“These things I remember
And I shall pour out my soul before me;
For I pass over and into a refuge and walk slowly as far as the house of God.
In a great voice and with thanksgiving
The multitude celebrates.”
(Psalm 42:5 [verse 4 in English translations])
The “these things” refers back to the taunting of the enemies of God’s people found in the previous verse, and here, then, is the psalmist’s response to such taunting…he pours out his soul before him. Often, the idea of pouring out is associated with a drink offering that is made, but we also find it in connection with the idea of prayer, with one’s heart and life laid before God. As Jeremiah writes:
Arise! And cry out at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water before the face of God!
Lift the hollows of your hands toward him over the soul of your children—
Those who are feeble from hunger at the beginning of every street.
How it is that one of our great privileges is that we can pour out our souls before God, lay the cares of our hearts before his throne and know that he hears and will answer. What comfort there is, beloved that we have a God who hears and can empathize with us in our sorrows. Thus, from the depths of his very being, the psalmist cries out before God, pouring out the depths of his life before the throne of our Great God.
The words that follow are a little vague, but they seem to be a reflection upon the various celebrations that take place during the Jewish year. During the year, there were three festivals (Passover, Booths, the Day of Atonement) where it was required that all Jews present themselves in Jerusalem if at all physically possible and then there were a variety of additional festivals where, while not mandated by Jewish Law, it was encouraged that faithful Jews come to the Temple as well. These were times of great corporate celebration and were times when the population of Jerusalem would swell to the bursting point.
The most cryptic point of the passage is the language of taking refuge in a place while slowly walking to the Temple. Some have suggested that this is a reference to the Festival of Booths, where Jews would set up tents or booths on their roof to live in for a week as a reminder of the Israelites’ years living in tents in the wilderness. At the same time, while the word I translated here as “refuge” can be translated as “tent” or “shelter,” it is not the same word that refers to the shelters that are made during the Festival of Booths. Most likely, the best way to see this is as a more general reference to the various times the psalmist has en given the privilege of worshiping in the Temple courts.
In the end, the psalmist celebrates. And this, beloved, is something that should grab our heart. How easy it is for things that are regularly done in our lives to become routine and commonplace—even good things. How often our time of Sunday worship simply becomes a matter of going through the motions—the thing we do on Sunday because it is what we have always done. Yet, the worship of God should never be stale to the believer—it should be the thing we look forward to all week long. We are quick to pour out our hearts in lamentation, let us indeed be even quicker in pouring out our lives in the celebration of the mighty God we serve.