Exploring the Meaning of Psalms 43
By Rev. Julian Duckworth
Psalm 43 is a short psalm with the theme of turning towards God in times of trouble. It begins with a direct supplication to God: ‘Judge me, O God, and plead my cause’ which leads on to an increasing conviction of the power and truth of God as the psalm ends. Verse 2 has the twofold question we all tend to ask about God in times of trouble, “Why do you cast me off? “Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
The opening words ‘Judge me’ should more accurately say, ‘Judge for me’ or ‘Vindicate me’. This brings out the spiritual meaning of God judging us, because God knows everything about us and the causes of our intentions, many of which we don’t know ourselves. The Lord only ever judges for us, not against us, and even when we have set our heart on evil, the Lord knows it all, and every reason why.
Here, the speaker is sure of his devotion to God even while he experiences the deceits and lies that surround him or fill his thinking. His trust and confidence in the ‘God of my strength’ enables him to consider why his God seems to have cast him off, and seems to have left him in mourning. Spiritually, this brings out the important point that the way we understand God and his ways is of vital help to us. If we do not understand God, we will fall into thinking that God does cast us adrift or has no care for our anguish. When we are equipped with understanding, we see that this is only the appearance to us as far as we are concerned. (Arcana Caelestia 1838)
The middle verse 3 has a powerful statement which breaks through and brings answers to the previous two questions: ‘Send out Your light and Your truth!’ Let them lead me.’ This is all part of the cycle of losing sight of the Lord and coming back into his presence. It is good to notice the number of pairs of words used in this section: ‘light and truth’, ‘hill and tabernacle’, ‘altar and harp’. While paired words are a feature of singing, spiritually, this dualism is about the Lord’s good and the Lord’s truth. For us, Divine good is God and Divine truth is from God for us to see how good is the purpose of everything that God does. (Arcana Caelestia 5194)
The ‘altar’ of God stands for God as Divine good and love. The altar is the centrepiece of our worship and devotion to God. It is also the place of sacrifice and holiness as we give our life to the Lord to use. It is also the seat of mercy and our love and care for others just as the Lord loves and cares for us. (Apocalypse Explained 391.3) The ‘harp’ in the same verse stands for the Lord’s Divine truth which sounds, resonates, harmonises with us, and gives us a form, like music does, to feel the power and beauty of love and good. (Apocalypse Revealed 276)
The psalm ends with a command to us, something which is of great spiritual importance for us, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope in God: for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” This direct command makes a fine close to the psalm, and spiritually it expresses the core of faith, truth, and hope, that whatever our present state, we look towards a renewed sense of the Lord with us, just as He has been in the past. It also touches well on the spiritual idea that we need to compel ourselves to live by the truth we know and not wait for the Lord to act for us. (Divine Providence 129)