Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Commentary  Index 
Psalms Index
  Previous  Next 

Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 42


psa 42:0

Longing for Zion in a Hostile Country

The Second Book of Psalms consists entirely of Elohimic Psalms (vid., Introduction, p. 12); for whilst in the First Book יהוה occurred 272 times and אלהים only 15 times, the relation is here reversed: אלהים occurs 164 times, and יהוה only 30 times, and in almost every instance by a departure from the customary mode of expression for reasons that lie close at hand.

At the head of these Psalms written in the Elohimic style there stand seven inscribed לבני־קרח. That here as in לאסף the ל is Lamed acutoris, is made clear by the fact that none of these Psalms, as might be expected, have לדוד in addition to the name of the author. The lxx renders it τοῖς υἱοῖς Κορέ, just as it does τῷ Δαυίδ, without distinguishing the one ל from the other indicating the authorship, and even in the Talmud is similar meaning to the Lamed of לדוד is assumed. It is certainly remarkable that instead of an author it is always the family that is named, a rule from which Ps 88 (which see) is only a seeming departure. The designation "Bohmische Br׬der" in the hymnology of the German church is very similar. Probably the Korahitic songs originally formed a book of themselves, which bore the title שׁירי בני קרה or something similar; and then the בני קרה of this title passed over to the inscription of each separate song of those incorporated in two groups in the Psalm-collection, just as appears also to be the case with the inscription שׁיר המעלות, which is repeated fifteen times. Or we must suppose that it had become a family custom in the circle of the singers among the Korahites to allow the individual to retreat behind the joint responsibility of family unity, and, vying together, to expiate the name of their unfortunate ancestor by the best liturgical productions.

For Korah, the great-grandson of Levi, and grandson of Kehaath, is the same as he who perished by a divine judgment on account of his rebellion against Moses and Aaron (Num. 16), whose sons, however, were not involved with him in this judgment (Num 26:11). In David's time the בני קרה were one of the most renowned families of the Levite race of the Kehathites. The kingship of the promise very soon found valiant adherents and defenders in this family. Korahites gathered together to David to Ziklag, in order to aid in defending him and his title to the throne with the sword (Ch1 12:6); for הקּרחים in this passage can hardly (as Bertheau is of opinion) be descendants of the קרה of the family of Judah mentioned in Ch1 2:43, but otherwise unrenowned, since that name is elsewhere, viz., in Ch1 9:19, Ch1 9:31, a Levitic family name. In Jerusalem, after the Exile, Korahites were keepers of the temple gates (Ch1 9:17; Neh 11:19), and the chronicler there informs us that even in David's time they were keepers of the threshold of the אהל (erected over the Ark on Zion); and still earlier, in the time of Moses, in the camp of Jahve they were appointed as watchers of the entrance. They retained this ancient calling, to which allusion is made in Psa 84:11, in connection with the new arrangements instituted by David. The post of door-keeper in the temple was assigned to two branches of the Korahite families together with one Merarite (1 Chron 26:1-19). But they also even then served as musicians in the sanctuary. Heman, one of the three precentors (to be distinguished from Heman the wise man mentioned in Kg1 4:31), was a Korahite (Ch1 6:18-23); his fourteen sons belonged, together with the four sons of Asaph and the six sons of Ethan, to the twenty-four heads of the twenty-four divisions of the musicians (1 Chr. 25). The Korahites were also renowned even in the days of Jehoshaphat as singers and musicians; see Ch2 20:19, where a plural בּני הקּרחים (cf. Ges. 108, 3) is formed from בני־קרה, which has as it were become smelted together as one word. Whereas in the period after the Exile there is no longer any mention of them in this character. We may therefore look for Korahitic Psalms belonging to the post-Davidic time of the kings; whereas we ought at the outset to be less inclined to find any post-exilic Psalms among them. The common feature of this circle of songs consists herein, - they delight in the praise of Elohim as the King who sits enthroned in Jerusalem, and join in the services in His temple with the tenderest and most genuine emotion. And this impress of unity which they bear speaks strongly in favour of taking לבני־קרח in the sense of denoting authorship.

