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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Psalms 42

Verses 1-11


Superscription: “To the Chief Musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah.” Maschil, an instruction, a didactic poem.

“The sons of Korah,” descendants of Korah, were an important company of singers (1 Chronicles 6:33; 2 Chronicles 20:19). Opinions differ as to whether this and ten or eleven other psalms bearing the name of “the sons of Korah” were composed by them or for them. The title may mean “for the sons of Korah,” “to the sons of Korah,” or “of the sons of Korah.” Winer, Origen, Rosenmüller, Hensler, Eichorn, De Wette, Olshausen, Hengstenberg, et al., hold that the sons of Korah were the authors of these psalms. Hengstenberg regards the 42 and 43 psalms as the composition of one of the sons of Korah concerning the experience of David; the former is the author and the latter is the object of the psalm: “one of the sons of Korah sang this psalm as from the soul of David.” The psalms which bear this title are remarkable for beauty, sublimity, and intense feeling. “As, however, the language of several of these psalms—as the 42 and 48, &c.—is manifestly meant to apply to David, it seems much simpler to explain the title ‘for the sons of Korah,’ to mean that they were given to them to sing in the temple services. If their style of music, vocal and instrumental, was of a more sublime and lyric character than that of the sons of Merari or Gershon, and Heman had more fire in his execution than Asaph and Jeduthun, it is perfectly natural that David should have given his more poetic and elevated strains to Heman and his choir, and the simpler and quieter psalms to the other choirs.”

The occasion of the composition was probably the time of the rebellion of Absalom, when David was forced into exile from his home and from the tabernacle of God. This and the following psalm stand in very close relation to each other, and were probably composed on the same occasion.

Homiletically, the psalm sets before us, A godly soul under a sense of absence from God (Psalms 42:1-19.42.5); and the deep depression and strong consolation of a godly soul (Psalms 42:6-19.42.11).


(Psalms 42:1-19.42.5.)

I. The sorrow of a godly soul. “My tears have been my meat day and night,” &c. David here sets forth—

1. The cause of his sorrow. The Psalmist was driven into exile, away from home and from the tabernacle of God. And in his trials he seems to have temporarily lost the sense of the Divine presence and favour. It was probably the weight and bitterness of the trials of the Psalmist at this time which led to his inability to realise the gracious presence of God. Under severe afflictions, the soul is apt to feel itself forsaken by God. This was the cause of David’s sorrow. He felt himself deserted by God. “Sometimes God teaches us effectually to know the work of mercies by the want of them, and whets our appetite for the means of grace by cutting us short in those means.”

2. The aggravation of his sorrow. David’s sorrow was made all the keener by

(1.) The reproaches of his enemies. “They continually say unto me, Where is thy God?” His enemies seem to have reproached him with being forsaken by God; that, being exiled from the tabernacle of God, he was exiled also from God Himself; that his miseries were an evidence that he was abandoned by God. “This,” says Robertson, “is ever the way in religious perplexity: the unsympathising world taunts or misunderstands. In spiritual grief they ask, Why is he not like others? In bereavement, they call your deep sorrow unbelief. In misfortune, they comfort you like Job’s friends by calling it a visitation. Or, like the barbarians at Melita, when the viper fastened on Paul’s hand, no doubt they call you an infidel, though your soul be crying after God. Specially in that dark and awful hour, when HE called on God, ‘Eloi, Eloi,’ they said, ‘Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save Him.’ Now, this is sharp to bear. It is easy to say Christian fortitude should be superior to it. But in darkness to have no sympathy,—when the soul gropes for God, to have the hand of man relax its grasp!”

(2.) The recollection of past joys. “When I remember these, I pour out my soul in me,” &c. (Psalms 42:4.) Here is worship. David was a devout man. His delight was in the worship of God. “Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth.” Here is social worship. “I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God.” His enjoyment of religious ordinances was increased by uniting in them with others. Here is joyous social worship. “With the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy-day.” Their religious assemblies were characterised by devout gladness. Now, “the pain of the Psalmist is increased, when he brings into view his earlier blessedness, and places it beside his present misery.” His experience is like that described by Tennyson,

“A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.”

3. The continuousness of his sorrow, “My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually,” &c. His grief was with him as a constant companion. His sorrow knew no intermission. And the reproaches of his enemies were ever ringing in his ears and agonising his heart. This tearstained page from the autobiography of David, represents the sorrows of many a godly soul to-day.

II. The desire of a godly soul. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God” (Psalms 42:1-19.42.2). Notice—

1. The object of his desire. “God, … the living God.” David’s great longing was not for restoration to his palace and throne, or even to the tabernacle; it was for realisation of the presence of God. It is quite true that “lamenting after God is as sure an evidence that we love Him as rejoicing in God.” But the soul thus mourning His absence fails to realise this, or, realising it, derives little or no help from it. We are so constituted that, we cannot rest out of God. Now, consider the God the Psalmist longed for. His God was a Person, “Thee, O God.” He was a living Person. “The living God.” How different from the heartless God which science and philosophy offer to men! a God which is but another name for “law” and “order.” How different also from the God of metaphysical creeds and rigid theological systems! In these, the Divine Being is too often represented as cold, hard, far remote from men, and having little or no interest in the affairs of His creatures. The God for whom the Psalmist longed is very different. He is a living Person who takes deep interest in His creatures, who loves them and seeks their love, who listens to their prayers, and works for their salvation. This is the God that anxious and burdened men cry out for,—the God for whom the Psalmist thirsted and whom the Saviour revealed. To realise the presence and favour of this living God was the great object of desire to David.

