Korah, a Levite, led a rebellion against Moses in the wilderness and was judged by God, but his descendants continued to serve faithfully as musicians and choir leaders through David’s reign and in the Temple for hundreds of years (2 Chron 20:18-19). They wrote this ‘maskil’ or teaching psalm, addressing a deeply relevant universal issue of spiritual dryness – the loss of a believer’s intimate relationship with God, its consequences and solution. It is critical to note that the writer has not moved away from God, but still trusted and believed in Him.
The psalmist began by describing his poignant predicament amid this aridity that had overtaken him and why does his God not help him. The metaphor of a thirsty deer not finding water in a stream that normally quenches her, speaks of the condition of his soul longing for a sense of God’s presence (vv.1-2). It is pertinent to observe that the writer does not speak of any wrongdoing that may have caused this spiritual drought. It just happened! However, the reverse can also be true: viz., spiritual aridness can be the result of sin in one’s life, and how we go about handling it often determines whether we would alienate ourselves from God in the long term, or regain His presence. But the important point is that whenever this condition arises, it is prudent that we wisely explore whether any causative factors exist.
Life can be cruel and merciless, and some inexplicable trials could have brought him to the point of despair (vv.3, 7, 9, 10). From his own descriptions, he was probably in a depressive phase, but we are not told how long he found himself in this predicament; when he was not taking his meals (v.3), cried incessantly through the day and the night, and was experiencing insomnia and physical weariness (vv.3, 5-7, 9, 10). Within a holistic worldview, physical weakness or tiredness do invariably contribute towards a level of spiritual malaise and discouragement. Alternatively, could the loss of God’s presence so disappointed him that it plunged him into this state? On the top of these symptoms, his opponents were also mocking his faith and he felt very alone (vv.3, 9, 10). Although he did not divulge what he was doing in the north of the country (viz., Mount Hermon; v.6) nor how he got there, he recalled how he used to exuberantly participate in the important festival days in Jerusalem as he led the people (v.4). It is possible that the psalmist was part of a larger Jewish diaspora group during the exile years. Believers belong in communities then and now, and these religious events are vital in the bonding process where it encourages us in our corporate appreciation of God’s presence as the ‘body of Christ’ (Eph 4:4-16).
Sprinkled throughout the psalm were the answers to his condition. The first thing he did was to pour out his soul to God (v.4); in our context, he continued to engage in studying the Scriptures, persisted in worship and prayer, and meeting with those in the community of faith. He did not allow his feelings to determine his commitments to the spiritual disciplines he used to practice. Next, he examined himself, “How did I end up so downcast? Did I put my hopes in someone or something else other than God?” Some soul searching was appropriate, so he would be able to refocus again his hopes in his Lord (v.5, 11). He recalled past instances of God’s covenant faithfulness and lovingkindness to him, and these reminiscences awakened a song and a prayer of thankfulness from within him (v.8). And finally, which was what he did throughout the psalm, he dialogued with himself that God will not forsake him nor give him up, and he needed again to “hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (v.5, 8, 11). This internalized conversation or self-talk, guided by the Holy Spirit, is a valuable engagement of our mind and heart in working through our emotions and thoughts, especially in hard-hitting circumstances, in order to clear away the mist clouding our present judgment; as exemplified by this Korahite’s journey through a difficult period of his life when God seemed to have disappeared from his presence.