The composer of the משׂיל, Psa 42:1-11, finds himself, against his will, at a great distance from the sanctuary on Zion, the resting-place of the divine presence and manifestation, surrounded by an ungodly people, who mock at him as one forsaken of God, and he comforts his sorrowful soul, looking longingly back upon that which it has lost, with the prospect of God's help which will soon appear. All the complaints and hopes that he expresses sound very much like those of David during the time of Absalom. David's yearning after the house of God in Psa 23:1-6; Psa 26:1-12; 55; Psa 63:1-11, finds its echo here: the conduct and outlines of the enemies are also just the same; even the sojourn in the country east of Jordan agrees with David's settlement at that time at Mahanaim in the mountains of Gilead. The Korahite, however, as is to be assumed in connection with a lyric poem, speaks out of the depth of his own soul, and not, as Hengstenberg and Tholuck maintain, "as from the soul of David." He merely shares David's vexation, just as he then in Psa 84:10 prays for the anointed one. This Psa 84:1-12 breathes forth the same feelings, and even in other respects bears traces of the same author; cf. אל חי, Psa 84:3; Psa 42:3; משׁכּנותיך, Psa 84:2; Psa 43:3; מזבּחותיך, Psa 84:4; Psa 43:4; and the similar use of עוד, Psa 84:5; Psa 42:6, cf. Isa 49:20; Jer 32:15. The distinguishing features of the Korahitic type of Psalm meet us in both Psalms in the most strong and vivid manner, viz., the being joyous and weeping with God's anointed, the praise of God the King, and the yearning after the services in the holy place. And there are, it is true, thoughts that have been coined by David which we here and there distinctly hear in them (cf. Psa 42:2., Psa 84:3, with Psa 63:2); but they are reproduced with a characteristic beauty peculiar to the author himself. We do not, therefore, in the least doubt that Psa 42:1-11 is the poem of a Korahitic Levite, who found himself in exile beyond the Jordan among the attendants of David, his exiled king.

Concerning Psa 43:1-5 Eusebius has said: ὅτι μέρος ἔοικεν εἶναι τοῦ πρὸ αὐτοῦ δεδήλωται ἔκ τε τῶν ὁμοίων ἐν ἀμφοτέροις λόγων καὶ ἐκ τῆς ἐμφεροῦς διανοίας, and an old Midrash reckons 147 Psalms, taking Psa 42:1 together as one, just as with Psa 9:1, Psa 32:1. The similarity of the situation, of the general impress, of the structure, and of the refrain, is decisive in favour of these Psalms, which are commonly reckoned as two, being one. The one Psalm consists of three parts: thrice his pain breaks forth into complaint, and is each time again overcome by the admonitory voice of his higher consciousness. In the depicting of the past and the future there is unmistakeable progress. And it is not until the third part (Psa 43:1-5) that complaint, resignation, and hope are perfected by the language of confident prayer which supervenes. The unity of the Psalms is not affected by the repetition of Psa 42:10 in Psa 43:2, since Psa 42:11 is also a repetition of Psa 42:4. Beside an edging in by means of the refrain, the poet is also fond of such internal links of connection. The third part has thereby come to consist of thirteen lines, whereas the other two parts consist of twelve lines each.

What a variegated pattern card of hypotheses modern criticism opens out before us in connection with this Psalm (Psa 42:1)! Vaihinger regards it as a song composed by one of the Levites who was banished by Athaliah. Ewald thinks that King Jeconiah, who was carried away to Babylon, may have composed the Psalm; and in fact, when (and this is inferred from the Psalm itself) on the journey to Babylon, he may have been detained just a night in the vicinity of Hermon. Reuss (in the Nouvelle Revue de Thologie, 1858) prefers to suppose it is one of those who were carried off with Jeconiah (among whom there were also priests, as Ezekiel). Hitzig, however, is no less decisive in his view that the author is a priest who was carried off in the direction of Syria at the time of the wars of the Seleucidae and Ptolemies; probably Onias III, high priest from 199 b.c., the collector of the Second Book of the Psalms, whom the Egyptians under the general Skopas carried away to the citadel of Paneas. Olshausen even here, as usual, makes Antiochus Epiphanes his watchword. In opposition to this positive criticism, Maurer adheres to the negative; he says: quaerendo elegantissimi carminis scriptore frustra se fatigant interpretes.

