Psalm 43
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges


Psalms 42-72


The Second and Third Books (Psalms 42-89) form the second principal division of the Psalter. The greater part of it (Psalms 42-83) is known as the ‘Elohistic’ collection, because the appellative Elôhîm, ‘God,’ is employed throughout it in the place and almost to the exclusion of the proper name Jehovah, A.V. ‘Lord’ or ‘God.’ This peculiarity is due, in all probability, to the hand of the editor who made the collection by combining a selection of Psalms taken from three sources: (1) a collection of Psalms preserved and used by the Levitical family or guild of the Korahites: (2) a collection bearing the name of David: (3) a collection bearing the name of Asaph, and probably preserved in the family or guild of Asaph. To the Elohistic collection is attached an appendix containing Psalms taken from the Korahite hymnary and other sources, which have not been altered by the Elohistic editor. This collection, perhaps at first without, and afterwards with, the appendix, was probably at one time in circulation as a separate book. See Introd. pp. liii ff.

The first seven Psalms in Book ii (if we reckon 42 and 43 as one) are described in their titles as of the sons of Korah. This rendering of the R.V. is certainly to be preferred to that of the A.V. for the sons of K., which is explained to mean that these Psalms were delivered to the Korahites to be set to music and performed; and the title indicates in all probability (see p. xxix) that the Psalms bearing it were taken from a collection bearing some such name as “The Book of the Songs of the Sons of Korah.”

Korah was the grandson of Kohath and great-grandson of Levi. When he perished for the part which he took in the famous rebellion against Moses, his family escaped (Numbers 16; Numbers 26:11), and his descendants held important offices.

Korahites acted as sentinels of the camp of the Levites; they were warders of the sacred Tent erected by David[18]; and to them was assigned the office of porters or door-keepers of the Temple, which they resumed after the Return from Babylon (1 Chronicles 9:17 ff; 1 Chronicles 26:1 ff.; Nehemiah 11:19)[19].

[18] It is uncertain whether the Korahites who joined David at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12:6) belonged to the Levitical family, or to that of the Judahite Korah settled at Hebron (1 Chronicles 2:43).

[19] It is doubtful whether Psalm 84:10 is really, as has been supposed, an allusion to this important office. See note on the passage.

Korahites were also connected with the service of sacred song in the Temple. Heman, one of David’s three principal musicians, was a Korahite (1 Chronicles 6:31-33), and his sons were the leaders of fourteen out of the twenty-four courses of Temple musicians (1 Chronicles 25:4 ff.).

There is an allusion to them as singers in the history of the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:19), but in the post-exilic period they are only mentioned as door-keepers and not as musicians. Jehuel and Shimei, two of Heman’s descendants, are named in 2 Chronicles 29:14 as taking part in Hezekiah’s reformation.

The common characteristics of the Korahite Psalms have been somewhat exaggerated. The collection includes, as we should expect a Levitical collection to do, Psalms which breathe a spirit of strong devotion to the Temple, and heartfelt delight in its services (Psalms 42-43; Psalms 84), and Psalms which celebrate with enthusiastic pride the praise of Jerusalem as “the city of God,” which He has chosen for His own abode, and in which He reigns as King (46, 47, 48, 87). But these thoughts are not confined to these Psalms[20]; and other features have been pointed out as peculiar, which do not amount to distinctive characteristics common to these Psalms as a group, or which, as in the case of the Divine names, are due to the editor, not to the original authors[21].

[20] See e.g. for the first, Psalms 63, 65; for the second, Psalms 24.

[21] Thus though Jehovah Tsebâôth occurs six times in Korahite Pss. (Psalm 46:7; Psalm 46:11; Psalm 48:8; Psalm 84:1; Psalm 84:3; Psalm 84:12) and only once besides in the Psalter (Psalm 24:10), it is only found in three out of eleven Psalms, and of these two (46, 48) are the work of the same poet. But in view of the alteration which the Divine names have undergone, it can hardly be distinguished from Jehovah Elôhîm Tsebâôth, which occurs not only in the Korahite Ps., Psalm 84:8, but in a Davidic Ps., Psalm 59:5, and an Asaphic Ps., Psalm 80:4; Psalm 80:19, which also has Elôhîm Tsebâôth (v. 7, 14), which can be nothing but the editorial equivalent Jehovah Tsebâôth. The peculiar Adonai Jehovah Tsebâôth in Psalm 69:6 is probably due to the editor: the form in Psalm 89:8 is not unfrequent in the prophets.

