When Enemies Taunt (Psalm 42)
April 29, 2012 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Suffering: Learning from the Psalms in the Midst of Difficult Times
Topic: Psalms Passage: Psalm 42:1–42:11
Suffering: Learning from the Psalms in the Midst of Difficult Times
I. Through Endurance and Encouragement
As we go back to the OT this morning, it’s always good to remember what the Apostle Paul told us about the connection between the OT and the NT believer, the Christian. Paul wrote:
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. (Romans 15:4) Did you hear that? God wants us to have hope through His word. Amen?
This morning we are continuing with and are concluding our series on a subject with which all of us can relate: suffering. One famous songwriter said, “Suffering is the price of being alive…” (Judy Collins). That’s how it feels sometimes, doesn’t it?
II. The Passage: “Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?” (42:1-11)
Well, as we’ve talked about this issue of suffering we’ve looked at Psalm 22, we’ve looked at Psalm 32, and this morning we are finishing with Psalm 42. So follow along with me as I read through Psalm 42, and keep in mind what we learn here about suffering:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?  My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”  These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: 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.  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. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.  Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.  By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.  I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”  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?”  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.
So here’s what I’d like to do with this psalm in order to better understand what is being said in these verses, and more importantly, to better understand what God wants to teach us through this psalm; what I’d like to do is give you three things we learn from the psalm about the writer and his circumstances.
1. The writer is suffering. (vs. 3a, 5a, 7, 10a, 11a)
I think the first point is pretty obvious; it’s of those ‘duh’ observations. Ready for it?: the writer of Psalm 42 is suffering…the writer is suffering. That’s pretty clear isn’t it? It’s clear from a number of verses throughout the psalm. Just listen to how these verses describe the suffering of the psalmist:
My tears have been my food day and night… (3a) Ever felt like that? Ever been in that kind of place? Look at the first part of verse 5 and the first part of verse 11: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Have you ever felt like your heart was cast down and in turmoil (literally in the original Hebrew language, ‘roaring’ or ‘raging’) inside of you?
Look at verse 7: Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. In Hebrew, the word “deep” could refer to the deep places of the ocean, as well as the deep places of rivers and springs that come from deep within the earth. But when this word is used in the OT, it almost always communicates a sense of fear and confusion and death. And that’s what the writer feels like. He feels like he is drowning under the waters of his suffering. Have you ever felt that way? Do you feel like that this morning?
As the psalmist describes it in the beginning of verse 10, he feels like he is suffering from a deadly wound in [his] bones. The pain is deep, isn’t it?
When we read these words, and these words resonate with us, when they give expression to how we feel and what we’re going through, we should be encouraged and reminded of the fact that God’s word is absolutely relevant for real life. The Bible is not some weird fairly tale that has no connection to our everyday reality. No, like this writer, we find in the Bible men and women like us. We find suffering like our own suffering. To some extent , all of us have felt like this man.
But here’s a key question we have yet to answer: “Why is this man suffering?”
2. The writer is suffering as a sojourner and exile. (vs. 2b, 3b, 4, 6b, 9, 10)
That brings us to the second thing we learn from this psalm about the writer and his circumstances. We see here that the writer is suffering as a sojourner and exile.
Now this point is not as obvious as the first point. But look at what clues we’ve been given here: at the end of verse 2, the psalmist asks…When shall I come and appear before God?
Now, we don’t know exactly what he means until we get to verse 4. Look at how he elaborates on his question and his desire: These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: 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.
The “house of God” here has to be the Temple in Jerusalem. And so the writer is remembering all the times when he did, in fact, appear before God at the Temple, when he came with other worshipers to praise and offer sacrifices to the God of Israel.
But obviously, he is now in a place where he cannot get to the Temple, and he has no idea when or if he will ever go back. And it’s that uncertainty that is weighing on him. So where is the psalmist? Well, we don’t know for sure, but notice in verse 6 that the writer’s memory is thinking, not only about Jerusalem and the Temple, but also the land of Jordan and of Hermon [that’s Mount Hermon in the north of Israel], from Mount Mizar. These are places in the land of Israel, aren’t they?