Psalms 42:1

psa 42:1

(Heb.: 42:2-6) The poet compares the thirsting of his soul after God to the thirsting of a stag. איּל (like other names of animals is epicoene, so that there is no necessity to adopt Bצttcher's emendation כּעיּלת תערג) is construed with a feminine predicate in order to indicate the stag (hind) as an image of the soul. ערג is not merely a quiet languishing, but a strong, audible thirsting or panting for water, caused by prevailing drought, Psa 63:2; Joe 1:20; the signification desiderare refers back to the primary notion of inclinare (cf. Arab. 'l-mı̂l, the act of inclining), for the primary meaning of the verb Arab. ‛rj is to be slanting, inclined or bent, out of which has been developed the signification of ascending and moving upwards, which is transferred in Hebrew to an upward-directed longing. Moreover, it is not with Luther (lxx, Vulgate and authorized version) to be rendered: as the (a) stag crieth, etc., but (and it is accented accordingly): as a stag, which, etc. אפיק = אפק is, according to its primary signification, a watercourse holding water (vid., Psa 18:16). By the addition of מים the full and flowing watercourse is distinguished from one that is dried up. על and אל point to the difference in the object of the longing, viz., the hind has this object beneath herself, the soul above itself; the longing of the one goes deorsum, the longing of the other sursum. The soul's longing is a thirsting לאל חי. Such is the name here applied to God (as in Psa 84:3) in the sense in which flowing water is called living, as the spring or fountain of life (Psa 36:10) from which flows forth a grace that never dries up, and which stills the thirst of the soul. The spot where this God reveals Himself to him who seeks Him is the sanctuary on Zion: when shall I come and appear in the presence of Elohim?! The expression used in the Law for the three appearings of the Israelites in the sanctuary at solemn feasts is אל־פני ה נראה or את־פני, Exo 23:17; Exo 34:23. Here we find instead of this expression, in accordance with the license of poetic brevity, the bare acc. localis which is even used in other instances in the definition of localities, e.g., Eze 40:44). Bttcher, Olshausen, and others are of opinion that אראה in the mind of the poet is to be read אראה, and that it has only been changed into אראה through the later religious timidity; but the avoidance of the phrase ראה פּני ה is explained from the fundamental assumption of the Tra that a man could not behold God's פנים without dying, Exo 33:20. The poet now tells us in Psa 42:4 what the circumstances were which drove him to such intense longing. His customary food does not revive him, tears are his daily bread, which day and night run down upon his mouth (cf. Psa 80:6; Psa 102:20), and that בּאמר, when say to him, viz., the speakers, all day long, i.e., continually: Where is thy God? Without cessation, these mocking words are continually heard, uttered again and again by those who are found about him, as their thoughts, as it were, in the soul of the poet. This derision, in the Psalms and in the Prophets, is always the keenest sting of pain: Psa 79:10; Psa 115:2 (cf. Psa 71:11), Joe 2:17; Mic 7:10.