In fact the variety of thought and type in the Psalms included in this collection is more remarkable than their similarity. There are (1) personal Psalms, expressive of the most intense personal devotion (Psalms 42-43, 84), and, if 88 is included among the Korahite Psalms, a most pathetic prayer in a situation of the deepest distress: (2) national Psalms, of which one (Psalms 44) is a prayer in time of grave calamity, others (Psalms 46-48) are thanksgivings for a marvellous deliverance, another (85) is a combination of thanksgiving and prayer. (3) Psalms 45 is a congratulatory ode on the marriage of a king: Psalms 49 is a didactic poem, closely related (as is also Psalms 88) to the ‘Wisdom literature’: Psalms 87 breathes the largest spirit of prophetic universalism. The Korahite Psalms form in fact a strikingly representative selection, though, as might be expected, the public and national elements predominate.

As regards the date of these Psalms, the group included in the Elohistic collection should be distinguished from the Psalms in the appendix to it. Of the former (Psalms 42-49) some certainly belong to the time of the Monarchy (45, 46, 48); none are certainly later than the Fall of the Kingdom: of the latter, some may date from the time of the Monarchy, but one at least (85) is later than the Return.

Psalms 42, 43

These two Psalms form a connected poem, consisting of three equal stanzas, each ending with the same refrain. The same circumstances appear to lie in the background, and the tone, spirit, and language are the same throughout. The prayer of Psalms 43 is needed to supplement the complaint of Psalms 42.

It is possible that some interval of time separated the composition of Psalms 43 from that of Psalms 42, or even that they were the work of different poets, and that from the first they were separate poems; but it is far more probable that they are the work of the same poet, and that they originally formed one poem, which has been divided for liturgical or devotional purposes. This division is ancient, for it appears in the majority of Hebrew MSS., and in all Ancient Versions. In some MSS. the two Psalms appear to be united, but this may be due to the absence of any title to mark the beginning of Psalms 43. The absence of a title, however, indicates that the division was made after the formation of the Elohistic collection, in which all the Psalms, with the exception of this and 71, are furnished with titles. See Introd., p. liv.

The author of these Psalms was one who had been wont to conduct processions of pilgrims to the Temple for the great festivals with joyous songs of praise. But now he is forcibly debarred from going up to the worship of the sanctuary. He describes the locality where he is detained as “the land of Jordan and the range of Hermon,” the district in which the Jordan takes its rise from the roots of Hermon. “Mount Mizar” was doubtless some hill in the neighbourhood, though it cannot now be identified. He is surrounded by inhuman heathen enemies (Psalm 43:1), who continually taunt him with being deserted by his God (Psalm 42:3; Psalm 42:10; Psalm 43:2). His faith is sorely tried; but he is confident that he will soon be allowed once more to go up to Jerusalem, and join in the services of the sanctuary.

Who was he and when did he live? The inclusion of the Psalm in the Korahite collection makes it probable that he was a Korahite Levite; and this probability is confirmed by his enthusiastic love for the Temple services, by the part he was accustomed to take in the festal pilgrimages, and by his skill as a musician (Psalm 42:8; Psalm 43:4). The Temple was standing and its services were being regularly carried on. So far however as this Psalm is concerned there is nothing to shew whether it was written before or after the Exile. But its close connexion with Psalms 84 is in favour of assigning it to the earlier period. That Psalm presents such striking resemblances in tone and spirit, in language, and in structure, that it may well have been written by the same author under happier circumstances; and if v. 9 is understood (as it is most natural to understand it) as a prayer for the king, it must belong to the period of the monarchy. Psalms 63, and in a less degree Psalms 61, which belong to the same period, also present affinities. The coincidences with Joel (see notes on Psalm 42:1; Psalm 42:3, and cp. Psalm 84:6), and the use of the Psalm in the prayer of Jonah (see on Psalm 42:7), are noteworthy, but in the uncertainty as to the date of these books, throw no additional light on the question. The circumstances under which the Psalmist found himself debarred from going up to Jerusalem and exposed to the taunts of heathen conquerors might have happened at many different periods, in one of the Syrian or Assyrian invasions, or after the northern kingdom had ceased to exist.

More definite conjectures as to the date lack probability. Delitzsch attributes the Psalm to a Korahite Levite who accompanied David in his flight to Mahanaim, in Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 15:24). But the Psalm contains no allusions to the circumstances of the rebellion; David was among sympathising friends, not among mocking heathen enemies; and Mahanaim was too distant from Hermon to suit the description of the locality in v. 6. Ewald thinks that the Psalm was written by Jehoiachin, as he halted for a night in the neighbourhood of Hermon on his way to exile in Babylon. But there is not the slightest hint that the Psalmist was a king: he does not appear to be an actual prisoner, or a mere temporary sojourner in the neighbourhood of Hermon: he expects soon to be able to go up to Jerusalem again, whereas Jehoiachin had nothing before him but the prospect of a lifelong captivity. Hitzig, followed so far as the date is concerned by Cheyne, attributes the Psalm to the high-priest Onias 3, whom he supposes to have been carried away prisoner by the Egyptian general Scopas, when after the capture of Jerusalem he marched northwards to be defeated by Antiochus the Great, near the source of the Jordan (Jos. Antiq. xii. 3. 3), in b.c. 199–198. But the inclusion of the Psalm in the Elohistic collection, to say nothing of the arguments already given for assigning the Psalm to the period of the monarchy, renders so late a date extremely improbable. See Intr. to Psalms 44.

