April 22, 2015

Tom Lowe

 

Title: PSALM 43

A psalm of Hezekiah?

 

Psalm 43 (KJV)

 

1 Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.

2 For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

3 O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.

4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.

5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

 

 

Introduction

 

We are going to examine this psalm as if it was written by godly King Hezekiah, although it could have been written by any of Israel’s godly kings. After David, he was the greatest king ever to sit upon the throne of Judea.  He did more to bring the nation back to God than any other king.  Two tremendously significant events took place in his life.  The first was an illness which threatened his very life, and from which he recovered only by a miracle of healing sent by the direct intervention of God.  The other was an invasion by the Assyrians which threatened Judah’s independence, and from which he was rescued only by a miracle of help sent by the direct intervention of God. Psalm 42 stands connected with the first of these events, psalm 43 with the second. Psalms 42 and 43 originally composed one psalm.  Psalm 43 has no title of its own.  The content and wording of the two are clearly similar (see 42:9b and 43:2b), and psalm 43 has the refrain which appears twice in psalm 42. 

 

Was David the psalmist who penned this psalm? Many believe he was, and they can point to several places which appear to support that idea, such as verse 4. However, the Temple was not built until the reign of King Solomon; and the Assyrians did not besiege Jerusalem until Hezekiah was king. Hezekiah is probably the one who wrote it.

 

Throughout most of his reign Hezekiah faced the threat of invasion from the north.  He inherited the Assyrian menace from his father, King Ahaz, who, ignoring the pleadings and prophecies of Isaiah, had insisted on mortgaging the Judean kingdom to the Assyrians.  He had hoped that by compromise and by conciliation he could buy off the great northern power.  When Hezekiah came to the throne, fired with a dynamic faith in God, he at once set about preparing for the inevitable confrontations with the great king of the north.

 

Psalm 43 is a wonderful expression of the king’s joy emanating from the confidence he has in God to save him from the invading Assyrians. They are threatening him and oppressing him.  Their propaganda is full of lies about him. The people are divided over what to do about their enemies, and they are clearly not supporting their king, but he believes God will defend him.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

43:1-2 Hezekiah knew that there could be no coexistence between Judea and Assyria.  If for no other reason, religious differences made lasting peace between the two peoples impossible.  Assyria demanded total surrender to its influence, the acceptance of an Assyrian governor, the imposition of Assyrian ideals and beliefs.  How could Hezekiah tamely surrender his sovereignty to a king who believed in a multitude of false and fierce gods?  With his faith in the true and living God and in the national destiny of the people of God, there was no way he could yield to Assyrian demands.  He had hardly set down upon his throne than he began a series of measures aimed at the ultimate defense of his little land against the armed might of the Assyrian war machine.

 

He was not left long in doubt about Assyrian intentions.  The invincible Assyrian army moved south and besieged the sister city of Samaria, capital of the ten-tribe nation of Israel.  After a long and stubborn siege Samaria fell.  Hezekiah would have been surprised if it hadn’t.  There were so many prophecies about its fall that the credibility of Scripture was bound up with its overthrow.  But that only made the little nation of Judea more vulnerable.  Hezekiah and his God now became the object of incessant Assyrian propaganda aimed at softening up Judah.  That seems to be the background of this psalm.

 

 

1 Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.

 

1a Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation.  When others fail to understand our motives, we may appeal to the righteous court of God.  He is our great Advocate, who will plead for us. “You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life” (Lamentations 3:58). It is a strange thing to actually desire the judgment of God!  Most of us shrink from His judgment; the very thought of it frightens us.  We think of the coming great white throne judgment when sinners from all the ages of time will be summoned to stand shivering in their sins before the awesome holiness of God.  The books will be opened.  God will say to each and every one just one simple word remember!  The past will leap to life, deeds long forgotten or concealed will rise like specters from the mists of the past.  Biting, sarcastic, lying, filthy words will be recalled in the dreadful presence of God.  Shadowy thoughts, secret lusts, smothered passions will suddenly assume full body and shape as God discovers:

 

. . . the secret things,

The motives that control,

Those places where polluted things

Hold empire o’er the soul.