So I would say these geographical references are one indication that the psalmist is outside of his homeland; he is away from the land of Israel. And what I believe confirms this idea is another repeated line from the psalm, just like verses 5 and 11. We find this second instance of repetition at the end of verse 3, and at the end of verse 10. Look at those verses again. Verse 3:
My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
Look at verses 9 and 10: I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”  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?”
So as we see here, the writer’s suffering is not simply ‘homesickness’. No, his anguish is rooted in both the reality that he is a ‘stranger is a strange land’ (a sojourner, an exile), AND the fact that he is suffering as a ‘stranger is a strange land’. He is being taunted because of his faith in the God of Israel. The question is repeated, isn't it: “Where is your God?”
Now, we don’t know the exact circumstances here, but it seems like these enemies are gloating as they say, “Where is your God? Why didn’t he rescue you? Why didn’t he prevent you from coming here? Why doesn’t he do something now?” These enemies obviously think this man’s faith and this man’s God are a joke. And so they taunt. They oppress.
And so in Psalm 22 we talked about the experience of an innocent sufferer who is suffering for no apparent reason; this is someone suffering in spite of his obedience. In Psalm 32 we talked about the suffering of unconfessed sin, the suffering we experience when we try to hide our sin and run from God; this is someone who is suffering because of his disobedience. But here in Psalm 42, we see a man who is suffering because of his faith, a man suffering because of his obedience, because of his devotion to God.
Have you suffered like this? Are you suffering in this way, right now…because of your obedience, because of your devotion to God, because of your faith?
If you are follower of Jesus Christ this morning, if you are a Christian, then you should be able to relate to the writer of Psalm 42. I say that because even though all of us are still in our homes, even though none of us has been sent out of the country, every disciples of Jesus is, nevertheless, a sojourner and an exile. Listen to I Peter, chapter 2:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (I Peter 2:11-12)
You see, Peter is pointing to the fact that we are spiritual “sojourners and exiles”. As those who through Jesus belong to the Kingdom of God, we are “sojourners and exiles” in the kingdom of this world. That’s why Peter is encouraging his readers to maintain their distinct identity as God’s people and not to be conformed to the ways of the world (not assimilated).
One of the things we need to understand about this kind of suffering is that the oppression described in Psalm 42, the oppression we suffer as sojourners and exiles, can look quite different in different situations. Sometimes it has been and it will be very severe from a physical perspective. Christians have been and are being beaten for their faith. Christians have been and are being killed for their faith in Christ.
But this kind of suffering can also be verbal. Notice the suffering that Peter describes in 2:12. These Christians were and would be spoken “against as evildoers”. In chapter 4 of his letter, Peter goes to say that, “With respect to [their sinful lifestyles] they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you” (4:4). So just like we see in Psalm 42, these kind of suffering can come in the form of taunts and slander.
Maybe you’ve suffered like this. Maybe you’ve been ridiculed for your faith. Maybe people have called you a “holy roller”, or have criticized you for “getting too religious”, or say things like, “Whatta ya mean you don’t want to go out drinking with us…Are you too good for us now?” In some cases, like here in Psalm 42, people can taunt with their questions. “You say you believe in God. Well where was God when that child was killed? Where was God when that plane crashed?”
Sometimes people simply roll their eyes, or they try to avoid you. Maybe you have felt ostracized by your family because of your faith in Christ. Maybe you suffered professionally because you were labeled as ‘overly religious’. Again, this can look different in different situations.
Now listen, there are many times when Christians can be overbearing and obnoxious with their opinions and tactics. In those instances, we bring suffering upon ourselves. But there are most certainly times, when we are living explicitly for Christ, that we will suffer. Peter addresses these same points in I Peter 4:15, 16.
