Believing in the Proactive God.

Psalm 43

Background to the Psalm:

Some years back the big event each Christmas for Tracy and I was seeing the next instalment of the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ at the cinema. What I remember about watching the first and second films was they left me with a sense of anticipation for the next.  That’s something quite unusual, as generally sequels tend to be a case of diminishing returns.  But, as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was envisioned as one story broken into three books, each film delivered in terms of expectations and enjoyment.  That’s the case with Psalm 43.  Many commentators feel that Psalm 42 and 43 were one Psalm which had been separated due to their differing tones.  Psalm 43 has no introduction concerning who wrote it, something unique to Book 2 of the book of Psalms.  It also repeats the phrase: ‘Why are you cast down O my soul and why all you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God’ in verse 5 which is found in verses 5 and 11 of the previous Psalm.

The structure of the Psalm:

  • A cry for God to intervene in the Psalmists situation (v1).
  • The Psalmist questions why he is in the state he’s in. He now starts to have confidence that God will change situation (vs2-4).
  • The Psalmist repeats his original question (see Psalm 42:1). But this time the sentiment is, to paraphrase: ‘how could I have ever felt that?’ (v5).

Some obviations on the text (all quotations ESV):

The psalmist has started to climb out of his predicament which had so immersed him in Psalm 42. He now calls on the Lord to defend his cause against those who making it hard for him, a bit like a lawyer taking up their client’s case.  This is a bold prayer which calls upon the Lord to act (v1).  Even if in verse 2 he is still musing over the Lord supposed rejection of him, he realizes that the Lord is his refuge.  The psalmist now asks himself why he’s in the state he’s in if he believes in such a God?

This acts as a major challenge to us. If we worship a God who is sovereign, but then fall into despair over any trial or tribulation we face, that is hardly honouring to God.  We should focus on the Lord and his promises, so when we find ourselves sad and hard-pressed, we will not despair.  Sadness and despair are two very different things.  One can suffer sadness due to being caught in the crossfire of a damage world, but not be despairing.  To despair when we worship a sovereign God is to lack faith!

The psalmist continues to call on the Lord to act. The phase ‘Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill’ (v3) has been interpreted various ways.  One suggestion is that it is: ‘envisioned by the writer as guardian angels of a sort who are walking along at his side.’[1]  But I suspect the psalmist is recounting how, in his depression, he’d forgotten this aspect of the Lord’s nature.  The reference to: ‘your holy hill’ has connotations of the Temple and the psalmist now seeking fellowship with the Lord that had been absent in his depressed state.

But whatever the phrase means, I think we can draw two conclusions from it. Firstly, gone is the depressive nature of the former Psalm where the psalmist prayer dwelt on his own fragile emotional state.  There is nothing wrong with praying like that as the Lord wants to know, however raw the emotion, what we are feeling.  He wants us to be brutally honest about our situation!  But there has to be a point where we ask God to intervene, and this the psalmist now does.  Secondly, having realized this, the psalmist pinpoints what is needed.  So now he is seeking spiritual clarity.

So, where can the psalmist find the necessary: ‘light and truth’?  The answer is in ‘God’s Word’.  In this way, by the power of the Holy Spirit, clarity of thought and belief will be found and order can be restored to the believer’s troubled mind.  The Bible should the first place we look when we seek to restore spiritual order.  Too often we look to the advice of those who speak out personal experience.  Although there’s some value in that, we are all different and one person’s experience may not be another’s!  Henry and Scott note that the Christian should: ‘discard dishonourable fears, and pray more earnestly that the Lord would send forth the truth of his words, and the light of his spirit, to guide us into the way of holiness, peace and salvation.’ [2]

The psalmist realizes that if he engages with God’s Word he will bring his emotions under the discipline of the Lord’s instruction. Then he can approach God in joyful worship.  In the previous Psalm he had looked back in despair at the fellowship that he had lost.  But now he looks forward to future fellowship and worship in joyful anticipation.  The reference to the: ‘lyre’ gives us a picture that if David was the author of the two Psalms he is literally at a point where he is anticipating composing a song of praise about the loving kindness found in the Lord’s relationship with his people.

The psalmist concludes with the question he’d asked back in Psalm 42. But now the question is asked rhetorically.  The psalmist is pretty much saying: “how could I be so depressed and distraught when I worship a God who speaks to his people through his Word.”  Craig Broyles concludes.  ‘The Psalm as a whole is a clear testimony that, while circumstances may put restraints on the people of God, they do not have ultimate control. Worshipers can exercise a measure of control over how they respond to hardship and over the state of their soul, especially when they commit their hopes to God through prayer.’ [3]  The psalmist may still have  problems and struggles , but he has started to resolve them by turning to God’s Word and regaining a proper perspective!

[1] H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (London, Evangelical Press, 1959), 343.

[2] Henry and Scott, Scots Commentary, Job to Solomon’s Song (London, The Religious Tract Society, 1833), 202.

 [3]Craig C. Broyles, New International Biblical Commentary Psalms (Massachusetts, Hendrickson publishers, Inc, 1999), 200.

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