Exegetical Notes: Psalm 42

“sons of Korah” -This psalm most likely originated from a group of temple singers known as the Korahites.

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.

A psalm concerning David during his time in exile, concerned with his longing to worship God within the temple and his hope in God despite the threats of his enemies.

Perhaps one of the most famous, and often quoted images from Psalms. The analogy is obvious, but striking. The psalmist compares his desire to be within the temple in order to worship God to a dehydrated deer who is in desperate need for water. This analogy is effective, because the word picture is easilty understood in a variety of contexts (if not because of a deer, perhaps through one’s own thirst, or the thirst of an animal the reader is familar with).

“deer” -literally – “hart”, usually referring to a mature, male deer. Here the specific reference to a buck is probably not emphasized, the modifying verb “pants” is feminine in Hebrew.

“pants” – A picture of intense need or longing.

“soul” -Heb. nephesh. refering to the entirety of personhood. one’s inmost self.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

“living God” -Friedrich Nietzsche’s popularzation of the phrase “God is dead” could not be further from the truth.

“A dead God is a mockery…The ever living God, the perennial fountain of life, light and our love is our soul’s desire” – The Treasury. C.H.S.

THEO: A God that is anything less than living an eternal could not be described as God.

I serve a risen Savior
He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy;
I hear His voice of cheer;

And just the time I need Him
He’s always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

In all the world around me
I see His loving care,
And though my heart grows weary,
I never will despair;
I know that He is leading,
Through all the stormy blast;
The day of His appearing
Will come at last.

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian,
Lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs
To Jesus Christ the King!
The Hope of all who seek Him,
The Help of all who find,
None other is so loving,
So good and kind.

“When shall I come and appear before God?” -The psalmists desire to enter the temple for worship is clarified with this phrase. Notice that his desire was not for the temple, but for the God who dwelled there – He longed for divine fellowship.

“David was heartsick…the enjoyment of fellowship with God was the urgent need of his soul…The next best thing to living in the light of the Lord’s love is to be unhappy until we have it.” – The Treasury. C.H.S.

APP: How is it that we become so accustom to distant and sparse fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

APP: Although, God can be worshipped at anytime and any place, let us not become accustomed to sparatic church worship as well. 
”We must not quit meeting together, as some are doing. No, we need to keep on encouraging each other. This becomes more and more important as you see the Day getting closer.” – Heb. 10:25 (ERV).

3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

“Where is your God?” -Two possibilities concerning the word “they”:

1) The psalmist’s tears serve as a continual reminder of the unhappiness associated with his spiritual separation.
2) During David’s exile, his enemies taunt him and accuse God of abandonment. As in Shimei’s taunts in 2 Samuel 16:7 , where he posits that David is being punished for undermining Saul.

Compare to verse 10.

4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

There is strength and joy found in community, corporate worship.

“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” – Psalm 122:1.

“lead them in procession to the house of God” -this seems to indicate a group of religious pilgrims making their way to the Temple (the house of God) for one of the great annual festivals.
Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 401.

“a multiple keeping festival” -This phrase reminds me of the custom of Second Line Parades in New Orleans, where a small brass band leads a celebration of some event and passer-bys can join in with the celebration march.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” -The prescription for sadness and discouragement according to the psalmist is “Hope in God”.

APP: In times of difficulty, when we become inwardly focused, it often becomes easiest to turn toward sadness or discouragement while focusing on God proves to be a steady source of hope and encouragement.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Pe 1:6–7.

7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.

It seems better to take this as figurative language for extreme distress and anxiety. The forces of chaos overwhelm him, and he is near death (see the similar use of these figures in Jonah 2:2). Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 403.

The psalmist finds his trouble overwhelming.

“As in a waterfall, as the deeps above and below clasp hands, it seems to David that heaven and earth had united to create a tempest around him. His woes are incessant and overwhelming.” The Treasury. C.H.S.

“all” -The psalmist exagerates. We too may exagerate our troubles at times. Let us not loose focus on the steadfast love of God during times of distress.

8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

Scholars are divided on the understanding of this verse. Some see verse 8 as a statement of God’s love, others a request for God’s love to be made manifest to the psalmist.

“the God of my life” -Meaning, the God who rules my life or the God who gives me life. 

Even in the midst of trouble, God continually loves and sustains our exisitence.

Consider the disciples in Matt. 8:24-27: “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.  And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.”  And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

9 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

“Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” -Knowing God’s steadfast love and sustainment, the Psalmist asks an understanding question, “Why do I continue to suffer?” Unfortunately, answers to this question are often times difficult to obtain. Books have been written in efforts to answer Dthe psalmist’s question. Sometimes we, as believers, may not assertain the exact reason we are experiencing trials. But scripture is clear that trials are never wasted when they are encountered by those who trust God.

1) God works all things out for our good – even those that may be difficult (Rom. 8:28).
2) Trials produce spiritual growth-as our faith is streetched, it is strengthened (Rom. 5:3-5; Jas. 1:2-4).
3) Through suffering we experience God’s comfort-we can now share that with others who may walk in a similar circumstance as a source of encouragement (2 Cor. 1:3-5).

10 As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

We might paraphrase this clause as, “it cuts me deeply” when others taunt me concerning my God.

“Where is your God?” -Whereas, verse 3 may be understood as the psalmist’s tears serving as a continual reminder of his spiritual longing for fellowship with God, there is no ambiguity as to this reference. 

In the midst of our spiritual struggles, wouldn’t it be opportune for Satan to send someone into our life who might sink us further into dispair?

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

A restatement of verse 5. This restatement is drawing an emphasis upon this principle within the psalm. Weather it come from within ourselves, as in verse 3, or externally from others as in verse 10, Believers can rest assured that God is an abundant source of hope and joy.

APP: As believers, may we be careful not to draw our theology from emotion, but may our emotions always flow from a solid belief in the character of God and His redemption of us though the gospel of Christ.

Consider: “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Ro 4:20–21.