Psalm 42&43


-Drew Bundy


Psalms 42 and 43 begin the second book of Psalms. This second collection of Psalms begins with a grouping of psalms attributed to the sons of Korah. These men were levitical descendants who worked in the temple as musicians during the reign of David. As a part of their job, they wrote many songs for temple worship that are preserved in groups throughout the book of Psalms. All of these songs of the sons of Korah were written before the exile, so it is likely that book two was complied before the exile as well, though some believe it was put together afterward.

These two psalms belong together, and were most likely originally one song that for some reason at one point were separated into Psalm 42 and 43. We know that they are linked because of a repeated refrain that occurs twice in the first psalm and once in the second. The stanzas of the first and second are related thematically as well.

This song is one of despair; the psalmist has been attacked and accused by the ungodly, and he feels so down that he verbalizes his doubt that God even remembers him. As 21st Century Christians, we often shy away from expressing such depressive emotions like this in our songs or prayers, but this psalm is a reminder that it is good to process our despair honestly with God.

Stanza 1

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
    and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
    a multitude keeping festival.

There are a lot of water metaphors in this psalm. The author thirsts for God (a statement that reminds us of the image of God’s word being a stream which gives life in Psalm 1), he drinks his tears, and in stanza two there are images of drowning and waterfalls. The beginning of this psalm is often quoted out of context as a happy thirsting after God, but here it seems that the psalmist has felt the absence of God, and that is why he hungers after Him. This is not written from a soul of excess, but of great want of God and His presence. 

This author has cried because of his separation from God and mocking from people, and it wasn’t a short cry. He has been weeping and mourning day and night for quite some time. In the midst of his sorrow, much like Job, he is surrounded by people who say to him, “Where is your God?” He again mentions this taunt in stanza two. 

He reflects on the times when he led people into God’s temple in praise. This reminds us of this man’s responsibilities as a levite in the temple. But, he is in such despair and separation from God, he feels that he cannot praise and cannot lead others in worshipping God.

This stanza serves to set the picture for the reader or singer as to where the psalmist finds himself. It is in a place of great despair and weeping. He is apart from God and attacked by men.

Chorus 1

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

This chorus will repeat twice more. Though the words remain unchanged, each time that it is stated its tone is informed by the preceding stanza. This first time is still full of despair. The psalmist has not completed working through this problem to focus on God, but does instruct himself to find hope in Him.

Stanza 2

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”

As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Stanza two begins in the same place that the first stanza ended; he is still downcast. The psalmist reminds himself of two places where he was close to God and worshipped Him, but he still feels like he is drowning and is overwhelmed by his circumstances. As high as Mount Mizar was, he has fallen low beneath these waves.

There is more hope and looking toward God in this stanza than in the last. The psalmist reminds himself in the middle that God is sending him steadfast love and is singing over him. Though he reminds himself of these truths, he still feels forgotten by God. He asks why his mourning has to last so long. We often can rationalize a brief duration of suffering, but it is during the extended oppressions that our faith it truly tested.

Chorus 2

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

The chorus now is informed by the glimmers of hope seen in stanza two. The hope in God is fueled by the reminder that God is sending his love and song over this man.

Stanza 3

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
    against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man
    deliver me!

For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
    why have you rejected me?
Why do I go about mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?

Send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling!

Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

Now the psalmist asks for deliverance. He has adequately expressed the torment that has been given to him by his adversaries, and now he asks that they get their punishment for their sin. When we are attacked by deceitful and unjust men, it is appropriate to ask God to give them their due so that He maintains His holiness, but also in the memory of our own salvation by God’s grace and mercy. We can hope that God’s rebuke might lead them to repentance.

This stanza concludes with the most hopeful words yet spoken by the author. He asks to be guided out of this darkness by the light and truth of God. Jesus is the ultimate light and truth that God gives us. He will lead us out of our darkness. The goal of this restoration into God’s light is not a selfish one on the part of the psalmist. He wants to be taken out of despair so that he can again praise God. We must thirst for God’s presence not merely because of its benefits for us, but because we love God and want to worship Him.

Chorus 3

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

Now the chorus is sung with hope. God will send His light. God will deliver. Our souls do not need to continue in their downcast state. God will restore us in time, and we will again praise Him.


This psalm provides a pattern of how we can deal with our own despair when we feel far from God and mocked by wicked people. God has given these words to us to help us refocus our minds on His light and mercy. But, we have to remember that this is a song that was repeated by its singers and author. The psalmist spent a long portion of time under this oppression. God is faithful, but there will be times when we must linger in the pits, buried by waves. God gives us this song also as a balm in those extended times to repeat “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my Salvation and my God.”

Purchase Our Setting of Psalms 42 & 43 for $1.50.

Purchase our ebook “The Book of Psalms” which includes lessons about 7 Psalms including this one for private devotion or small group study for $10.95.

All Scripture is quoted from the ESV.

Drew Bundy