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June 20, 2010
Psalms 42 and 43

Psalms 42 and 43 are really one psalm. You will  notice that Psalm 42 has a superscription, ‘To the leader. A Maskil of the Korahites'. Psalm 43 does not have a superscription but all the following ones do. There are also two refrains which suggest that they belong together. A longer one appears in Ps. 42:5-6a and 11 and again in 43.5. In it the psalmist asks why they are so downcast and seeks to encourage themselves to trust again in God. A second refrain, occurring in Ps. 42:3, 10, comes from others who constantly taunt the psalmist asking ‘Where is your God?’ Besides these clear links the psalms when joined form the totality of the lament form where the psalmist moves from a position of complaint to one of hope and the promise of praise. These psalms together are quite appropriate as companions to the story of Elijah, who in today’s reading seems depressed and dispirited seeking hope in Yahweh again.

Together the psalms form a lament built on images of water. There is mention of streams, tears, deep, cataracts, waves, and billows, as well as of thirst and mourning. The first verse embodies the sense of the whole lament. The psalmist, in their longing for God’s presence, is like a thirsty animal longing for water in a dry place.

The play on the personal pronoun related to God is a feature of these psalms. While the adversaries mentioned in 42:3, 9-10; 43:1, 2, distance themselves constantly asking the psalmist about ‘your God’, the psalmist gladly claims their relationship with God speaking in the main refrain about ‘my help and my God’ (cf. also ‘my’ in 42.8, 9; 43.4, and ‘the God in whom I take refuge’, 43.2). What underpins the lament is a deep awareness of a covenant relationship. This is what the psalmist clings to. The enemies by their taunts, their deceit, their oppression and even by their language, try to break that bond. But that is the very thing the psalmist will not let go: ‘For you are the God in whom I take refuge’ (43:2a). And the psalmist dares to make such a statement even when they do not feel God is near. In this lament, as in many others, the psalmist will not let God slip from their grasp. The relationship between God and the psalmist will not diminish for the psalmist’s lack of persistence. We can often be quick to blame ourselves when our relationship with God seems to wain. There is often justification in that, but the psalmists are also not hesitant to remind God that this relationship is like all others a two way street.

Memory also plays a part in this psalm. As the psalmist laments, they remember how they have faithfully led others in worship (42:4) and, above all, remember God as creator, and God’s ‘steadfast love’ (42:6-8). It is all the more painful that God seems to have forgotten them (42:9). It makes the question of the adversaries all the more real and biting. Nevertheless, the psalmist still sees God as their refuge (43.2; cf. Pss. 27.1; 31.2, 4; 37.39) and prays for vindication, vowing to return to God’s sanctuary which they love (43.4; cf. 42.4; and Pss. 26.8; 27.4).

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship

The main refrain of the psalm could well be turned into an introduction to the declaration of forgiveness following the prayer of confession.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for we shall again praise him,
our help and our God.
We hear God’s word in the life and word of Jesus:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Verses 3 and 4 can form the basis of a final blessing with some small modifications:
O send out your light and your truth;
let them lead us;
let them bring us to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.
Then we will go to the altar of God,
to God our exceeding joy;
and praise God, our God.
And the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
will be upon you, always.
Old Testament reading: 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a

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