 

We shrink at the thought of judgment; but not Hezekiah!  He asked the Lord to “judge” him.  The word “judge” means “to vindicate.” Hezekiah was so sure that his life was right with God that he could “plead,” not the mercy of God but the judgment of God as the bases for God’s acting in his life and on his behalf, “against an ungodly nation[1]—an unmerciful “nation,” a loveless, heathen people, who are not objects God’s favor.That was perilous ground to take. 

 

Which one of us would want to take that ground?  To say: “Lord, work on my behalf in this situation.  Work, Lord, because You see that I have done nothing to deserve it. On the contrary, I have done everything possible to keep my life and testimony right with God and man.” That was what Hezekiah desired.

 

1b O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.  The country Hezekiah loved and over which he ruled was being threatened.  Propaganda was one of the weapons used against him by Assyria—unceasing, unanswerable, unscrupulous propaganda.  Day after day, clever lies were forged by the foe, mixtures of truth and error barbed with intimidation.  The Assyrians’ propaganda ministry kept up constant pressure against Hezekiah to attempt to undermine his authority with his own people.

 

If this was not the prayer of Hezekiah, or of David, it may possibly be uttered by the remnant of Israel.  The Antichrist is a liar.  He will make a covenant with these people and then will break it in the midst of the “week.” When this happens, their cry will be, “Deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.” I don’t know if you have ever prayed this prayer or not, but I have said, “O God, don’t let a dictator arise in the United States.” There is grave danger of that.  We need to ask God to deliver us from “deceitful and unjust man.”  I certainly don’t want him ruling over me and we have had quite a few like that in our history.  I am afraid the condition of our nation is due to the leadership and internal problems.

 

The psalmist is many miles distant from the Temple, the place where his case may be judged and where he may be vindicated before his hostile enemies.  The expression “the deceitful and unjust man” is probably to be understood as a generalized statement of the source of his trouble, rather than the specific indictment of a particular individual enemy.  Unscrupulous men were arrayed against him, men who would not hesitate to use any weapon to take advantage of him.  That is a terrible situation in which to be found. But Hezekiah was not the only king to face such a trial. King David found himself in a similar situation on several occasions; but in his case, “thedeceitful and unjust man” was probably Saul, who was not only unkind to David but dealt most deceitfully and dishonestly with him.  And then there was Absalom, the son he loved, who was very like Saul in that his character was no better; and Ahithophel, whom he thought was his best friend, but betrayed him. 

 

 

2 For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

 

2a For thou art the God of my strength“the God of my life” (42:8[2]) is here called “the God of my strength.” My foes ask me, “Where is thy God? My answer is, “God is with me—in me—here. He has never left me nor forsaken me!”

 

Hezekiah realized that no matter what the lies of the enemy, his true strength lay in God.  There was no “strength” in an alliance with Egypt or Babylon—both great nations, world powers, and sworn enemies of the Assyrians.  Both had the resources, the manpower, and the might to make a concerted stand against Assyria.  Yet Hezekiah’s “strength” did not lie in them; it lay in God alone, the Rock of his salvation (42:9[3]), and soon his despair would be replaced by joy.  As they trust in the Lord, God’s people must remember that His goodness and mercies follow them (23:6[4]), and His light and truth lead them (see thee 27:1[5]; 26:3; 30:9; 40:10).

 

There was no real “strength” in his own military preparations though he had done what he could to make his country militarily strong.  A resourceful, energetic and sensible man, Hezekiah had done all he could to make any invasion costly to the invader.  But he still knew that his little country and his tiny army could not stop the Assyrians.

 

2b Why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? The situation was getting worse daily.  One nation after another was either making peace with Assyria or being invaded and destroyed.  The world powers appeared unable to match Assyria’s determination to rule the world.   

 

Worst of all, God seemed silent.  The treachery and injustice of his enemies’ persistent “oppression” makes him feel spurned by God.  Hezekiah’s religious reforms were the best that he could do, but they did not really have the heart-and-soul backing of his people.  His friend, the great evangelist, Isaiah, preached with passion.  People would come to the meetings, but no real impact was made upon their lives.  There was some religious stir but no revival, and certainly not the kind of revival which transforms society.  The false religious systems, so entrenched in the land, we’re becoming more subtle and more careful, but they were flourishing, in spite of Hezekiah’s official support of Isaiah’s evangelistic campaigns. 