In this gloomy present, in which he is made a mock of, as one who is forsaken of God, on account of his trust in the faithfulness of the promises, he calls to remembrance the bright and cheerful past, and he pours out his soul within him (on the עלי used here and further on instead of בּי or בּקרבּי, and as distinguishing between the ego and the soul, vid., Psychol. S. 152; tr. p. 180), inasmuch as he suffers it to melt entirely away in pain (Job 30:16). As in Psa 77:4, the cohortatives affirm that he yields himself up most thoroughly to this bittersweet remembrance and to this free outward expression of his pain אלּה (haecce) points forwards; the כּי (quod) which follows opens up the expansion of this word. The futures, as expressing the object of the remembrance, state what was a habit in the time past. עבר frequently signifies not praeterire, but, without the object that is passed over coming into consideration, porro ire. סך (a collateral form of סך), properly a thicket, is figuratively (cf. Isa 9:17; Isa 10:34) an interwoven mass, a mixed multitude. The rendering therefore is: that I moved on in a dense crowd (here the distinctive Zinnor). The form אדּדּם is Hithpa., as in Isa 38:15, after the form הדּמּה from the verb דּדה, "to pass lightly and swiftly along," derived by reduplication from the root דא (cf. Arab. d'ud'u), which has the primary meaning to push, to drive (ἐλαύνειν, pousser), and in various combinations of the ד (דא, Arab. dah, דח, Arab. da‛, דב, דף) expresses manifold shades of onward motion in lighter or heavier thrusts or jerks. The suffix, as in גּדלני = גּדל עמּי, Job 31:18 (Ges. 121, 4), denotes those in reference to whom, or connection with whom, this moving onwards took place, so that consequently אדּדּם includes within itself, together with the subjective notion, the transitive notion of אדדּם, for the singer of the Psalm is a Levite; as an example in support of this אדּדּם, vid., Ch2 20:27., cf. v. 21. המון חוגג is the apposition to the personal suffix of this אדדם: with them, a multitude keeping holy-day. In Psa 42:6 the poet seeks to solace and encourage himself at this contrast of the present with the past: Why art thou thus cast down... (lxx ἵνα τί περίλυπος εἶ, κ. τ. λ., cf. Mat 26:38; Joh 12:27). It is the spirit which, as the stronger and more valiant part of the man, speaks to the soul as to the σκεῦος ἀσθενέστερον; the spiritual man soothes the natural man. The Hithpa. השׁתּוחח, which occurs only here and in Psa 43:1-5, signifies to bow one's self very low, to sit down upon the ground like a mourner (Psa 35:14; Psa 38:7), and to bend one's self downwards (Psa 44:26). המה (the future of which Ben-Asher here points ותּהמי, but Ben-Naphtali ותּהמּי), to utter a deep groan, to speak quietly and mumbling to one's self. Why this gnawing and almost desponding grief? I shall yet praise Him with thanksgiving, praise ישׁוּעות פּניו, the ready succour of His countenance turned towards me in mercy. Such is the text handed down to us. Although it is, however, a custom with the psalmists and prophets not to express such refrainlike thoughts in exactly the same form and words (cf. Psa 24:7, Psa 24:9; Psa 49:13, 21; Psa 56:5, Psa 56:11; Psa 59:10, 18), nevertheless it is to be read here by a change in the division both of the words and the verses, according to Psa 42:5 and Psa 43:5, ישׁוּעות פּני ואלהי, as is done by the lxx (Cod. Alex.), Syriac, Vulgate, and most modern expositors. For the words ישׁועות פניו, though in themselves a good enough sense (vid., e.g., Psa 44:4, Isa 64:9), produce no proper closing cadence, and are not sufficient to form a line of a verse.

(Note: Even an old Hebrew MS directs attention to the erroneousness of the Soph pasuk here; vid., Pinsker, Einleitung, S. 133 l.)

