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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 42

Book Two (Psalms 42-72).

The Book of Psalms divides up into five sections, of which this is the second, each of which ends with a special ‘blessing, which are as follows:

· Book 1. Psalms 1-41, which ends with ‘blessed be YHWH the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting, Amen and Amen.’

· Book 2. Psalms 42-72 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH God, the God of Israel, Who only does wonderful things. And blessed be His glorious name for ever, and let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.’

· Book 3. Psalms 73-89 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH for evermore. Amen and Amen.’

· Book 4. Psalms 90-106 which ends with ‘Blessed be YHWH the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting, and let all the people say, “Amen”. Praise you YHWH.’

· Book 5. Psalms 107-150 which ends with ‘Let everything that has breath praise YHWH’. Praise you YHWH.’

In this second book of Psalms it is noticeable that the greater emphasis throughout, as compared with the first section, is on God as ELOHIM. But this, while noticeable, must not be over-exaggerated for the name YHWH certainly does appear fairly often (Psalms 42:8; Psalms 46:7-8; Psalms 46:11; Psalms 47:2; Psalms 47:5; Psalms 48:1; Psalms 48:8; Psalms 50:1; Psalms 54:6; Psalms 55:16; Psalms 55:22; Psalms 56:10; Psalms 58:6; Psalms 59:3; Psalms 59:5; Psalms 59:8; Psalms 64:10; Psalms 68:4 (YH); Psalms 68:7; Psalms 68:16; Psalms 68:20; Psalms 69:13; Psalms 69:16; Psalms 69:31; Psalms 69:33; Psalms 70:5; Psalms 71:1; Psalms 71:5; Psalms 71:16; Psalms 72:18, (as also does ‘Lord’ - ADONAI), and it should be noted that the name YHWH appears in the verse which ends the section (Psalms 72:18), although there specifically associated with ELOHIM, for there He is YHWH ELOHIM. So in the end this section also is dedicated to YHWH. It is only in contrast with the first section (1-41), where YHWH predominates, that we particularly notice the change of title/Name.

This Second Book contains Psalms from two main sources, firstly from a collection entitled ‘of the sons of Korah’ (42-49), and the remainder from a collection entitled ‘of David’. Apart from these there are two which are simply dedicated ‘for the Chief Musician’ (66; 67), one headed ‘of Asaph’ (50; see next section), and the final one which is entitled ‘of Solomon’. Interestingly the section ends with the note ‘the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended’ (Psalms 72:20). But this would simply seem to refer to the fact that the group which are ‘of David’ in this particular Book is now being concluded, for a number of Psalms of David will also be found in later sections. It might, however, have seemed to add strength to the idea that, at least in this section, ‘of David’ is intended to indicate authorship, were it not for the fact that the final Psalm before the note is actually ‘of Solomon’ (the son of David) which might suggest the opposite, i.e. that a Psalm by Solomon could easily be seen as ‘a prayer of ‘David’ (that is, of the Davidic house).

The sons of Korah were Levites who had important responsibilities, first with respect to the Tabernacle and then with respect to the Temple. Originally they acted as sentinels for the camp of the Levites, then as warders of the sacred Tent erected by David to contain the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH when it was brought into Jerusalem, and then as gatekeepers of the Temple, an important position which they resumed on their return from Babylon (1 Chronicles 9:17 ff; 1 Chronicles 26:1 ff; Nehemiah 11:19). It was they who determined who were to be allowed into the Temple, and the chief gatekeepers had responsibility for a number of other important Temple functions.

They were also prominent in connection with sacred song in the Temple. Heman, who was one of the three principle musicians appointed by David, was a ‘son of Korah’ (1 Chronicles 6:31-33), and his sons were leaders of fourteen of the twenty four courses of musicians in the Temple (1 Chronicles 25:4 ff). In the time of Jehoshaphat, along with the sons of Kohath, they are mentioned for their singing role. There is, however, no mention of this singing role after the Exile.

Some of their Psalms certainly breathe a spirit of strong devotion to the Temple, and of joy in its services, as we might expect, and they refer to the city of Jerusalem as the city which He has chosen for His own dwellingplace, and where He reigns as King. But they are equally certainly not unique in this, and their Psalms contain much else besides. It would indeed be wrong to narrowly categorise their Psalms as a specific type, for they include intensely personal Psalms (42-43; 84), national Psalms (44; 46-48; 85), and a miscellany of Psalms with a distinctive flavour (45; 49; 87; 88). The ones in this section (42-49) appear mainly to date from the period of the first Temple (note e.g. the mention of the king in 45; 46; 48), and there are in fact no grounds for dating any of these Psalms later than this period. The consequence of this is that we might well call these first two sections of the Psalms ‘the hymnbook of the first Temple’, although this must not be seen as excluding some later Psalms as also being sung in the first Temple. They were, however, later clearly incorporated into the larger collection which includes Exilic and post-Exilic Psalms, which were used in ‘the second Temple’.

