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When the Bubble Bursts

Psalm 42:5, 11; Psalm 43:5 - Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

What do we do when “the bubble bursts”? When a job we held for years disappears and a new job is hard to find, when a teenaged child turns his or her back on our parental guidance, when a family member or close friend passes away, when a leader in our fellowship turns out to have feet of clay, when a longed-for pregnancy doesn’t happen, when a ministry we had put our hearts into fizzles and fades out—there are many reasons why believers today face the grief of disappointment, discouragement and disillusionment.

The Bible does not teach that believers will never face disappointment. In fact, the Bible is filled with examples of believers who experienced disappointment—the disappointment of opposition, the disappointment of need, the disappointment of rejection, the disappointment of loss and loneliness. When it happens, not if it will happen, is how the Bible handles the problem of disappointment.

Although the Bible does not guarantee freedom from discouragement and disappointment for the believer, it does guarantee a cure for every possible form of disappointment.

The author of Psalms 42 and 43 experienced extreme disappointment, but it never resulted in despair because he turned to the Cure—the Lord Himself. We, too, can endure discouragement and disappointment when we cease trying to cope in our own strength and turn to the Lord. Let’s examine this truth as we study Psalms 42 and 43.

Background Notes:

Psalms 42 and 43 naturally go together. In fact, some ancient Hebrew manuscripts combine these psalms. The psalmist, who was apparently in exile, longed to be back in Jerusalem where he could worship the Lord at His holy Temple, free from any enemy opposition. In these psalms are 3 stanzas of four verses each (42:1-4, 42:6-10,43:1-4), with the same refrain repeated after each stanza: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

The title, “A Maskil of the Sons of Korah,” tells us that it is a song of wisdom and insight— wisdom resulting from enduring suffering and loss, and insight in learning to trust the Lord completely. It is likely that a descendant of Korah wrote these psalms. To “lead the procession to the house of God” (42:4), and to “approach the altar of God” (43:4), are activities of a priest or a Levite, not an ordinary Jewish person.

Korah was a Levite who led a great rebellion against Moses as we read in Number 16. Although Korah and his followers were punished in a spectacular way, the “sons of Korah” apparently did not join in their father’s rebellion and did not die (Numbers 26:11). Descendants in the line of “the sons of Korah” were appointed by David to praise the Lord in the ministry of music at the Temple (1 Chronicles 6:31ff). They served faithfully in leading praise to the Lord. Many years later, during the reign of good King Jehoshaphat of Judah, we read that “Jehoshaphat.... and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. Then Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice” (2 Chronicles 20:18-19).

Psalm 42:6 indicates that the writer was in exile or captivity somewhere in far northern Israel, perhaps near the source of the Jordan River at the foot of Mount Hermon. Perhaps he was captured by the Syrians when the Syrians controlled the north of Israel sometime during the reign of Ahab and Jehoshaphat. Another good possibility is that he was taken as a captive by the Assyrians at the time of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 B.C. We know that God miraculously delivered Jerusalem at that time, but many Jewish captives were deported from the other towns of Judah. In the Assyrian reliefs taken from Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh, among the captives are seen 3 musicians holding lyres or stringed instruments. Perhaps these figures are “sons of Korah.” These reliefs can be seen in the British Museum today.

Doctrinal / Teaching Points:

1. Believers who long for God when thirsty will not be disappointed

In the first stanza (42:1-5) we have a vivid picture of a believer who is spiritually thirsty. As deer pant for water during times of drought, so committed believers who are passing through difficult and draining experiences often feel spiritually parched and dry, and yearn for their thirst to be quenched.

The psalmist was “downcast” and “disturbed” during this time of severe trial. He felt abandoned and forgotten by God and oppressed by his enemies (42:9; 43:2). He probably wondered why God would permit this disaster to overtake him. “Why would a loving God allow this to happen to me, His faithful servant?” Evidently the psalmist despaired of ever returning to Jerusalem, and his captors increased his feelings of loss and disillusionment with God by taunting him, “Where is your God?” (42:3,8; 4310). In his despondent state, he wept day and night.

