Psalms 42


The psalmist earnestly longs for the ordinances of the Lord's

house, 1-4;

describes his deep distress, 5-7;

endeavours to take comfort from the consideration that the Lord

would appear in his behalf, 8, 9;

speaks of the insults of his enemies, 10;

and again takes encouragement, 11.


The title, To the chief Musician giving instruction to the sons

of Korah. This is the first of the Psalms that has this title

prefixed, and it is probable that such Psalms were composed by the

descendants of Korah during the Babylonish captivity, or by some

eminent person among those descendants, and that they were used by

the Israelites during their long captivity, as means of

consolation: and, indeed, most of the Psalms which bear this

inscription are of the consoling kind and the sentiments appear to

belong to that period of the Jewish history, and to none other.

The word maskil, from sakal, signifies to make

wise, to direct wisely, to give instruction; and here is so

understood by our translators, who have left this signification in

the margin; and so the Versions in general.

The Syriac says, "It is a Psalm which David sung when he was an

exile, and desired to return to Jerusalem." The Arabic says: "A

Psalm for the backsliding Jews."

Verse 1. As the hart panteth after the water brooks] The hart is

not only fond of feeding near some water for the benefit of

drinking, "but when he is hard hunted, and nearly spent, he will

take to some river or brook, in which," says Tuberville, "he will

keep as long as his breath will suffer him. Understand that when a

hart is spent and sore run, his last refuge is to the water; and

he will commonly descend down the streame and swimme in the very

middest thereof; for he will take as good heede as he can to touch

no boughes or twygges that grow upon the sides of the river, for

feare lest the hounds should there take sent of him. And sometimes

the hart will lye under the water, all but his very nose; and I

have seene divers lye so until the hounds have been upon them,

before they would rise; for they are constrayned to take the water

as their last refuge."-Tuberville's Art of Venerie, chap. xl.

Lond. 4to., 1611.

The above extracts will give a fine illustration of this

passage. The hart feels himself almost entirely spent; he is

nearly hunted down; the dogs are in full pursuit; he is parched

with thirst; and in a burning heat pants after the water, and when

he comes to the river, plunges in as his last refuge. Thus

pursued, spent, and nearly ready to give up the ghost, the

psalmist pants for God, for the living God! for him who can give

life, and save from death.

Verse 2. When shall I come] When, when shall I have the

privilege of appearing in his courts before God? In the mouth of a

Christian these words would import: "When shall I see my heavenly

country? When shall I come to God, the Judge of all, and to Jesus,

the Mediator of the new covenant?" He who is a stranger and a

pilgrim here below, and feels a heart full of piety to God, may

use these words in this sense; but he who feels himself here at

home, whose soul is not spiritual, wishes the earth to be eternal,

and himself eternal on it-feels no panting after the living God.

Verse 3. My tears have been my meat day and night] My longing

has been so intense after spiritual blessings, that I have

forgotten to take my necessary food; and my sorrow has been so

great, that I have had no appetite for any. I feel more for the

honour of my God and his truth than for myself, when the

idolaters, who have thy people in captivity, insultingly cry,

Where is thy God?

Verse 4. When I remember these things] Or, these things I shall

remember. They often occur to me, and sharpen my distressful

feelings. My soul is dissolved, becomes weak as water, when I

reflect on what I have had, and on what I have lost. Or, I pour

out my soul to myself in deep regrets and complaints, when

reflecting on these things. I once enjoyed all the ordinances of

God, and now I have none. I once had the joyous communion of

saints in God's ordinances; but that communion no longer exists,

for there are no ordinances to support it. There was a multitude

to worship God in public; with these I often went: but, alas, this

is no more; now there are found only a few solitary individuals

who sigh for the desolations of Zion. There we had our holy days,

our appointed feasts, to commemorate the wonderful works of the

Lord; now there are no processions, no festivals, no joyous

assemblies; all is desolation in Zion, and all is mourning in our

captivity. I have endeavoured to give a general sense to this

verse, but there are several difficulties in it; and different

commentators and critics have given it a great variety of

translations, and as many different meanings. My plan will not

permit me to follow them. Much may be seen in Dr. Horsley's work

on this verse.

Verse 5. Why art thou cast down, O my soul?] Bad as the times

are, desolate as Jerusalem is, insulting as are our enemies,

hopeless as in the sight of man our condition may be, yet there is

no room for despair. All things are possible to God. We have a

promise of restoration; he is as good as he is powerful; hope

therefore in him.

