Psalm 42:5-6a – Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Grace Church we are back in the Psalms again this morning. The only difference is, we will be looking mainly at one single verse from a Psalm instead looking at the entire chapter. While we will not have time to build the full context in which this verse sits, we will drill down deeper into the glorious truths of verse five. The depth of God’s wisdom is bottomless, therefore, we can look at passages for a long time and continue to mine it for gold. We can see things we had not seen before.
The book of Psalms is a tremendous gift from God to us as a church. The uniqueness of these 150 chapters is that it talks about a range of emotions that we experience as humans. The psalmists write about joy and sorrow, peace and turmoil, life and death, loneliness and friendship, anger and love, guilt and forgiveness, hope and being downcast, and on and on. To be human is to have emotions. While some experience more intense emotions than others, we all experience them on some level and to some degree. Emotions can be really good or really destructive.
The uniqueness of the Psalms though is that it deals with the volatility and power of human emotions within the constancy of God’s sovereignty and his truth. The psalmists never treat human emotions as the ultimate truth that allows them to do whatever they want to. The Psalmists describe how they feel and then remind the reader of the truth of who God is and what he will do for his people. How we need this.
The Bible has much to say about our emotions which are the motivations for our actions. Emotions are a factor into why we make certain decisions (good or bad). When I respond to a 911 call it is always because someone is making a bad decision based on emotions that are running like electricity through their body. They aren’t making logical, well thought out decisions on how they are going to break the law. Their emotions are almost completely driving the situation.
Emotions can be used for great good or great evil. Proper, God-exalting feelings find their roots in powerful, God-revealed truths. When those are synced together, it becomes a powerful motivation for obedience. Sustained, intense, ever-increasing obedience doesn’t come from a sense of doing what you ought to do (duty). Sustained, intense, ever-increasing obedience comes from the emotions of love, joy and hope in God.
That is why the Psalms are so needed for your life. They are meant to not only help you see truths. They are meant to help you conform your emotions towards seeing the truth, loving the truth, and then walking in the truth. David is experiencing the emotions of being cast down and being in turmoil and he’s wanting these emotions to conform into hoping in who God is.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” The context of this verse, and what we see in the chapter as a whole, is that David desires to be back in the presence of God by being back in the Jerusalem temple. “When shall I come and appear before God?…how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival” (vs. 3,4). Yet his present circumstances have prevented that from happening to him. He’s longing to be back in the place where he can experience the closest presence to God he can have and to be with the people of God in joyous singing, worshiping, and feasting.
In addition to this, the people that he is surrounded by are his enemies. He’s not with the people of God anymore. He’s cut off from them and he’s surrounded by people that hate God. Their hatred of God is seen because they are mocking God. David writes, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’…As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?'” (vs. 3, 10).
There is a battle raging inside of David’s soul right now. A battle between what he sees and feels around him and what he knows is true. He’s longing for his emotions to conform to what he knows is true. Right now his enemies have the upper hand, but he is telling himself that he will hope in God again.
In Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation he famously pointed towards two different types of theologians- the theologian of glory and the theologian of the cross. Michael Horton writes in his book Calvin on the Christian Life, “The theologian of glory judges by appearances: how things seem to look on the surface. However, the theologian of the cross trusts the promise of God that he hears in God’s Word, even if it seems to be contradicted by how things appear.”
You are a theologian. A theologian is one who engages in the study of God. As you go about your week the battle of your soul will be a battle to look at your experiences and see how they relate to God. Will you be a theologian of glory (appearances)? Will your emotions conform to what you simply see in front of you? Will you despair because you don’t see good things? Will you despair because you don’t see glory on the surface? Or will you be a theologian of the cross? Will you seek to conform your emotions to the truth of God’s Word and trust that you will hope in God again? Which theologian are you? Psalm 42 is meant to help us be theologians of the cross.
WHY ARE YOU CAST DOWN, O MY SOUL, AND WHY ARE YOU IN TURMOIL WITHIN ME?
I thought of several different ways to mine this verse and write it into a sermon. In the end, I thought it would be most helpful to simply work our way through it phrase by phrase, looking at it with a zoom lens, and at the end take a few steps back and see what we can learn as we put on the wide angle lens. For right now, we will be putting that zoom lens on the camera, and working our way through this phrase by phrase.
