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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 42

BOOK II. Psalms 42-72.

To the chief Musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah.

With this psalm begins the second book of Psalms, which is distinguished from the first book by its use of the divine name. The first is Jehovistic, the second Elohistic. The name Jehovah occurs two hundred and seventy-two times in the first book, and the name Elohim, God, only fifteen times; while the name God occurs one hundred and sixty-four times in the second, and Jehovah only thirty times. ( Delitzsch.) David was almost the exclusive author of the first book, while in the second an entire series is attributed to some of the Levitical singers. In the psalm before us the author is absent from Jerusalem and the sanctuary, which he laments, and longs to return. He seems to be in the region east of Jordan, with a prospect of possible banishment still farther, even to Hermon. Psalms 42:6-7. From the valley of Jordan and the hills of Gilead he utters his lament. “From these heights,” says Stanley, “Abner in his flight from the Philistines, David in his flight from Absalom, the Israelites on their way to Babylon, and the Christian Jews of Pella, [in their flight from Jerusalem Matthew 24:15-18,] caught the last glimpse of their familiar mountains.” The psalm is elegiac throughout. Undoubtedly David wrote it on his way to Mahanaim, in his flight from Absalom, 2 Samuel 17:0. Psalms 42, 43 are commonly considered as having been originally one, as in many MSS. they are so written, though in the Septuagint and other early versions, and in the present Hebrew text, they are divided. Plainly enough they belong to the same author and occasion. In Psalms 42:1-2, of our psalm, David breathes out his ardent desire for God in the sanctuary; Psalms 42:3-7 are a complaint; Psalms 42:8-11 express his hopeful trust in God; and if we add Psalms 43:0, we have an earnest prayer offered in a more subdued tone of confidence and hope. Psalms 42:5; Psalms 42:11, and Psalms 43:5, are a plaintive refrain. Taking the two psalms together, and dividing by the refrains, we make three strophes of five, six, and five verses.


Maschil See note on title of Psalms 32:0.

For the sons of Korah Korah was a great grandson of Levi, (Exodus 6:16; Exodus 6:18; Exodus 6:21,) destroyed suddenly for rebellion in the wilderness, Numbers 16:0. But his descendants, called Korahites, or Korhites, or sons of Korah, attained honourable rank among the Levites, and in later times were attached to the singers, Heman himself being one of them. 1 Chronicles 6:33; 2 Chronicles 20:19. (But see note on title of Psalms 88:0.) Twelve psalms are ascribed to them, (or delivered to them for performance,) namely, Psalms 42-49, 84, 85, 87, 88

Verse 1

1. As the hart panteth “Hart,” though here construed with a feminine verb, (which would require it to be rendered hind,) should be taken as a common gender. The “hart” repeatedly stands connected with “roebuck” in the Pentateuch, (Deuteronomy 12:15; Deuteronomy 12:22,) as belonging to the same family, and of the class of clean animals. It is the symbol of fleetness, of surefootedness, of timidity and innocence, Psalms 18:33; Habakkuk 3:18-19; Song of Solomon 2:8-9; and is here represented as hotly pursued, faint, and thirsty an emblem of the fugitive and weary king.

Water brooks The term applies often to streams which dry up in summer. The pursued hind would pass the dry beds of such brooks with aggravated thirst at the disappointment. Job 6:15-20. So David had found treachery where he looked for fidelity, and nothing could revive him but the everliving waters of divine grace.

Verse 2

2. Thirsteth for God… the living God Not for any gift or benefit out of God, but God himself; personal communion with him could alone meet his longing, languishing desire. Here was the source of all his greatness and prosperity as a king, or joy and delight as a human soul, and hence his first want. These expressions of longing after God have nothing to excel them for spirituality and intensity in holy Scripture.

Appear before God The sanctuary worship is here intended, as containing the most lively symbols of God, and the nearest visible approach to him.

Verse 3

3. Tears have been my meat Because their ceaseless flow mingled with his food. Psalms 80:5; Psalms 102:9.

Where is thy God This was not the taunt of atheists or heathen, but of men who believed in the Hebrew theism, and affected to believe God had abandoned David. See Psalms 41:8; Psalms 71:11

Verse 4

4. When I remember these things It is more easy and simple to take “these things” as referring, not to what follows, as some do, but to the psalmist’s sorrow and to the cruel taunts of his enemies; and he appeals to his habit of worship in vindication of his sincerity.

With the voice of joy and praise The description here applies to their great festivals and most public occasions of worship, in which he led the procession with singing and joy,

freely placing himself among the masses, as on the removal of the ark, 2 Samuel 6:14.