Commentary On Psalms 42-59.

Up to Psalms 50:0 these are mainly Psalms of the sons of Korah (see above), with Psalms 50:0 being a psalm of Asaph. Further Psalms of Asaph and of the sons of Korah are found in Book 3. From Psalms 51:0 onwards we have further Psalms of David.

It is probable that we should see Psalms 42-43 as one Psalm separated for liturgical reasons. Rarely for a psalm, Psalms 43:0 has no heading, and it contains the same refrain as we find repeated in Psalms 42:0 in slightly different ways,

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?

And why are you disquieted within me?

Hope you in God,

For I will yet praise him,

Who is the help of my countenance,

And my God.’

It also fits the general balance of the whole. However, it is not a matter of great importance for it make no difference to what the two Psalms have to say to us. We will thus be looking at them together.

These refrains divide the Psalms up into three sections:

1) In the first section he expresses his longings to once again be in the House of God, and he brings to memory past times in the House of God which are intended to encourage him. God will surely not forget these times. Why then should he be cast down, for God will surely ensure what is for His own wellbeing (for the health of His countenance), His servant’s renewed praise (Psalms 42:1-5).

2) In the second section he has become more aware of the pressures on him, but his confidence has grown as he recognises that, in spite of all, God Himself is his rocky fortress, and he need not therefore be cast down because God is the One Who make his countenance healthy and is his God (Psalms 42:6-11).

3) In the third section he is confident of God’s coming deliverance through His light and truth, and looks forward to again worshipping God in His house. And once again he need not therefore be cast down because God is the One Who make his countenance healthy and is his God (Psalms 43:1-5).


For the Chief Musician. Maschil of the sons of Korah.

The meaning of Maschil in this context is not certain. It is used to describe a number of Psalms. But the word maschil means ‘understanding’. It has been variously interpreted as meaning, ‘a teaching Psalm’ (although that does not appear to fit all its uses), ‘a meditation’, bringing understanding, or a ‘skilful Psalm’ indicating a complicated setting.

The chief musician. or choirmaster, was responsible for the music in the Temple. For the sons of Korah see the introduction to this section.

The Psalmist Describes His Longing Again To Know The Presence of God, Especially As It Was Known In The Assembly Of God People. But He Then Comforts Himself With The Thought That He Can Remember Him Wherever He Is And That One Day God Will Bring Him Back To His House So That He May Praise Him There.

It is clear from the Psalm that the writer is somehow prevented from coming to the House of God, and so enjoying His presence in fellowship with His people. He would appear to be in North West Jordan near Mount Hermon (Psalms 42:6). It is not really possible from this information to determine a real life situation to be found in Scripture. We have indeed no way of knowing who he was. All we know is that he was prevented from coming to the House of God, and attending the feasts, and that he found this situation very distressing. He may have been banished, or taken captive and held for ransom. But his great concern is that it is keeping him from worshipping with the people of God, in the place appointed by God. For it must be noted that his distress lay in the fact that this prevented him from enjoying the deep experience of God that he had found there, not just in missing out on festal occasions. It is a Psalm for all who love God and find themselves in isolated situations.

Verses 1-2

‘As the hind pants after the water brooks,

So pants my soul after you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God:

When shall I come and see the face of God?’

He commences by describing the great longing that he has to enjoy the presence of God, and compares it with the gentle, timorous hind (the verb is feminine) which, in a season of drought, pants and longs for water with its tongue hanging out (compare Joel 1:20 - ‘for the animals in the wild pant to you, for the water brooks are dried up’. See also Psalms 63:1). So in the same way does the Psalmist long after God, the living God. He has a great thirst for God. And he wonders how long it will be before he can again enjoy entering His presence in the company of His people.

The idea of the living God as the One Who satisfies the thirst of His people appears constantly in Scripture. See Isaiah 55:1-3; Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13; Jeremiah 36:8-19; John 4:10-14. It is especially poignant for those who live in hot countries and know what real thirst is.

‘See the face of God.’ To enter into God’s House worshipping with His people was for him to see the face of God, to be aware of His presence, and to know that He was there. And he longed for the experience again.

Verse 3

‘My tears have been my food day and night,

While they continually say to me,

Where is your God?’