The Psalms are more like a hot tub rather than a shower. With a shower, you get in, clean up and wash off, and then get out fairly quickly. You may stand there for a minute or two to enjoy the hot water, but it is generally quicker. With a hot tub, you slowly get into it and you sit in the hot water, enjoying the feeling and experience of it all. You linger there. If you’re reading the Psalms quickly you’ll get some refreshment, but it won’t be anything close to what you can experience from it if you linger upon one chapter or one verse and meditate on it. So let’s grab that hand railing and start walking into the water.
Let’s first see that the Psalmist is talking to himself. David is speaking not to other people here. He’s talking to himself. If you were to walk down the street and pass someone having a conversation with themselves, that would seem weird. Picture walking down your street and seeing your neighbor, sitting in a chair on the front lawn. Let’s say his name is Peter. As you get closer you hear some words being said, but you don’t see anyone sitting next to him. As you walk by you hear the neighbor saying, “Peter, what’s wrong with you? Why are you so depressed? Hope in God!” Would you not see that as a little weird?
To say that out loud is a little weird, but that is what David is doing here. He’s not only saying it, he’s singing it! This is a Psalm after all. Speaking to yourself is biblical. So don’t worry about it being weird. It’s right to do.
And what part of the self is he talking too? His soul. Even though his enemies have surrounded him and cut off his ability to go back to Jerusalem and be in the temple, the most important battle that is going on is that which is inside his soul. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Our culture is saturated with the lie that making your body look nice on the outside will give you satisfaction and happiness on the inside. Our culture pours billions of dollars into trying to stay alive as long as possible and experience as much as possible before we die. We want nice houses, good foods, enjoyable vacations, and nice stuff because we think that will satisfy us and fulfill what we are craving. Our culture is maxing out on getting the most comfort and entertainment because we’re told that’s what the good life is. The lie is that our bodies are what matter most and whatever our body finds as pleasurable should be that which we seek after.
David isn’t doing that. He’s being a theologian of the cross. He recognizes that the most important battle is that of his soul, not his body. The soul is talked about with much more seriousness and significance in the Bible than the body. While the body is not to be seen as insignificant, the soul is where eternity hangs in the balance. The anchor of our soul is Jesus (Hebrews 6:19). Your elders are charged with keeping watch over your soul (Hebrews 13:17). You received the word of God not with your body, but with your soul (James 1:21). Eternal salvation takes place in the soul, not the body (I Peter 1:9). We are warned to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war not on our body but on our soul (I Peter 2:11). Our souls are entrusted to a faithful Creator (I Peter 4:19). Jesus says that our souls find rest in him (Matthew 11:29). And Jesus warns us that we have zero profit if we gain the whole world but lose our soul (Matthew 16:26).
The first battle, most important battle, and last battle is that which wages war inside your soul. This is not to say that the body is of no importance for the Scripture speaks of it as well. It is to say that your soul is of more importance and great care should be given to the state of your soul. This is why Berea, our sermons, and books we read in our Discipleship Groups aren’t about how to have a healthy body, or address practical tips on your finances. Those things are important but they shouldn’t take prominence over preaching and teaching the word of God which is able to save your very soul. David is cut off from his people and surrounded by his enemies but he’s not addressing that problem first. He’s addressing the state of what his soul is hoping in.
Keep in your mind the imagery of waging a bloody, violent, high stakes battle in your soul. Whether its in your parenting, in your vocation, or in the secret places of your mind, the state of your soul is what is most important.
What is the state of David’s soul currently? It is cast down and it is in turmoil. The words “cast down” mean to sink or depress. To bend, bow, bring down, humble self, be low, or stoop. This word is used eight times in the Psalms. It’s used to describe the state of the helpless (Ps. 35:14), how one feels when he’s grieved for the loss of his friend or his mother (Ps. 35:14), and how one feels during times of oppression, evil and sorrow (Ps. 107:39). So if you’ve had sorrow in your life, experienced the loss of a loved one, felt oppressed by circumstances or people, or been the victim of evil, sinful acts done towards you, you know what it means for your soul to feel cast down. You know what it feels like to be crushed or sink into depression or be brought low. David feels this as he is oppressed by his mocking enemies and cut off from being in the presence of God in the temple.
