Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalms 42-44

Psalm 42‑44  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In the early part of this second book of the Psalms there is an element which gives a very distinct character to its spiritual as well as its prophetical import—the absence of the covenant—name of God (the transition to Jehovah, is in psalm 46). Whatever the distresses and sorrows of the first forty-one psalms, the heart of the psalmist always looked freely to Jehovah in them, was in fuller relationship with Him and the enjoyment of public services, in which His name was celebrated. Here he is cast out. he remembers these things. He is an outcast and can only, in the secret of his soul and in wilderness circumstances, look to the nature and essence of what God is. We have still to remember the difference of the nature of relationship of Jehovah and the Father, and the looking for outward deliverance and judgment in order to have that deliverance. Still this change will furnish deep religious instruction. Psa. 22 furnishes us with the expression of this difference in the strongest way. There Christ Himself was out of the enjoyment of His own relationship with the Father, having been made sin for us. In human sorrows He for once does not find divine comfort. Now as to present wrath, no godly soul, of course, ever goes through this; but as to sorrow, God's face is hid from Israel, and when they are awakened they feel that it is because of sin, and though faith is at work, which is just what these psalms describe. It is faith looking at God when all circumstances are against him who exercises it and they are driven out from the present enjoyment of revealed communion and covenant relationship; it is the position God sets His people in when covenant relationship is broken—as it will be, and is—with Israel, or not known: and faith, acknowledging the justice of this, looks through all to God's own faithfulness as such. It is, so to speak, naked faith, without anything to sustain it, of what God gives to His people, as the witness of conferred favors. The result is, a full trial of the soul. The question for the soul here is not how far it is enjoying His gifts, but, how far its state can link itself with what God is in Himself, and count on that. This probes it to the bottom, because all flesh is completely judged; for it can have no connection with God at all. It is true that this is never understood but by a new nature—that nature which can understand what God is, and, through grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, cleave to promises; but the flesh is thereby fully judged, and the difference of that and the new man known and discerned, but redemption is not known. Because of this new nature there is the consciousness of the desire to do good, and of God's favor, but no peace. It is a searching process that we may be cast in naked dependence on grace. It is practically as to principle Rom. 7
Psalm 42
In speaking of Psa. 42, we can only take the great principle, unless in a very special case of Christian experience; because the psalm supposes the person's enjoyment of common blessings, he remembered them. The special case is this: when a soul has believed in forgiveness, owning, no doubt, its sinfulness, but not really searched out, or the entirely sinful nature of the flesh discovered, the first joy may be lost, and the soul only know enough of God to feel the dreadfulness of not having the light of His countenance; but this gives the earnest desire to enjoy it. It may also happen when a soul has supposed itself Christian, but finds out, through the operation of God's Spirit, that it is not. In either case, the true blessed effect of the position in which we are placed by redemption is not known. The psalm goes no further than hope, but it is a hope much deepened and made more true by the trial. It expresses more the result of the trial than the process; and hence it is we have so blessed an expression of the state of the soul, however forlorn it is. It thirsts after God Himself—the difference of the Christian state is that, as in Rom. 5, he joys in God. Still, this state of thirsting is, in certain respects, deeper than the first joy, because the joy is partial in its realization: the want is complete, and God Himself, in Himself, the thing desired. No doubt the psalm refers to the circumstances, and it is the souls' loss of God in happy circumstances which supported the soul, more or less, which obliges it to lean on and look for God Himself more absolutely: and, as we shall see, draws its joy thence. And it is this the spiritual soul has to look to in this psalm. His soul is athirst for God. He had lost the joy of the multitude, but he now panted after God Himself, where there was none of this. The change was sensible; but what he felt the loss of for his heart was God Himself. That was what he panted after. People and happy circumstances disappear from the mind as from the scene, though they were enjoyed with God. The individual heart wants God for itself. The divine nature in us craves after its delight in God, the objective fullness that satisfies it, because it is the divine nature. Its thirst is perfect after that—that one great, blessed object, which fills all the desires and excludes every other. Previously the soul had enjoyed the blessings from God and God Himself in them. Now God Himself becomes consciously and necessarily the whole blessing itself. The trial has judged all flesh as to the subjective state of the soul, all mediate enjoyment of God in circumstances; and the divine life, in order to its full blessing and consciousness of what that blessing is, has its perfect delight in God only and God Himself. This is a wonderfully deepening process. It is not that the soul will not have joy; but that the source of joy, pure, moral blessing, has a much fuller place in the heart, and, as we shall see, henceforth characterizes it. Hence it is that we see persons who have been deeply tried by the loss of blessings, which in their place were given of God, far more calm, possessed of a deeper consciousness of God being their portion; and hence more withdrawn from the influence of circumstances to that blessed center of rest.