 

With such an undercurrent of unrest and discontent at his efforts to bring the nation back to God, it is no wonder Hezekiah had his doubts.  Perhaps God was not on their side after all.  Perhaps God could see that what the nation needed was a sound thrashing at the hands of the enemy.  Perhaps things had to get worse, much worse, before there would be genuine repentance and revival. 

 

“Why dost thou cast me off? Why should I mourn because “of the oppression of the enemy?” “Lord,” he pleads, “don’t look at them!  Look at me!  What else can I do?  I have no place else to go but unto You.  Why do you cast me off?” This was a MISTAKE; for God never “cast off” anyone that trusted in Him, regardless of whatever gloomy apprehensions they may have had of their own situation.

 

Dear old Hezekiah!  Many a time in history God has saved a people because of men like Hezekiah.  All that stood between Judea and its doom was Hezekiah, his preacher-friend Isaiah, and a few other like-minded folks. 

 

 

43:3-4: Hezekiah wanted to see God moved among his people.  He wanted to see an advance in spirituality among the people of God, beginning with himself. 

 

 

3 O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.

4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.

 

3a O send out thy light and thy truth.  What is the psalmist praying for? Jesus said, “. . .  I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).  He also said “. . .  I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man, cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).  These statements of our Lord Jesus Christ were not lost on His hearers, because if they knew He was the light and the truth, they would also know He was the Messiah who had come to deliver them.

 

Any spiritual advance must begin with “truth”; with the Word of God.  This is especially so in a day and age, such as Hezekiah’s and our own, when the enemy has been engaged in an intensive propaganda campaign aimed at devaluating the Bible and undermining whatever confidence in God the people might still have left.  We must pray for God’s “light and truth”—the Spirit of “light and truth,” who inspires our desire for Christ’s bodily presence, and the truth of God’s promises made to us—to lead us into the ministry of godliness and to guide us on our way to heaven.  “Light” represented understanding and life, and “truth” represented God’s faithful Word by which the psalm-writer would find guidance.  He waited for God to indicate the path he should take.

 

3b Let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.  “Thy holy hill” is literally “the mountain of thy holiness or the Temple in Jerusalem built by Solomon on Mt. Zion.” The expression, “to Thy tabernacles[6] (habitations; dwelling places) comes from a plural word, the plural of majesty.  God’s habitation was associated in Hezekiah’s mind with the royal majesty of God; therefore, he used the royal plural, “habitations.” If only he can be brought to the place where God dwells, the holy altar of the Temple!  Thus his specific longing for the Temple rises to its deepest intensity.  With vivid imagination he prays that God will send out to him His light and truth, which, like two angelic messengers, will come to him in his crisis of need and gently lead him to the Temple Hill; and with goodness and mercy following him (psalm 23:6), he was assured of a happy return to God’s “holy hill.” We don’t need to desire anything else to make us happy than the good which flows from God’s lovingkindness—that mercy, that truth is enough.

 

Hezekiah wanted God to send out His light and His truth, which he personifies here as messengers who will bring him to the privileged place of worship.  But it is not clear if that is all that is meant by this.  Perhaps he was alluding to the mysterious Urim and Thummim, generally thought to be two special stones used by the high priest for ascertaining the mind and will of God in matters of great national importance.  Certainly Hezekiah must have felt himself in great need of light and truth in guiding his nation through the perilous shoals into which the ship of state had come.  One false move would mean shipwreck.  Hezekiah did not dare make a move apart from the clear leading of the Lord.  He wanted to know, for his own personal motivation, the truth of God shining brightly on his path

 

4a Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy.  David was Israel’s greatest king.  With the exception of His praise for Jesus, God paid David perhaps the greatest compliment ever paid to any man: He said, “He is a man after my own heart.” There are those who say that David is the author of this psalm, and he certainly could be.  The “altar” with all of its outward symbolism and rituals meant very little to David.  It was for “God” that his soul yearned.  How he dwells on that precious name, God!  My God!  If God guides him to His tabernacle, as the Israelites were guided from Egypt to Canaan by a pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21; 15:13), if He restores him to his former rights and freedom, he knows very well what he has to do: “Then will I go unto the altar of God” to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving for my deliverance. He will get as near to God, his “exceeding joy,” as he possibly can.  The nearer we come, the closer we cleave, to God, the better.  Those that come to God must come to Him as their “exceeding joy,” not only as their future bliss, but as their present “joy.”

