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Disturbed from within - Psalm 42

This is a sermon by Tim Benstead from the evening service on 1st September 2002.

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These two Psalms which should be read together have been entitled a Song for the Backsliding Jews, or a Song of David when on the run and desiring to return from exile. The likely setting is of the exiles in Babylon who are now unable to return to their home and the temple, the centre of their worship. In many ways it echoes the thoughts of Psalm 137.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

This Psalm in the same way expresses the horror of the godly man at not being able to come, as he sees it, into the presence of God. The Psalm leads through three stages, each finished with a refrain which points the Psalmist back to the God who is trustworthy and present.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

The Psalm (42 and 43) can therefore be readily split into three parts. In a world of exile when I'm far from home where are you God? In a world of exile when I'm feeling alone I can remember God. In a world of exile when people disown God, vindicate me God.

In a world of exile when I'm far from home where are you God?

Let's look at verses 1 to 4 of Psalm 42.

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. When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

The writer is desperate. He is far from home and the world is against him. He was not only a godly man, but also a leader within the service of God; He was a priest and probably a musician. In v.4 we read that he went with the multitude and led the procession to the temple.

We can get a real sense of the wonder that he would have felt and the sheer delight in serving God. The days were good, and at those times when there was a festival he was there leading from the front. To serve God was his delight and he rejoiced in it.

But those days are gone. Like the Beatles song, "When I was younger, so much younger than today ... but now those days are gone, I'm not so self assured ... help me if you can I'm feeling down etc." The man is bereft. He no longer is able to go to the temple, it is so many miles away and these Babylonian captors would never allow a return. The people are under the judgement of God and they feel alone. He is desperate. "When can I go and meet with God?"

In vv.1&2 we hear the note of desperation. Like a hunted beast that has to drink to survive even though the pause for the drink may lead to my death, I must drink. In that same way my soul thirsts for God. And we then hear his cry, 'I want to be with you!'.

Is this your cry? We come along week-by-week and run through our activities and people look at us and see no difference, but inside we know that we have lost that sense of the presence of God. No longer are we in the procession, but we are desperate. This world makes it hard to live for Christ. C.S.Lewis calls it the waiting room.

The other aspect of this of course is not simply to do with how 'I feel', but also with how the world sees God through me.

3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"

For the Psalmist one of the main concerns is not for himself but with God's honour. We can almost hear the question. 'So Israelite, where is your God? We can see our gods; they are all around us. You can see our gods and they must be more powerful than yours, after all we have conquered you. Your walls are fallen, your temple is gone. How can your God hear your?'.

In today's world we see the western liberals stating things slightly differently but still with the same man-centred stress. You Christians are out of touch. You have to make your message relevant for today's modern man. This is the same modern man who was at B&Q this Sunday morning and is at the pub tonight. As if he is bothered about what language the church uses.

We are no longer Christians, but fundamentalists with all the current connotations of that word. Even church leaders speak that same siren voice. The Times on Monday August 19th 2002 the Bishop of Oxford (Richard Harries) (rent-a-quote) has written, "Christianity is struggling because too many of its tenets seem to be at odds with modern social and intellectual thought with God seen as a despot male who imposes eternal punishment on his purported children while claiming to love them". Where is your God?

It is difficult being in exile. This world is exile. We sing, "We want to see Jesus lifted high a banner that flies across this land" and yet Jesus is not lifted high. He is a swear word and ridiculed. When we see anyone on the TV profess to be a Christian they are demeaned at best and made to appear as corrupt loonies at worst.

We can hear his frustration. "My tears have been my food day and night".

Is this your cry? Well, speak to your soul. The Psalmist did.

5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

The Psalmist did not forget he lived in the present, but neither did he lose sight of the one who holds the future. Hope in God! Not some vague wishful thought, but a sure and solid hope founded on the reality of who God is and what he has done for us. There will come a time Christian when although the present seems dark and difficult, when friends and family may be taunting us with 'Where is your God', we will rejoice in the very presence of God. As the cliche goes heaven is not pie in the sky when we die but home. In this world it is as if we are in exile, but we are going home. Look for it. Lift up your eyes from this present exile and find hope.

In a world of exile when I'm feeling alone I can remember God.

Let's look at vv.6-10.

6 My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon - from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me - a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?"
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?"

The Psalmist knows his condition. He looks out and sees land that is unfamiliar and he remembers. He remembers the land of his birth. He looks out in his minds eye across the land he loves from the heights of majestic Hermon. Israel, the symbol of the blessing and goodness of God in the very lands he can no longer see. He remembers the land of promise.

Hermon, Mizar and Jordan the first three things to see when returning from exile in the north.

