Our late Brother Allan Archer gave the following exhortation on the Saturday evening of the Adelaide Ecclesial Combined Weekend last year. The evening programme was one of praise as all lifted their voices in hymns and anthems or listened to the brethren and sisters in the choir, accompanied by the orchestra, lead our thoughts in worship and praise. The reading for the address was Psalms 42 and 43. Those who knew Brother Allan knew his delight in such evenings—however, all present knew he had been diagnosed with and was courageously battling a terminal illness which finally took his life in September this year. Those present will recall the evening and the undivided attention that was given to his stirring words. He now rests awaiting the day soon to dawn when “the God of his life” shall call forth the saints to receive their reward.

You may have noted from our reading that the title of our talk, “God my Exceeding Joy”, comes from Psalm 43. I suggest that you turn up this psalm, as most of our comments will be based upon it and its associated psalm, Psalm 42—in many ways they are just one psalm. Psalm 42 has two stanzas and two refrains, while Psalm 43 has the third stanza and the third refrain. There is our title phrase in verse 4 of Psalm 43—“God my exceeding joy”.

That’s an expression unique to this Psalm. It’s a delightful expression as it conjures up the feelings we should have towards our great God in heaven, He who is “our exceeding joy”.

Psalms 42 and 43 in fact contain a variety of expressions describing God:

  • 42:2 “the living God (El—mighty one)”

  • 42:8 “the God (El) of my life”

  • 42:9 “God (El) my rock”

  • 43:2 “the God of my strength”

  • 43:4 “God (El) my exceeding joy”

The two particular phrases that we want to focus on tonight are “the God of my life” and, of course, “God my exceeding joy”.

The Oxford Bible indicates through its headings that the two psalms are written by David, but that seems unlikely. Rather, the title to Psalm 42 indicates that they are written by a son of Korah, one of the doorkeepers appointed to the House of God in Jerusalem. He has been separated from that rôle and is feeling strongly this separation—particularly the separation from the things of his beloved God, the “God of his life”.

In verse 4 of Psalm 42 his mind goes back to those happier times when he led the processions to the Temple on the feast days. The AV has that he “went with them”, but other versions translate, “led them in procession to the house of God”. They were happy days for a devoted doorkeeper.

One of his tasks as a gatekeeper was to conduct pilgrims through the gates and lead them in procession through the Temple Courts, singing the glorious psalms of praise he had treasured from his youth. He would be trained as a musician, for he led them, as it says in verse 4, “with the voice of joy and praise”.

There would be the timpani—as we have here tonight; the stringed instruments—the early violins; the woodwind instruments—like our clarinets; and the metal instruments—like our trumpets here. As the procession ascended the hill of Zion, all would join in increasing intensity in praise of the great God. It was like a Combined Weekend when, with great benefit, we all come together to renew our fellowship.

Nevertheless, the psalmist did not see the pageantry as the most important element—he saw beyond the pageantry to the God who had given it all. For the psalmist, the heart of the matter in public worship was undoubtedly God himself.

As someone once cleverly said, “The ordinances of God are nothing without the God of the ordinances.” The psalmist saw that the house of God was nothing without the God of the house. So now, when he has been taken away from all this, his cry is unto God Himself.

 The Thirst for God

Verse 1 has a comparison with the hart or deer “panting”. In one of our hymns (23) we sing: “As pants the hart for cooling streams, when heated in the chase.” However, this was no chase from which a deer would easily recover. The word used for “panteth” is in the margin “brayeth”, and is used in Joel 1 to describe the cry of animals in the face of drought.

Thus the thirst of the psalmist for God in verse 1 is far more desperate than the hymn suggests. The poor deer is becoming increasingly desperate as drought bites into the land, and each waterpool dries up. So here the cry of the psalmist for God becomes more intense as he moves away from the place of focus of the worship of God. Verse 1 continues, “So panteth my soul after thee, O God.” How does our approach to God compare with this?

In verse 2 the psalmist longs for the living God and he seeks to appear before “the face of God”, as other versions render the end of the verse. This is the common expression used of visiting the sanctuary. So in both verse 2 and verse 4 we have this intense longing to attend again the Temple service, because that is the closest the psalmist can get to his great God.

The Desire to Attend the Meeting

The psalmist had an amazing desire to attend the meeting! How did we go attending our Bible Class last week? Perhaps we were the parent looking after the children at home in bed—a good place for them to be. Perhaps we are too elderly to get out much at night. Perhaps we had another valid reason why we could not attend. That brings us back to, say 60% of the ecclesia that could attend. How did we fare?

