Psalm 42

Book II—Psalms 42–72[a]

Psalm 42[b]

Prayer of Longing for God

1 For the director.[c] A maskil of the sons of Korah.

2 As a deer longs for running streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.[d]
3 My soul[e] thirsts for God, the living God.
When shall I come to behold the face of God?
4 My tears have become my food
day and night,
while people taunt me all day long, saying,
“Where is your God?”
5 As I pour out my soul,
I recall those times
when I journeyed with the multitude
and led them in procession to the house of God,
amid loud cries of joy and thanksgiving
on the part of the crowd keeping festival.
6 Why are you so disheartened, O my soul?
Why do you sigh within me?
Place your hope in God,
for I will once again praise him,
my Savior and my God.[f]
7 My soul is disheartened within me;
therefore, I remember you
from the land of Jordan and Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.[g]
8 The depths of the sea resound
in the roar of your waterfalls;[h]
all your waves and your breakers
sweep over me.
9 During the day the Lord grants his kindness,
and at night his praise is with me,
a prayer to the living God.[i]
10 I say to God, my Rock,[j]
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about in mourning
while my enemy oppresses me?”
11 It crushes my bones
when my foes taunt me,
jeering at me all day long,
“Where is your God?”[k]
12 Why are you so disheartened, O my soul?
Why do you sigh within me?
Place your hope in God;
for I will once again praise him,
my Savior and my God.[l]

Footnotes

  1. Psalm 42:1 The drama of the righteous confronted with the rise of evil terminated Book I of the Psalter. This conflict remains, but other themes come to the fore with greater insistence. Now the prayer often evinces a desire for God and to be far from human beings, oftentimes with a more mystical note added. At other times, crucial moments of history will appear to provoke alternatively both praise and supplication: the drama of the righteous remains—as that of the people. In short, in the psalms that follow, the collective aspect will be readily underlined.
  2. Psalm 42:1 This psalm, which really forms one with the next psalm, has a fascinating literary beauty but also expresses feeling of a rare kind. It is the lament of the exiled Levite combining nostalgia, distress, and fervent desire. Living in a foreign land, far from the temple of Jerusalem, the sole place where it was believed one would encounter God, the sacred ministers feel the Exile more deeply; the sanctuary is the only place where they find their happiness. They are the first to suffer the mockings of the pagans, who do not recognize the God to whom they have dedicated their lives. Three times the lament is voiced, and three times the chant that gives hope is also uttered, as the psalm vibrantly expresses the fervor for the temple, where the people flocked to celebrate the love and presence of God.
    At the heart of this fervor we glimpse the deepest human yearning: the desire for God. It is this that here on earth inspires the candidates who seek to enter the Church, the “house of God,” and we also place it on the lips of the dead who are waiting to be admitted into the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city of God. Consecrated men and women also recognize herein the movement of their souls. Is not this the sublime desire at the root of all human restlessness? Down the centuries Augustine has proclaimed: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
  3. Psalm 42:1 For the director: these words are thought to be a musical or liturgical notation. Maskil: see note on Ps 32:1a. Sons of Korah: Levites (see 1 Chr 26:19). In Book II, seven psalms bear this inscription (Pss 42; 44–49) and four in Book III (Pss 84–85; 87–88).
  4. Psalm 42:2 God: from Pss 42 to 89, the ineffable tetragrammaton (“Yahweh”) is generally replaced by “God” (“Elohim”), marking this as the “Elohist Psalter.”
  5. Psalm 42:3 Soul: see note on Ps 6:4. Living God: see Deut 5:26. Behold the face of God: here the phrase is taken to mean God’s personal presence (see Gen 33:10; Ex 10:28f). In other places the expression “see God” (or “see the face of God”) indicates the presence of God in the temple (see Pss 11:7; 17:15; 63:3; Ex 24:10; 33:7-11; Job 33:26).
  6. Psalm 42:6 Why . . . my God: this refrain appears three times in this double psalm (vv. 6, 12; 43:5) and indicates that the two parts were originally one psalm (see note on v. 12).
  7. Psalm 42:7 Mount Mizar: not identified. The translation from the land . . . supposes a Levite exiled to the springs of the Jordan, at the foot of Mount Hermon. If we think of him as exiled in Babylon, the translation would be: “I will remember you / more than the land of the Jordan and Hermon, / than the lowly mountain [Zion].”
  8. Psalm 42:8 The depths of the sea resound . . . your waterfalls: the psalmist alludes to the “waterfalls” that carry God’s waters from the “depths” above to the “depths” below (see note on Ps 36:9), bringing God’s breakers sweeping over him (see Pss 69:2f; 88:8; Jon 2:3, 5). And God is involved in this danger of water toward the psalmist (see note on Ps 32:6)—he lets it happen.
  9. Psalm 42:9 Nonetheless, the psalmist is confident of God’s kindness, and this sustains him (see note on Ps 6:5). The living God: some propose the translation: “the God of my life” and understand it as the “God who gives me life.”
  10. Psalm 42:10 Rock: see note on Ps 18:3. Why . . . ? Why . . . ?: see note on Ps 6:4.
  11. Psalm 42:11 The psalmist has been abandoned by God to his godless enemies, who taunt him with the words “Where is your God?” He resembles a dying man, and his whole being (bones; see note on Ps 34:20-21) is distressed by his foes and by God’s silence.
  12. Psalm 42:12 The refrain is voiced for the second time in this double-psalm (see v. 6, above) and will be repeated once more in Ps 43:5. This threefold refrain reflects the attitude of many of God’s people during the Exile or any crisis situation. In such loneliness and alienation, faith is tried and leads to salvation. For hope is mindful of the Lord’s glorious works of salvation and victory recounted in the sacred writings. See Mt 26:38 for the application of these words to Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

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