Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha

PSALMS 42-43

Psalm 42

"1. As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2. My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3. My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually,
'Where is your God?'

4. These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5. Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6. and my God.

My soul in cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7. Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
8. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

9. I say to God, my rock,
'Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?'
10. As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
'Where is your God?'

11. Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalm 43

1. Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
deliver me!
2. For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because of the oppression of the enemy?

3. O send out your light and your truth;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.
4. Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.

5. Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God."

Psalms 42 and 43 were probably originally just one Psalm. There is no heading to Psalm 43, and we have the same refrain or chorus in 42:5 and 11 and 43:5. The theme and situation of the writer seem to be the same in the two Psalms. Often, as Christians, we may feel like this psalmist, in the discouragements of life, and then in the way that we find encouragement.


The psalmist felt lonely and disheartened because he had to be far away from his home and his place of worship. He had loved the worship of the temple in Jerusalem, being with the crowds who came to praise God. He led their processions and dances, especially during the great festivals (verse 4). Now he had to be far away in the north of Palestine, near Mt. Hermon where the river Jordan begins its course (verse 6). The worst thing of all was that people around him laughed at him for his trust in God. It certainly seemed that not only Jerusalem was far away, but that God was far away and had forgotten him. When people said to him, "Where is your God?" it was like having a "deadly wound" in his body (verse 10). When the rains came and the water poured down the River Jordan, he realised the great power of the water in the "cataracts" or waterfalls. He thought of the even greater power of the water of the deep ocean, and his troubles seemed like the waves of the sea rolling over him. He was powerless under them and his life was in great danger (verse 7). The situation seemed hopeless.


But the psalmist did not allow hopelessness to destroy his faith altogether. Deep in his heart he was sure of God. God could not change. God could not fail. He is the "living God". The psalmist could say "my God", "my help", "my rock". He recalled his past experiences of God. He recalled how he had felt the presence of God in the temple. But was God limited to the temple? he asked. Why should he not know the presence of God anywhere else? In the past God had often shown his "steadfast love". So in the quietness of the night, when people are tempted to worry about the things of the day, he reminded himself of God's mercies to him in the past. In this way his worry was turned into the praise of God and prayer. When verse 8 says "the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me", the psalmist is thinking of many experiences in the past. It does not mean, of course, that God only answers prayers made in the night or at any special hour of day or night. When one thinks of God's mercies and prays at any time, faith is revived. The psalmist rebukes his drooping spirits, plucks up courage, and addresses himself, "Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled?" (verse 5 in the Good News Bible). And he gives himself the answer: "I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my saviour and my God." Like a thirsty animal longs for streams of water, so he could truly say that he longed for God, to "behold the face of God".

Problems and difficulties in life have a way of driving us back to God, and they help us to reorder our priorities and to see that the only thing that really matters in life is to be found pleasing God at all times. So here, as a result of his problems, the psalmist concluded that to enjoy God's presence was what mattered to him more than anything else in life (verses 1-2; compare 63:1 and 143:6). For the person of faith, difficulties and problems are blessings in disguise.

The power of prayer

In most of Psalm 42 the writer of the psalm is either talking about himself and his discouragements, or he is talking to himself about the way he should trust in God. In Psalm 43 he prays directly to God. He tells God about the people who were laughing at him, "ungodly people" who were "deceitful and unjust". He said to the Lord, "you are the God in whom I take refuge", and asked that he would "defend" him and "deliver" him. He asked for God's light to guide him and his truth to teach him. He spoke of his highest hopes and the most important goals in his life. He wanted to come back from far away to God's "holy hill", that is, to the temple in Jerusalem, and so to "the altar of God" where sacrifices were brought and worship offered. As Christians, we do not depend on a place or a building. To the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus said, "you will worship the Father neither on this mountain (Gerizim) nor in Jerusalem", but what God seeks is "worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21, 23). But prayer is still the way for us as it was for the psalmist. When we pray in faith and according to God's will, we can say, as the psalmist repeats the words, "Why are you cast down --- Why are you disquieted ----? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God." Furthermore, when we learn to remember God's mercies in the past, we, as we face new problems and challenges, will stop panicking and start praying and praising God in hope. And we will find increasingly that our difficulties draw us closer to our loving and unchanging God.

Meditation God is like a "fountain of living water" (Jeremiah 2:13 and 17:13). How much do I "thirst for God"?

For further thought and study

a. Can you think of experiences in your life or in the lives of others you know, in which difficult situations and fresh challenges in life have led, as in the case of the psalmist, to a deeper knowledge of God and to the strengthening of faith?

b. This Psalm is written by one who felt great loneliness and depression. Who are the people in your community who feel lonely and depressed? What practical things can be done to help them, by yourself, by other individuals and families, by the Church?

c. For what reasons is it important for us to worship God together with our fellow-Christians? What would you miss if you could not join others in worship?


  1. In the heading of Psalm 42 the Psalm, (like Psalm 32 and 10 others,) is called a "Maskil". The exact meaning of this word is not certain, but because it is linked with the verb that means 'understand' or 'be wise', it is thought that it may mean a psalm that is intended to teach, or one on which to meditate to be wise. The heading of the Psalm also mentions "the Korahites". From 1 Chronicles 6:22 and 31-48 we can see that they were responsible for "the service of song" in the temple.
  2. We do not know today the location of Mount Mizar that is spoken of in 42:6, but it is likely that it was a mountain near to Mt. Hermon in the north of Palestine.