 

He has made great progress since he watched the deer seeking for water.  The “living God” (42:2) became “the God of my life” (42:8), and now He is “God my exceeding joy . . .  God, my God.”  His focus is no longer on himself, his disappointments, or his circumstances, but on the Lord his “God,” and that makes all the difference.

 

Notice the progression in verses 3 and 4:

       To Your holy hill;

       To Your tabernacle;

       To the “alter of God”;

       To God “my exceeding joy.”

 

The true worshipper is satisfied with neither a geographical location nor a building nor an “altar.”  He must get through to “God” Himself.

 

It is a great thing when a nation’s leaders set the example and blaze the trail back to “God.”  We have leaders today, some of whom are willing enough to make the occasional religious remark—so long as it does not offend this or that segment of the voting public or bring down the wrath of the Supreme Court.  But where are the statesman like Hezekiah, willing to pay the price of criticism by calling the nation back to God in urgent, evangelical fervor and in practical uncompromising godliness, morality, and sincerity?  Few and far between are the politicians of today willing to take a sincere, straightforward stand against sodomy, abortion, or other controversial issues.  They will not pay the price.  The sacrifice is too great.

 

4b Yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.  The psalmist expressed his vow to “praise . . .  God” for his deliverance when he returned to the altar in Jerusalem.  What a sensitive soul Hezekiah had!  Most of us would make some great sacrifice first, then think that “God” would therefore have to listen to us and act on our behalf; in other words, we would try to bribe “God.”  Not Hezekiah!  His spirituality rose far above that.  Certainly, he wanted to hear from “God.”  Then, after “God” had made the path clear for him, he would go to the altar.

 

There is a hint here that David may be the writer of this psalm, for he excelled at playing the “harp” (1 Samuel 16:16, 18), and he wishes to “praise. . . God” with that at which he excels; because God should be praised with the BEST we have; it is fitting that He is, for HE IS THE BEST.

 

In any case, “God” was his “exceeding joy”—that is, my joy and delight (4a).  Imagine that!  Think again of his circumstances: they were desperate, the enemy would soon be at the gates.  Yet Hezekiah could find it in his heart to tell the Lord that his soul was filled with singing at the very thought of God.  What a way to face adversity!  Now he is certain that his prayer will be heard and that he will be vindicated by God. So, he prepares to end his prayer, not in the mood of persuasion, but in the bubbling up of a feeling of thanks.  It is the expression of the certainty of his faith. 

 

Joy is an emotion; it has to do with the heart.  There was nothing in Hezekiah’s situation to which his intellect could address itself and say, “Now then, all is well.” But where the head could not go the heart could.

 

It was there that Hezekiah took his stand.  The intellect could have presented him with 100 reasons to become a skeptic.  His heart presented him with one glorious reason to become a singer—“God my exceeding joy!” In our hour of extreme desperation and need, let us stand with this noble Hebrew king.

 

 

43:5: the king took himself to task.  He had a little talk with himself—often the first sign of sanity, as we learn from the story of the Prodigal Son.

 

 

5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

 

5a Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?  Bring the thing out into the open, stare it in the face.  I am sad because the Assyrians are on the march and I am no match for the Assyrians.  All the preparations I have made cannot halt them for long.  I can see only disaster in my circumstances.