Well, the subject wasn’t interesting and the speaker would have been pretty drab. Surely they cannot be reasons for not attending the engine room of the ecclesia, or at least the place where Scriptural knowledge gets oiled. If the Bible Class is not interesting then the Arranging Brethren should fix it, but let us not stay home until that happens. That will not help anyone, let alone ourselves.

Imagine our psalmist expressing his longing to be back in the Temple services in Jerusalem, except when Levite X is leading the service. This would not happen! So his longing to be at the meeting is an encouraging example to stimulate us to a fuller service to God, our exceeding joy.

At the Border

Psalm 42 verses 6 and 7 tell us where the psalmist was when he penned his words. He says in verse 6: “I will remember thee from the land of Jordan”— that is, the source of the Jordan. He is in the very north of the Land, in the area where the Jordan springs out of the mountains and then tumbles down, down to the Sea of Galilee, 200 metres below sea level. He is up near the Mount Hermon range—the “Hermonites” of verse 6. Verse 6 refers to “the hill of Mizar” (margin, ‘the little hill’). Its location is now unknown. Maybe it was the lower ridge that marked the border of the land.

The psalmist is at the very border of the land, feeling the separation from his God. Verse 7 refers to “the noise of thy waterspouts”, which other versions translate as ‘the thunder of thy cataracts’.

“All thy waves and thy billows” sound like the sea, but can apply to a rushing river. The psalmist hears the noise of the waters of Jordan as they rush among the boulders and over waterfalls. The ceaseless swirl of Jordan’s tributaries fills the air with an unrest that parallels the psalmist’s spiritual turmoil, as he yearns for God’s presence. His eyes turn repeatedly to the loved country in the south and he feels intensely the separation.

Living at the Border

The psalmist was at the border of the land looking back, longing to be at the centre. Ironically, we stand at the border looking out.

Malachi in his chapter 1 refers to “the border of wickedness” surrounding Israel. Go over the border of Israel and you enter the land of Edom, where wickedness abounded. Stay within the border and there is protection—there are guiding hands and laws to regulate behaviour.

What do we do? Do we stay well within the security of our ecclesial environment, or do we spend our time out at the border? In many ways, we live at the border. We set limits beyond which we will not go. Then we spend our time at the limits!

For example, take cricket, just because it is that time of year again. We each set ourselves a border, or limit. For some the border might be never sitting down to listen to or watch a cricket match, but just hearing the score on the radio news. For others, the border might be listening only to test cricket on the radio. For others, it might be watching only test cricket on television. For others, it might be attending just one day of a test match each year.

We will all have our views on what we should do and should not do, but the important point is that having set our border, we tend to live there! It would actually be better if we stepped back from our border—if we all came back a notch or two from our limit. The psalmist wanted to come right back from the border, but could not. We can come back, but often we don’t!

Looking Out from the Border

When the psalmist was at the border of the land he was looking back to the centre of worship. However, when we are at the border of wickedness, we look out. We look at all the things that the world offers and put our mind on them. In addition, we can improve our outward vision by using technology:

  • a misused television screen, or

  • to get an even better view, a misuse of internet access.

A wise brother or sister, or young person, steps back from the border and looks inward instead. He or she looks to the ways of the ecclesia, but more fundamentally looks to God as his or her exceeding joy.

The words from Philippians 4:8 are so fundamental: “Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

The lesson is to pull back a notch or two from our borders and look inward to the “God of our life”.

“The God of My Life”

The phrase, “the God of my life”, occurs at the end of verse 8 of Psalm 42 and nowhere else in Scripture. It is a delightful phrase—“the God of my life”, or “the El of my life”.

David wrote in Psalm 27:1: “Yahweh is the strength of my life.

Earlier he said in Psalm 23:6: “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

While the phrase “God of my life” comes from a son of Korah, the inspiration for it could well have come from the life of David.

  • When David as a young shepherd boy looked up into the heavens, he reflected upon the value of God’s statutes and commandments in his life. When David as a young man heard of Goliath, he could not believe that, with God in his life, he could fail against the uncircumcised Philistine.

  • When David as king received the great promise of a son to sit upon his royal throne, he came and sat before God and poured out his grateful appreciation for God’s involvement in his life.

  • When David wrote psalms, he was always supremely conscious of the closeness of God in his life and expressed freely his love for God.

To David, God certainly was “the God of his life”, and, for the author of Psalms 42 and 43, it was the same.

What of us?

God is “the God of our life” when we walk with Him in all ways of our life. Paul referred in Colossians 3:4 to “Christ, who is our life”.

The Father and Son together must be our life—we must live in consciousness of God’s presence.

Paul in Galatians 2:20 writes: “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”.

One of our hymns (82) has the words:

“Fill Thou my life, O Lord, my God,

In every part with praise,

That my whole being may proclaim

Thy being and Thy ways.”

