“These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival” (Ps. 42:4)
According to Albert Barnes, the things being remembered refer to the banishment from communal worship as God, as well as the mocking of his enemies. Rather than merely indicating that these things happen to occur to him, Barnes says that the Psalmist means to communicate that he is deliberately and purposefully resolving to meditate upon these things in order in order to keep them from leaving his memory. He says that the future tense ought to be used, and that its purpose indicates a resolution to contemplate such things.
The Psalmist indicates that he pours out his soul within him. Barnes says that the Hebrew literally means “upon me,” thus, “I pour out my soul upon me.” It indicates that his soul seems to be dissolved as though water, losing its consistency and firmness as though it were liquid. As Barnes notes, “We speak now of the soul as being melted, tender, dissolved, with sympathy or grief, or as overflowing with joy.” (compare Job 30:16 Lamentations 2:12. Psalm 22:14). It is possible that David is here indicating that he weeps and drenches himself with tears.
The word translated “multitude” in this place is used only here. It refers to a thicket of trees. “The Septuagint renders it, “I will pass on to the place of the wonderful tabernacle,” σκηνῆς θαυμαστῆς skēnēs thaumastēs. So the Latin Vulgate. Luther translates it, “multitude,” Haufen.” Barnes notes that the purpose of the future tense indicates that the Psalmist expects his trials to end with joy. Thus, this depression is not utter despair, but merely a temporary bout of religious melancholy. However, NASB translates this in the past tense. Thus, the translators reject the idea that David is expecting a resolution of his depression. Instead, he nostalgically contemplates a time when worship was an occasion of joy rather than sorrow. Luther translates the text “For I would gladly go hence with the multitude,” and thus, he disagrees with this translation, though Barnes indicates an awareness that some render it past tense. Barnes believes that David writes this from exile because he has been banished from the physical house of worship. More specifically, it refers to the tabernacle.
This passage highlights the importance of social support for depression. More specifically, from a Christian perspective, it highlights the importance of communal worship. Depression is infinitely more bearable when we have a sympathetic ear and when we know that others are praying for us. This also makes us feel less alone in our depression because others can relate that they have struggled with similar depression, and they can comfort us with the comfort with which they themselves have been comforted, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1. Indeed, in this passage, Paul’s point is that Paul sometimes lets us languish away in depression in order that we might become his means of comforting others by being able to relate to them and being a shoulder they can cry on. Paul acknowledges the importance of such empathy when he exhorts us, in Romans 12, to weep with those who weep.
Christians may feel metaphorically banished from the house of God insofar as they feel that God has left them and the joy of religion is a thing of the past. They may long for the past when they enjoyed being Christians, rejoicing in fellowship with their brethren. Whether from circumstance or a chemical imbalance or spiritual desertion, we naturally breathe and pant after communion with God. It is recommended that the Christian take advantage of the means of grace in order to fan into flame the gift of the Holy Spirit imparted to him at the time of his conversion. The Hebrew that references going to the house of God may indicate that he intends to go slowly (cf. Isaiah 38:15, “I shall go softly all my years”) indicating a slow and solemn procession. Too many Christians worship casually. For example, we oftentimes mutter and stumble carelessly in our speech when praying to God, speaking without thinking carefully beforehand what it is we mean to tell him. How can we approach any king, much less the king of kings, with such carelessness?
Reference to the multitude keeping festival uses a different, more typical, word, than that translated “throng” by the NASB. It refers to a clamorous noise, “as of rain, 1 Kings 18:41; then, a multitude or crowd making a noise, as of nations, or of an army, Isaiah 13:4; Judges 4:7; Daniel 11:11-13.” The festival being kept refers to leaping and dancing (Ex. 5:1; Lev. 23:41) and the festivals themselves may be, more particularly, the feast of tabernacles, Pentecost, and so on. He used to celebrate and fellowship with his friends and worship. In any case, the remembrance being spoken of here may be a sorrowful reminiscing or an attempt to stir himself out of his despair by anticipating future experiences in worship. The Christian my comfort himself in his depression with the promise that he will one day relive his spiritual glory days, particularly upon glorification, once God is pleased to grace him with his comforting presence. On the other hand, it may be embittering for the Christian who longs for spiritual joy to recall the height from which he has fallen.