Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 42
on the Whole Bible
If the book of Psalms be, as some have styled it, a mirror or
looking-glass of pious and devout affections, this psalm in particular
deserves, as much as any one psalm, to be so entitled, and is as proper
as any to kindle and excite such in us: gracious desires are here
strong and fervent; gracious hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, are
here struggling, but the pleasing passion comes off a conqueror. Or we
may take it for a conflict between sense and faith, sense objecting and
I. Faith begins with holy desires towards God and communion with him,
II. Sense complains of the darkness and cloudiness of the present
condition, aggravated by the remembrance of the former enjoyments,
III. Faith silences the complaint with the assurance of a good issue at
IV. Sense renews its complaints of the present dark and melancholy
V. Faith holds up the heart, notwithstanding, with hope that the day
VI. Sense repeats its lamentations
and sighs out the same remonstrance it had before made of its
VII. Faith gets the last word
for the silencing of the complaints of sense, and, though it be almost
the same with that
yet now it prevails and carries the day. The title does not tell us who
was the penman of this psalm, but most probably it was David, and we
may conjecture that it was penned by him at a time when, either by
Saul's persecution or Absalom's rebellion, he was driven from the
sanctuary and cut off from the privilege of waiting upon God in public
ordinances. The strain of it is much the same with 63, and therefore we
may presume it was penned by the same hand and upon the same or a
similar occasion. In singing it, if we be either in outward affliction
or in inward distress, we may accommodate to ourselves the melancholy
expressions we find here; if not, we must, in singing them, sympathize
with those whose case they speak too plainly, and thank God it is not
our own case; but those passages in it which express and excite holy
desires towards God, and dependence on him, we must earnestly endeavour
to bring our minds up to.
|Desiring Communion with God; Mourning for the Loss of Public Ordinances.
To the chief musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah.
1 As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after
thee, O God.
2 My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I
come and appear before God?
3 My tears have been my meat day and night, while they
continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for
I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of
God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept
5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou
disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him
for the help of his countenance.
Holy love to God as the chief good and our felicity is the power of
godliness, the very life and soul of religion, without which all
external professions and performances are but a shell and carcase: now
here we have some of the expressions of that love. Here is,
I. Holy love thirsting, love upon the wing, soaring upwards in holy
desires towards the Lord and towards the remembrance of his name
"My soul panteth, thirsteth, for God, for nothing more than God,
but still for more and more of him." Now observe,
1. When it was that David thus expressed his vehement desire towards
God. It was,
(1.) When he was debarred from his outward opportunities of waiting on
God, when he was banished to the land of Jordan, a great way off from
the courts of God's house. Note, Sometimes God teaches us effectually
to know the worth of mercies by the want of them, and whets our
appetite for the means of grace by cutting us short in those means. We
are apt to loathe that manna, when we have plenty of it, which will be
very precious to us if ever we come to know the scarcity of it.
(2.) When he was deprived, in a great measure, of the inward comfort he
used to have in God. He now went mourning, but he went on panting.
Note, If God, by his grace, has wrought in us sincere and earnest
desires towards him, we may take comfort from these when we want those
ravishing delights we have sometimes had in God, because lamenting
after God is as sure an evidence that we love him as rejoicing in God.
Before the psalmist records his doubts, and fears, and griefs, which
had sorely shaken him, he premises this, That he looked upon the living
God as his chief good, and had set his heart upon him accordingly, and
was resolved to live and die by him; and, casting anchor thus at first,
he rides out the storm.
2. What is the object of his desire and what it is he thus thirsts
(1.) He pants after God, he thirsts for God, not the ordinances
themselves, but the God of the ordinances. A gracious soul can take
little satisfaction in God's courts if it do not meet with God himself
there: "O that I knew where I might find him! that I might have
more of the tokens of his favour, the graces and comforts of his
Spirit, and the earnests of his glory."