Kept holyday חגג , ( hhagag,) translated “kept holyday,” primarily means, to move, or dance in a circle, and thence to move in a procession, to celebrate a feast. In this last sense it is always rendered in the English version, except in 1 Samuel 30:16, where it is translated dancing. In the earlier Hebrew history dancing, which was often little else than a graceful keeping of step with the music, was, though not of Mosaic origin, an early accompaniment of their festivals, (Judges 21:19-23,) and always of public celebrations of victory. Exodus 15:20; 2 Samuel 6:14; see also on Psalms 68:11; Psalms 68:25. From a too literal construction of David’s words it has been supposed by some that he introduced dancing at the great festivals: but of this there is no evidence, though it reappeared in later Maccabean times. It was universal as a religious ceremony in heathen festivals, but never obtained any permanency among the Hebrews. In Psalms 30:11; Psalms 149:3; Psalms 150:4, a different word is used, where see notes. In the text it means no more than “the multitude, celebrating the feast, ” not a “festive crowd dancing in a circle.

Verse 5

5. The apostrophic address of this verse shows the highly impassioned state of the author.

Cast down Calvin says, “David here presents himself divided into two parts.” “It is the struggle,” says Perowne, “between the spirit of faith and the spirit of dejection between the higher nature and the lower.” “It is the spirit, mighty in God, which here meets the trembling soul.” Hengstenberg.

For the help of his countenance Hebrew, The deliverance, or salvation, of his face; that is, the deliverance which is assured by the turning of his face to me, or looking upon me, according to the Oriental custom of looking upon the suppliant as a sign of granting his request, or turning away the face as a token of denial. See note on Psalms 42:11

Verse 6

6. Therefore That is, because of my distress.

From the land of Jordan From beyond Jordan, or east of Jordan.

Hermonites Mount Hermon bounded Palestine proper on the northeast, and the Hermonites inhabited the adjacent lower lands south and southeast of the mountain.

Hill Mizar Or the small mountain. It applies to some hill of Gilead, or more probably, some peak of Anti-Lebanon. Nothing definite is known of it, but these references to place indicate that David’s flight would be northeastward if compelled to go beyond Mahanaim. The facts illustrate the faith, courage, and resolution of the king.

Verse 7

7. Waterspouts The word naturally refers us to a water fall, or cataract; the idea is that of noisy, rushing waters, which call or echo to each other. David now lay encamped on the east of Jordan, (2 Samuel 17:22,) within hearing of some of the rapids of that river, of which there are twenty seven between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. ( Lt. Lynch.) To the nightly roar of these an answer might have been given by some mountain torrents on the side of Gilead, east of the royal tent. Thus was deep calling unto deep, their solemn chiming symphonizing with the sombre feelings of the king. The word rendered “deep,” though ordinarily applicable only to the ocean, may fitly be used here, where the feelings and the imagination hold sway.

Waves and… billows Probably, breakers and billows, as the word for “waves” comes from a verb signifying to break.

Verse 8

8. In the daytime, and in the night Faith here rallies. God shall command, or make sure, confirm, his mercy to me by day, and in the night his song shall be with me; a picture of unintermitted trust, prayer, and praise. “His song” means a song concerning Him, as celebrating his glorious attributes and acts. While God makes sure his mercy, David is ceaseless in praise and confidence.

Verse 9

9. I will say unto God That is, in order to bring about the deliverance just assured, “I will say,” etc. He will urge his cause to this end.

Verse 10

10. With a sword in my bones The reproaches of my enemies pierce me to the bones like a dagger, or they are as a crushing “in my bones.”

Verse 11

11. Why art thou cast down, O my soul The refrain is repeated from Psalms 42:5, where see note. Whether we take נפשׁ , ( soul,) here as distinct from רוח , ( spirit,) according to the later Greek trichotomy, or consider the former as synonymous with the latter, in either case, and from the very design of the apostrophe, we have here the highest proof of a nature in man superior to the organic or psychical, rising by faith in God victorious over all infirmities and disasters of the latter, as its nature and existence are distinct from and independent of it. It is the spiritual and immortal nature asserting its superiority over the instinctive and perishable.

Health of my countenance Hebrew, Deliverance, or salvation, of my face. The word rendered “health,” here, is the same as is rendered “help” in Psalms 42:5, where also we have “his” (God’s) countenance, instead of “my” countenance, as here. That is, in Psalms 42:5 God turns his face towards David as a token and pledge of his delivering grace, and this revives and gladdens the countenance of the suppliant. The language is strongly oriental.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 42". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.