Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rejoicing in Exile

[To the chief Musician, Maskil, 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 holyday.

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.

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 day time, 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.

—Psalm 42 KJV Bible

1 Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.

2 For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

3 O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.

4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.

5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

—Psalm 43 KJV Bible

Psalm 42 and 43 are two parts of one, sadly beautiful song. It is thought that about 200 B.C., when the Jews translated the Scriptures from Hebrew to Greek—for those Greek-speaking Jews who lived in Egypt—the one psalm was divided into two.

We do not know who wrote the psalm—who was the psalmist—but we know a lot about him from his song. He speaks of being exiled in the far north of Palestine and yearning to return to the Temple in Jerusalem. He expresses his yearning for God, then reveals the depths of his distress and prays that he might return.

The psalm superscription states that this is a “maskil,” in Hebrew, literally meaning “a hedge.” In the context of the psalms, it is thought to mean either a contemplative or teaching psalm, or a psalm written in a clever way. Thirteen psalms are described as “maskils.” they include 32, 42, (43), 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89 and 142.

The superscription also states it is for the “sons of Korah.” Korah was a great-grandson of Levi and a younger contemporary of Moses. Korah took part in an attempted revolt against Moses' and Aaron's leadership of the Israelites, forgetting that Moses and Aaron had been appointed by God to lead. As proof of this, God caused the earth to open, swallowing all of the rebels and their tents. Following that an additional 14,700 died in a plague because of their grumbling against God (Numbers 16). The three sons of Korah—Assir, Elkanan and Abiasaph—stayed loyal to God, did not rebel, and so did not die (Exodus 6:24; Numbers 26:11). The descendants of these were also described as the “sons of Korah.” Some later became singers in the Temple choir (2 Chronicles 20:19). Twelve of the psalms (42-49, 84-85, 87-88) are specifically dedicated to the “sons of Korah,” possibly because of their musicality, or possibly as a reference to those who remain faithful to God even in the most difficult times.

Of Psalm 42:

In verses 1 through 5, the psalmist expresses his yearning for God. In verse 1, the psalmist describes himself as longing for God just as a “hart” (a deer) thirsts for water in the midst of a prolonged drought.

In verses 6 through 11, the psalmist reveals the depth of his distress. In verse 6, the psalmist tells of being exiled in the far north of Palestine. This happened several times in the Old Testament, when raiders would invade Jerusalem, take hostages with them, and not return them until their demands were met. On example of this practice is seen in 2 Kings 14:14, performed against Judah by King Jehoash of Israel—this was after the older Kingdom of Israel had been divided into the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah, which included the city of Jerusalem. The psalmist mentions being in “the Hermonites,” the 20-mile long ridge of Hermon, located 40 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. He also mentions “the hill Mizar,” which is apparently nearby, but is unidentified. In verse 7, the psalmist says that “Deep calleth unto deep,” possibly a reference to the floods and cataracts of the headwaters of the Jordan River, illustrating the waves of sorrow that overwhelm him.

Of Psalm 43:

In verses 1 through 5, the psalmist prays that he might return to the Temple in Jerusalem. In verse 1, the psalmist’s mood changes to one of confidence and trust.

In verses 3 and 4, the psalmist describes returning to God's “holy hill,” God's “tabernacles” and God's “altar.” These are back at the Temple in Jerusalem, the place containing the Ark of the Covenant, which represented the earthly presence of God. Here the psalmist is expressing his desire to be back in fellowship with God; to again rejoice and praise in God's presence.

Father, when I feel like a prisoner in exile, torn away from all that I love and all I think to be right, remind me that You are still with me. You love me. I can still rejoice and praise You. I can still trust in You.


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