“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” (Psalm 42:5-6, 11; 43:5).
Psalms 42 and 43 take the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions. The psalmist begins his discourse with something akin to a lament, expressing his longing for God and his grief that God appears to have abandoned him. By the end of Psalm 43, he’s once again rejoicing in God, but it’s a twisting path that takes him to that place.
The opening verses of Psalm 42 compare the psalmist’s yearning for God to that of a deer panting for water. The imagery is poignant: as a deer needs water to live, so too the psalmist needs God’s presence if he is to survive. Yet all he has are his tears, which mock him and demand to know where his God is. He rallies his soul with a desperate cry to still hope in God, trusting that he will once again praise Him as he once did.
Continuing the water imagery, he compares God’s steadfast love to a waterfall, to powerful waves that wash over him. He knows this to be true; he knows God is with him day and night. He names God his rock. But in the very next phrase, he asks why his rock has forgotten him (v. 9). He knows what his true, but his feelings are insisting that something else entirely is what’s true. His enemies are no help, constantly taunting him and, like his tears, demanding to know where God is now. In defiance, the psalmist again offers his refrain, asking his soul why it is cast down. He will still hope in God, knowing he will once again praise Him.
Finally, in Psalm 43 his faith gains the victory over his depression. In the first two verses, he continues in his despair, asking why God, his refuge, has rejected him. But then, he finally takes a turn for the better. He asks God to send out His light and His truth, that they might lead him to God’s holy place. There he will praise God unhindered, rejoicing in what God has done for him. In light of that, what reason does his soul have to be cast down and in turmoil? The refrain that began as a cry of desperation now returns as an expression of triumph. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (43:5).