A Literary and Exegetical Study of Psalm 42 & 43, Part I

The Psalter is at the heart of Biblical Christianity. It enlivens the soul and gives greater fullness to Biblical Revelation. It is impossible to conceive of special revelation apart from the Songs of Zion.[1] Furthermore, in the words of Professor Bruce Waltke:

The Psalter advances significantly the Bible’s message that God’s kingdom is irrupting into the world for his glory and our good.[2]

Indeed the hymnody of the church has been enriched when she sings from God’s songbook.[3] In a powerful way, God’s kingdom irrupts through songs of praise and lament.

The Psalter serves as a corporate call to worship. It is a strong rebuke to our individualistic society because it demands a corporate response. The people of God are drawn to the God of the Psalms. He is their creator and the heavens tell of his glory (Ps.19:1). The earth stands still at his majesty (Ps. 68:34) and the kingdoms of this world will be the kingdoms of our God (Ps. 110).

Though the Psalms are perhaps the most familiar to modern readers, it does not mean that modern readers grasp its significance, or further, the proper hermeneutic to understanding the Psalter. This paper attempts to shed light on two Psalms: Chapters 42 and 43.[4]

The Harmony of Psalms 42 and 43

The reader will note from a first glimpse of these two psalms that there is a certain harmony between them. Almost all psalms are accompanied by a brief statement called the “superscription” or a “title.” In some cases, superscriptions also indicate the authorship of the psalm. For instance, the title of Psalm 52 reads: “For the director of music. A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomites had gone to Saul and told him: ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.’ “[5] In this Psalm, the superscription reveals not only the Davidic authorship, but also the circumstance surrounding the psalm. Some scholars argue that the superscriptions are later additions to the Psalms. As evidence, scholars cite superscriptions that appear to be dated differently from the content of the psalm itself[6] and that the superscriptions do not harmonize with the content of the psalm. Though a minority view, it is best to understand these superscriptions as authentic.[7] For instance, Paul’s quotation of Psalm 32 in Romans 4 affirms Davidic authorship. However, Psalm 32 says nothing about Davidic authorship, but the superscription identifies the psalm as authored by David. Hence, Paul must have trusted the titles as authentic parts of the psalm itself.[8]

Psalm 42 introduces Book II of the Psalter that takes the reader to Psalm 72.[9] Its subscription reads: “For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.”[10] Psalm 43 lacks a title. For this reason-and others-many have concluded that the absence of a title in a section where almost every psalm is titled, means that these two psalms were originally one. Furthermore, a common refrain of lament is repeated thrice in Psalm 42:5,11 and 43:5:

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.[11]

These reasons affirm the harmony/unity of these psalms.

[1] Some months ago, Professor Dr. W. Robert Godfrey was asked what book he would take to a desert island. His answer was unequivocally the Psalter.[2] Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 870.[3] This is not an indication that the Psalter is the only hymnody of the church, nevertheless, in some cases it has become a forgotten hymnal. I strongly urge a return to them.[4] This paper will use various translations in the process, though the NASB will be used with greater frequency, since it was Professor Currid’s main translation during the course.

[5] Pratt, Richard, ed. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible: NIV (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 858.

[6] Kirkpatrick argues that Psalm 69 was written after David’s death, hence it cannot be a legitimate part of the Psalter. See John D. Currid, from Judges through Poets course notes (Audio Lecture 13B)

[7] Professor Currid persuaded me of this position in his audio lecture 13A and B. See also Waltke’s brief defense of the superscriptions in his new Theology of the Old Testament. Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 871-874.

[8] Professor Currid also defends this position by citing OT examples and extra-biblical examples for the authenticity of the superscriptions. Waltke notes that like Psalms 42-43, Psalms 9-10 were also “unified psalms and later divided for liturgical reasons…” Waltke, K. Bruce, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 884.

[9] The Psalms is divided into five books: 1-41; 42-72; 73-89;90-106; and 107-50.

[10] Richard Pratt, ed. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible: NIV (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 846.

[11] Quotation from the New American Standard of the Bible.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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