2. The intensity of his desire. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth,” &c. The word translated “hart” is a common noun, but, inasmuch as it is here joined with a feminine verb, it must be taken as denoting the hind or female deer. “The Psalmist chose the hind,” says Hengstenberg,” “chiefly because the hind rather than the hart is suitable as compared with the feminine soul, which is like it in its weakness.” And Barnes: “There is an idea of tenderness in the reference to the word hart here—female deer, gazelle—which would not strike us if the reference had been to any other animal. These are so timid, so gentle, so delicate in their structure, so much the natural objects of love and compassion, that our feelings are drawn towards them as to all other animals in similar circumstances.” We are not to think of the hunted hind, exhausted, parched, and alarmed by pursuit, but of the hind in time of prevailing drought (comparePsalms 63:1; Psalms 63:1). “My soul thirsteth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is.” The word translated “panteth”—margin, “brayeth”—denotes eager desire. So the Psalmist intensely longed for the presence and fellowship of God. His desire “is very importunate: it is his soul that pants, his soul that thirsts, which denotes not only the sincerity, but the strength of his desire.”

III. The hope of a godly soul. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” &c. (Psalms 42:5). Calvin says: “David represents himself here to us as divided into two parts. In so far as he rests through faith in God’s promises, he raises himself, equipped with the spirit of an invincible valour, against the feelings of the flesh, and at the same time blames his weakness.” Hengstenberg: “It is the spirit mighty in God which here meets the trembling soul.” Consider—

1. Whom he hoped in. “Hope thou in God.” He turned the eye of his soul away from his painful circumstances, from the ingratitude and treachery of men, from its own troubled mood, to God. He is always the same, always gracious, always strong to save. Hope in Him.

2. What he hoped for. “The help of His countenance.” “The salvation of His countenance.” “Cause Thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.” “Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us.” “In His favour is life.” The Psalmist hoped for complete deliverance and restoration by the favour of God. This he designates, “the salvation of His countenance.”

3. Whereon he grounded his hope. “For I shall yet praise Him,” &c. “The ground of his hope is his believing confidence that the Lord, who is always his God, will by his deliverance give him occasion for thanks.”—Hengstenberg.

CONCLUSION.—Here we have a remedy for despondency. Look up and hope in God. Away from thine unhappy circumstances, away from thy cheerless prospects, away from thine own troubled condition, look up and hope in God; and thy moan shall be changed into a grateful song.


(Psalms 42:5.)

We have in these words—

I. Self-remonstrance. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” “It is the spirit mighty in God, which here meets the trembling soul.” It is faith interrogating feeling. We all have had some experience of this duality in unity in our own being. We know what it is for the human soul to shrink and tremble and suffer, while the spirit, nerved by faith, is calm, fearless, and heroic. These interrogations imply—

1. Great suffering of soul. “Cast down,” bowed down, deeply dejected. “Disquieted,” anxious, agitated, troubled. Godly souls sometimes pass through deep waters.

2. Groundless suffering of soul. “Why art thou cast down?” &c. The interrogation implies that there was no sufficient reason for this depression and anxiety. The man who can call the Lord his God can never have sufficient reason to be so deeply troubled as David was.

II. Self-exhortation. “Hope thou in God.” “In God,” as contradistinguished,

1. From man. Man is not always willing to aid us in the day of distress. Even when he is willing, his power to do so is very limited. Man is sometimes unreliable, false. Supposing this psalm to have been written during the rebellion of Absalom, or to refer to it, David was having painful experiences of the ingratitude and treachery of men, notably in the cases of Absalom and Ahithophel. “In God;” not in man.

2. From circumstances. The circumstances and prospects of the poet were very dark. Circumstances are sometimes as variable as April weather. They are not to be relied on. “In God;” not in circumstances.

3. From ourselves. We are foolish, weak, changeable. The moods of our soul are influenced by almost countless circumstances. To-day we are on Hermon; to-morrow we must enter Gethsemane. “In God;” not in ourselves. “In God;” for He is

(1) Ever gracious.

(2) All-sufficient.

(3) Unchangeable.

III. Self-encouragement. “For I shall yet praise Him,” &c.

1. The facts concerning salvation which are here suggested.

(1) That it is the result of the favour of God. “The salvation of His countenance.” (See preceding exposition of these words.)

(2) That it inspires the praise of man. “For I shall yet praise Him.” The salvation of God gives both matter for praise and the disposition to praise.

2. The assurance of salvation. There is no faltering or hesitation in the declaration of the Psalmist. The spirit is triumphant in faith, though the soul is dejected by suffering.