The enemy, though in a painful way—and so is it even in God's discipline—contributes to the furtherance of the soul in this path. They said, Where is thy God? They have driven them out from the public enjoyment of conferred—and in Israel covenant—blessing. (So Job.) And where was the sign of their having blessings from Him? But as they had ascribed it to God and proclaimed His faithfulness and power to secure, they taunt them with it now and say, What can you say now?—where is thy God? This, really, the unhappy Jews did to Christ. But this only casts the soul on Him. There was nothing for it, but what God was Himself. The enemy had driven them away from all else—from mercies which by abuse tended to shut God out. These the enemy succeeded in depriving the soul of, and left it only God. And the soul hoped in Him; but what was the consequence.? Crying out for the blessing? No. Often the soul, by seeking joy, cannot get it, this would not purify and bless it: and to bless God must purify. When emptied of self and seeking God, we find joy. So here, while remembering the past joy, he says, I shall yet praise Him for the help of his countenance. But some other traits must be noticed here. Pride and stoical resistance to sorrow will not do. That does not draw the soul to God, but effectually and specifically keeps it from Him—teaches it, or pretends to teach it, to do without Him, as the stoics held in fact that the virtuous man was God's equal. Here the soul had felt the sorrow and was dependent, and now can be open with God, because of His goodness and faithfulness. Sorrow, when it is complete and helpless, gives intimacy with him who is willing and able to help, and this is now with God. He tells his sorrow to God. (Ver. 5.) He reasoned with himself. Now he says, “Oh my God, my soul is cast down within me, therefore will I remember thee.” But this leads to another point. The troubles themselves come from God. Inward self-judgment and looking to God bring Him and Him alone into everything. Enemies have disappeared with blessings. Thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. God began the matter with Job and told neither Satan nor Job what He was about, and uses Satan's blind malice to break Job's unsubdued, and of himself unsuspected, nature, and bring about a blessing. Deep called to deep, but it was at the voice of God's waterspouts. But this seeing God's hand in purpose leads to the consciousness of covenant relationship; to us of Father, here of Jehovah; and he is reckoned upon according to that for the future. Jehovah will command His lovingkindness in the day-time, and in the night shall His song be with me and my prayer unto the God of my life. Confidence is thus acquired—boldness with a faithful God. “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me?” He does not say, forsaken here. That Christ alone was, and faith knows it never can be. But because of this confidence in the unfailing love of God, he asks Him who is his rock—why He has left him in the power of the enemy. Note how when once we see the hand of God in our sorrows we can look for deliverance, because it is God, and His hand is on us in love. And now the reproach of the enemies becomes a plea with God; for when they say, Where is thy God? the only answer is, God's manifesting Himself. Meanwhile the soul has been deepened in its desires after God Himself. All carelessness of heart removed, so that manifestation has infinitely more value. Here the assurances of blessing are enlarged, before the distressed soul has said that he was assured of the help of His countenance as the. theme of his praises; but we have seen that his heart, purified and exercised, had been drawn up into confiding in the sure faithfulness of God in known relationship. The heart, though not yet outwardly freed, is fixed on God in desire and in confidence. Hence he says now, Who is the health of my countenance—his countenance reflects in joy the outshining of God's in love—and my God. Distress and the deprivation of all given, even religious blessings, had cast the heart upon God and drawn it to look to Him as the alone source of joy, and with the confidence which must spring up when the soul is near God, known in His own relationship by faith. It cannot be otherwise. There may be delay as to full peace of heart and enjoyment, if the Lord sees purifying and sifting still necessary; but there will be a confiding leaning on Him, and the soul then is brought to thirst evidently for Himself. My soul is athirst for God. It addresses itself to God, but it is the soul panting after Him. We do not get the answer here, but the state of the soul looking purely for God Himself, brought to do it, and assured of the shining of the light of His countenance and of the joy and health it would give. Remark as to the detail that it is when the soul has been broken down and its force of pride has given way, that it then remembers God. (Ver. 6.) So when God's hand is seen in his trials, (ver. 7,) he sees that Jehovah, God as known in relationship, will command His lovingkindness, and God is the God of his life and God his rock.
