Summary: The psalmist was downcast in spirit and gave voice to Dejection but after an outpouring of grief it gave way to Reflection on God’s gracious provision, which led him to Restoration in hope in God.
ENTERING THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL - AND ITS EXIT
Do you ever feel "in the dumps?" This happens when the "feel good factor" has worn thin. There could be any number of causes that bring this on. "If people don’t feel good, they’re discouraged and discontented. Yes, feelings are important. If we’re a bit off colour; if we’re facing a head wind in the daily routine of life’s journey, there’s a great temptation to succumb to "feeling down".
I must tell you that "there’s nothing new under the sun". Certainly, the psalmist David has been there before us. In Psalms 42 and 43, which are really one poem in three verses with a refrain repeated three times, we have a vivid portrayal of someone who’s feeling downcast. Even the saints of church history have known what they would describe as the "dark night of the soul". Lesser mortals like you and me would say "we’re in the dumps" or "we’re pretty fed up with our lot"!
I wonder if you ever talk to yourself? It’s said that to do so is the first sign of madness; and the second sign is when you begin to answer! I don’t think that’s true. It can be a very sensible thing to do. To speak to yourself can be very therapeutic because you’ve begun the process of identifying the problem and can then go on to find help in solving it. First find the cause and you’re on the way to getting its cure.
That is what David did in this poem. "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?" The words occur three times. It’s quite likely that he wrote them at the time when he was an outcast, being hunted down by King Saul. Our own circumstances are different but I’m sure we’ve all known at some time or the other what it is to struggle with disappointment. We’ve found ourselves in what John Bunyan described in Pilgrim’s Progress as "the slough of despond". We’ve had to face that grim antagonist, "Giant Despair".
How does it feel to be discouraged? It’s sometimes difficult to put it exactly into words, but we’re out of sorts with the world, in fact "cast down" like the psalmist. Let’s see if we can benefit from his experience by stepping into his shoes and learning what he felt like, how he reacted and the remedy he found. In the first place we learn of his:
DEJECTION IN BEING THOROUGHLY DOWNCAST
David gives vent to his feelings by drawing three pictures of himself: "I’m parched" (42:1-3); "I’m overwhelmed" (6-7, 9-10) and "I’m misjudged" (43:1-2).
"I’m parched" he cried. In Britain, we generally take rain for granted unless there’s a drought, and then we complain. But usually rain is bad news. In Palestine the reverse is true - they get too much sun! From May to September it beats down ceaselessly and bakes the land. There’s no rain and the rivers dry up; the wild animals are often in considerable distress. The psalmist draws the picture of the deer panting for water. That’s how David felt in relation to his God, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" ( 42:1-2).