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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Psalms 42

Verses 1-5


With Psalm 42 begins a new book in Psalms, book 2, with Psalms 42-72 as its contents. In the first book of Psalms (Psalms 1-41), the remnant is in the midst of the enemies in the land. In the second book of Psalms, they have fled from the land (Matthew 24:15-Nehemiah :) and are in the midst of foreign enemies.

This difference in the position of the remnant is evident, among other things, in the use of two names of God in the two books of psalms. These names say something about the relationship of the remnant to God. The first psalm book primarily uses the name Yahweh, rendered in the NASB as LORD (all capitals). This name, which occurs 272 times, indicates the covenantal relationship between God and His people. The name Elohim, God, occurs 15 times. This name is more general and, compared to the name Yahweh, more distant. In the second book of Psalms, the name Elohim, God, is used primarily, and occurs 164 times therein. The name Yahweh, LORD, occurs 30 times in it. See, for example, the difference between Psalm 14 and Psalm 53.

Another distinction between the first and second psalm book is seen in the use of illustrations used in both psalm books. The first psalm book uses illustrations that come primarily from Genesis, such as in Psalms 8, 19, and 33 which speak of creation. The illustrations of the second psalm book come primarily from Exodus, as in Psalm 68.

This second book of psalms consists of a collection of psalms that come from multiple sources:
1. The sons of Korah, the temple musicians: Psalms 42-49.
2. Asaph, another musician: Psalm 50.
3. David: Psalms 51-65; 68-70.
4. Solomon: Psalm 72.
5. Finally, there are three anonymous psalms: Psalms 66; 67; 71.

Psalm 72 is not for Solomon, as the Septuagint and Calvin translate (Psalms 72:1), but of Solomon, as it says literally. We can therefore broadly make the following division:
1. The psalms of the musicians: the Korahites, concluding with Asaph.
2. The psalms of David, concluding with Solomon.

The first three psalms of this second book of psalms, Psalms 42-44, bring us to the time of the great tribulation. The faithful remnant must flee from Jerusalem where they served the LORD in the temple rebuilt in unbelief. This is the time of Jacob’s distress. It is the time when the abomination of desolation stands in Jerusalem, as the Lord Jesus Himself makes clear. For this He refers to what the prophet Daniel says about the events of the future (Matthew 24:15-Nehemiah :). That time has not yet come, however, it will not be long before that time comes.

In Psalm 42 we look into the heart of the remnant. In it we see how much they long to be with God in Jerusalem and also their trust in Him. In Psalm 43 we see the cause of their affliction: the antichrist, the man of deceit and injustice (Psalms 43:1). This man comes “in his own name” and is accepted by the unbelieving mass of the Jews as their king (John 5:43). In Psalm 44, the faith of the remnant is tested and purified in the fire of tribulation.

The first two psalms of this second book of psalms, Psalm 42 and Psalm 43, form a whole. Psalm 42 deals primarily with the enemies from without. Psalm 43 deals with enemies from within, from within the own people. Psalm 42 is more a lament, while Psalm 43 is more a prayer to God. In Psalm 42 we hear the longing for the Living One (Psalms 42:1-Deuteronomy :) and for the Life-giving One (Psalms 42:6-2 Samuel :). In Psalm 43 we hear the longing for the Light-giving One (Psalms 43:1-Deuteronomy :).

Psalm 42 has the background of Korah’s sons being cast out of the place where they were allowed to serve God in His sanctuary. There is great nostalgia for that time (Psalms 42:4). They have been driven from it by the enemies (Psalms 42:9-2 Samuel :). Historically, it may refer to David’s escape from Jerusalem, in which the sons of Korah accompanied him.

Prophetically, this second book of Psalms is about the faithful remnant of Israel who fled to the mountains in a time of distress (Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:16) because of the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15). In the second book of the Torah (the five books of Moses), the book of Exodus, the people of Israel are in a foreign land, far from the promised land. There they are oppressed. The land of Egypt is a type of the world on which the judgments of God are coming. When redemption comes and the enemy perishes in the Red Sea, the people sing the song of redemption.

Longing for God

For “for the choir director” see at Psalm 4:1.

There are thirteen psalms that have “a Maskil” in the heading. The first “maskil” is Psalm 32. The content of that psalm is the basis of all instruction. That basis is the forgiveness of sins (Psalms 32:1-Exodus :). A person must first know that in order to receive and give further instruction. There David, as a forgiven sinner, also learns about the way to go. We must first know the experience of Psalm 32 in order to take in the teaching of the following “maskil” or teaching psalms. For a detailed explanation of “a maskil” see at Psalm 32:1.