(2.) He has, herein, an eye to God as the living God, that has life in
himself, and is the fountain of life and all happiness to those that
are his, the living God, not only in opposition to dead idols, the
works of men's hands, but to all the dying comforts of this world,
which perish in the using. Living souls can never take up their rest
any where short of a living God.
(3.) He longs to come and appear before God,--to make himself
known to him, as being conscious to himself of his own sincerity,--to
attend on him, as a servant appears before his master, to pay his
respects to him and receive his commands,--to give an account to him,
as one from whom our judgment proceeds. To appear before God is as much
the desire of the upright as it is the dread of the hypocrite. The
psalmist knew he could not come into God's courts without incurring
expense, for so was the law, that none should appear before God
empty; yet he longs to come, and will not grudge the charges.
3. What is the degree of this desire. It is very importunate; it is his
soul that pants, his soul that thirsts, which denotes not only the
sincerity, but the strength, of his desire. His longing for the water
of the well of Bethlehem was nothing to this. He compares it to the
panting of a hart, or deer, which is naturally hot and dry,
especially of a hunted buck, after the water-brooks. Thus
earnestly does a gracious soul desire communion with God, thus
impatient is it in the want of that communion, so impossible does it
find it to be satisfied with any thing short of that communion, and so
insatiable is it in taking the pleasures of that communion when the
opportunity of it returns, still thirsting after the full enjoyment of
him in the heavenly kingdom.
II. Holy love mourning for God's present withdrawings and the want of
the benefit of solemn ordinances
"My tears have been my meat day and night during this forced
absence from God's house." His circumstances were sorrowful, and he
accommodated himself to them, received the impressions and returned the
signs of sorrow. Even the royal prophet was a weeping prophet when he
wanted the comforts of God's house. His tears were mingled with his
meat; nay, they were his meat day and night; he fed, he feasted,
upon his own tears, when there was such just cause for them; and it was
a satisfaction to him that he found his heart so much affected with a
grievance of this nature. Observe, He did not think it enough to shed a
tear or two at parting from the sanctuary, to weep a farewell-prayer
when he took his leave, but, as long as he continued under a forced
absence from that place of his delight, he never looked up, but wept
day and night. Note, Those that are deprived of the benefit of public
ordinances constantly miss them, and therefore should constantly mourn
for the want of them, till they are restored to them again. Two things
aggravated his grief:--
1. The reproaches with which his enemies teased him: They
continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
(1.) Because he was absent from the ark, the token of God's presence.
Judging of the God of Israel by the gods of the heathen, they concluded
he had lost his God. Note, Those are mistaken who think that when they
have robbed us of our Bibles, and our ministers, and our solemn
assemblies, they have robbed us of our God; for, though God has tied us
to them when they are to be had, he has not tied himself to them. We
know where our God is, and where to find him, when we know not where
his ark is, nor where to find that. Wherever we are there is a way open
(2.) Because God did not immediately appear for his deliverance they
concluded that he had abandoned him; but herein also they were
deceived: it does not follow that the saints have lost their God
because they have lost all their other friends. However, by this base
reflection on God and his people, they added affliction to the
afflicted, and that was what they aimed at. Nothing is more grievous to
a gracious soul than that which is intended to shake its hope and
confidence in God.
2. The remembrance of his former liberties and enjoyments,
Son, remember thy good things, is a great aggravation of evil
things, so much do our powers of reflection and anticipation add to the
grievance of this present time. David remembered the days of
old, and then his soul was poured out in him; he melted
away, and the thought almost broke his heart. He poured out his soul
within him in sorrow, and then poured out his soul before God in
prayer. But what was it that occasioned this painful melting of spirit?
It was not the remembrance of the pleasures at court, or the
entertainments of his own house, from which he was now banished, that
afflicted him, but the remembrance of the free access he had formerly
had to God's house and the pleasure he had in attending the sacred
(1.) He went to the house of God, though in his time it was but
a tent; nay, if this psalm was penned, as many think it was, at the
time of his being persecuted by Saul, the ark was then in a private
2 Samuel 6:3.
But the meanness, obscurity, and inconveniency of the place did not
lessen his esteem of that sacred symbol of the divine presence. David
was a courtier, a prince, a man of honour, a man of business, and yet
very diligent in attending God's house and joining in public
ordinances, even in the days of Saul, when he and his great men
enquired not at it,
1 Chronicles 13:3.
Whatever others did, David and his house would serve the Lord.
