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


"1. O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3. Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4. So I will bless you as long as I live,
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

5. My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
6. when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7. for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8. My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

9. But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10. they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
they shall be prey for jackals.
11. But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped."

The Lord our God is God and Creator of the whole universe, God of the nations, but also the One who is concerned for each of us individually, and so we can know him and respond to him personally. This psalm is a very personal response to God, as we realise in noticing how many times it uses the words "I", "me", and "my". Three times it speaks of "my soul", and the soul is the inner life, what we really are in our thoughts and deepest wishes. "My soul thirsts for you" (verse 1), "my soul is satisfied" (verse 5), "my soul clings to you" (verse 8). These three statements give the main points of the psalm.

God my desire (verses 1-4)

God was first in the psalmist's life. His relationship with God mattered to him more than anything else. As a very thirsty person wants water more than anything else, so he longed for God. He thought of life apart from God as being "as in a dry and weary land where there is no water". Psalm 42:1-2 uses a similar picture of a person's longing for God, "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God." The most wonderful experiences of the psalmist's life had been in knowing the nearness of God in times of worship, knowing God's power and glory (verse 2), but also God's steadfast love. Most people value life itself more than anything else, and it is natural to us to cling to life, but the psalmist says that God's "steadfast love is better than life". Indeed, as the New Testament often emphasises, to know God in the personal way of which this psalm speaks, is real life, life in all its fullness, eternal life (see John 3:16, 10:10 and 17:3).

God my delight (verses 5-8)

Realising the wonderful love and goodness of God the psalmist says, "my lips will praise you", and "I will bless you as long as I live". It is "with joyful lips" that he offers praise to God. In an intimate relationship with God he finds deepest satisfaction. Although the psalm goes on to speak of difficulties and of enemies that seek to destroy, yet it can be said that life lived close to God is like the celebration of a "rich feast" (compare 23:5, 107:9 and Isaiah 55:1-2). When he is awake in the night the psalmist thinks of God's goodness. Some people are kept awake at night by fear: fear of death, fear of enemies, fear of armed robbers and thieves, and even fear of bad dreams and nightmares. But those who put their trust in God can rest assured that their Keeper will never let them down whether they are awake or asleep (see Psalms 4:8 and 121:1-3). God has never failed to help those who trust him in times of need. Using the picture that other psalms have used, the psalmist speaks of being in the shadow of the wings of the Almighty (see notes on 61:4). In that secure place he says, "I sing for joy". (See also Psalm 91:1-2.)

God my defence (verses 9-11)

In saying "my soul clings to you" in verse 8, the psalmist uses a word that is used of husband and wife linking their lives together (in Genesis 2:24), and of the way the people of Israel were called to keep close to the Lord (in Deuteronomy 10:20, 11:22 and 30:20). Those who want to keep close to the Lord, and remain faithful to him in this way, find that they can also say, "your right hand upholds me". When we read verses 9 and 10 we need to remember the things that we have learnt in the study of other psalms. We are not to seek harm and retribution for those who oppose us, but rather that they should turn to know the truth and the redeeming love of God. At the same time those who trust in God can be sure that deceit and injustice will not triumph in the end. Those who oppose God's will and try to stop God's people fulfilling the purpose of God will surely face a day of reckoning. Our task is to do right, seek peace and justice for all, and commit our cause to God. That means that in the struggle for social justice in the world we must not become frustrated and try to take justice into our own hands by what we do, or by the thoughts we think, or even by the kind of prayers we make. Jesus was eventually vindicated by God because he committed his cause entirely to God, and harboured no bitterness or will-will towards his enemies (see 1 Peter 2:21-23). We must learn to forgive, and to leave our vindication in the hands of God. He is just and fair, and he is almighty.

In the last verse of the psalm, as in many other psalms, we have reference to the king. It may be that the writer of the psalm wrote as king over Israel. In any case a God-fearing king or ruler should "rejoice in God", turn from all evil and deceit, and lead his people also to "exult" in God and gladly serve him.

Meditation: Jesus said, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink" and "out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37-38). Note that that passage says that the promise of Jesus is fulfilled by the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who sincerely believe.

For further thought and study

a. How would you compare the psalmist's words about the thirst for God with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:6 about the "hunger and thirst for righteousness"?

b. Follow through the use of "I", "me", and "my" in the psalm, and consider how many of the expressions of personal faith you could sincerely use.


  1. The heading of the psalm pictures it as written by David in a time when he had to be in "the wilderness of Judah" as he was when he was escaping from Saul (see 1 Samuel 23:14 and 24:1-2) and then later at the time of Absalom's rebellion against him (2 Samuel 15:23).
  2. When verse 2 speaks of the psalmist 'looking upon' God in the sanctuary, the word is used that is one of the words for a prophet (= a 'seer'). It may refer to a vision or simply to the experience of feeling God's presence and having the sense of his power and glory being revealed.
  3. We may not use oaths today as people did in Old Testament days (see Matthew 5:33-37), but to swear by God as verse 11 puts this, is to reckon God as perfect truth and righteousness, and affirming that there is no other like him (see Deuteronomy 6:13 and Isaiah 45:23).