Psalms 42:6

psa 42:6

(Heb.: 42:7-12) The poet here continues to console himself with God's help. God Himself is indeed dishonoured in him; He will not suffer the trust he has reposed in Him to go unjustified. True, עלי seems at the beginning of the line to be tame, but from עלי and אזכּרך, the beginning and end of the line, standing in contrast, עלי is made emphatic, and it is at the same time clear that על־כּן is not equivalent to אשׁר על־כּן - which Gesenius asserts in his Lexicon, erroneously referring to Psa 1:5; Psa 45:3, is a poetical usage of the language; an assertion for which, however, there is as little support as that כּי על־כּן in Num 14:43 and other passages is equivalent to על־כּן כּי. In all such passages, e.g., Jer 48:36, על־כּן means "therefore," and the relationship of reason and consequence is reversed. So even here: within him his soul is bowed very low, and on account of this downcast condition he thinks continually of God, from whom he is separated. Even in Jon 2:8 this thinking upon God does not appear as the cause but as the consequence of pain. The "land of Jordan and of Hermonim" is not necessarily the northern mountain range together with the sources of the Jordan. The land beyond the Jordan is so called in opposition to ארץ לבנון, the land on this side. According to Dietrich (Abhandlungen, S. 18), חרמונים is an amplificative plural: the Hermon, as a peak soaring far above all lower summits. John Wilson (Lands of the Bible, ii. 161) refers the plural to its two summits. But the plural serves to denote the whole range of the Antilebanon extending to the south-east, and accordingly to designate the east Jordanic country. It is not for one moment to be supposed that the psalmist calls Hermon even, in comparison with his native Zion, the chosen of God. הר מצער, i.e., the mountain of littleness: the other member of the antithesis, the majesty of Zion, is wanting, and the מן which is repeated before הר is also opposed to this. Hitzig, striking out the מ of מהר, makes it an address to Zion: "because I remember thee out of the land of Jordan and of summits of Hermon, thou little mountain;" but, according to Psa 42:8, these words are addressed to Elohim. In the vicinity of Mitz‛are, a mountain unknown to us, in the country beyond Jordan, the poet is sojourning; from thence he looks longingly towards the district round about his home, and just as there, in a strange land, the wild waters of the awe-inspiring mountains roar around him, there seems to be a corresponding tumult in his soul. In Psa 42:8 he depicts the natural features of the country round about him - and it may remind one quite as much of the high and magnificent waterfalls of the lake of Muzêrı̂b as of the waterfall at the course of the Jordan near Paneas and the waters that dash headlong down the mountains round about - and in Psa 42:8 he says that he feels just as though all these threatening masses of water were following like so many waves of misfortune over his head (Tholuck, Hitzig, and Riehm). Billow follows billow as if called by one another (cf. Isa 6:3 concerning the continuous antiphon of the seraphim) at the roar (לקול as in Hab 3:16) of the cataracts, which in their terrible grandeur proclaim the Creator, God (lxx τῶν καταῤῥακτῶν σου) - all these breaking, sporting waves of God pass over him, who finds himself thus surrounded by the mighty works of nature, but taking no delight in them; and in them all he sees nothing but the mirrored image of the many afflictions which threaten to involve him in utter destruction (cf. the borrowed passage in that mosaic work taken from the Psalms, Jon 2:4).

He, however, calls upon himself in Psa 42:9 to take courage in the hope that a morning will dawn after this night of affliction (Psa 30:6), when Jahve, the God of redemption and of the people of redemption, will command His loving-kindness (cf. Psa 44:5, Amos; 3f.); and when this by day has accomplished its work of deliverance, there follows upon the day of deliverance a night of thanksgiving (Job 35:10): the joyous excitement, the strong feeling of gratitude, will not suffer him to sleep. The suffix of שׁירה is the suffix of the object: a hymn in praise of Him, prayer (viz., praiseful prayer, Hab 3:1) to the God of his life (cf. Sir. 23:4), i.e., who is his life, and will not suffer him to come under the dominion of death. Therefore will he say (אומרה), in order to bring about by prayer such a day of loving-kindness and such a night of thanksgiving songs, to the God of his rock, i.e., who is his rock (gen. apos.): Why, etc.? Concerning the different accentuation of למה here and in Psa 43:2, vid., on Psa 37:20 (cf. Psa 10:1). In this instance, where it is not followed by a guttural, it serves as a "variation" Hitzig); but even the retreating of the tone when a guttural follows is not consistently carried out, vid., Psa 49:6, cf. Sa1 28:15 (Ew. 243, b). The view of Vaihinger and Hengstenberg is inadmissible, viz., that Psa 42:10 to Psa 42:11 are the "prayer," which the psalmist means in Psa 42:9; it is the prayerful sigh of the yearning for deliverance, which is intended to form the burthen of that prayer. In some MSS we find the reading כּרצח instead of בּרצח; the בּ is here really synonymous with the כּ, it is the Beth essentiae (vid., Psa 35:2): after the manner of a crushing (cf. Eze 21:27, and the verb in Psa 62:4 of overthrowing a wall) in my bones, i.e., causing me a crunching pain which seethes in my bones, mine oppressors reproach me (חרף with the transfer of the primary meaning carpere, as is also customary in the Latin, to a plucking and stripping one of his good name). The use of ב here differs from its use in Psa 42:10; for the reproaching is not added to the crushing as a continuing state, but is itself thus crushing in its operation (vid., Psa 42:4). Instead of בּאמר we have here the easier form of expression בּאמרם; and in the refrain פּני ואלהי, which is also to be restored in Psa 42:6.

Next: Psalms Chapter 43