God for the help of His countenance. How faithful God has been to us.
And when affliction comes again, as it surely will, counsel your soul to hope in God.
In hope look forward to praising God yet again for the help of His countenance.
And the peace of God that passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.