"As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God."
~ Psalm 42:1
Psalm 42 begins what has been noted by the original compiler and editor of the book of Psalms as Book Two. All 150 psalms are divided into 5 books; Book One (1-41), Book Two (42-72), Book Three (73-89), Book Four (90-106), Book Five (107-150). Psalm 42 is further superscripted as a “Maskil of the Sons of Korah”.
“Maskil” is a Hebrew word of uncertain meaning that occurs in the title of 13 of the psalms (32, 42, 44, 45, 52, 53, 54, 55, 74, 78, 88, 89, 142). But based on this word’s use in Amos 5:13, combined with the form, style and content of these 13 psalms, it does seem likely that the term “Maskil” is meant to indicate meditation and instruction. The 13 psalms marked as a maskil are particularly meant to impart wisdom by means of contemplation and meditation on the instructive truths presented. Not at all meaning that the other psalms are not instructive, nor that you cannot meditate or contemplate the other psalms. No, instead these psalms particularly were written so that the fullest benefit (not a hidden meaning) comes through intentional reflection and consideration.
Among many other themes, Psalm 42 highlights the twin realities of being downcast in soul, and hoping in God (v.5a, 11). Being downcast in soul does not negate or eliminate hope in God, in fact it should fuel our hope in God (v.5b). Being downcast in soul does not mean you have lost your hope in God, but is yet another context in which to remember God and praise him. Being downcast in soul is a byproduct of being a sinner in a fallen world (v.3,7,9-10), but hope in God comes through Jesus Christ and produces joy. Being downcast in soul is a reality of this life, but it is not the reality within which God intends for us to remain.
When you find your soul to be downcast, pour it out before the LORD (v.4). Remember his goodness, his gladness and the gathering of his people for praises (v.4). Remind, instruct or perhaps even rebuke your soul if it remains wrongly or needlessly downcast and in turmoil (v.5a, 11). Your God is the living God (v.2)! He is your salvation (v.5a) and your rock (v.9)! He commands his steadfast love by day and his song by night for you (v.8)!
Read and reread this psalm today and spend time contemplating and meditating on the instructive truths presented here. Let your soul be refreshed and develop a panting thirst for your God (v.1).