Now we commence the second book of the Psalms – the book which is best aligned with the second book of the Pentateuch, the book of Exodus, where we read of the foundation of the nation of Israel (although it is not yet given the Promised Land). This second book is best categorised into three parts:
- Psalms 42-49: Israel’s ruin
- Psalms 50-60: Israel’s Redeemer
- Psalms 61-72: Israel’s Redemption
As Charles Spurgeon comments, the mentioning of the psalm being dedicated to the choirmaster, a Maskil of “the sons of Korah” (a Maskil appears to be a musical or liturgical terminology), this is a reference to the people who had been spared when their father and all his company, and all the children of his associates, were swallowed up alive in their sin (Numbers 26:11). Spurgeon observes that it is possible that, given they were preserved by His sovereign grace, they became so filled with gratitude that they “addicted themselves to sacred music in order that their spared lives might be consecrated to the glory of God.”
Mike Reeves, in his commentary of the Books of Psalms at the Weekend Away Sermons for All Souls, reminds us that the second book is also a book describing liberation from slavery – a rampant theme in the book of Exodus. To him, the “musical or liturgical terms” (such as the maskil) indicate that these psalms should be read together, as Christians have done in the past according to these terms or psalm titles (such as Psalm 9 of the NIV, indicating that the psalm should be sung to the tune of “the Death of the Son“). In the same way, there are psalms of the winepress (indicating judgment; c.f. the “gittith” psalms where the Septuagint LXX refer to these as sung to the tune of the “winepress” psalms – c.f. Psalm 8, 81, 84) or the lilies (e.g. Psalms 45, 60, 69, and 80 of the NIV are to the tune of the “Lilies”, in some instances followed shortly by the description that it should be a wedding song, indicative of the resurrection and tied to a particular Levitical festival). Similar to Spurgeon, Reeves observes that Korah himself led a rebellion against Moses in the wilderness in Exodus, where the earth opened up and swallowed them up alive, the earth becoming his grave, in Numbers 15 and 16. Yet, the line of Korah survived in Numbers 26:11 – and this informs the heart of the sons of Korah in these psalms, that they should be dead but are now alive.
Given the tone and style of the psalm, it is likely that David is the author. This is the cry of a man crying for the long loved house of his LORD; it is also the voice of a depressed spiritual believer, longing for the renewal of the divine presence. Spurgeon observes that it is possible that David’s flight from Absalom is the occasion for composing this psalm.
The theme of rejection and ruin is rife in this chapter (as it will continue to do so until chapter 49). Reeves comments that chapters 42 and 43, just like Psalm 1 and 2, and 9 and 10, should be read as one Psalm (in fact, some Hebrew manuscripts combine chapters 42 and 43). “Where is your God?” the enemy taunts (v.3); David speaks to his spirit – “why are you cast down, O my soul” (v.5, 6), and why has the LORD forgotten him (v.9) as David continues to mourn because of the oppression of the enemy? The enemy continues to taunt him, repeating once again – “Where is your God?” (v.10), and the repeated refrain – “why are you cast down, O my soul” (v.11). These words are fitting even from the mouth of the Hebrew in the opening chapters of Exodus, as the Egyptians who have forgotten Joseph, taunt the descendants of Jacob/Israel removing them from their God and aligning them to the Egyptians’ idols.
Yet, David speaks of His glory in his own suffering. The soul will thirst for the living God (v.2) and David looks forward to the day when he is present, face-to-face, before the LORD (v.2). The soul continues to pour out (v.4) with such strength as to lead others to the house of God “with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” That is the contrast David’s cast-down spirit as he acknowledges the turmoil within him (v.5, 11). The constant Hope returns, however – the Hope is not in David’s own works, but in God – He is David’s salvation (v.5-6). His steadfast love and his song, by day and by night, is with David (v.8) – and the Hope is once again strong as David finds strength in Him (v.11), ending the chapter on an expectant note, just as Mary’s similarly expects the Christ to raise Lazarus from the dead, despite the turmoil of prayer not immediately fulfilled (John 11).
Psalm 43 continues the same refrain in v.5 as in Psalm 42 – “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Yet this chapter is filled with more victorious declaration – requesting God to vindicate David (v.1), calling the LORD his refuge (v.2), asking Him to send out His light and His truth, His Christ – let the Christ lead David and let such light and truth – the Light of the World (c.f. John 1) bring David to the holy hill, the very dwelling of the Father (v.3). David seeks only to return to the altar of God, to His house – this is the heart of the true worshipper and lover of Yahweh. If only all believers would turn to him as David would, and teach others to love first as He loved us, before pronouncing judgment on our neighbours.