I shall yet praise him] For my restoration from this captivity.

He is the health of my soul. I shall have the light and help of

his countenance, his approbation, and a glorious deliverance

wrought by his right hand.

Verse 6. O my God, my soul is cast down] It is impossible for me

to lighten this load; I am full of discouragements,

notwithstanding I labour to hope in thee.

Therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan] That is,

from Judea, this being the chief river of that country.

And of the Hermonites] the Hermons, used in the plural

because Hermon has a double ridge joining in an angle, and rising

in many summits. The river Jordan, and the mountains of Hermon,

were the most striking features of the holy land.

From the hill Mizar.] mehar mitsar, from the little

hill, as in the margin. The little hill probably means Sion,

which was little in comparison of the Hermons.-Bishop Horsley. No

such hill as Mizar is known in India.

Verse 7. Deep calleth unto deep] One wave of sorrow rolls on me,

impelled by another. There is something dismal in the sound of the

original; tehom el tehom kore; something like

"And hollow howlings hung in air." Thompson's Ellenore. Or like

Homer's well known verse:-


"He went silently along the shore of the vastly-sounding sea."

Il. i., ver. 34.

The rolling up of the waves into a swell, and the break of the

top of the swell, and its dash upon the shore, are surprisingly

represented in the sound of the two last words.

The psalmist seems to represent himself as cast away at sea; and

by wave impelling wave, is carried to a rock, around which the

surges dash in all directions, forming hollow sounds in the creeks

and caverns. At last, several waves breaking over him, tear him

away from that rock to which he clung, and where he had a little

before found a resting-place, and, apparently, an escape from

danger. "All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me;" he is

then whelmed in the deep, and God alone can save him.

Waterspouts] A large tube formed of clouds by means of the

electric fluid, the base being uppermost, and the point of the

tube let down perpendicularly from the clouds. This tube has a

particular kind of circular motion at the point; and being hollow

within, attracts vast quantities of water, which it pours down in

torrents upon the earth. These spouts are frequent on the coast of

Syria; and Dr. Shaw has often seen them at Mount Carmel. No doubt

the psalmist had often seen them also, and the ravages made by

them. I have seen vast gullies cut out of the sides of mountains

by the fall of waterspouts, and have seen many of them in their

fullest activity.

Verse 8. The Lord will command] Every day the Lord will give an

especial commission to his loving-kindness to visit me. During the

night I shall sing of his mercy and goodness; and alternately

mingle my singing with prayer for a continuance of his mercy, and

for power to make the best use of these visitations.

Verse 9. I will say unto God my rock] God, my Fortress and


Why hast thou forgotten meat] This and the following verse is

badly pointed in our Bibles: "Why go I mourning as with a sword in

my bones because of the oppression of the enemy? Mine enemies

reproach me daily, while they say unto me, Where is thy God?" See

on Ps 42:3. Their reproaches are to my soul as cutting and severe

as a sword thrust into my body, and separating between my bones;

because these reproaches are intended to fall on thee, my God, as

if thou hadst not power to save us from the hands of our


Verse 11. Why art thou cast down] There is no reason why thou

shouldst despair. God will appear and release thee and thy brother

captives and soon thy sighing and sorrowing shall flee away.

Who is the health of my countenance] As a healthy state of the

constitution shows itself in the appearance of the face; God will

so rejoice thy heart, heal all thy spiritual maladies, that thy

face shall testify the happiness that is within thee.

There is a curious gloss on the first verse of this Psalm in my

old Psalter, which I cannot withhold from the reader. The author

translates and paraphrases the verse thus:-

Trans. Als the Hert yernes til the welles of waters; so my saule

yernes til the God.

Par. This Psalm es al of perfite men, that er brinnand in the

flamme of Goddes luf, and passes in til the contemplatyf lif: and

tharfore it es sungen in the office of the dede men: for than haf

thai, that thai yearned; that es, the syght of God. Far thi, sais

he, als the Hert that has eten the nedder, gretely yernes to com

til the welles of waters for to drynk and wax yong opayne: so

destroyed in me vices and unclennes, my saule desyres with

brinnand yernyng, to come til the God.

