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

                                 Strophic Structure

Since much of Hebrew poetry is hymnody, strophic structures are bound to occur with great frequency. A strophic structure is when a series of verses often in paralleled structures combine into one group.[1] There are two simple ways to identify a strophic structure. They are through the use of “refrain” and “alphabetic acrostic.” A “refrain” is also called a “chorus.” It is similar to the repeated parts of a hymn after each verse.[2] An example of this can be found throughout the Psalter, but most notably in Psalm 136. The Psalm uses the refrain “His lovingkindness is everlasting” in all 26 verses. Another example of a strophic structure is “alphabetic acrostic.” This refers to a poem in which each successive line or verse begins with each successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.[3] The most familiar example is found in Psalm 119. Each section of the 176 verses is led by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Professor John Currid argues that these psalms are “for remembrance and it is also ornamental, decorative.”[4] These psalms were meant to be sung, recited, and remembered. They were cries of joy and sorrow from a people who hungered after their God. The modern church has forgotten our history; the psalms leave us no excuse. As James Adams has written in his insightful book War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, “The Christian Church has lost its military vision because the pulpit has been ashamed of the battle cries from the Psalms.”[5]

Due to the unfortunate division in our English Bibles between Psalm 42 and 43, this strophic structure is somewhat broken. Nevertheless, if the reader assumes this to be one hymn, the prevalent refrain of this psalm is found in chapter 42:5 and 11 and 43:5. Since this is one hymn, it can be divided in three stanzas or strophes. The refrain serves as a divider between each strophe. It is divided in the following manner: Psalm 42:1-5, Psalm 42:6-11, and Psalm 43 serves as the final strophe.

The first strophe is a lament. The psalmist hungers to be near his God in Jerusalem. In the second strophe, the psalmist laments once again over his despair.[6] The third and final strophe in chapter 43 concludes with confidence. The psalmist desires to return to the place of worship. This is an individual lament, though it is intended as a communal lament. According to Tullock, “The lament of the individual had the same basic form that communal laments had.”[7] The psalmist expresses what every covenant member desired: to be in the holy mountain (43:3).

Again, Tullock observes that confidence is a subclass of the psalms of lament. It is then appropriate that Psalm 43 ends with confidence that the writer will “go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God” (43:4). This confidence ends with the reality of the refrain that one day the psalmist will praise God unhindered by present circumstances.


[1] John D. Currid, from Judges through Poets course. Audio Lecture 11A.[2] Since much of Hebrew strophes are like hymns, I offer this simple example. One of my favorite hymns is entitled: Christ Shall Have Dominion, based on Psalm 72. The refrain of that hymn is: “Christ shall have dominion over land and sea, earth’s remotest regions shall his empire be.” Revised Trinity Hymnal, 439.[3] John D. Currid, from Judges through Poets course. Audio Lecture 10B.

[4] Ibid.

[5] James E. Adams, War Psalm of the Prince of Peace (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1991), 77.

[6] Psalm 42:7 reads: “… all your waves and breakers have swept over me (NIV).” The waves indicate chaos. The psalmist is troubled and his soul is downcast (vs. 6).

[7] John H. Tullock, The Old Testament Story. Fifth Ed. (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000), 338.

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About Uri Brito

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