The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalms 42 & 43

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 19, 2016

Psalm 42

THE poet is far from the Temple and its worship, in some part, perhaps, of the northern East Jordanland. He bids his soul, in a twice repeated refrain, to hope for a share in the Temple worship once more. His enemies mock him because he has no ritual of sacrificial worship, and, therefore, seems to have no God. He thinks of great days in the past when he journeyed with joyous pilgrim throngs to the ancient shrine of the nation. The memory sustains him now when he is so far away from Jerusalem. He has, indeed, no solemn worship of the Lord in the lonely place of his sojourn, but he sings in the night time the praises of Israel’s God. “Be not sad, my soul” he concludes, “Once again I shall praise the Lord before His face in the Temple and say to Him: Thou art my Helper and my God.”

Davidic origin is not claimed for this Psalm, and, as the poem seems to imply the existence of Temple worship, Davidic origin is, indeed, excluded. The presence of the refrain of Ps 42 in Ps 43, and other points of contact have led nearly all modern commentators to regard Psalms 42 and 43 as a single poem. Since, however, this view is not quite certain (Ps 43, for instance, being ascribed in the Greek to David), and since this work deals with the Vulgate Psalter, it is more convenient to treat Psalms 42 and 43 separately. The author, some commentators think, probably was a priest. The mosaic of psalm passages in Jonah 2:3-10 includes a verse from Ps 42, so that this psalm is, most probably, older than the Book of Jonah. It is certainly older than 586 B.C., since it supposes the Temple still standing. There is nothing in the psalm to support the popular radical view that the writer was the High Priest Onias III, and that the occasion of the psalm was the conquest of Jerusalem by Scopas, a captain under Ptolemy Epiphanes. The scene of its composition is probably indicated in verse 7.


THE situation of the poet here is the same as in Ps 42. The petition in verse 3 is very natural as a final section, apart from the refrain. Though troubled so greatly by the mockers who surround him, the psalmist is confident that he will once again appear before his God in Jerusalem. The messengers of the Lord, His Light and His Truth, will come to guide him to the Hill where God dwells, that he may share again with the same holy ardour and joy with which he joined in the sacred ceremonial in his youth, in the worship of the Temple. The refrain makes the connection of Pss 42 and 43 certain.

The title “A psalm of David,” is wanting in the Hebrew. It may have been suggested to an early critic by the reference to the Tabernacle in verse 3. There is no good reason for regarding Ps 43 as other than the concluding portion of Ps 42.


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