That’s one state of his soul. The other state of his soul is that of feeling turmoil. The word turmoil means to make a loud sound, to be in great commotion or tumult, to rage, war, moan or clamor. Psalm 46:3 describes it as loud waters roaring. If you’ve ever stood on the edge of a river swollen from the melting snow and spring rain, you know what roaring water looks like and sounds like. Psalm 59:14 describes nations raging and kingdoms tottering and the earth melting. Psalm 59:14 uses the word to describe a howling dog. And Psalm 55:17 uses the word describe moaning in prayer to God.
This word turmoil is different from the word cast down. Cast down describes an emotional state of being brought low or sunk down. Turmoil describes a more agitated, aggressive emotional state of the soul. You may have felt one or the other, or like David, maybe felt both simultaneously. It could be that his feeling of being cast down is due to him not being in the temple presence of God, and the feeling of being in turmoil is due to his enemies mocking his God.
What we’ve seen here is that the state of David’s soul is one in which he’s feeling crushed and feeling in turmoil because he’s been surrounded by his enemies and cut off from the presence of God and his people. And the state of his soul is vastly more important than the state of his body.
HOPE IN GOD
The question has been given. Why is David’s soul cast down and in turmoil. In one sense we know the answer. His enemies have cut him off and he can’t be in the presence of God at the temple with God’s people. But now the answer is showing us that there is something greater happening in this situation that transcends his circumstances.
His circumstances are not god and are not controlling the situation. This second part of the verse pivots away from the questions of his soul, and towards the answers of God. This is where hope comes into the picture. This is where we see David demonstrating what it means to be a theologian of the cross and not a theologian of glory (meaning our circumstances, what we see around us).
Hope means to wait, tarry, expect, to be patient. We are told to hope in the steadfast love of God (Ps. 33:18, 147:11). God’s love is present even as we hope in God (Ps. 33:22). We hope that God will answer our prayers (Ps. 38:15).
Proverbs 13:12 says that “Hope deferred (or prolonged)makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” With this verse in mind, here’s my attempt at a definition of hope. Simply, hope is the longing for a desire you have to be fulfilled. David is reminding himself that his hope is not in his circumstances but in God. He doesn’t feel hopeful right now. His soul longs to feel refreshed by God (v. 1), he doesn’t feel like he’s in the presence of God (v. 2), his tears are his food day and night (v. 3), his soul feels empty as he pours it out in prayer (v. 4), and he feels like life is crashing over him like an ocean wave (v. 7). He feels utterly overwhelmed. He feels like God has forgotten him (v. 9). If his soul were to stay here and believe this is ultimate, he would be a theologian of his appearances.
My question to David is, in the midst of all these feelings, how can you hope in God? How can you say I feel empty, in turmoil and forgotten by God, yet I hope in him? Where does David’s strength and ability to say that come from? When I feel like this I do not feel like saying, “Hope in God, Kyle, because your soul will praise him again.” I feel like blaming God and being mad at God for what he’s allowed me go through.
The answer to that is found in Psalm 119. In this longest chapter of the Psalms we find the word hope used frequently.”Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word” (Ps. 119:74). “My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word” (Ps. 119:81). Also in verses 114, 147 and in Ps. 130:5 we see that our hope finds its root in God’s word, not in appearances. Paul affirms this in Romans 15:4 when he says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
David is feeling crushed and in turmoil because of his circumstances. He’s remembering a time in which he took delight in God’s presence and his soul was brimming with joy because of it. Now he feels forgotten and forsaken by God, yet, he’s reminding himself to hope in God because that day will return again. He’s being a theologian of the cross. What’s happening in this chapter is that David is singing, praying and preaching to himself so that his emotions will conform to the truth of God. He is fighting against emotions that would only pull him away from the truth of God by reminding himself of God’s words, in order to bring those emotions back into conformity with the reality of who God is. David’s source of hope in times of being cast down and in turmoil is not himself. David is not the hope that he’s been waiting for. It’s not within himself. It is completely outside of himself. And we know from Psalm 119 that the way we experience that source of hope is by sitting in the hot tub of God’s word. We meditate on it day and night. If you are not in the word how will you know what truth to put your hope in? You won’t. Your mind will go to other, lesser things to find hope.
