Psalm 42
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Book II.


It is needless to waste argument on what is seen by every reader at a glance, that Psalms 42, 43 form in reality one poem. In style, in subject, in tone, they might have been recognised as from one time and pen, even if they had been separated in the collection instead of following one on the other, and even if the refrain had not marked them as parts of one composition. (For expressions and feelings interlacing, as it were, the text together, comp. Psalm 42:9; Psalm 42:2; Psalm 42:4, with 43:2, 4, 4, respectively.) The poems thus united into one are seen to have three equal stanzas. All three stanzas express the complaint of a sufferer sinking under the weight of his misfortunes; the refrain in contrast expresses a sentiment of religious resignation, of unalterable confidence in Divine protection and favour. We can even realise the very situation of the sufferer. We find him not only far from Jerusalem, and longing anxiously for return thither, but actually on the frontier, near the banks of the Jordan, not far from the sources of the river, on the great caravan route between Syria and the far east, on the slopes of Hermon. We seem to see him strain his eyes from these stranger heights to catch the last look of his own native hills, and from the tone of his regrets—regrets inspired not by worldly or even patriotic considerations, but by the forcible separation from the choral service of the Temple, we conjecture him to have been a priest or a Levite.

Title. (See title, Psalms 4, 32) “For the sons of Korah.” This is a title of Psalms 42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87, 88.

We see from 1Chronicles 6:16-33, that the Korahites were, when that history was written, professional musicians. Kuenen, in History of Religion, p. 204, has pointed out that in the older documents the singers and porters are mentioned separately from the Levites (Ezra 7:7; Ezra 7:24; Ezra 10:23-24; Nehemiah 7:1), and it is only in those of a later date that we find them included in that tribe, when “the conviction had become established, that it was necessary that every one who was admitted in any capacity whatever into the service of the Temple should be a descendant of Levi;” the pedigrees which trace this descent cannot be relied on, and therefore we regard these “sons of Korah” (in one passage a still vaguer appellation, “children of the Korahites,” 2Chronicles 20:19), not as lineally descendants from the Korah of Numbers 16:1, but as one of the then divisions of the body of musicians who were, according to the idea above noticed, treated as Levitical.

To the chief Musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah. As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.
(1) As the hart panteth.—“I have seen large flocks of these panting harts gather round the water-brooks in the great deserts of central Syria, so subdued by thirst that you could approach quite near them before they fled” (Thomson, Land and Book, p. 172).

My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
(2) Thirsteth.—The metaphor occurs exactly in the same form (Psalm 63:1), and only calls for notice since “God” Himself is here made the subject of the thirst, instead of righteousness, or knowledge, or power, as in the familiar and frequent use of the metaphor in other parts of the Bible, and in other literature.

The living God.—Evidently, from the metaphor, regarded as the fountain or source of life. (Comp. Psalm 84:2; Psalm 36:9.)

Appear before God.Exodus 23:17 shows that this was the usual phrase for frequenting the sanctuary (comp. Psalm 84:7), though poetic brevity here slightly altered its form and construction.

My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
(3) My tears.—Comp. Psalm 80:5; Psalm 102:9; and Ovid Metam. x. 75, “Cura dolorque animi lacrimæque alimenta fuere.”

Where is thy God?—For this bitter taunt comp. Psalm 79:10; Psalm 115:2; Joel 2:17, etc.

When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.
(4) When I.—The conjunction “when” is not expressed, but may be implied from the next clause. Others render, “let me recall these days (i.e., what follows), let me pour out my soul within me” (literally, upon me. Comp. Psalm 142:3). But the Authorised Version is better, “when I think of it, my heart must overflow.” The expression, “I pour out my soul upon me,” may, however, mean, “I weep floods of tears over myself,” i.e., “over my lot.”

For I had gone with the multitude.—The LXX. and Vulg., as well as the strangeness of the words rendered “multitude” and “went with them,” indicate a corruption of the text. Fortunately the general sense and reference of the verse are independent of the doubtful expressions. The poet indulges in a grateful recollection of some great festival, probably the Feast of Tabernacles. (See LXX.)

That kept holyday.—Literally, dancing or reeling. But the word is used absolutely (Exodus 5:1; Leviticus 23:41) for keeping a festival, and especially the Feast of Tabernacles. Dancing appears to have been a recognised part of the ceremonial. (Comp. 2Samuel 6:16.)

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.
(5) Why art thou.—The refrain here breaks in on the song like a sigh, the spirit of dejection struggling against the spirit of faith.

Cast down.—Better, as in margin, bowed down, and in the original with a middle sense, “why bowest thou down thyself?”