Happily the poetic beauty and the devotional earnestness of the Psalm are independent of all doubts as to its date and authorship. It is a monument of the spirituality and the joyousness of the religion of Israel. If the writer yearns for renewed access to the earthly sanctuary, it is that in the appointed place and by the appointed means he may realise that communion with God which is the soul’s highest happiness. The Latin hymn Ut iucundas cervus undas (Trench, Sacred Latin Poetry, No. lii) is a beautiful development of the theme of this Psalm.

The structure of the poem is symmetrical and artistic. It consists of three equal stanzas, each closed by the same refrain. Many of the lines fall into the peculiar ‘lamentation-rhythm.’

i. The yearning of the Psalmist’s soul for God strikes the keynote of the Psalm (Psalm 42:1-2): and in his present sorrow he finds sad comfort in the recollection of former happiness (Psalm 42:3-4).

ii. He describes his pitiable plight (Psalm 42:6-7); and recalling past mercies, expostulates with God for having abandoned him to the taunts of his foes (Psalm 42:8-10).

iii. He prays for deliverance from these enemies (Psalm 43:1-2), and restoration to the privileges of the sanctuary (Psalm 43:3-4).

In the refrain which closes each stanza faith rebukes despondency and hope triumphs over despair (Psalm 43:5).

On the title, which should be rendered, with R.V., For the Chief Musician; Maschil of the sons of Korah, see Introd. pp. xix, xxi, xxxiii, and p. 223.

Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.
1. Judge me &c.] An appeal to God the Judge to do him justice and vindicate his innocence by delivering him from the power of his insolent foes. For the language cp. Psalm 7:8; Psalm 26:1; Psalm 35:1; Psalm 35:24.

against an ungodly nation] Lit. from, i. e. by delivering me from, a nation without lovingkindness; heathen destitute of all feeling of humanity. For the meaning of châsîd see notes on Psalm 4:3; Psalm 12:1; and Appendix, Note 1.

the deceitful and unjust man] The leader of the heathen, who had distinguished himself by treachery and malignity, may be meant. But it is better to understand the words collectively as a further description of the ‘inhuman nation’ in general, men of deceit and malignity.

1, 2. Prayer for deliverance, grounded upon God’s relation to him.

Psalm 43:1-5. A passionate prayer for deliverance from his enemies and restoration to the privileges of the sanctuary.

For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
2. the God of my strength] Or, my stronghold God: my natural refuge and protector. Cp. Psalm 18:2; Psalm 42:9. But facts seem to contradict faith, and the expostulation of Psalm 42:9 is repeated in a stronger form: Why hast thou cast me off (Psalm 44:9; Psalm 44:23)? and in the next line a more emphatic form of the verb go is used, meaning go about by myself.

O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.
3. O send out thy light and thy truth] Cp. Psalm 57:3. God’s light and truth, like His lovingkindness in Psalm 42:8, are almost personified. As of old He gave His lovingkindness charge concerning His servant, so now may He manifest the light of His countenance, and evermore shew him favour (Psalm 36:9; Psalm 44:3); and thus prove Himself true to His own character and His promises.

let them lead me &c.] Is the Psalmist thinking of the wonders of the Exodus? Cp. Exodus 13:21; Exodus 15:13.

tabernacles] Or, dwelling-place. Cp. Psalm 26:8; Psalm 46:4; Psalm 84:1. The plural may be ‘amplificative,’ expressive of the dignity of the Temple as the dwelling-place of God; or it may be used with reference to the various courts and buildings of which it was composed.

3, 4. Prayer for restoration.

Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.
4. Then will I go] Or, That I may come (Psalm 42:2).

unto God my exceeding joy] Even unto the God of my gladsome rejoicing. God Himself is the goal of pilgrimage: the altar is but the means of approaching Him and realising His presence.

Yea, upon the harp will I praise thee) And give thanks unto thee upon the harp, as of old (Psalm 42:4).

O God my God] A phrase found only in the Elohistic Psalms, and clearly the equivalent of Jehovah my God, due, not to the original Psalmist, but to the Elohistic editor. See Introd. p. lvi.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
5. The refrain is once more repeated, and now, we may believe, with a still more unwavering faith and certain hope that his prayer will be answered.

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