Psalm 42 opens Book II of the Psalms with the visual of a deer longing for streams of water as a great representation of how the psalmist longs for God. Though most in America have never struggled with knowing when and where their next drink of water will come from, it is a very understandable illustration in trying to describe the spiritual drought that some Christians find themselves suffering through at times.
The author of the psalm reminisced of better times:
- Feeling God’s presence in community with God’s people (Psalm 42:4)
- Experiencing God’s presence in creation (Psalm 42:6)
Three times the author of Psalm 42 and 43 cries out, “Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).
Reminiscing on the Way It Used to Be
Like the psalmist, we tend to attribute God and His presence to earthly experiences like past worship experiences. Whether it is the building, a particular type of worship instrument, the people we are gathered with, or even the person preaching God’s Word, our hearts are inclined to create idols of the traditions that we love. We must be careful not to attribute worship to anything other than Him who is worthy. The psalmist expressed this lament in Psalm 42:4, proclaiming, “I remember this as I pour out my heart: how I walked with many, leading the festive procession to the house of God, with joyful and thankful shouts.” Yet he resolves his lament still depressed and struggling with turmoil. Though the psalmist is feeling an absence from the Lord, he still professes to put our hope in Him, our Savior and our God.
We also must be careful not to worship the created rather than the Creator. The psalmist continues to lament in his depression, “I am deeply depressed; therefore I remember You from the land of Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your billows have swept over me” (Psalm 42:6-7). The psalmist attempts to speak nobly of God’s mighty creation, only to remember the psalmist’s great depression and the struggle of the feeling of absence from the Lord.
These verses, as well as the reminder in Psalm 42:8 served as comfort for Horatio Spafford as he wrote the hymn “It is Well.” Spafford was a successful businessman in Chicago, married with five children. He lost a son to pneumonia in 1871 just prior to losing his business in the great Chicago fire. While attempting to reestablish himself after the fire, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him on a trip to Europe. While crossing the Atlantic, their ship sank rapidly and all four of the Spafford daughters died. Spafford’s wife sent the now famous telegram, “Saved alone.”
While heading over the waters of the Atlantic around the same location that his four daughters had passed away, while reflecting on the weight of the pain Spafford felt, he began to write the words to the song “It is Well.”
“When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll.”
Just as the weight of the pain swept over Spafford, just as it did the psalmist, he was reminded, “Whatever my lot He hath taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
In Psalm 42:8, the psalmist reminds the reader, “The LORD will send His faithful love by day; His song will be with me in the night – a prayer to the God of my life.”
Lead Me to You Through Your Light and Your Truth
The psalmist continues his lament as Psalm 43 picks up right where Psalm 42 stops. However, the psalmist began to realize the only way a relationship can be restored between him and the Lord is if something changes with him. The Lord is perfect, righteous, just, good, and never changing. Man is not. The psalmist begins to cry to the Lord for hope of restoration in Psalm 43:3 crying out, “Send Your light and Your truth; let them lead me. Let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to Your dwelling place. Then I will come to the altar of God, to God, my greatest joy. I will praise You with the lyre, God, my God.”
Christians might recognize the terminology of Light and Truth right away. Both are significantly linked to Jesus as Savior. Here in Psalm 43, the psalmist is implying that there is no way to feel God’s presence without a way to be guided to His presence through His light and His truth.
In the Expositor’s Bible Commentary on the Psalms, William VanGemeren writes,
The light of God is the experience of the fullness of his redemption (36:9; Isaiah 58:8, 10; 60:1, 3). The ‘truth’ of God is the expression of his covenantal fidelity (40:10; 57:3). If only God will send the two (personified) expressions of his love to ‘guide’ him back, then he will experience restoration. This verse leads to the answer of the original petition: ‘When can I go and meet with God?’ (42:2) (p. 387-8).
The psalmist comes to terms with answering his original question, “When can I go and meet with God?” The answer to this question and the feeling of emptiness and longing found in mankind? Jesus.
 The beginning of Book II of the Psalms starts with Psalm 42 a psalm entitled “Longing for God” and Psalm 43, a psalm without a title. Some argue Psalm 43 does not have a title because it is really the final part of Psalm 42. Though the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint separate Psalm 42 and 43, some Hebrew manuscripts connect the two psalms as one.