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Psalm 42



Thirsting For God in Trouble and Exile
MT Intro
For the choir director. A Maskil of the sons of Korah.
Yearning For God in the Midst of Distress Prayer For Healing in Preparation for a Pilgrimage Prayer of Someone in Exile Lament of a Levite in Exile
42:1-4 42:1-3 42:1-3 42:1-3 42:1
  42:4 42:4-5b 42:4-5 42:4
42:5-8 42:5 42:5c-6a   42:5-6a
  42:6-8 42:6b-8 42:6-8 42:6b-d
42:9-11 42:9-10 42:9-10 42:9-10 42:9
  42:11 42:11 42:11 42:11

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. The first verse has always spoken deeply to me. This is the essence of what a personal relationship should be. But even this deep intimacy does not mean that problems, illness, vicious attacks do not occur. The great promise is not the absence of problems, but His presence (cf. Ps. 23:4; 16:8).

B. I think the psalmist is in exile.

1. he cannot go to the temple, Ps. 42:4

2. he longs for Canaan, Ps. 42:6

3. he is being taunted by his captors, Ps. 42:3, 10 (cf. Psalm 137, which is also an exilic Psalm).

The NASB Study Bible (p. 781) has an interesting suggestion that the psalmist was a Korahite Levite taken captive by Syria. It gives an example of a Syrian raid (e.g., 2 Kgs. 12:17-18). The Korahites lived in the northern area of Israel (cf. Jos. 2:4,9-19). This may explain

1. the exile theory

2. the northern geographical sites in verse 6

C. The recurrent phrase is "in despair" (lit. "cast down," BDB 1005, KB 1458, Hithpolel (imperfect) occurs three times in this short poem, verses 5, 6, and 11. The psalmist is hurting inside (Ps. 42:5) and out (Ps. 42:10).

Also note the repetition of verses 5 and 11 with only slight changes. This same verse appears again in Ps. 43:5, which implies these Psalms are closely connected, possibly one Psalm (UBS Handbook, p. 398).


 1As the deer pants for the water brooks,
 So my soul pants for You, O God.
 2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
 When shall I come and appear before God?
 3My tears have been my food day and night,
 While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
 4These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me.
 For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
 With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

42:1-4 In this strophe one wonders what the problem is.

1. the psalmist feels cut off from YHWH

2. the psalmist cannot worship at the temple (cf. Ps. 42:4b,c)

3. the psalmist's faith is being challenged by his current conditions (i.e., exile) and the taunting of his oppressors (Ps. 42:3,10; 79:10; 115:2)

See Contextual Insights, B.


NASB, NKJV"pants"
LXX, REB"longs"

This verb (BDB 788, KB 881, Qal imperfect) is found only three times in the OT, two here and one in Joel 1:20, where it is used of the beasts of the field.

Should the interpreter emphasize the deep desire of the psalmist for God (cf. Ps. 63:1) or his desire to be in the temple on a feast day (42:4)? I think option #2 fits the context better.

▣ "soul" This is the Hebrew term nephesh (BDB 659, cf. Ps. 42:2,4,5,6,11). See note at Psalm 3:2. It was an idiom of self reference.

▣ "the living God" This is a play on the words

1. live (verb, חיה, BDB 310)

2. living (חי, adjective, BDB 311 I)

3. YHWH (יהוה, BDB 217, covenant name for Deity, cf. Gen. 2:4; see Special Topic at Ps. 1:1)

YHWH is the only-living, ever-living God (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM at Ps. 2:7). All else is alive by Him, through Him, and for Him (cf. Ps. 18:46). This characterization of Israel's God as "living" contrasts with the pagan idols that are blind, deaf, mute, and non-existent (cf. Isa. 4:9-20; Hab. 2:18-19).

42:2 "appear before God" This is an idiom for being in the temple on a feast day. The psalmist is being hindered from being in Jerusalem during feast days.

There is a question of how to understand the consonants.

1. NASB follows the MT, "appear before"

2. RSV changes the vowels to "and behold the face of God"

The UBS Text Project (p. 232) gives option #2 a "C" rating (i.e., considerable doubt).

42:3 "they" The text is not specific who this refers to.

1. captors

2. enemies

3. pagans

I think #1 fits the Psalm best. The NJB entitles this Psalm "Lament of a Levite in Exile."

Notice the psalmist feels that these persons taunt him all day long (Ps. 42:3b; 79:10; 115:2).

42:4 Worship should be a joyful, anticipated experience. I hope your experience of worship can be so characterized!

The psalmist remembers his past worship times. 

1. I remember — BDB 269, KB 269, Qal cohortative

2. I pour out my soul within me — BDB 1049, KB 1629, Qal cohortative


NASB, NRSV"throng"
TEV, JPSOA"crowds"
NJB"under the roof"

The word (BDB 697) translated "throng" occurs only here in the OT, but the same consonants can mean "thicket," "cover," "tent," "booth." The LXX saw the parallelism of the second option as the best way to interpret this word (so too, UBS Text Project notes, p. 233). For a good brief discussion see NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 247.