3. The ground of this assurance. The Psalmist’s faith rests in the relation of God to him. This is brought out in the eleventh verse, which is an almost exact repetition of this one. “My God.” He who can so speak of God may well be confident of full and glorious salvation.


(Psalms 42:6-19.42.11.)

The Psalmist has addressed himself to his own soul, but has not obtained the victory over his troubles. Now he turns to God and addresses Him on the matter.

I. The deep depression of a godly soul “O my God, my soul is cast down within me.” He sets before us—

1. The greatness of his troubles. He expresses this variously.

(1) He declares his great dejection of soul. “My soul is cast down within me.” It was sinking under the weight of its trials.

(2) He compares his troubles to an angry flood. “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts,” &c. Hengstenberg says: “The floods are the roaring sea-billows of suffering and pain. Flood calls to flood, one invites, as it were, another to pour itself forth on the Psalmist.” The waves of anguish were beating pitilessly upon the poet’ soul.

(3) He compares his troubles to the slaughter of his soul. “As with a sword in my bones,” &c. Margin: “As with a killing,” &c. Hengstenberg: “It is as a murder in my bones,” &c” The murder here is used figuratively for designating a deadly anguish of soul: the reproaches are to the soul of the Psalmist what murder is to the body. (Comp. Luke 2:35.) ‘A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.’ That the murder is represented as having its seat in the bones of the Psalmist, is designed to mark the pain as going through the marrow and bones wounding the heart.”

2. The causes of his trouble. Of these he mentions two:—

(1) His forced exile from his home and from the tabernacle of the Lord. He was now far away from home, in “the land of Jordan and the Hermonites, and the hill Mizar.” Jordan was the eastern boundary of Canaan. Hermon, a mountain on the north eastern border of Palestine, having three summits, for which reason probably it is spoken of here as “the Hermonites” or Hermons. “Mizar” is probably the name of a small mountain; but what mountain is now unknown. But the point for us to seize is this, the Psalmist “was now driven to the utmost borders of the land of Canaan, to shelter himself there from the rage of his persecutors.” He is far from home, far from the tabernacle and worship of His God.

(2) The reproaches of his enemies. “Mine enemies reproach me,” &c. (See notes on Psalms 42:3.)

3. The relation of his trouble to God. “Thy waterspouts, all Thy waves and Thy billows.” He regarded his troubles as in some sense coming from God. God is either the originator or permitter of all our troubles. “Whatever waves and billows of affliction go over us at any time we must call them God’s waves and His billows, that we may humble ourselves under His mighty hand, and may encourage ourselves to hope that though we be threatened we shall not be ruined; for the waves and billows are under a Divine check.”—M. Henry.

When we consider these things we wonder not that the Psalmist was deeply depressed.

II. The strong consolation of a godly soul.

1. In the remembrance of God. “O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore will I remember Thee.” He recollected the great goodness and the mighty acts of God, and was comforted. “The way to forget the sense of our miseries is to remember the God of our mercies.”

2. In the assurance of God’s constant mercy. “The Lord will command His loving-kindness in the day-time,” &c The loving-kindness of God consists, says Hengstenberg, “in the inward consolations which are granted to the Psalmist in the midst of his outward misery. In and along with the favour the song is also at the same time given. For the person who is comforted through God’s favour, is enabled to sing praise to Him. Upon the song and out of it follows the prayer.” “Believing expectation of mercy must not supersede, but quicken, our prayers for it.” “Daytime” and “night” we understand, as in Psalms 42:3, as indicating continuance. The assurance of the Psalmist is that God would always show him His mercy. Even in our greatest troubles there is Divine mercy. “The Psalmist called the Lord the God of his life, because He preserved and supported it, and must awaken him out of the death to which he seemed now appointed.”

3. In confident access to God in prayer “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast Thou forgotten me?” &c. Notice,

(1) His characterisation of God. “God, my Rock;” implying that God was his strength, his defence, firm and immovable.

(2) His expostulation with God. “Why hast Thou forgotten me?” &c. To his suffering soul it seemed as though God had forgotten him. But his spirit, strong in faith, knew otherwise. The inquiry, “Why,” &c., implies the conviction that God could not possibly even in appearance forget him much longer, that soon his mourning must be changed into rejoicing. Thus to have access to God is no small consolation to His people when they are tried.

4. In the assured anticipation of deliverance from trouble. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” &c. (See notes and homiletic sketch on Psalms 42:5.) This verse is a repetition of Psalms 42:5, with this difference, instead of “His countenance” we have “my countenance,” and the words “and my God” are added at the close. The idea is that when David found salvation in God’s countenance or favour, the clouds would pass away from his own countenance, and it would become radiant with gratitude and gladness. “And my God” is a note of triumph in response to the enemies who had mockingly challenged him, “Where is thy God?” So the psalm closes with notes of assured and complete victory.


1. Here is instruction for the depressed believer. In your deep dejection remember God, pray unto Him, trust Him. In the land of the Hermons He is as near to save thee as in the sacred worship of the sanctuary.

2. Here is encouragement for the depressed believer. “Hope in God; for thou shalt yet praise Him,” &c.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 42". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.