AElian, Appian, Aristotle, Nicander, and Pliny, all inform us

that one cause why the hart thirsts for the waters is, that they

eat serpents, and that the poison of them diffused through their

entrails produces a burning heat and fever, to ease and cure

themselves of which they have recourse to water. Many of the

fathers tell the same tale, and from them the paraphrast in the

old Psalter has borrowed what is inserted above: "Like as the

hart, which has eaten the adder, greatly longs to come to the

fountains of water to drink, that he may grow young again." The

hart is undoubtedly a cunning animal; but it would be as difficult

to believe that he eats serpents as it would be to believe that he

seeks for and eats the fresh water crab or cray fish, in order to

cure and make him grow young again, as Eusebius, Didymus,

Theodoret, Jerome, Epiphanies, Gregory Nyssen, and others of the

primitive fathers gravely inform us.


The psalmist, driven from the assemblies of Modes people,

complains; and as men overwhelmed with troubles are also oppressed

with grief, so is he; and as they abruptly express their thoughts,

so does he; for sometimes he expostulates, sometimes he complains!

sometimes he corrects and checks himself for his weakness. One

while he opens his doubts, and presently again sets forth his

confidence in God. It is difficult on this account to analyze

this Psalm; but it may be reduced to these four heads:-

I. The zeal of the psalmist to serve God in God's own house;

Ps 42:1, 2, 4, 6.

II. His complaint and expressions of grief for his absence, for

his affliction, and his enemies' insults on that ground;

Ps 42:3, 4, 7, 10.

III. His expostulation with his soul for its diffidence,

Ps 42:5, 6; and again with God for his desertion, Ps 42:9.

IV. His faith and confidence in God's promises; Ps 42:5, 8, 11.

I. 1. He begins with an expression of his grief for his exile

from the ordinances of God, and the assemblies of his people. And

he sets forth his zeal and longing desire under the expressive

similitude of a hard-hunted and thirsty stag: "As the hart

panteth," &c.; Ps 42:1, 2.

2. He shows the state he was in. 1. "My tears have been my meat

day and night;" Ps 42:3. 2. And the cause was the bitter sarcasm

of his enemies: "Where is now thy God?" Where is thy Protector?

him in whom thou trustest?

II. That which added to his grief was that which gave occasion

to this sarcasm, his banishment from the sanctuary.

1. When I remember these things, my absence, their insults, I

pour out my heart to myself; tear follows tear, and one complaint

succeeds to another.

2. And much reason I have to grieve when I compare my present

with my former condition. Formerly "I went with the multitude to

the house of God,-with the voice of joy and praise," &c. I had

gone; now I cannot and must not go.

III. Hitherto he had expressed his zeal, his sorrow, and his

complaints, with their causes. These put his soul in a sad

condition; and thus he expostulates with himself:-

1. Blaming himself for his weakness and diffidence: "Why art

thou cast down, O my soul," &c.

2. Then presently fortifies himself in God's promises: "Hope

thou in God, for I shall yet praise him," &c.

In all which is described the combat that a good man has when he

is in heaviness through manifold temptation, and finds great

difficulty to struggle between hope and despair; but at last

conquers by faith, and inherits the promises.

3. But his conflict is not yet over; he exclaims again, and

still more affectingly, "O my God, my soul is cast down." Of which

he assigns two causes:-

1. That though he was ready to remember and serve God, yet he

was forced to do it in an improper place. He remembered the

pleasant land of Palestine, the stately mountains of Hermon, and

the little hill of Sion: but there he could not worship; he was in

an enemy's country, and in captivity in that country.

2. The greatness and continual succession of his troubles: "Deep

calleth unto deep." Calamity on calamity, one trial on the heels

of another; so that he might well say, "All thy waves and thy

billows are gone over me."

3. And yet he despairs not, he encourages himself in the Lord:

"Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness," &c. 1. "His song

shall be with me." 2. "And my prayer unto the God of my life."

IV. On which he grows more confident and courageous, and again

expostulates, not now with his soul, as before, but with his GOD:

"I will say unto God my rock."

1. "Why hast thou forgotten me?"

2. "Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"

3. Why am I wounded with grief, "as with a sword in my bones,"

while they use the sarcasm, "Where is now thy God?"

But in the conclusion, after all his complaints and

expostulations, he gains a full assurance of God's favour and


1. Chiding himself for his discontent and diffidence, "Why art

thou cast down?"

2. Then he encourages his heart in God's goodness and

faithfulness: "Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him, who

is the health of my countenance, and my God."

The forty-third is most probably a part of this Psalm: they

should be read and expounded together, as the subject is not

complete in either, taken as separate Psalms. See, therefore, on

the following.

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