Psalm 43
In psalm 42 we have seen the soul internally restored and animated to an earnest thirsting after God Himself, seeking all its joy in Himself. Being brought to that, psalm 43 is looking out for a deliverance, which shall enable it to enjoy God freely and fully. God has become, for the heart, its exceeding joy; and it will be recalled, thus restored, to free worship of Him, to express its joy and thanksgiving fully. God is not here characterized as the living God, but as the God of his strength. Till the soul was fully fixed on God Himself as its delight, this cry for deliverance, though natural and not wrong, if subject to His will (yet it would rather desire purification than escape from affliction), was yet more a reference to comfort and ease; though from the hand of God this is not to be slighted. But now it is identified with the desire to praise and glorify God. This change has to be noted, when under trial, righteously and graciously from God, perhaps unrighteously from man. The heart naturally desires freedom; but, as Elihu says to Job, if it is not as subject to God's gracious dealings, it is choosing iniquity rather than affliction—there is a want both of uprightness and submission. When once the heart is fully restored, (and with an upright conscience we shall pretty well know this, and God will perfectly, that if there be subjection to Him, and the desire of perfectness of heart, the deliverance will be surely at the right time) the desire of deliverance has its fully right place. It is the desire to be manifestly with Him in peace, and to glorify and praise Him openly. Outward enemies had been reproaching in psalm 42, but they were God's waves and billows. But “where is thy God?” was the terrible thing. His soul became athirst for Him. Now he desires judgment of his cause and deliverance. There was a nearer trial than outward oppression, though he was still under it, the direct wickedness of injustice with which he had to do. He looked for God's light and truth to come out and lead him and bring him to God's holy hill. It is not the consciousness that God was his secret delight to which he had been brought, but that He who was would, by His power, lead him now to open praise and worship. The God of strength would bring him there; he would be present with Him who was his exceeding joy. This hope encourages his heart and brings him back, too, to that which was the secret and fullness of his joy, and which he possessed in hope that God would be the health of his countenance. He was morally his exceeding joy—now it would shine forth in glad worship, and be reflected in the gladness of the countenance of him who enjoyed it. The panting after God was the result in the last psalm, though looking out for blessing. Here this is wrought in the soul, and, though not restored yet to outward public blessings, God is his exceeding joy, and God—his God; and the outward restoration is presently looked forward to.