Here is a good thing for a Christian. Your soul is downcast and are in despair. The old simple song says it well. 'Count your blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done'. When the hard times come, look back at what God has done. Meditate on his goodness, his power, his ability to save, his grace to fallen men and women, his love shown in Christ. Remember!

This is not all however. The Psalmist is storm-tossed. He Is like a man who is trying to swim in an ocean that is rough, where the waves just keep on coming and where there is no place to stand, v.7. It is now that he prays. He prays to a God he knows he can trust to answer.

8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with mea prayer to the God of my life.

He is in a hole and he turns to the God who he has placed his trust in.

Have you? Are you able to come before this great God and cry out knowing that he will hear you as a child? Or are you simply like those many thousands and millions who suddenly believe in God when the proverbial hits the fan? In his grace he may still answer that prayer, but it is so much more wonderful knowing that you can call on him with complete confidence when you are a child of his. Adopted into the family because you trust in what Christ has done.

So what does he pray? "O Lord it is good to be here?!" Of course not! He is in turmoil. He is in exile. He hates it where he is and cannot understand what God is doing. So he is honest with God, as we should be.

9 I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?"
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?"

Look God, it seems to me and to all those foreigners who are abusing us that you have forgotten us. It is like a sword sticking in my side it is so painful.

But notice also that this prayer is tied to the honour of God. The Babylonians, as they did in Ps. 137, and in v.3 of this Psalm are taking the 'mickey'. They are ridiculing the Name of God, and this crushes the Psalmist. He hates the fact that God is held up to ridicule. But then comes the lovely refrain.

11Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

Why all the turmoil? God is in control and there will come a day when I will see Him and praise Him. Lift up your eyes Christian and see the glory of the risen Lord. We read in Isaiah 41.

21Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

We will yet praise Him face to face! We may get some brushes this side of heaven but we will see him face to face and rejoice.

In a world of exile when people disown God, vindicate me God.

The complaint has been made. The Psalmist has been completely honest with God. He desires God's glory to be seen, but more than that he wants to see God's man shown to be right.

1 Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men.

We are used to a criminal court where the defendant is in the dock and the prosecution is trying to present evidence in such a way that the jury will convict the person. This is no such court. We are in the civil court where two parties are opposing each other and each party wants to be seen to be right.

The Psalmist is calling on God to represent him. He wants to be able to walk down the street knowing that he is in the right. He is sick and tired of these Babylonians ridiculing God and mourns for the loss of God's honour in their eyes.

There is hope even in the here and now and not just for the future.

3 Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.
4 Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.

God's word is here proclaimed as both light and truth. It is light such that the Psalmist can find his way back to the mountain of God; it is truth such that he is led to the presence of God.

This is always true. When God's word is proclaimed then men and women are brought into a true knowledge of who God is, what He is like and how we should serve Him. When we become Christians, does not God's word suddenly come alive to us? Where before we got stuck somewhere after the end of Genesis, do we not now find delights in the whole of God's word? When we read, it makes sense. The whole story comes alive and we find new things and delightful things in it, and we are led to worship once again the one who caused it to be written.

In this word we see God. There is no new still inner voice that will tell us any more than what has been revealed about Him in His word. The Holy Spirit will lead us to the truth as revealed in the Word but he will not lead us into any new revelation. When some telegenic loon, usually with a big hair do, stands up and starts to spout something new, he is a liar and a deceiver. We can be confident in what has been shown to us in the word and can trust it.

God's word, applied by the Spirit, proclaimed by us, is the only true hope for this world as it is the primary means of his self-revelation. We certainly see something of God in the world around us, but it is only in this word that we see him as he has chosen to reveal himself.

What will this word do? It will lead us into the very presence of God. James tells us that it is a mirror telling us what we are like. It is also a portrait of what God is like and when this word indwells us we can rejoice even in the worst of circumstances.

When Christians have been in prisons all over the world, the Bible has been the one thing they have wanted most. When no Bible has been available they have spent time memorising it so that its words provide comfort and hope whilst in exile.

There is distress in this Psalm, but it is not solely for himself. There is hope in this Psalm and it is all for himself.

As the Psalmist sees the word go out he once again, even when in exile, is able to rejoice. He knows that even in exile, in Babylon, the word is not caged. God is still God and we all have hope. And so we hear the refrain again.

5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

No fillip is now required. The Psalmist knows that God is in control and to be trusted completely. He may be in exile but he will return home.

Christian, we are in exile here. This world is a wicked place and we have been called out of her. She is sentenced to death and God is in the life-saving business. He has sent out his word to call men and women to repent. He has poured out his spirit so that we can turn and trust in Christ. He has provided us with a sure and certain hope, not only of sins forgiven in the past, his presence with us by his spirit in the present, but also the joy of seeing him face to face in the future. We will all one day see him as he is and be filled with exceeding joy.

Be comforted whilst in exile.


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