Psalm 42, 43

For the choir director. A maschil of the sons of Korah.

Study by Diane Barstow

Maschil – (used 13x meaning attentive) a song enforcing some lesson of wisdom or piety, a didactic poem (intended to teach) of the sons of Korah. Hmmmm, who are these sons and why have they written or gathered this Psalm? 

It was the very mention of the sons of Korah that intrigued me and made me choose this Psalm. Who are they, why do they get a mention? We have to go waaaaaay back to Moses, Aaron, and the rebellion of 250 Levites, evidently they were jealous of Aaron and decided they too should be priests, not just servants. They dared to offer incense before the Lord and were incinerated. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, insurrectionists were swallowed up (literally) by the earth to prove to the people that Moses and Aaron were indeed their anointed leaders. Those who didn’t want to suffer the same fate were advised to stay away, and the sons of Korah did. They were thereafter worship leaders, caretakers of the tabernacle, now that’s a marvelous example of grace and mercy!


Never in my life have I had so much trouble getting a straight answer as I have researching this Psalm! Who wrote it? When and why was it written?? There is not a simple answer. I have a very hard time with not knowing once I set out on a hunt for answers it’s hard to accept I don’t know! But I don’t know! No one is sure about anything concerning this Psalm! Written by David, many think so! Written while in exile from the rebellion of Absalom, likely if David is the writer! Written by a Levite during the exile with David or in Babylon, also a possibility.  Perhaps assembled during Hezekiah’s reign, or after. Argh! It’s maddening!! 


But, I have to say in this case it really doesn’t matter, it’s the instruction that’s important. It reflects universal experience – depression and that’s the instruction we receive from the writer. How to deal with depression.  42 and 43 must be taken together, the chapter division is of human origin, but you can see that the breakdown of the 2 Psalms makes 1 complete thought. There are 3 divisions, 42 verses 1-4 with the chorus of the song in verse 5, verses 6-10 with the chorus in verse 11, and 43 verses 1-4 with the chorus in verse 5. Notice how they are nearly the same!

These are word pictures!

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. 

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God? Note: water brooks are living, not stagnant standing water.

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me. “Where is your God?”

These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

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. Faith powers hope, hope delivers joy! See John 16:33

O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all of Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. 

The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to my rock, “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.

43:1 Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! Note: defend his cause and deliver him from the power of his enemies.

For You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling places.

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

(despair is downcast in hebrew, used only 3x, all here)

A caveat, this is no way minimizes clinical depression, see a doctor for that! As you will see from the text, this was spiritual depression brought on by real circumstances! Note: Steve’s book Winning Your Personal Battles, many counseling documents are available in the office for ‘the full counsel of God. How to Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, How to Deal with Depression.


Causes of spiritual depression: (there are many, but these few are recorded in this Psalm) Note: this method is particular to this Psalm.

Alienation: The writer feels far from home, and thus far from God. He longs so deeply in his soul for the refreshing of God’s presence that he likens it to a hunted, haunted deer so thirsty that it breaks cover and goes to a brook for a drink, its thirst overrides its instinct to stay hidden. He knows that God is everywhere, he is continually in prayer, but he is unable to fulfill his calling. He wants to appear before the Lord in worship! He wants to attend the feast celebration, do all the things he used to do! He misses the sacred practices, he thirsts for God! Spiritual thirst can only be slaked by the Spirit of God! It’s not a place (see John 4) but a Person who satisfies. Perhaps you’re not reading your bible, or regularly attending church, are you in ‘exile’ because of ill health, logistics, or because of a trial? 

Torment of an enemy: Added to that feeling of separation, there are enemies tormenting him, asking him to explain where is His God? If your God is so great, why are you here?  

Memories: Next the Psalmist turns to his memories, they can haunt or help! If he believes the lie that he’ll never get to go back, then they’ll haunt him. Hopeless despair will always result from believing a lie during crisis or trial. 

Overwhelming trials of life: vividly pictured here as billows of waves or a thundering waterfall that threatens to drown! Awe inspiring from afar, but terrifying up close and personal! He felt like he was drowning in a flood of waters, being overwhelmed by wave after wave! This is intense suffering!

Lack of immediate relief: God has not yet acted to make the situation better! Can He hear me? Does He see what’s happening?

Psalm 43, attacks from the wicked: he was unjustly accused, and prays for vindication, and to be returned home to his place of worship and to his God! Do you accuse yourself, condemn yourself for some failing, does that make you run to the Lord, or away from Him? Even his tears accuse him! Have you ever felt that way, that your tears are evidence of unbelief, of doubt? 


The Cure for spiritual depression: 

Our thoughts are so important. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad” Proverbs 12:25 “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19 Our words are important too! “The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips.” Proverbs 16:23 There is certainty in the words of truth Proverbs 22:21

Take yourself in hand! Notice in the length of 16 verses he takes himself in hand three times! It will certainly take practice to rouse yourself, to believe truth, to be comforted and enlivened by it, to dispel lies!! So he takes himself in hand and says, why are you in despair? Speaking truth to yourself! He preaches to himself, trust the Lord, hope in God, you shall again praise Him for the help of His presence!

Challenge yourself to do what must be done: put your hope in God! There is no where else true, lasting hope may be found. You are a citizen of heaven and not of this world! Your hope is not found in circumstances, in a person, in health, or any other earthly thing! Your hope is anchored to the throne of God in heaven and He has a name – Jesus!

Remind yourself of what is certain: hope in God is absolutely the answer, not in anything or anyone else. I will yet praise Him, hasn’t He promised to complete the work that He began in you? Memories begin to comfort, God’s presence is not found in a place, but in your heart, faith is bolstered, this trial has come to pass, but not to stay!


In verse 8 a dramatic change in words, he uses Jehovah, the covenant God, instead of Elohim the Lord! Now he knows to Whom he’s praying, the LORD, Jehovah! He will command His lovingkindness, His song will be with me in the night, He is the God of my life!! There’s also a change in his prayer from verse 5 God’s presence makes a change in his countenance in verse 11 and 43:5.


Everywhere you see I will, these verbs are in the future tense, they are spoken in faith, he makes a choice to allow them to comfort him. 

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