Psalm 42: Translation and Commentary

1 To the choir director: A maskil of the sons of Korah.

2 As a deer pants for streams of water,
So my soul pants for you, O God!

3 My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God,
When will I come in and appear before God?

4 My tears have been my food day and night,
When they say to me, “Where is your God?”

5 These things I remember, and I pour out my soul within me:
For I used go along with the crowd, walking deliberately, to the house of God
With a voice of jubilation and thanksgiving, keeping festival with the crowd.

6 Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you in turmoil within me?
Wait for God!
For again, I will praise Him,
Salvations of His presence.

7 My God! My soul is cast down within me!
Therefore, I will remember You from the land of Jordan,
And Hermons, Mount Mizar.

8 Deep calls to deep by the voice of your waterfalls,
All your billows and waves crash over me!

9 In the daytime, Yahweh will command His lovingkindness,
And at nighttime, His song is with me.
This is a prayer to the God of my life.

10 I will say to God, my high ridge:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why is my countenance darkened?
I am walking in the oppression of the enemy!

11 With a shattering of my bones, my adversaries taunt me,
When they say to me, “Where is your God?”

12 Why are you cast down O my soul?
And why are you in turmoil within me?
Wait for God!
For again I will praise Him,
Salvations of my face and of my God.


Psalm 42 is an individual lament, coming from a godly person who is separated from God and persecuted for his or her beliefs. The believers earnestly longs for God, desiring him like a thirsty animals desires a drink (42:2-3). But the fulfillment of such desire is delayed. The believer questions: “When will I come and appear before God?” He wants to come and worship God at the temple in Jerusalem but many obstacles stand in his way.

One prominent obstacle is the opposition of others (42:4, 10-11). While the believer has commended living for God, since his life has not gone well, those who oppose God and his people are shoving the reality back in his face. “How can you continue to believe in God!?!? they taunt, “You’re life is terrible! Where is God for you now?” They are oppressing him, causing him emotional distress which feels like all his bones are breaking (42:11).

Not only is he facing opposition but he is separated from the presence of God both literally and figuratively. He is far away from the Jerusalem temple, a place he used to make pilgrimmages to (42:5). Those were fond times for him, but now, he can only reminisce. He is far from Jerusalem, in the upper regions of the Jordan by Mount Hermon (42:7). He feels forgotten by God, left alone to be tormented by his enemies (42:10). Even worse, he feels like he is drowning, crushed under the weight of God bringing trials (and possible discipline) into his life (42:8).

So what is the believer to do when facing spiritual depression? He questions himself: “Why are you cast down O my soul? And why are you in turmoil within me?” (42:6, 12). Questions are uniquely powerful to help draw out the truth. God regularly employs questions to elicit a response from others even though He knows the answer already (e.g. Gen. 3:9; 4:9). And so believers should question themselves to help gain clarity on their situation. But even more importantly than questioning himself, the believer in this Psalm talks to himself. He exhorts himself, “Wait for the Lord!” (42:6, 12). Sometimes the only thing you can do is wait for God. Things will not resolve or get better until God decides to act. Sometimes you have sit in the darkness.

But the believer doesn’t just consign himself to despair. No! That’s not biblical waiting. Waiting for the Lord looks to the future with hope: “For I will again praise Him!” (42:6, 12). The point is that the darkness will lift eventually. The believer will eventually find himself back in God’s presence (in this Psalm symbolized by the temple in Jerusalem). And the reason why the future looks bright for him is because of “the salvations of [God’s] presence.” God will performing mighty acts of salvation on his behalf and bring him back into His presence. The darkness will lift and the bright light of God’s glory will flood his heart once again.

But maybe not yet.

That’s the power of the repeated refrain in 42:6 and then again in verse 12. Sometimes things don’t change quickly. We must wait. And pray. Again and again. Perseverance in prayer might just one of the lessons that the deep darkness of depression, discouragement, and melancholy teaches us. It is through prayer, however, that we can come to wait for the Lord and take refuge in His saving presence.

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