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Dry Seasons and Discouraging Times

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Psalms 42–44

There are all kinds of circumstances that can bring turmoil into our lives and discourage us. But we must not let them rob us of the sure and eternal hope that is ours because we know God as our God and our salvation. This is the wonderful reminder of Psalms 42–44.


Dry Seasons and Discouraging Times

Psalms 42–44

One of the wonderful invitations you receive when you study the book of Psalms is to honestly and openly pour out your heart to the Lord. No matter your mood or emotion, fearfulness or confidence, the Lord is ready and waiting to hear.

These next psalms certainly do just that as the author writes here in Psalm 42:3, “My tears have been my food day and night.” Further down in verse 5 the psalmist admits, “My soul is cast down within me.”

Now before we get any farther, let me point out that this psalm begins Book Two of the five books of Psalms, which have been combined in our Bibles into one book. Now it is widely believed that this opening psalm, Psalm 42, was originally part of Psalm 43. In fact, Psalm 43 will repeat two verses from Psalm 42, word for word.

The heading of Psalm 42 calls this a “maskil.” The Hebrew word maskil tells us that this psalm is a teaching psalm. It has been arranged, we are told, by the “sons of Korah.”

The sons of Korah were Levites with a rather tragic past. Korah led a rebellion against Moses. God moved in and judged him, along with the other conspirators, and they were all put to death (Numbers 16).

The sons of Korah themselves were not a part of their father’s rebellion and remained faithful assistants to the priests in the tabernacle. Their descendants are described in 1 Chronicles 6:31 as among “the men whom David put in charge of the service of song in the house of the Lord after the ark rested there.”

I want to remind you that godly parents might have ungodly children and that ungodly parents can have children who grow up to walk with God. And the sons of Korah did just that—they grew up to walk with God.

Now some of the best-known verses in this second book of Psalms appear here in the opening verses of Psalm 42.

As a deer pants for [literally, the water] flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (verses 1-2)

The Hebrew word for “flowing streams” describes “the deepest water channel in a valley, gorge or ravine. In the drier parts of [Israel] these brooks were not easy to find, nor did they always contain water. [A deer might have an] agonizing search for these brooks.”[1] The psalmist uses this search as a picture for the thirsty soul longing for God.

Why is it important to verbalize your feelings before the Lord? What are you saying about yourself and about God when you talk to God about your struggles?

Throughout Psalms 42 and 43, God does not seem to answer the psalmist’s cry. The thirsty soul remains parched, and he even endures verbal attacks from unbelievers. Psalm 42:10 reads:

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?”

Have you noticed that when trouble comes and our prayers do not seem to be answered and we’re in a dry season of life, we tend to agree with our accusers? We even ask the question, “Where is my God?”

Well, God has not gone anywhere. Just because God is silent does not mean He is absent. But it sure feels like it at times, doesn’t it? Again, this is an honest admission of emotion as the psalmist pours out his heart.

In spite of this raw emotion, Psalms 42 and 43 end with the exact same reminder, and it is a great statement of faith for someone with a troubled soul. Listen to this declaration: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”

The Hebrew word translated “cast down” means “to sink or depress.” Have you ever had that sinking feeling, that depressed feeling that comes from problems in your life? Have you experienced that dry season when your soul seems parched with spiritual thirst? Have you felt it all the way down to your soul? Well, join the crowd—your feelings just got included in inspired Scripture.

The psalmist then adds that there is “turmoil within me.” The word for “turmoil” refers to a loud uproar. In other words, everything in your life has just turned upside down—as if an earthquake just upset your world.

So, what do you do about it? Well, first be honest with how you are feeling. Admit that sinking and depressing feeling, the sense that you are spiritually dry. Pasting on a smile is not going to do you or anybody else any good.

What the psalmist says next is the core principle in these teaching psalms. Here in verse 11 of Psalm 42 and again in Psalm 43:5, he makes a powerful statement of faith that his hope will remain in God. 

To hope in God in the Hebrew Bible means to trust Him and then wait for Him. That isn’t easy, but it is a big part of the solution. Trusting and waiting—that is what it means to hope in God.

And what is the psalmist hoping for here? Well, he tells us as these two psalms end the exact same way: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

So, the earthquake that just tumbled my world is nothing to shout hallelujah about, but I can praise God for “mysalvation” and the fact that He is “my God.” That personal conviction that He is our God and our salvation is how hope in God is found. These psalms are teaching that God is praiseworthy even if the perfect timing of His responses doesn’t match our desires.

When we put our hope in God, our circumstances might not change, but our hearts will. As we acknowledge His saving grace in our lives, our trust translates into spiritual growth, especially in the dry seasons and discouraging times.

In Psalm 44, this hope in the Lord takes on national significance. It’s a reminder that the nation of Israel has endured dry seasons and trying times and it doesn’t seem like God is coming to the rescue. In fact, this psalm makes it clear that the nation has been disobedient to the Lord, and His discipline has been well deserved.

Verses 9 through 18 basically review the history of Israel, as foretold in Deuteronomy 28. In fact, the psalmist alludes to Deuteronomy 28:37 in verse 14, saying: “You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples.”

Now Israel’s repentance is not recorded here in Psalm 44 because that has already happened. The Lord has forgiven them, but they are still suffering the lingering consequences of their sin and are waiting for relief.

By the way, the apostle Paul quotes verse 22 in Romans 8:36 to support the idea that suffering is common to believers in this life; it isn’t proof that God has forgotten you or forsaken you. In fact, just the opposite is true according to Paul. The apostle assures us that though we suffer tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword, none of that is proof the Lord has forgotten or forsaken His people (Romans 8:35).

Suffering does not mean you have been abandoned by God—indeed, it might mean you are standing up for God. But I can tell you, if you are faithfully following the Lord and your hope is in Him, suffering means that you are growing up as a child of God.

So, these teaching psalms encourage us to make our own personal declaration of faith—that we will trust Him and wait for Him. And we will sing, perhaps through tears, the lyrics of these psalms in dry seasons and in discouraging times: “I will hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

[1] L. Ryken, J. Wilhoit, T. Longman, C. Duriez, D. Penney, and D. G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (InterVarsity Press, 2000), 125.

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