A Singular Life

The expression “God of my life” is singular. God is not the God of our lives—as if we have two lives, an ecclesial life and a work life. He is going to be the same God for us on Monday morning as He is today and tomorrow. Therefore, our lives need to be lived consistently. We are not two people. The Lord Jesus Christ was always the same—whether he was approached on a Sabbath day or on a workday. Are our work colleagues, or the people down the street, seeing another person?

Sometimes “the God of our life” can accidentally be moved aside. At times our lives can be so busy that “the God of our life” is not to the forefront. The increased number of hours worked per week by Australians over the past 15 to 20 years can have that effect.

I used to be part of that, working long hours. Then at the beginning of this year I was forced to give it all up, virtually instantaneously. Did I miss it? Not one little bit!

The lesson is that

  • we can draw back,

  • we can come back a notch or two, and

  • we must have more often before us “the God

God My Exceeding Joy

The last verses from the psalms that we want to look at tonight are verses 3 and 4 of Psalm 43 which contain our title phrase “God my exceeding joy”. The margin says “the gladness of my joy”. Whatever way, this son of Korah has such an intense appreciation of his God.

In verse 3 the psalmist pleads, “Send out thy light and thy truth”—he wants to know the right way. His intense desire was closeness to God, in “thy holy hill” and in “thy tabernacles”. His great desire was to be associated with all God’s dwelling places.

Another son of Korah wrote in Psalm 84:1: “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!”, or “How lovely are thy dwellings”. The dwellings of God would provide the source of instruction, for which the psalmist thirsts. No way would he plan to miss our Combined Weekends and combined lectures.

In full confidence, as expressed in verse 4, the psalmist expects to return to “the altar of God, to God his exceeding joy”. What an inspirational concept that is for us! Do we have that desire to be close to the God of our life, the God of our exceeding joy?

Responses from China

We were at the Bible School in China, held at the beginning of this month, and we asked three of our brothers and sisters there to write down their thoughts. You will be interested in the following extracts from their articles that show clearly that God has become their exceeding joy.

Our newly baptised Sis Linda writes:

“I will keep reading God’s words every day to make me grow continuously in our family in my future life. At the same time, I will share God’s love and words with all the people of the world. God blesses all of us, my dear brothers and sisters. I hope to have your further teaching and helpfulness.”

Bro Alex writes:

“To cap it all, I am extremely thankful to our heavenly God and our Lord, Christ Jesus, through whom we have had the privilege to meet together and encourage one another in sincerity and in truth. I am overcome by my emotion as I write this.”

Newly baptised Bro Lee wrote a poem in Chinese about his baptism. Though it is hard to translate this into an English poem, his thoughts of joy and thankfulness are very evident.

“Learning the message, my heart is struggling, my mind is battling.

For one year I reasoned through God’s words, read every sentence.

At last, my decision is made, the most important decision in my life—

To be baptised into Christ’s saving name according to the commandment.

October 6th, on this beautiful day, I declared my belief in the name of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

When my body was fully immersed in the water, I could feel when Christ said, ‘It is finished’, on the cross.  This day I started to carry my cross and follow Christ.

Oh, my heart is filled with joy!”

Well, there is the evident exceeding joy of our brothers and sisters in the newfound ways of God—God who is their exceeding joy.

The psalmist says in verse 4 that he will praise God upon “the harp”, the stringed instrument. We come tonight to have the strings of our hearts touched. We, too, are going to be uplifted by the musicians, with their stringed and other instruments.

Messiah Items

As shown on page 4 of our programme, the focus of the Messiah segment after our next hymn is “The Joy of the Victory provided by the Lord and His Christ”. God, our exceeding joy, has made open the way whereby our joy might be fulfilled.

The segment starts with the spread of the gospel to the end of the world. Many of us have been privileged to be part of this spread of the gospel to lands where God is being accepted with exceeding joy.

We will all stand for the Hallelujah chorus because of the joy it expresses in the coming reign of our God, our exceeding joy. We do not stand just because King George stood when Messiah was first performed. Standing shows our respect for the greatness of our God in His way of salvation through His Christ:

“Hallelujah; for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. King of Kings and Lords of Lords.”

Here is the time when “the God of our life” will be clearly seen as the God of everybody’s life.

The Hallelujah chorus is cleverly followed by a quieter piece about the work of the Redeemer. There could be no kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ without the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the hope of resurrection:

“I know that my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God. For now is Christ risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that slept.”

No wonder we have exceeding joy in our God and must make him “the God of our life”.

The Messiah segment finishes with:

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain and hath redeemed us to God by his blood.”

With such a hope, we can only come and bow down in gratitude before “the God of our life”, “God our exceeding joy”.

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 1:24).