FOR I SHALL AGAIN PRAISE HIM
Praise means to revere or worship. In the Psalms praise is a thankful response to God’s attributes as result of joy in him. It sometimes involves doing it in a way so that others may see it (Ps. 105:1), or it can be in solitude and silence. We can praise God whether we are down cast and in turmoil, or whether we are in exceeding joy.
Psalm 42 is a picture of David remembering his joy-filled praise when he was in the temple of God, and when he is feeling forgotten by God. He worships God in this chapter by saying God is his rock while at the same time admitting that he feels like God has forgotten him (v. 9).
We are not meant to just know things about God with our minds. We are meant to use our entire being as an expression of praise to him and when this isn’t happening we aren’t doing what we were created for. You were created to praise God. To worship and revere God. David knows that something isn’t what it should be. His soul isn’t feeling praise towards God.
Let this Psalm encourage you greatly in those days when you don’t feel like worshiping God. David didn’t feel it either in these moments, but he desired to feel it. There may be times in your life when you aren’t experiencing joy in God, but you want joy in God. You long for God as a deer pants for water. Your soul thirsts for the living God even though your dry, desert soul is desolate. Wanting to want God will happen in your life and it is happening to David here too.
He recognizes that his soul was made to praise God but it isn’t feeling the joy in that as he is surrounded by his enemies and cut off from the presence of God. But he is fighting against emotions that would only pull him away from the truth of God by reminding himself of God’s words, in order to bring those emotions back into conformity with the reality of who God is. God only knows how long these seasons may last in your life. It could be a day, a week, a month, or years.
The length of these dry seasons are endured and overcome by hoping in God, Grace Church. And the way in which we hope in God is by sitting in the hot tub of God’s word. The theologian of the cross endures it by trusting and hoping in God’s word even through it doesn’t appear that God’s word is true. And that’s what David does in the last phrase that we are going to look at in this verse.
MY SALVATION AND MY GOD
This phrase is an example of David practicing what we’ve been talking about. He feels cast down and in turmoil yet he chooses to hope in God by reminding himself of who God is through his revealed word. David uses two descriptions of God’s attributes to anchor his hope when he feels like God has forgotten him. He’s using two descriptions of God’s attributes to fight against what he feels and remind him to hope in a day when his joy in God will be restored. What are they?
First we see that David describes God as his salvation. This word means help, aid, victory, deliverance and welfare. Within this chapter David is longing for salvation from God’s forgetfulness (v. 9). He wants God to remember him again. He longs for God to save him from his sorrow (v. 9), he longs for God to save him from the taunting of his enemies (vs. 3, 10), and he’s longing for the salvation of God to bring him back into the presence of God in the temple (vs. 1-4).
Even though it doesn’t feel like God is David’s salvation in these moments, he declares the unchanging truth to himself that indeed God is his salvation. David doesn’t say God will be his salvation (in the future) but says that God is currently his salvation. He is trusting in the hope that God will at some point save him from his enemies, even as God is keeping him alive in that moment. God is his salvation and will be his salvation in the future. No matter what the circumstances are, God is our salvation (present and future). “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation” (Psalm 118:21).
Secondly he says God is not only his salvation but also his God. This word “God” refers to the face of God. It is talking about God’s presence and his countenance. The Psalms describe God’s presence as causing his enemies to stumble and perish (Ps. 9:3). Through God’s presence the righteous are vindicated (Ps. 17:2). Through God’s presence he does not despise or abhor our suffering (Ps. 22:24). His presence is like the shining sun on us (Ps. 31:16). His presence is forever (Ps. 42:2). God can cast people away from his presence and remove his Holy Spirit (Ps. 51:11). And God can restore his presence (Ps. 80:3).