Disquieted.—From root kindred to and with the meaning of our word “hum.” The idea of “internal emotion” is easily derivable from its use. We see the process in such expressions as Isaiah 16:11, “My bowels shall sound like a harp for Moab.”

For the help of his countenance.—There is no question but that we must read the refrain here as it is in Psa. 42:12, and in Psalm 43:5. The LXX. and Vulg. already have done so, and one Hebrew MS. notices the wrong accentuation of the text here. The rhythm without this change is defective, and the refrain unnecessarily altered. Such alteration, however, from comparison of Psalm 24:8; Psalm 24:10; Psalm 49:12; Psalm 49:20; Psalm 56:4; Psalm 56:10; Psalm 59:9; Psalm 59:17, is not unusual.

O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.
(6) Cast down.—The poet, though faith condemns his dejection, still feels it, and cannot help expressing it. The heart will not be tranquil all at once, and the utterance of its trouble, so natural, so pathetic, long after served, in the very words of the LXX., to express a deeper grief, and mark a more tremendous crisis (John 12:27; Matthew 26:38).

Therefore will I.—Better, therefore do I remember thee. (Comp. Jonah 2:7.)

From the land of Jordani.e., the uplands of the north-east, where the river rises. The poet has not vet passed quite into the land of exile, the country beyond Jordan, but already he is on its borders, and as his sad eyes turn again and again towards the loved country he is leaving, its sacred summits begin to disappear, while ever nearer and higher rise the snow-clad peaks of Hermon.

Hermonites.—Rather, of the Hermons, i.e., either collectively for the whole range (as generally of mountains, the Balkans, etc.) or with reference to the appearance of the mountain as a ridge with a conspicuous peak at either end. (See Thomson, Land and Book, p. 177.) In reality, however, the group known especially as Hermon has three summits, situated, like the angles of a triangle, a quarter of a mile from each other, and of almost equal elevation. (See Smith’s Bible Dict., “Hermon.” Comp. Our Work in Palestine, p. 246.)

The hill Mizar.—Marg., the little hill. So LXX. and Vulg., a monte modico. (Comp. the play on the name Zoar in Genesis 19:20.) Hence some think the poet is contrasting Hermon with Zion. In such a case, however, the custom of Hebrew poetry was to exalt Zion, and not depreciate the higher mountains, and it is very natural to suppose that some lower ridge or pass, over which the exile may be supposed wending his sad way, was actually called “the little,” or “the less.”

Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.
(7) Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts.—Better, Flood calleth unto flood at the noise of thy cataracts. The exile is describing what was before his eyes, and in his ears. There can, therefore, be little doubt that, as Dean Stanley observed, this image was furnished by the windings and rapids of the Jordan, each hurrying to dash itself with yet fiercer vehemence of sounding water over some opposing ledge of rocks “in cataract after cataract to the sea.” Thus every step taken on that sorrowful journey offered an emblem of the griefs accumulating on the exile’s heart. The word rendered waterspout only occurs besides in 2Samuel 5:8, where the Authorised Version has “gutter,” but might translate “watercourse.”

All thy waves and thy billows.—From derivation, breakers and rollers. The poet forgets the source of his image in its intensity, and from the thought of the cataract of woes passes on to the more general one of “a sea of troubles,” the waves of which break upon him or roll over his head. The image is common in all poetry. (Comp. “And as a sea of ills urges on its waves; one falling, another, with huge (literally, third) crest, rising.”—Æsch., Seven against Thebes, 759.)

Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.
(8) Yet the Lord.—Better, By day Jehovah shall command (or, literally, Jehovah command) his grace.

And in the night his songi.e., a song to Him; but the emendation shîrah, “song,” for shîrôh, “his song,” commends itself. The parallelism of this verse seems to confirm the conclusion drawn from the sentence at end of Book II., that the title “prayer,” and “song” were used indiscriminately for any of the hymns in religious use.

I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
(9) Apparently we have now the very words of the prayer just mentioned.

As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?
(10) As with a sword.—Margin, killing; better, crushing. The insertion of the conjunction is erroneous. Render, with a shattering of my bones. This, no doubt, refers to actual ill-treatment of the exile by his conductors, who heaped blows, as well as insults, on their captives. We may even suppose this violence especially directed at this particular sufferer, who could not refrain from lingering and looking back, and so irritating his convoy, who would naturally be in a hurry to push forwards. How vividly, too, does the picture of the insulting taunt, “Where is thy God?” rise before us, if we think of the soldiers overhearing the exile’s ejaculations of prayer.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Psalm 41
Top of Page
Top of Page