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Psalm chapter 42

What does Psalm chapter 42 mean?

This begins the second major division of the Psalms, often referred to as "Book Two," which continues through Psalm 72. This is labelled as a maskil, most likely a musical arrangement, as are Psalms 32, 52, and 89, among others. Psalm 42 is associated with the "Sons of Korah." These were probably groups descended from the infamous family punished after the exodus (Numbers 26:9–11). Some commentators believe the Sons of Korah became influential worship leaders during the time of David and Solomon. Whether they wrote the psalms tied to their names, or the psalms were written for them to sing, is not clear.

The psalm begins expressing a desperate longing for God. This famous comparison depicts an animal panting with thirst. Desire to know and commune with God is an urgent, vital need. Here, the psalmist likely wishes to worship God in the sanctuary—the temple—in Jerusalem. Being kept from that worship is painful. Yet the psalmist puts trust in the Lord and speaks reassurance about his own salvation (Psalm 42:1–5).

Even faithful people can be tempted to despair. The writer turns to express a sense of overwhelming grief. This is compared to a brutal chain of oncoming waves or the relentless pounding of a waterfall. Another possible nuance is the idea of deep spiritual need crying out for an equally deep response. Enemy attacks tempt the psalmist to despair, but God is the solid Rock worthy of trust. Being mocked by unbelievers is painful but should not override our trust in God's goodness. Instead, the psalmist looks to the future with hope (Psalm 42:6–11).
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