David’s circumstances and David’s enemies can’t hold a candle towards the flame-throwing power of God’s face. David is reminding himself that God’s presence is so much more powerful than the presence of his enemies. While they mock him because he’s hoping in God, he knows that their mocking will be their downfall. While they speak words of slander, God will one day speak words of condemnation against them. David’s enemies will not have the final word. God will. Period. End of story. God will not be mocked.
God is our salvation and God is present with us when our soul is cast down and when our soul is in turmoil. Consider the kindness of God in putting this verse and this chapter in the Bible. God cares for our souls and wants us to desire his salvation and his presence. If he didn’t, this wouldn’t be in the Bible. We have a God who cares for the wellness of our soul. Our soul can only be well through the salvation and the presence of God.
You were created in the image of God and made to reflect the greatness of God. Like a mirror reflects an image, your God-given purpose is to reflect God to those around you. When things are going bad, where do your affections and emotions and feelings go? What does your spouse see from you when things go bad? What do your children see from you? You were made to display God’s salvation and God’s presence in you soul when it is in turmoil and depression.
This doesn’t mean you put on a smile and pretend all is well. David didn’t do that here. He was raw and honest in this song. It does mean that you don’t use your feelings as justification for sinning or for hoping in something lesser than God. During the times of frustration, depression, and chaos we are to fight for displaying God’s glory by hoping in him.
Take some time to think about what tests your hope in God. What is it that causes your soul to be down cast and in turmoil?
- Why are you cast down because of the sin in your heart and the painfully slow process of being made more like Christ? Hope in God.
- Why are you cast down because of the sin you see in the hearts of others at Grace and their painfully slow process of being made more like Christ? Hope in God.
- Why are you in turmoil over the disagreement or fight you had with your spouse? Hope in God.
- Why are you cast down because you have just enough money to pay the bills? Hope in God.
- Why are you in turmoil because you were falsely accused of wrong doing at work or because people misunderstood you and assumed the worst? Hope in God.
- Why are you in turmoil because of your kids sinfulness. Hope in God.
- Why are you down cast because of the mistakes you make or the things you forget about that cause problems? Hope in God.
- Why are you cast down because of your feelings of inadequacy for the work God has given you? Hope in God.
- Why are you cast down because of your weakness and feelings of coming up short? Hope in God.
- Why are you cast down because you failed to share the gospel with your neighbor for the third time? Hope in God.
- Why are you down cast because you doubt in the worthwhile labor of flying the flag of missions work at church? Hope in God.
God cares for our souls. God is worth putting our hope in. He’s worthy of our praise. He saves and he’s in control. The promise in Psalm 42:5 is that if we hope in him we will praise him again. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.” That’s a promise from God that will last forever and doesn’t change.
The reason we experience being cast down and in turmoil is a result of our fallen condition and cursed state we live in from sin. Our soul is broken and lives in a broken world that pulls us away from hoping in God and hoping in lesser things. Our soul is in need of repair and can only find its hope in God.
The holy presence of God is no longer in the temple as it was in the days of David. Our “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20). Jesus is our great high priest who tore the barrier in two between God and his people by being the sacrificial atonement for our sins. We no longer need to experience the special nearness of God’s presence in a temple like David did, for God’s temple is now inside of us as his Spirit dwells in us (I Cor. 3:16). If we read the Psalms and don’t see it all pointing towards Jesus, we are missing the very point of the Psalms. Jesus is the climax of the Bible and is the definitive answer to the problem of our soul.
Why are you cast down and in turmoil within your soul? Hope in the all sufficient, hope-giving work of Jesus Christ who tore the down the barrier between us and God and reconciled us to him through the cross. Be a theologian of the cross and not a theologian of appearances. That is the sure and steadfast anchor of our soul. That is what brings us the salvation of God and into the presence of God- Jesus, our great high priest.
It is because of this we can toil and strive and set our hope on Jesus. Fight against the emotions that pull you away from the truth of God by reminding yourself of God’s words in order to bring those emotions back into conformity with the reality of who God is. Preach to yourself as David did the truth of God’s word instead of allowing God-belittling feelings to rule and reign in your soul.
Our heart-longing for God’s salvation and his presence are the source of our hope in times when our souls are crushed and in turmoil. Hope in God Grace Church.