(2.) He went with the multitude, and thought it no disparagement
to his dignity to be at the head of a crowd in attending upon God. Nay,
this added to the pleasure of it, that he was accompanied with a
multitude, and therefore it is twice mentioned, as that which he
greatly lamented the want of now. The more the better in the service of
God; it is the more like heaven, and a sensible help to our comfort in
the communion of saints.
(3.) He went with the voice of joy and praise, not only with joy
and praise in his heart, but with the outward expressions of it,
proclaiming his joy and speaking forth the high praises of his God.
Note, When we wait upon God in public ordinances we have reason to do
it both with cheerfulness and thankfulness, to take to ourselves the
comfort and give to God the glory of our liberty of access to him.
(4.) He went to keep holy-days, not to keep them in vain mirth and
recreation, but in religious exercises. Solemn days are spent most
comfortably in solemn assemblies.
III. Holy love hoping
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? His sorrow was upon a very
good account, and yet it must not exceed its due limits, nor prevail to
depress his spirits; he therefore communes with his own heart, for his
relief. "Come, my soul, I have something to say to thee in thy
heaviness." Let us consider,
1. The cause of it. "Thou art cast down, as one stooping and sinking
under a burden,
Thou art disquieted, in confusion and disorder; now why are thou so?"
This may be taken as an enquiring question: "Let the cause of this
uneasiness be duly weighed, and see whether it be a just cause." Our
disquietudes would in many cases vanish before a strict scrutiny into
the grounds and reasons of them. "Why am I cast down? Is there
a cause, a real cause? Have not others more cause, that do not make so
much ado? Have not we, at the same time, cause to be encouraged?" Or it
may be taken as an expostulating question; those that commune much with
their own hearts will often have occasion to chide them, as David here.
"Why do I thus dishonour God by my melancholy dejections? Why do I
discourage others and do so much injury to myself? Can I give a good
account of this tumult?"
2. The cure of it: Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him.
A believing confidence in God is a sovereign antidote against
prevailing despondency and disquietude of spirit. And therefore, when
we chide ourselves to hope in God; when the soul embraces itself it
sinks; if it catch hold on the power and promise of God, it keeps the
head above water. Hope in God,
(1.) That he shall have glory from us: "I shall yet praise him;
I shall experience such a change in my state that I shall not want
matter for praise, and such a change in my spirit that I shall not want
a heart for praise." It is the greatest honour and happiness of a man,
and the greatest desire and hope of every good man, to be unto God for
a name and a praise. What is the crown of heaven's bliss but this, that
there we shall be for ever praising God? And what is our support under
our present woes but this, that we shall yet praise God, that they
shall not prevent nor abate our endless hallelujahs?
(2.) That we shall have comfort in him. We shall praise him for the
help of his countenance, for his favour, the support we have by it
and the satisfaction we have in it. Those that know how to value and
improve the light of God's countenance will find in that a suitable,
seasonable, and sufficient help, in the worst of times, and that which
will furnish them with constant matter for praise. David's believing
expectation of this kept him from sinking, nay, it kept him from
drooping; his harp was a palliative cure of Saul's melancholy, but his
hope was an effectual cure of his own.
|Complaints and Consolations.
6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I
remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites,
from the hill Mizar.
7 Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all
thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.
8 Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the
daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my
prayer unto the God of my life.
9 I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why
go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
10 As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me;
while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?
11 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou
disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise
him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
Complaints and comforts here, as before, take their turn, like day and
night in the course of nature.
