From Darkness to Light
(H) For the director of the choir, a Maskil of the sons of Korah. (1) As the deer pants for streams of water so my soul pants for you, O God. (2) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I come and appear before God? (3) My tears have been my food by day and by night while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (4) These things I remember as I pour out my soul within me, how I would go with the multitude and lead them in procession to the house of God with shouts of joy and thanksgiving, a throng keeping festival. (5) Why are you cast down, my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I will once again praise him for the salvation of his countenance. (6) My God, my soul is cast down within me. Therefore, I will remember you from the land of Jordan and Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (7) Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls. All your waves and breakers have passed over me. (8) By day Yahweh commands his steadfast love, and by night his song (is) with me, a prayer to the God of my life. (9) I will say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (10) As with a shattering of my bones, my enemies taunt me while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (11) Why are you cast down, my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I will once again praise him for the salvation of his countenance, my God.
This lament psalm contains a number of striking images and repetitions. It opens with an emphasis on the psalmist’s yearning for God with the vivid simile, “As the deer pants…so my soul pants…thirsts for God” (vss. 1 & 2). “My soul” is found six times through the course of the psalm. We should note also how the psalmist uses the interrogatives “when?” (vs. 2), “where?” (vs. 3), “how?” (vs. 4), and “why?” (vs. 5). In the last of these questions the author asks himself why he is so disheartened. He then exhorts himself (and us) to hope in God who is able to deliver Israel from their present predicament. The repetition of the phrase, “cast down” (vss. 5 & 6), and the almost verbatim repetition in verse 11 of verse 5 affirm that this exhortation serves as the core message of the psalm.
Most scholars assume a Babylonian setting for this psalm which is attributed to the sons of Korah, a family of Levites that specialized in providing music for Israel’s temple worship. The Korahites would have particularly grieved the loss of their homeland during seventy agonizing years of exile in Babylon, far away from Zion, the site of God’s destroyed temple where they had once led the faithful in worship (vs. 4).
I. Grieving for the lost worship of God in Zion (1-4)
II. Hoping in God: the remedy for a downcast soul (5-11)
Hoping in God’s promises sustains our aching souls in the midst of dire circumstances.
A dictionary definition of “introspection” reads “the observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.” Listed as synonyms are “self-analysis...soul-searching...self-examination.” This psalm provides us with helpful insights into the internal reflections of a believer enduring and then emerging from a particularly stressful life experience.
We can trace the process as the psalmist addresses “my soul,” with two vivid expressions of deep loss and longing: “panting” and “thirsting” for God’s presence in Zion, the center of Israel’s worship (vss. 1 & 2). In the third instance of “my soul” we find the author pouring out his deepest feelings to God in prayer (vs. 4). While some might view this verse as the low point of the psalm, it actually functions as its turning point. Here the psalmist begins to climb out of the darkness and back into the light. This is not an easy path to ascend. He initially asks a question which contains the fourth instance of “my soul:” “Why are you cast down, my soul” (vs. 5)? His answer functions as a confession: “My God, my soul is cast down within me” (vs. 6).
After meditating at length on God’s steadfast love manifested in the midst of grievous difficulties (vss. 7-10), the psalmist addresses himself once more (vs. 11). This time his statement is not a confession of despair but rather a powerful exhortation to confidence: “Hope in God!” The author now looks forward to the deliverance God has promised. He has moved from the darkness back into the light, a path we do well follow when we find ourselves overwhelmed by the discouragements and dilemmas we will inevitably encounter in our lives.