Psalm of the Face

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Dictionaries tell us that “shame” is a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace. What things in your life are causing you to experience shame? This week. Right now.

When we feel shame we generally wish to turn away from those with whom we normally feel safe but before whom we now feel distant or even guilty. We cannot look at them. We have “lost face,” if you will. So we turn our faces away. The result can be deprivation for the soul. An emptiness inside. Like some deer panting for streams of water, so it is we wander, thirsty, desperate, desiring something to remedy the shame.

It was this experience that prompted the psalmist of old to offer this important prayer known as Psalm 42:

 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
  so pants my soul for you, O God.
 My soul thirsts for God,
  for the living God.
 When shall I come and appear before God?
 My tears have been my food
  day and night,
 while they say to me all the day long,
  “Where is your God?”
 These things I remember,
  as I pour out my soul:
 how I would go with the throng
  and lead them in procession to the house of God
 with glad shouts and songs of praise,
  a multitude keeping festival.
 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
  and why are you in turmoil within me?
 Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
  my salvation and my God.
 My soul is cast down within me;
  therefore I remember you
 from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
  from Mount Mizar.
 Deep calls to deep
  at the roar of your waterfalls;
 all your breakers and your waves
  have gone over me.
 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
  and at night his song is with me,
  a prayer to the God of my life.
 I say to God, my rock:
  “Why have you forgotten me?
 Why do I go mourning
  because of the oppression of the enemy?”
 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
  my adversaries taunt me,
 while they say to me all the day long,
  “Where is your God?”
 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
  and why are you in turmoil within me?
 Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
  my salvation and my God.

It is a picturesque prayer, filled with many compelling images. One particular kind of imagery stands out amongst the rest, however, capturing our attention, and it has to do with “faces” (which is why I refer to this psalm as “The Psalm of the Face”). Note Psalm 42:2. It reads, literally,

My soul thirsts for God,
  for the living God.
 When shall I come and see the face of God?

For the one beaten down, weary, spiritually hungry or thirsty, and wandering helplessly for anything to satisfy, like some deer in a dry land, to “see the face of God” would be to recapture rest and refreshment, approval and satisfaction. It would be to find reconciliation and the peace and quietude that comes with such. How many times do you ask yourself, deep down inside of your soul, “when shall I come and see the face of God?”

What a remarkable thing it is that the psalmist is then able to declare that God is, literally, “the salvation of my face” (Psalm 42:5, 11; see also Psalm 43:5). And why can the psalmist declare this? Because in the midst of all his shame he chooses to “remember” (Psalm 42:4, 6) ways in which God has manifested his personal presence in the past, through seasons of worship and celebration (thus, verse 4) and companionship in the wilderness (thus verse 5). He recalls chiefly that daily God “commands” his loving-kindness and tender mercy over his life (see verse 8). These things remind the psalmist that he may have hope, for God is the “salvation of [his] face.” Even in the midst of the shame, and the psalmist’s instinctive desire to turn away, God’s victorious deliverance (from the Hebrew yĕshuw`ah in verses 5 and 11) is manifested from God right into the psalmist’s face. It is as if God wants to take our crestfallen countenance in his hands, lift up our chins, and look straight into our eyes with words that say, “I love you and all will be well. Hope in me.”

What an amazing and incredible gift from our God!

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“Write This Down” is a summary of select teaching moments offered by Pastor Matthew. The preceding summary is from the message “Book II: Psalms 42-72”, the second message from a brief series entitled “Verses to the King: A Survey of the Psalms,” a study through the Psalms, presented on the weekend of June 2, 2013, at Bethel Church.

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