I. He complains of the dejections of his spirit, but comforts himself
with the thoughts of God,
1. In his troubles. His soul was dejected, and he goes to God and tells
him so: O my God! my soul is cast down within me. It is a great
support to us, when upon any account we are distressed, that we have
liberty of access to God, and liberty of speech before him, and may
open to him the causes of our dejection. David had communed with his
own heart about its own bitterness, and had not as yet found relief;
and therefore he turns to God, and opens before him the trouble. Note,
When we cannot get relief for our burdened spirits by pleading with
ourselves, we should try what we can do by praying to God and leaving
our case with him. We cannot still these winds and waves; but we know
2. In his devotions. His soul was elevated, and, finding the disease
very painful, he had recourse to that as a sovereign remedy. "My soul
is plunged; therefore, to prevent its sinking, I will remember thee,
meditate upon thee, and call upon thee, and try what that will do to
keep up my spirit." Note, The way to forget the sense of our miseries
is to remember the God of our mercies. It was an uncommon case when the
psalmist remembered God and was troubled,
He had often remembered God and was comforted, and therefore had
recourse to that expedient now. He was now driven to the utmost borders
of the land of Canaan, to shelter himself there from the rage of his
persecutors--sometimes to the country about Jordan, and, when
discovered there, to the land of the Hermonites, or to a hill
called Mizar, or the little hill; but,
(1.) Wherever he went he took his religion along with him. In all these
places, he remembered God, and lifted up his heart to him, and kept his
secret communion with him. This is the comfort of the banished, the
wanderers, the travellers, of those that are strangers in a strange
land, that undique ad cælos tantundem est viæ--wherever
they are there is a way open heavenward.
(2.) Wherever he was he retained his affection for the courts of God's
house; from the land of Jordan, or from the top of the hills, he used
to look a long look, a longing look, towards the place of the
sanctuary, and wish himself there. Distance and time could not make him
forget that which his heart was so much upon and which lay so near
II. He complains of the tokens of God's displeasure against him, but
comforts himself with the hopes of the return of his favour in due
1. He saw his troubles coming from God's wrath, and that discouraged
"Deep calls unto deep, one affliction comes upon the neck of
another, as if it were called to hasten after it; and thy water-spouts
give the signal and sound the alarm of war." It may be meant of the
terror and disquietude of his mind under the apprehensions of God's
anger. One frightful thought summoned another, and made way for it, as
is usual in melancholy people. He was overpowered and overwhelmed with
a deluge of grief, like that of the old world, when the windows of
heaven were opened and the fountains of the great deep were broken up.
Or it is an allusion to a ship at sea in a great storm, tossed by the
roaring waves, which go over it,
Whatever waves and billows of affliction go over us at any time we must
call them God's waves and his billows, that we may humble ourselves
under his mighty hand, and may encourage ourselves to hope that though
we be threatened we shall not be ruined; for the waves and billows are
under a divine check. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise
of these many waters. Let not good men think it strange if they be
exercised with many and various trials, and if they come thickly upon
them; God knows what he does, and so shall they shortly. Jonah, in the
whale's belly, made use of these words of David,
(they are exactly the same in the original), and of him they were
literally true, All thy waves and thy billows have gone over me;
for the book of psalms is contrived so as to reach every one's
2. He expected his deliverance to come from God's favour
Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness. Things are bad,
but they shall not always be so. Non si male nunc et olim sic
erit--Though affairs are now in an evil plight, they may not always be
so. After the storm there will come a calm, and the prospect of
this supported him when deep called unto deep. Observe
(1.) What he promised himself from God: The Lord will command his
lovingkindness. He eyes the favour of God as the fountain of all
the good he looked for. That is life; that is better than life; and
with that God will gather those from whom he has, in a little wrath,
hid his face,
God's conferring his favour is called his commanding it. This
intimates the freeness of it; we cannot pretend to merit it, but it is
bestowed in a way of sovereignty, he gives like a king. It intimates
also the efficacy of it; he speaks his lovingkindness, and makes us to
hear it; speaks, and it is done. He commands deliverance
commands the blessing
as one having authority. By commanding his lovingkindness, he commands
down the waves and the billows, and they shall obey him. This he will
do in the daytime, for God's lovingkindness will make day in the
soul at any time. Though weeping has endured for a night,
a long night, yet joy will come in the morning.