Faithful believers today can identify with the psalmist’s feelings. We are not immune to the “disasters” of life. Some of us have experienced similar feelings of disappointment and depression and questioning when loss or serious illness has overwhelmed us. We weep day and night, life appears to be hopeless, and we long for our spiritual drought to be relieved.

But the refrain of verse 5 shows that the psalmist had not given up hope! He had not sunk into a state of complete despair and bitterness. His sole source of encouragement was his confidence that the Lord would indeed answer him in his time of need.

In the second stanza of Psalm 42, verse 6 gives us insight into why the psalmist had hope, even though his situation had not changed. He remembered the Lord! Remembering God’s goodness and faithfulness is like a long drink of spiritual water for the thirsty believer. When we are facing times of suffering and disappointment, we can be encouraged by reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness in our lives in the past. Reading biblical accounts of God’s faithfulness can bring comfort and hope to our thirsty souls.

Contrast verse 8 with verse 3. In the first stanza the psalmist wept day and night, but in verse 8 he gives us further insight into the cure for disappointment. He had opened his heart to God’s love, and at night a song and a prayer were on his lips. Tears of despair were replaced with songs of praise!

As believers we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39.) Even in our times of distress, His loving presence is there to encourage us. Remembering God’s goodness allows His love to flood our hearts. It helps to calm our troubled and fearful souls and brings hope for the future. Knowing that God loves us and is with us and remembering His goodness with a thankful heart and a song of praise will go a long way to quenching our spiritual thirst. Believers who long for God when thirsty will not be disappointed

2. Believers who lean on God when oppressed will not be disappointed

The “ungodly nation” and the “deceitful and wicked men” (43:1) are clearly the captors who had taken the psalmist prisoner and were taunting him in his captivity. Notice that he was not eager to get personal revenge on them—he only desired vindication and deliverance from enemy oppression. This is an important point to remember when other people are causing us to suffer in a trying situation. Read Romans 12:17-19.

Sometimes God allows all the earthly things we lean on for security to be removed so we will learn to lean on HIm. Many of the psalmists’s statements remind us of Job in his time of great loss and suffering. Job couldn’t understand why God had permitted so many disasters to overtake him. His spirit was overwhelmed and downcast.

Job needed to learn that God is the One who is in control of all things—and Job could trust Him completely, in both good times and in times of incredible loss and oppression. He needed to learn to“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). At the end of the book, Job said “I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1). He learned that he must completely trust in God alone, and he was not disappointed!

Suffering and disappointment can cause us to despair and become bitter, or they can become opportunities for us to grow and mature. James 1 tells us that God uses all kinds of trials and difficulties to bring our faith to maturity. “Consider it pure joy... when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything” (James 1:2-4). Perseverance means to “hang in there” in spite of opposition, discouragement, loss, or any kind of oppression.

But where can distressed believers find the strength to persevere? By leaning on God! When we are at our weakest, His strength will provide support and keep us going.

“Send forth Your light and Your truth, let them guide me” (43:3). Here the psalmist was asking the Lord for guidance and strength for the path of life ahead. In times of distress and uncertainty for the future, we can rely on the Lord to supply His light for guidance, and His truth to enable us to move forward along the right path.

As we can see from the refrain in Psalm 43, the psalmist was learning to lean on God. He had come to the realization that he could do nothing to bring about his release and return to his homeland, and that God alone was his hope for deliverance. God alone would be his Savior. He found courage and confidence for the future in the belief that God would indeed come through for him. “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” Believers who lean on God when oppressed will not be disappointed.

Practical Application:

It’s OK to ask “Why?”

In Psalms 42 and 43 the psalmist asked “Why?” ten times! Was it wrong for the psalmist to ask why or to question God? Was this an indication that he was giving up the faith? No!

It’s OK to ask why—if we ask with the right attitude! If we approach God with an attitude such as, “God, You’re really messing up my life” or, “God, You don’t know what you’re doing!” then we can expect God’s discipline. Job had to experience God’s discipline when his attitude was not proper. He actually requested an umpire to decide who was right—Job or God! (See Job 9:33.)

However, if we come to Him humbly, as children of our heavenly Father, to ask for insight and understanding into what’s happening in our lives, and to ask for His strength to persevere, then it’s not wrong to ask “Why?” With the right attitude, it’s OK to ask “Why”!
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