Thoughts on Psalm 42/43

Why do the two questions in 42:5, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?”, lead the writer to refer to geographical locations? The writer of the Psalm is in deep despair.  He began to answer his questions first by a declaration of hope.


“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (vs. 42:5b)


The writer has identified God as the future source of relief and identified Him as Savior.  From there he fluctuates back to despair in vs. 6.


“My soul is downcast within me…” (vs. 6a)


However, he comes right back with a declaration of remembrance that refers to 2 geographical locations.


“…therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.” (vs. 6b)


The land of Jordon, the heights of Hermon, and Mount Mizar are all places within Israel that would have been very familiar to those first reading / signing this Psalm.  The imagery of Jordon is a reference to the promised land with the area of Hermon in the upper portion of the Jordon Valley.  It is a land with high elevations of over 9,000 feet above sea level.  The assumption is that the unknown mountain named Mizar must have been in this area.  What is most important about this area of Jordon is that this is where the head of the Jordon river starts.  The first readers/singers of this Psalm would have known this and would have brought back to them the imagery of life-giving water.[1]  The implication is one of relief from the thirst mentioned in vss. 1-2.


“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (42:1-2)


The implication then is that remembering who God is and praising Him during a time of suffering is like a deep thirst quenched by the source of the mightiest river in the Promised Land.


How does the changing references to God reveal the writer’s coming to terms with his suffering?  Throughout Psalm 42/43, the Psalmist has many similar, yet distinctive references to God.  Each reference grows in meaning as he works through the suffering he is experiencing.  The Hebrew words used for God throughout the Psalm are el and lohiym, both meaning Mighty One.[2]  There is one instance where he uses the word yhwh (vs. 8) which is the holiest name for God meaning “to be,” God’s state of eternal, unchanging self-definition.[3]


The Psalmist moves through the Psalms in varying states of despair and woe.  Interwoven through these expressions are references to God with the given attributes mentioned in Observation #9.  There is a distinct progression of these attributes as the Psalmist comes to a resolution that remembering and praising God (el lohyim) is the way to find comfort.  Starting with a personal claim to God in vs. 42:1, the Psalmist drives deeper into God’s attributes.  In vs. 42:8, God’s holy name is used (yhwh) in conjunction with His Love.  There is a pivot in the Psalm from a hope of future comfort, to present comfort with the attributes of God.  Attributes of God being a rock (unmoving and steadfast), vindicator, rescuer, a stronghold, giver of light, giver of care, the source of joy, and source of delight all point to a God who is present, not absent.  They point to a God who is active and not passive.  They point to a God who deeply loves those who remember Him and praise Him.

Suffering is a universal human trait.  All people go through periods of suffering.  From our births (which causes pain to our mothers and probably ourselves) to our deaths, suffering is the great equalizer for all humanity.  Suffering can seem senseless and random.  Suffering can also be a positive learning experience.  But what is central to the concept of suffering and pain, is that it is necessary to the human experience and coping with suffering will largely determine the kind of life a person has.

In Psalm 42/43, the Psalmist is dealing with a deep sense of misery.  He starts the Psalm with a desperate cry for the presence of God to relieve his pain.  Working through the Psalm, he continues to express a sense of God not being present.  But as soon as he remembers the holy love of God, who God is, and starts to praise Him, he sees that his suffering, His thirst, is quenched by the living water that is the presence of God.

In my life, I need to remember this.  When I was struck with cancer when I was younger, I felt that absence of God’s presence that the Psalmist refers.  I stopped remembering who God was and stopped praising Him.  This lack of rememberance and praising led to deeper pain and despair – years after the cancer treatments had ended.  It was only until I remembered the nature of a loving and compassionate God that I started to feel and know His presence.  It was only after I started praising God through my pain that I could find relief in Him.  When we remember God, and praise Him through our pain, we will intimately know that He is the source of all comfort and delight.


[1] Tremper Longman and David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed. Vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006-©2012), 385.

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible: New International Version (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Pub., ©1996), 1905.

[3] Larry Richards, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Regency Reference Library, ©1985), 416.

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