(2.) What he promised for himself to God. If God command his
lovingkindness for him, he will meet it, and bid it welcome, with his
best affections and devotions.
[1.] He will rejoice in God: In the night his song shall be with
me. The mercies we receive in the day we ought to return thanks for
at night; when others are sleeping we should be praising God. See
At midnight will I rise to give thanks. In silence and solitude,
when we are retired from the hurries of the world, we must be pleasing
ourselves with the thoughts of God's goodness. Or in the night of
affliction: "Before the day dawns, in which God commands his
lovingkindness, I will sing songs of praise in the prospect of it."
Even in tribulation the saints can rejoice in hope of the glory of
God, sing in hope, and praise in hope,
It is God's prerogative to give songs in the night,
[2.] He will seek to God in a constant dependence upon him: My
prayer shall be to the God of my life. Our believing expectation of
mercy must not supersede, but quicken, our prayers for it. God is the
God of our life, in whom we live and move, the author and giver of all
our comforts; and therefore to whom should we apply by prayer, but to
him? And from him what good may not we expect? It would put life into
our prayers in them to eye God as the God of our life; for then it is
for our lives, and the lives of our souls, that we stand up to make
III. He complains of the insolence of his enemies, and yet comforts
himself in God as his friend,
1. His complaint is that his enemies oppressed and reproached him, and
this made a great impression upon him.
(1.) They oppressed him to such a degree that he went mourning from day
to day, from place to place,
He did not break out into indecent passions, though abused as never man
was, but he silently wept out his grief, and went mourning; and for
this we cannot blame him: it must needs grieve a man that truly loves
his country, and seeks the good of it, to see himself persecuted and
hardly used, as if he were an enemy to it. Yet David ought not hence to
have concluded that God had forgotten him and cast him off, nor thus to
have expostulated with him, as if he did him as much wrong in suffering
him to be trampled upon as those did that trampled upon him: Why go
I mourning? and why hast thou forgotten me? We may complain
to God, but we are not allowed thus to complain of him.
(2.) They reproached him so cuttingly that it was a sword in his
He had mentioned before what the reproach was that touched him thus to
the quick, and here he repeats it: They say daily unto me, Where is
thy God?--a reproach which was very grievous to him, both because
it reflected dishonour upon God and was intended to discourage his hope
in God, which he had enough to do to keep up in any measure, and which
was but too apt to fail of itself.
2. His comfort is that God is his rock
--a rock to build upon, a rock to take shelter in. The rock of ages, in
whom is everlasting strength, would be his rock, his strength in the
inner man, both for doing and suffering. To him he had access with
confidence. To God his rock he might say what he had to say, and be
sure of a gracious audience. He therefore repeats what he had before
and concludes with it
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? His griefs and fears were
clamorous and troublesome; they were not silenced though they were
again and again answered. But here, at length, his faith came off a
conqueror and forced the enemies to quit the field. And he gains this
(1.) By repeating what he had before said, chiding himself, as before,
for his dejections and disquietudes, and encouraging himself to trust
in the name of the Lord and to stay himself upon his God. Note, It may
be of great use to us to think our good thoughts over again, and, if we
do not gain our point with them at first, perhaps we may the second
time; however, where the heart goes along with the words, it is no vain
repetition. We have need to press the same thing over and over again
upon our hearts, and all little enough.
(2.) By adding one word to it; there he hoped to praise God for
the salvation that was in his countenance; here, "I will praise
him," says he, "as the salvation of my countenance from the present
cloud that is upon it; if God smile upon me, that will make me look
pleasant, look up, look forward, look round, with pleasure." He adds,
and my God, "related to me, in covenant with me; all that he is,
all that he has, is mine, according to the true intent and meaning of
the promise." This thought enabled him to triumph over all his griefs
and fears. God's being with the saints in heaven, and being their God,
is that which will wipe away all tears from their eyes,