 

There are so many unhappy circumstances that can make us feel alienated and lost.  Some people have to suffer rejection by their family and find themselves living lonely and embittered lives.  Some people wonder if the cancer they have been told is in their bones is a punishment from God for their sins.  Some people carry about with them year after year a deep sense of guilt, like a great stone in the heart, all because of just one disloyal or horrible act they performed against someone who trusted them implicitly.  Some people, brought up in the faith, turn for years of their lives to a desperate search for wealth, for success, for fame, or for a position of power—and then all of a sudden find that they had missed out on what alone gives meaning to life, the loving presence of their heavenly Father.  Then perhaps, in their old age, an acquaintance asks them, “Where is your God? The God you learned about as a little child?” (42:3). Then you have the affront to reply by asking God, “Why hast thou forgotten me?” (42:9). When all the time it is you who have forgotten God.  And so it is that it can only be the grace of God (for you can’t do it by yourself) that brings you to the point of saying, like the Prodigal Son, “I will arise and go to my Father.” I shall find Him that I know, when I go to the altar of God, and will say at last, “O God, my God” (43:4) instead of “O Lord my God”—showing that the psalm is “Elohistic[7].”

 

Here, as before, the psalmist quarrels with himself on account of his dejection and despondency, and admits that he was wrong to yield to them, and that he had no reason to do so; “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”

 

 

43:5bNow the mood changes.  The emphasis this time is upon God, the certainty of His help, and the sublime confidence that waiting for Him will not be in vain. 

 

5b. Hope in God. What is “hope?” I would like to give you a couple of meanings for this word hope:

  1. (Christian) “Hope” is knowing that “God” is there, and so “hope” means “waiting for God.” But “hope” arouses us to praise the God we are waiting for when we seem to have lost Him from sight.  Moreover, just doing so means putting out your hand into the darkness and finding it gripped by Another.
  2. (dictionary) “Hope” is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.

 

Now if he had said, “Hope in an alliance with Egypt, or hope because the Babylonians have sent an envoy to you to discuss mutual cooperation against the foe”—if he had said that, he would have been doomed to disappointment.  But if our “hope is in God” we are safe, for “God” cannot let us down.  He has said, “The promise is to you and to your children.” He has said, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Hope in God!  Then we will be safe.

 

 

43:5c “For I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” That, of course, takes us back to Psalm 42, to the time when Hezekiah was desperately ill.  The plague, or some disfiguring disease, had brought him to the doors of death.  Even Isaiah, the prophet, had been unable to offer him hope in that darkest hour.

 

But God had healed him.  God was “the health of his countenance.”  God had met his need, God had delivered him, and God had wonderfully kept His word.  That’s why Hezekiah was sure that “God was with him!”

 

There is a timeless note struck in this psalm.  All great affirmations of faith have struck it.  No matter how low the spirit plunges into despair, it still can rise exultantly to the altitudes of light and truth.  Little wonder that our Lord spoke so much about light and truth.  Even less wonder that He was spoken of as “Light and Truth” by those whom he led.  No wonder at all that those who have accepted him as Light and Truth have been led to the sacred places of God and to the shrines of true devotion.  

 

The word translated “health” can also be translated “help.” When by faith we see the face of “God” smiling upon us (numbers 6:22-27), our own countenance brightens up and becomes spiritually healthy.  We know “God” is for us, that “God” will set us free and guide us to His holy city, where we shall worship Him in spirit and in truth, and sing His praises.  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (30:5, NKJV).

 

Is there no time in our own past when “God” met a very real need in answer to believing, desperate prayer?  “God” is still the same.  He has not changed, and “we shall yet praise Him”: the “God” who has met us before and who will certainly meet us again.

 

In these psalms (42 and 43), notice how “God” is described as the strength of our life (43:2); my exceeding joy (43:4); “the health of my countenance” (43:5).  And especially, observe how faith chases that tear from the eye; the furrow from the brow; the fear from the soul. 

 


[1] “Nation”—the Assyrian army must have seemed like it was a nation on the move, because, when they went to war they took their families and some or all of their possessions with them.  They were the greatest part, and almost the whole body of the nation.

[2] (Psalm 42:8, KJV) “Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.”

[3] (Psalm 42:9, KJV) “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

[4] (Psalm 23:6, KJV) “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

[5] (Psalm 27:1, KJV) “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

[6] Tabernacles—at this time there were two of them, one at Zion, where the ark was; and another at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:37, 39).

[7] “Elohistic,” is defined by Merriam Webster as “of, or characteristic of, or characterized by worship of God as Elohim rather than as Yahweh.”