Verse of the Week – Psalm 43:5
“Why are you in despair, my soul? And why are you restless within me? Wait for God, for I will again praise Him For the help of His presence, my God.” – Psalm 43:5
First, let us look at the first four verses spoken by David directly to God. Starting in verse one we read, “Vindicate me, God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; Save me from the deceitful and unjust person!” Psalm 43:1. David cites the hesed in verse one of the Lord, as the rationale for claiming a right to God’s judgment. The word hesed occurs around 245 times in the Hebrew Bible, and 127 times in the Psalms. One Jewish scholar defines hesed as “a free-flowing love that knows no bounds.”
Many biblical words such as mercy, compassion, love, grace, and faithfulness relate to the Hebrew word hesed (חֶסֶד), but none of these completely summarize the concept. Hesed is not merely an emotion or feeling but also action on behalf of someone who is in need. Hesed describes a sense of love and loyalty that brings mercy and compassion toward another person to help them through their trials. Hesed is most closely connected in the Hebrew Bible with the covenant relationship between God and the children of Israel. In Genesis 15, God covenants with Abram, saying: “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:” Genesis 15:18. Then following in chapter 17 we read, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land where you live as a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.” Genesis 17:7-9.” Then in Exodus 19, God speaks to the children of Israel regarding their responsibility. “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” Exodus 19:5-6. In each instance, God calls the Israelites into a unique and special relationship centered around a covenant.
Hesed is often used in parallel with the Hebrew word ʾemeṯ, which is translated as faithfulness. In Psalm 43:1 for example, David declares that the people have no hesed, meaning either the Philistines, among whom he was near to; or his own nation when they joined his son Absalom in rebellion against him: some understand it of the great numbers that were with Saul, when he was persecuted by him. No matter which, they were a people who hated David, his followers, and the God he served. And thus, they had no hesed. Then in Exodus, God declares the following, “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in faithfulness and truth; who keeps faithfulness for thousands, who forgives wrongdoing, violation of His Law, and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, inflicting the punishment of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’” Exodus 34:6–7.
In the next verse, we see David confronted by a people who have no knowledge of hesed, this special relationship between God and His people. He asks questions of God that parallel the questions in Psalm 42. “For You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” Psalm 43:2. Notice the similarity in chapter 43. “For You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” Psalm 42:9.
Next, we read David’s request from God because of what he was experiencing. “Send out Your light and Your truth, they shall lead me; They shall bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places. Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And I will praise You on the lyre, God, my God.” Psalm 43:3-4. David quickly moves to petition God and anticipating His results of granting that petition. He requests that God send His light (‘Ohr’) and faithfulness (ʾemeṯ) because they will bring him to the mountain and will come to the altar and praise Him. The Hebrew word ‘Ohr’ has the idea of ‘light’, which in today’s definition means illumination or an agent that makes something visible. But, in Hebrew, light or ohr means something more. Ohr also has the idea of “giving order to something chaotic.” And the Hebrew word ‘emet’ has the idea of truth, right, and faithful. Light and faithfulness are not commonly paired in the poetic structure of the Hebrew Psalms. Perhaps David asks for light so that the path to the mountain of God’s holiness and the sanctuary will be clear and for faithfulness such that he is not distracted from following the path. Only then will David be able to come to the altar, encounter God with gladness, with rejoicing, and praise. And to make this thought clear, it is not an earthly holy hill or alter, but one in the heavenly presence of God.
Then in our focus verse David changes from speaking to God to speaking to his inner self. “Why are you in despair, my soul? And why are you restless within me? Wait for God, for I will again praise Him For the help of His presence, my God.” Psalm 43:5. He calls his inmost being to wait for God. But, in keeping with the contrast already drawn above, David’s words seem not so much to draw the inmost being back from the brink of despair but to gently remind himself to wait and be confident in God. He will wait on God to send His light and faithfulness, and they will guide him to the altar of God so he can give Him much praise and worship.
In our struggles with those who do not honor the hesed of God, Psalm 43 offers us words with which to request light and faithfulness from God. It gives us words of assurance that no matter our situation, we may always come to the altar and praise the God who delivers us, for He never forgets us and always loves us. This is a statement, poetically phrased as a question whose answer should be obvious. It’s natural to be tempted towards despair and discouragement. Despite our feelings, we know God is faithful and that He will ultimately vindicate His people. For that reason, we should be encouraged to put all our trust in the Lord.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.