The second “maskil” psalm is this psalm “of the sons of Korah”. This is the first of eleven psalms that mention this in the heading. Of their father Korah, Scripture records that he rebels audaciously against Moses and Aaron. Korah wants the priesthood because he is not satisfied with his task as a Levite, which is already a privileged one (1 Chronicles 6:31-Micah :; 1 Chronicles 6:37-Zechariah :). As punishment for this rebellion, he dies an extraordinary death (Numbers 16:1-Leviticus :; Numbers 16:8-1 Kings :Numbers 16:30-Micah :; Jude 1:11). The sons, however, did not die (Numbers 26:10-1 Kings :). It seems that they did not join their father’s rebellion and therefore were not judged.

The Korahites are followers of David (1 Chronicles 12:6) and gatekeepers from generation to generation (1 Chronicles 9:17-Proverbs :). The sons of Korah are also singers (2 Chronicles 20:19). One of David’s three choir leaders is Heman, a Korahite (Psalms 88:1). Singing is a form of prophesying (1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:3; Colossians 3:16). The ‘maskil psalms’ of the Korahites are a form of prophesying. We can think of them as prophetic psalms in two ways: they relate to the faithful remnant in the future and they have a message for us here and now.

The word for teaching, maskil, comes from a word for being wise or understanding. To teach is to make wise or understanding. Teaching comes from the understanding and serves to make others wise (Daniel 11:33).

The instruction begins with the believer crying out to God that he intensely longs for Him (Psalms 42:1). It is a cry out of an emptiness and because of an emptiness. Every person, no matter how religious, experiences this emptiness when he misses God. This emptiness can only be filled by the living God Himself. It is an emptiness, a thirst, that every creature in hell will experience eternally because he will be eternally separated from God. It is an emptiness, a thirst, that the Lord Jesus experienced in the three hours of darkness, forsaken by His God, when He took the place of every one who believes in Him.

The psalmist compares his longing to the panting – the Hebrew word means “gasp”, “yearn”, “very strong desire” – of a deer for water brooks (cf. Jeremiah 14:6). A camel can go several days without water, a deer cannot. By the way, since the verb “pant” is feminine, it is better to translate the word translated ‘deer’ as ‘hind’. The psalmist chooses the feminine ‘hind’ because ‘my soul’ is also feminine, so there is a parallel.

Any animal that is thirsty pants (Joel 1:20). A deer or a hind is a graceful, skittish animal and an attractive prey for wild animals. This makes the deer or hind an appealing example of the God-fearing. The believer pants with all his soul, all his inner being, all his feelings, for God’s presence, for fellowship with Him, and pants for God directly and personally with the exclamation “for You, O God!”

He continues the making known of his panting for God, saying: “My soul thirsts for God” (Psalms 42:2; cf. Psalms 143:6; Isaiah 55:1; John 19:28; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:17). He then expresses his longing for Him (cf. Psalms 84:2) more strongly by calling Him “the living God” (Deuteronomy 5:26; Hosea 1:10). This Name of God reminds us that He is “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13).

The thirst for God is quenched only when he “shall … come and appear before God”, which is to say when he enters the temple, the place where God dwells. The desire to appear before God’s face emphasizes his intense longing for God. The expression “appear before God” is used for the appearance of the people of Israel three times a year in Jerusalem on the feasts of the LORD.

The great question that torments him is when that will happen, when he can go to God’s altar, to God, his gladness and his joy, to praise Him with the lyre (Psalms 43:4). For the God-fearing members of God’s earthly people, fellowship with God is intimately tied to the place where He dwells, in His house in Jerusalem.

The God-fearing has been driven away from that place that is so precious to him. This causes him great sorrow. He lives in a foreign land. After the tormenting question of when he will come to God, he is now assailed by his enemies with the mocking and challenging question where his God, for Whom he longs so much, is (Psalms 42:3). After all, God does not stand up for His expelled people. He definitely seems to lack power.

This mockery adds to his torment. It makes his grief over the lack of fellowship with God in His house more intense. Over this he weeps “day and night”, for he is tormented by this very question. That his tears are food for him means that he is so overcome with sorrow that he takes no food.

The psalmist looks back in his life, at his experiences with God, to draw hope from them. He thinks back with great nostalgia to the time when he went up with God’s people to God’s house (Psalms 42:4; Psalms 122:4). About that, his soul becomes disturbed within him, which is to say that his emotions stir violently when he reflects back on it. Every year he went up to Jerusalem with the pilgrims. They were supposed to go to Jerusalem on the occasion of the three great feasts: the Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths (Exodus 23:17; Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16).

What a great procession went up! He hears again, as it were, the loud thanksgivings and songs of praise that were sung by the procession. There he walked with them; he was one of them. Together they formed “a throng”. Everyone was looking forward to meeting God in His house.

But now? The God-fearing turns to himself. He asks himself a question that he will ask twice more (Psalms 42:5; Psalms 42:11; Psalms 43:5). It is a desperate question to himself why his soul is in despair and has become disturbed within him. He wonders if God has something to say to him, or if he truly loves God (cf. John 21:15-Esther :). At the same time, he urges himself to put his hope in God. He does so from the certainty that he will again praise God in the place where He dwells.