Psalm 44
Psa. 44 We have certainly in this book of the psalms moral exercises more deeply and fully developed. The soul has to do with God; but the application is not the easier to the Christian state, for this simple reason, the exercises flowing from relationship under trial are not the theme of this book, but exercises of soul with God, when the enjoyment of known relationship is lost. Hence, while in the former part, in order to apply it to the Christian, it was only needed to apprehend the change of relationship from Jehovah to Father; having in Christianity a relationship founded on the destruction of all in flesh; one in that relationship has passed beyond the whole position in this book. The state of the Christian reveals, and is known in, the exercise of a heavenly one. Hence the proper state of the Christian is found less here even than in the first book. But the relationship of an exercised soul with God, on the other hand, comes out into relief. In this psalm the faithful one recognizes that through divine favor and power alone they had enjoyed the blessings of which they were now deprived, the signs of God's favor. The direct government of God is owned, “Thou art my king, O God,” in the language of Israel, but always true, though the authority now, without being less absolute, is infinitely sweeter. He is our Lord by redemption. We do not deny the Lord that bought us. This was still the faithful one's trust. In Elohim he made his boast, and praised His name forever; but they were given up, and their enemies had the upper hand; yet they held fast, and did not forget God, nor were unfaithful to the Covenant. Two great principles, faithfulness to the will and authority of God, whatever disaster and seeming desertion there may be, and looking for no other help than God Himself, who seems to have deserted the faithful, are here in play. This puts integrity utterly to the test, and personal faith, and that is just what is needed for the soul to be in the state in which it can be restored to the full joy of positive blessing. The fact that God thus tests His people, and He does so now spiritually before peace be obtained, is one of deep import. It brings out what we have seen characterizes this book—absolute trust in God, in Himself; and it shows that uprightness with Him is before all comfort or ease for the heart: for if nothing is got from it they hold to Him for His own sake. He Himself is the object, and Himself morally, and in This claim upon them. Hence the heart cannot turn to anything else for it is not God—nor help which would relieve it from His ways, This brings in another point which this psalm leads us to, that the trials which accompany this apparent desertion are attributed to God's own hand. “Thou makest us to turn our back. . . Thou hast given us like sheep.” There is another thought connected with this psalm besides the individual application. When God confounds and rebukes His people in their public conflicts with the power of evil, when, in the exercise of His government, He allows the power of evil to get the upper band, and so orders it, this is a deep trial for His people, not only for their own sorrow in it, but because the name of God is dishonored. The enemy triumphs in this; but surely the government of God is shown in it. Here we learn the meditations of the upright soul in these circumstances. It had not forgotten God, nor behaved unfaithfully as regarded His covenant, though smitten down in the place of dragons. On the contrary; though it might be the needed public government of God, as regarded the profession of His name, and to separate out the faithful, who may be in the midst of His professed people; yet, as regards those faithful, it was for God's name they were suffering. This is still, I judge, somewhat different from Jehovah's name. Of course, it was Jehovah, as with the Father, but here it is for what God is as such. Not only faithfulness in not denying the revealed name is there, but it was for what God is that they were suffering. There was no turning in heart to idols. They preferred suffering anything, or suffer what they might, for owning the true God; they would do it for His own sake, for the attachment of their heart to Him, for what He was when they got no blessing; because the God who was in covenant with His people was the true God, and they would be tried, not only for the covenant blessings, but for their heart-attachment to what He was in His nature: and so in principle with us. And this is joy; because the love of integrity, the partaking of the divine nature, by which we delight in what is good, in what is of God, gives the consciousness of itself, the conscious delight there is in that nature in rejoicing in what is good and right. It is not self-righteousness, but the conscious delight in good of the divine nature, proper divine joy in its nature, only in our case it must have an object, God Himself, and this is tested in us by suffering for God. Hence the true case is—for the enemy hated God— “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” To test it fully, and make it real suffering for God, the blessings which belongs to His power must not be there. Hence the upright are left for the time to the oppression of the enemy. This, while it searches the heart, if there be any false way, makes it here suffering for what God is; and on the cry for mercy in due time brings in the answer from Him; for He cannot leave what answers to His nature—integrity towards Him needlessly in the power of evil. And so it ever is, though our joy may be in another world altogether. Yet, as a rule, God as to His covenant, delivers in this. As regards the earth, this cry brings in Messiah. There is progress, I think, in psalm 44., as compared with the two preceding psalms. There was deprivation, and the light of God's countenance looked for; and all right. Here God Himself is held to in heart-integrity, in spite of everything. It is the same in principle, but more absolute. And this is what is needed. This clinging to God Himself in spite of all is to be learned. And the heart is herein fully tested for God.