But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. [that’s bringing the suffering upon yourself]  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
Brothers and sisters, suffering because of our obedience to God should never surprise us. Listen to what Jesus said about being a spiritual sojourner and exile:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world [because you are sojourners and exiles], but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:18-20)
The reality or even the possibility of suffering for our faith, suffering because of our devotion to Christ and His word, it should never deter us from doing the right thing.
But this kind of suffering CAN tempt us to do just that. We can be tempted to give up or give in; to despair or anxiety. We can be tempted to hold back, or hold our tongues, or compromise in some other way. We can be tempted to question God.
So what do we learn from this writer about facing this kind of adversity?
3. The writer knows God is his only hope. (vs. 1, 2, 5, 8, 11)
Well, that brings us to our third point. The third thing we learn from this psalm about the writer and his circumstances is that the writer knows God is his only hope.
Listen again to the way this is expressed in the psalm:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (vs. 1, 2)
Regardless of how or why we’re suffering, one temptation is always the same: in the midst of difficult times, we will always be tempted to fix our hope on the end (the cessation) of our suffering. We will always be tempted to say, “I hope this stops. I hope this suffering comes to end very soon.” And when our hope is fixed on the end of the suffering, we are more tempted to do anything and everything we can to stop it.
And in situations where we are clearly suffering because of our devotion to God, if our hope is on the end of our suffering, then we will be more tempted to doubt God or abandon God in order to find relief from that kind of oppression.
But look at the psalmist’s focus. He is not simply panting for or thirsting for a plane ticket back to Israel. He is not simply panting for or thirsting for his adversaries to be swallowed up by the ground or struck by some sort of plague.
No, like a struggling deer in the desert, he is longing for, he thirsting for God. He knows that the only source of true refreshment, the only thing that will satisfy his spiritual thirst in the wilderness of his sufferings, the only thing is God.
And that’s exactly why we have this psalm. This psalm represents the writer reaching out to God. I love what the psalmist says in verse 8. He writes: By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. (v. 8)
You see, the psalmist recognized that even though he was suffering as a sojourner and exile, even though his tears were his food “day and night” (v. 3), God’s love still surrounded him during those days, and songs to God were still on his lips during those nights.
The emphasis of this psalm is clear from the repetition we find here. As we’ve already pointed out, the taunt of the writer’s adversaries is repeated, “Where is your God?”. But at the center and at the end of the psalm we find this repeated phrase:
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. (vs. 5, 11)
The writer is not asking his soul this question because he wants to get an answer. He’s asking himself this question in order to remind himself that there is no reason for his heart to be cast down. There is no reason for his heart to be in turmoil. Why? Because “I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God”.
In the midst of difficult times, we need to talk to our souls, don’t we? We need to remind ourselves that there is no reason to be in despair, to be disturbed. God wants to fill our hearts with hope.
III. Suffering, But Prepared
Brothers and sisters, friends, when it comes to the “oppression of the enemy” of the taunts of the “adversaries”, we need to remember what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5: For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)
You see, the most important thing we must accept about the persecution of the righteous is not that it happened to the psalmist or that it might happen to us, but that it happened to Jesus and we were his enemies. Before we are ever the persecuted, we must accept that we are the persecuters, that it was OUR sin for which Jesus suffered and died...that had we been there in the first century, we too would have rejected, mocked, scorned, and betrayed the Son of God.
But because of the grace of God, Jesus died for our oppression and taunts. And because He died for us, we can now live for Him. And it's that love, the love God demonstrates at the cross, that motivates us to stand for Christ, even in the midst of resistance and ridicule.
Are you standing for Jesus? Are you willing to speak about Him, and follow His word...or are you scared...embarassed...ashamed?
Jesus himself reminded us that we need to be prepared to suffer as His disciples. And the Apostle Peter reminds us that if and when we do suffer, we should also be prepared to be a light. Peter wrote this:
...if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (I Peter 3:14-16)
When you speak to your soul and encourage it to have “hope in God” in the face of suffering, pray as well that that very hope would shine from your soul, giving you a chance to speak to those who taunt you about the One who suffered to give all of us hope.
Let's pray God would do that in us and through us.