▣ "lead them in procession" There is some confusion on the meaning of this word.

1. "walk slowly" — BDB 186, KB 214, Hithpael imperfect (psalmist was a Korahite Levite singer involved in the temple rites, songs, and liturgy, cf. 2 Chr. 20:19)

2. "of the majestic ones" — referring to the tent of place of worship (NJB, REB)

3. UBS Text Project (p. 234) gives a "C" rating (considerable doubt) to "I led them."

The only difference in all three options is the vowel marks.

 5Why are you in despair, O my soul?
 And why have you become disturbed within me?
 Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
 For the help of His presence.
 6O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
 Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
 And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
 7Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
 All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
 8The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
 And His song will be with me in the night,
 A prayer to the God of my life.

42:5-8 The psalmist tries to reassure himself. This is conveyed by two questions in verse 5. He answers the questions:

1. "hope" ("wait," BDB 403, KB 407, Hiphil imperative) in God

2. "I shall again praise Him — BDB 392, KB 389, Hiphil imperative) for the help of His presence"

3. "I remember (BDB 269, KB 269, Qal imperfect) You from"

a. land of Jordan

b. peaks of Hermon (BDB 356, the name is plural in the OT only here, therefore, "peaks")

c. Mount Mizar ("little hill," BDB 859, LXX) found only here in the OT. It could refer to

(1) small hill near Mt. Hermon

(2) a way of referring to Mt. Moriah, the site of the temple in Jerusalem

Hebrew poetry is slippery stuff! Its imagery is often vague (see Appendix: Hebrew Poetry at page xxi).

42:7 The imagery is powerful. The phrase "deep calls to deep" is moving but ambiguous. What waterfalls is he talking about?

1. the psalmist's tears, 42:3

2. the Jordan River Valley and its origin in the mountains, 42:6

The next line implies it may be figurative of problems the psalmist is facing (cf. Ps. 69:1-2; 88:7). Notice they are YHWH's

1. waterfalls

2. breakers

3. waves

that have rolled over (BDB 716, KB 778, Qal perfect) the psalmist! Faithful followers live in a fallen world but believe/trust that YHWH is "the God of my life" (42:9c). The "why" is unknown, but the "Who" is with us and this is certain!

The imagery of "water" in this Psalm is multi-fold.

1. water brooks, Ps. 42:1 (i.e., drought)

2. tears, Ps. 42:3 (i.e., pain)

3. a river (i.e., Jordan), Ps. 42:6

4. deep, Ps. 42:7

a. emotions

b. imagery from God's defeat of chaos in Genesis 1

5. waterfalls (i.e., hiding place in the north may be under a waterfall)

6. breakers/waves (i.e., a flood of problems)


42:8 As the psalmist's tears were his food day and night (Ps. 42:3), now YHWH's (notice this is the only use of YHWH in the Psalm; Book 2 of the Psalter is dominated by the use of Elohim for Deity, as Book 1 by YHWH) lovingkindness and song are his companions.

▣ "His song" Is this the result of YHWH's lovingkindness (hesed, see Special Topic at Ps. 5:7) or is it parallel to it? What is YHWH's song? How is the psalmist's prayer of line 3 related to "the song"? It probably refers to the content of the psalmist's praises of YHWH's mercy and faithfulness. The details of poetry are ambiguous. We must let the weight and feel of the strophe, and the parallelism of the lines guide us in an overall impression! Do not push the details! Do not build doctrine on isolated lines of poetry!

▣ "the God of my life" Faithful followers are not alone; there is purpose in their lives; there is a merciful Creator who is with them and for them! Nothing "just happens" to faithful followers (cf. Psalm 139).

 9I will say to God my rock, "Why have You forgotten me?
 Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
 10As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
 While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
 11Why are you in despair, O my soul?
 And why have you become disturbed within me?
 Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
 The help of my countenance and my God.

42:9-11 Do you see the intended parallel with verses 3 and 10; verses 5 and 11?

This is like a reinforcing summary. The psalmist feels alone (Ps. 42:9a), attacked (Ps. 42:9b), discouraged (Ps. 42:11a,b). How should he respond?

1. wait — same form as Ps. 42:5

2. praise — BDB 392, KB 389, Hiphil cohortative

3. remember the God of verse 8 and his former worship times with Him in verse 4. Faith projects forward and builds on past acts of trust.


42:9 "my rock" See note at Psalm 18:2.

42:10 The words of his adversaries were so painful that the psalmist describes them as "death in his bones." Words do hurt. They can destroy. They reveal the heart and one day every human will give an account to God for his/her words (cf. Matt. 12:36-37).

42:11d This last noun clause functions like the noun clause of verse 8c. It is an affirmation of God's presence and care! He is with us and for us!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. In Book 2 (Psalms 42-72) of the Psalms there are two names for Deity that occur most often.

a. Elohim


Explain what they mean.

2. How is "living God" a play on YHWH?

3. Is the author

a. a Levite?

b. in exile?

4. Where is Mt. Mizar?

5. Who would say, "Where is your God?"

6. Why is it thought that Psalms 42 and 43 were once one Psalm?


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