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

Figures of Speech

The reader, thus far, has only been exposed to a limited amount of literary styles due to the limitation of this paper. In one sense, this reveals the breadth and depth of Biblical revelation. Furthermore, it is a challenge to interpreters at all levels. Trained scholars have great responsibility to interpret—in light of the various features of Biblical poetry—the text. This in turn, will serve as tools in the shelf of younger scholars. The laity, also, is behooved to learn how to better understand Biblical poetry. The diversity of psalm types may seem overwhelming to the beginner, but as in any discipline, the student is called to careful study; especially since the topic at hand is the word of the living God. The rewards of careful exegesis are many. As Bandstra observes, “the variety and range of psalm types opens a window on the spiritual life of faithful Israel.”[1] Hence, a proper understanding of the Psalms will open a window on the spiritual life of God’s people as well. The more the reader understands God’s revelation, the more he will understand himself.

Figures of speech are the most prevalent in the Hebrew Scriptures among the variety and range of psalm types. These figures adorn the Psalter in glorious ways. Perhaps this is what makes the psalms so memorable and endearing to the reader. Who can ever forget the language of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.” Figures of speech communicate truth in a much more profound manner than literal language. They are used out of the ordinary. They are uttered in ways that resonate with the human heart. The psalms offer through these speeches meaning and comfort. Marva Dawn expresses well our need when she writes: “We need good news that isn’t just trite folk wisdom slapped on superficially in a meaningless attempt to help us feel better.”[2]

There are various figures of speech in the Psalms. Particularly, Psalm 42 uses both similes and metaphors. A simile is intended to be self-explanatory; it compares a literal item/person with something figurative.[3] Further, it uses connecting words such as “like” or “as.” The text of Psalm 42 begins with a simile. Verse one reads: As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.[4] The verse begins with the connecting word “as.” From the start, the psalmist is interested in captivating the mind with rich analogies/comparisons. The panting of a deer is likened to the panting of a human soul after his God. Anyone reading the psalm with minimal knowledge of the extreme nature of thirst understands the psalmist’s intent. Hence, similes are intended to paint mental pictures for the reader. Once more, this demonstrates the necessity to recognize the figures of speech as a significant part of Hebrew poetry.

Another well-known figure of speech in the psalms is the metaphor. A metaphor is a comparison by direct assertion. Metaphors are used when a writer wishes to describe one thing using something else. As Longman writes concerning the descriptions of God in the Psalms: “He is a shield, a fortress, a rock, a storm cloud, a shepherd, a warrior, an archer, a chariot rider, a king and so much more. Unless we understand how imagery works, we will miss much of the message of the psalms.”[5] Unlike similes, a metaphor asserts without the use of connecting words. Hence, “God is a shield,” not “God is like a shield.”

The psalmist lament in verse nine of chapter 42 uses the first metaphor. God is the Rock to the psalmist. If the writer inquires about being forgotten, he does not ask a finite being, but rather he asks his God, who is firm on His promises.[6] The same idea is used again in chapter 43 verse two. God is the stronghold to the psalmist. The poet must plead his case with a solid and strong advocate on his side. Metaphors such as these reveal that the author’s lament is grounded on confidence that his God is sovereign over his circumstances.[7]


[1] Barry L. Bandstra, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. (An International Thompson Publishing Company, 1995). 817.

[2] Marva J. Dawn, I’m Lonely, Lord—How Long? Meditations on the Psalms. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdsman Publishing Company, 1983). 2.

[3] Professor Currid uses the following example:” My roommate is a pig.” Notice roommate is literal and pig is used figuratively here to represent filth and messiness. John D. Currid, from Judges through Poets course. Audio Lecture 10B.

[4] Quotations from the NASB.

[5] Longman 111.

[6] Spurgeon once wrote: “Faith is allowed to enquire of her God the causes of his displeasure…” Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, On-line commentary. http://eword.gospelcom.net/comments/psalm/spurgeon/psalm42.htm

[7] Due to the lack of space, I will note that there is also a figure of substitution in 42:10. A synecdoche is mentioned when the psalmist uses the term “bones.” “Bones” represent in this context, his whole being. I speculate that the writer has gone through such hunger, persecution, and depression that he can literally see his own bones. Hence, the poet uses what he can see to represent his spiritual and physical being.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Psalms. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Literary and Exegetical Study of Psalm 42 & 43, Part IV

  1. Pst. Sylas says:

    Good work but oyu have not said what figure of speech is”my soul” or it is not?

    • Uri Brito says:

      Sylas, it has been almost 7 years since I wrote that paper, and I do remember limiting my material (due to space requirements). I would see “My soul” as a reference to inward passions from which comes the issues of life.

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