Psalms 42 and 43 were traditionally sung together, and together they record the cry of a homesick priest. The priests of Israel were the worship leaders in God’s temple. Their lives centered around singing before God, enjoying His presence, and inviting others into that experience. The temple wasn’t just their workplace but their home too.
But at the start of this song, the priestly singer is surrounded by enemies and banished from Jerusalem and the temple. His enemies drag him far from God’s presence and into homelessness and exile. The sorrowful priest pants for God like water (Psalm 42:1-2). He longs for the days of singing in the temple where he felt and enjoyed God’s presence. But his memories are constantly interrupted by his enemies; their taunts force him back into his exiled reality. They ask him repeatedly, “Where is your God?” as if to prove he’s been forgotten by the one he used to serve (Psalm 42:3, 4, 10).
While enemies and dangers surround the priestly singer like violent waves in a storm, the exiled priest clings to God as his rock of hope. He pleads for God to save him. He remembers God’s love and repeatedly urges his soul to trust him despite his circumstances (Psalm 42:5, 7-8, 11). Because he clings to God he knows he’s not alone in the storm, regardless of what his enemies say (Psalm 42:9-10). He knows God loves and hears his songs even in the night that surrounds him (Psalm 42:8). He trusts God’s light and truth to lead him back to the temple of God’s presence (Psalm 43:3-4).
The singing yet suffering priest knows that trusting God is not in vain even if the prospect of returning to the temple appears distant (Psalm 43:5). Even on a diet of tears, he clings to God and anticipates deliverance from the one who neither forgets nor rejects him (Psalm 42:3, 9; Psalm 43:2).
Where is the Gospel?
Like the exiled priest crying out in a foreign land, often we feel like exiles. We feel far from God’s presence. No one experienced that more acutely than Jesus. Like the priest in the temple, Jesus left God’s house in heaven where joy and worship once surrounded him. He was an exile in a world that neither recognized him nor accepted him. Even though he came to the people he created, he was surrounded by strangers and enemies (John 1:10-11). Jesus was the ultimate homeless priest in exile.
But Jesus was an exiled priest for a purpose. He came to carry the exile of the very same people who treated him as a stranger. Jesus' enemies dragged him outside of Jerusalem to suffer and die on a cross (Hebrews 13:12). Jesus’ enemies mocked his suffering as if to prove he’d been forgotten by his Father (Isaiah 52:14; Matthew 27:39-43). Jesus was abandoned by all comforts, all friends—and for a time, by God. He was stripped to nothingness in his exile. He panted for water and cried out to God who had rejected him (Luke 22:47-53; John 19:28). But in the violent storm of his darkest hours, Jesus clung to God, trusting that God would bring him out of death and restore him (1 Peter 2:23).
And God heard the cry of his exiled priest. After three days in the grave Jesus rose from death and ended the exile of his people. Never again can enemies, people, time, or even sin separate us from God’s presence (Romans 8:38-39). His parched words on the cross, “It is finished,” meant that separation from God was over for anyone who clings to Jesus as their rock of salvation. He is their end of our exile (John 19:30). Jesus was surrounded by enemies and cast out of God’s presence so that he can bring all who cling to him to their eternal and joyful home (John 14:6).
See for Yourself
I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to see the God who comes near those who are far from home. And may you see Jesus as the one who brings those who cling to him into a home of everlasting joy.