God has not given an audible answer, but the God-fearing’s trust in Him gives him that hope. Hope means waiting on God until He acts. In the foreign land, he continues to trust God. He trusts that there will be “the help of His presence” or “the saving acts of His presence”. This will happen through the appearance and presence of the Messiah. The “the saving acts” (plural) means not only a saving act by the power of God from the enemy, as at the Red Sea, but also involves a return to God’s dwelling place.

Verses 6-11

Why Have You Forgotten Me?

In the first stanza of the psalm (Psalms 42:1-Deuteronomy :), the God-fearing thinks of the pilgrimages to God’s house in Jerusalem (Psalms 42:4). In this second stanza (Psalms 42:6-1 Kings :), he thinks of God Himself. He speaks to God in Psalms 42:6 and calls Him “my God”. Thus he knows God and lives in fellowship with Him though he is in a foreign land. Yet despite his memories of what he has experienced of God’s faithfulness in the past (Psalms 42:4), he remains desperate. He makes God part of his inner despair. The word “therefore” with which the second line of the verse begins indicates that these feelings of despair are at the same time the trigger to think of God from the land to which he has been driven.

He is in “the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon” and “Mount Mizar” or “the little hill”. By the land of the Jordan is meant the land east of the Jordan. That is where they fled to. This is what will happen in the, now near, future when the antichrist reigns and in alliance with the restored Roman Empire has erected an idol in the temple. Before that, God will bring the king of the north as a disciplinary rod over His apostate people (Daniel 9:26-:). In His prophetic end-time address, the Lord Jesus refers to this and tells the remnant to flee at that time (Matthew 24:15-Nehemiah :).

Instead of being able to quench his thirst at God, the fountain of living water, the God-fearing is overwhelmed by the deep, the waterfalls, the breakers and waves that all come from God (Psalms 42:7). The desirable water of refreshment and invigoration he so longs for (Psalms 42:1), turns into the treacherous and deadly waters of the floods of the wadis. The psalmist speaks of “Your waterfalls” and “all Your breakers and Your waves”. He experiences the difficulties as the disciplining hand of God. He has no grasp of his present circumstances and feels himself undergoing God’s judgment. How can that be possible? Where will that end?

The remnant will discover that the waters of judgment are not there to kill them, but to cleanse them (Psalms 60:8). This is because the Lord Jesus was fully in the waters of God’s judgment when He bore their sins – and those of all who believe in Him. Jonah, as a type of the remnant in the great tribulation, also expresses this (Jonah 2:5-Joshua :). The Lord Jesus applies what happened to Jonah to Himself, and especially to His days in the grave, after He bore the judgments of God on sin (Matthew 12:40).

The faithful are plunged into a sea of affliction. They are overwhelmed by it. Yet despair does not win. The faithful one finds himself in severe trial, but from there his trust in God rises (Psalms 42:8). He expresses assurance that “the LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime”.

Suddenly the name of the LORD, the name of God in connection with His covenant, is used! The basis of “His lovingkindness” – that is His covenant faithfulness, Hebrew chesed – is His covenant, because the Mediator, Christ, has taken judgment upon Himself. He can say to God: “All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me”, while yet He was the Sinless One.

The God-fearing can say in the night in which his life is now enshrouded that “His song” will be with him (cf. Acts 16:25). That song consists of “a prayer to the God of my life”. He acknowledges God as the God of his life, as the One Who is fully in control of his life. Knowing God as the God Who is in complete control of our lives gives peace when circumstances weigh heavily on us.

The peace that is experienced can also be put under pressure again. The God-fearing speaks to God about this (Psalms 42:9). He calls God “my rock”, indicating that he trusts in the unshakable faithfulness of God. What he struggles with is that God has “forgotten” him. This is how he experiences it. How can the faithful God forget him? He does not blame God for anything, but in confidence he turns to God with questions that torment him.

He also asks why he goes “mourning”. He wears black clothing because of “the oppression of the enemy”. The enemy, the nations in the midst of which the remnant has fled and who are hostile to them, makes his life difficult and also makes it impossible for him to go to God’s house. This causes a deep sadness, which he shows by his black clothing. He is mourning.

He is surrendered to his adversaries and they do not spare him (Psalms 42:10). “All day long” they revile him with words that are “a shattering” to his bones. This indicates that what they say takes away his strength to walk. And what do they say all day long? “Where is your God?” This goes through the bone. That is how paralyzing and even deadly words can be (cf. Proverbs 12:18). This is especially the case when they are constantly repeated and also connect to his own struggle with the question: Why has God forgotten me?

The God-fearing, after his back and forth between despair and hope, has returned to the point where he also arrived earlier in this psalm (Psalms 42:11; Psalms 42:5). But he now expresses a stronger confidence in salvation. In Psalms 42:5 he says he “shall again praise Him [for] the help [or: saving acts] of His presence”. Now he says he will praise God because God Himself is “the help [or: saving acts] of my countenance”. Here he also calls God “my God”.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 42". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.