Indeed so powerful are his feelings that he describes himself as weeping day and night so as to satisfy his emotional state, because his enemies taunt him continually about the fact that God does not help him (compare Psalms 42:10). His desire to join in worship with God’s people was so great that he could not stop thinking about it, and weeping over his loss. Reference to the words of his captors may suggest that even in his present condition he had been testifying about the greatness and splendour of his God. It may also indicate that he was being kept short of food. His tears were his food.

Verse 5

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?

And why are you disquieted within me?

Hope you in God,

For I will yet praise him

For the help of his countenance.

And so he rebukes himself and speaks to his inner soul, and asks it why it is disquieted within him. He reminds himself that because he serves the living God (Psalms 42:2) he can have confident hope in God, knowing that God will come to his aid. He is sure therefore that one day he will once again be found in His House praising Him, because God will look on him with favour (give him the help of His countenance) and will therefore ensure his final restoration.

Verses 6-7

‘O my God, my soul is cast down within me,

Therefore do I remember you from the land of the Jordan,

And the Hermons, from the hill Mizar.

Deep calls to deep at the noise of your downpourings,

All your waves and your billows are gone over me.

His disquietude is not, however, totally removed by his previously expressed confidence. The struggle goes on within him. And now he calls on God to witness the cast down state of his soul. Nevertheless this causes him to remember God, even from where he is. But even this only makes him think of overflowing and unfriendly waters. His faith is fluctuating between confidence and despair.

The description suggests that he is in the north west part of land around the River Jordan, near Mount Hermon (‘the Hermons’ probably refers either to the Hermon range, or possibly to the three peaks at different levels discernible on Mount Hermon itself). He would appear to be on the hill Mizar (‘the little mountain’). The identity of this latter is not known. Possibly he had been taken by bandits, or by marauding invaders, and was held in one of their mountain strongholds, but he certainly felt a long way away from Jerusalem.

He describes his emotions very powerfully. He feels as though he is being drowned at sea in a storm, ‘all your waves and billows are gone over me’. Perhaps he was familiar with fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee where violent storms tended to erupt. If so, he may well have witnessed the drowning of his fellow countrymen at sea. He might also have had in mind the story of the Flood, or have called to mind what had happened to the Egyptian forces at the Red Sea. This was what happened to those of whom God disapproved. Whichever it was he felt as though he himself was almost drowning in torrents of water, as though his end was not far away.

Others see in it a reference to the waters of Chaos which constantly threaten mankind. But there is nothing about the description to especially suggest this. He may well, however, have been able to hear the sound of powerful, rushing waterfalls nearby, and have seen them as calling to each other to drown him in their torrents as he is ‘caught’ between them (‘deep calls to deep’), especially if it was at the time of the winter rains when such torrents would pour down in majestic fashion from Mount Hermon and other mountains, before flowing down to swell the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Flood water would be very much in mind. Possibly it was a combination of a number of these factors, brought to mind by the raging torrents and waterfalls caused by the winter rains, that made him think in these terms. But the final point is that he is drowning in despair.

Verses 8-10

‘Yet in the daytime YHWH used to command his covenant love,

And in the night his song was with me,

Even a prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God my rock, Why have you forgotten me?

Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

With crushing in my bones,

My adversaries reproach me,

While they continually say to me,

Where is your God?’

But he thinks back to the days when in the daytime YHWH used to command His covenant love, while in the night time he would remember God’s songs, which contained a prayer to the God Who had given him life. They had been happy and secure days when it had seemed that nothing could ever go wrong. Surely then God had not now forgotten him. Thus he determines to buck himself up, and to ask God, Whom he sees as his rock and fortress (no doubt having in mind the craggy fortress in which he is being held) why He has forgotten him, and has allowed him to find himself in this predicament. Why should he be living in mourning at the oppression of his captors, which makes him feel as if he is being crushed. Why should God allow his adversaries to reproach him, as they continually say to him, ‘Where is your God?’ (compare Psalms 42:3).

Note the mention of YHWH. His good memories have brought back the thought that God is his covenant God, which is why he speaks of covenant love (chesed). or perhaps it was precisely because he was about to speak of covenant love, that he uniquely speaks of YHWH. The two go together. He saw himself as very much within God’s covenant.

The point here is that he will not allow the circumstances to make him forget that God is his Rock, and thus forget about God’s goodness, and willingness to act on his behalf.

Verse 11

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?

And why are you disquieted within me?

Hope you in God,

For I will yet praise him,

Who is the help of my countenance,

And my God.

So once again he calls on his soul, and demands to know why it should be so disquieted within him. Rather should he hope in God, for he is confident that one day he will again praise God in His House, and this because God is the One Who enables him to lift up his face, and is his God. Thus he knows that He cannot finally let him down.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 42". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.