Psalm 42

Posted in From Al & Libbie, Reflections at 9:47 pm by Al

I am (and always have been) deeply touched by this first psalm of the sons of Korah. Shaking his head at himself and exhorting his own soul to look beyond his feelings to his savior and his God (42:5, 11), the psalmist shows simple faith in the power of God’s presence and the grace that comes from that presence.

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
PUT your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

6 My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
8 By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
PUT your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Only recently have I begun to reflect on who these sons of Korah were that they were so passionate about going up into God’s presence and so passionate about any separation from that presence. Doing a background check was revealing, and pointed me to a deeper appreciation for the various psalms attributed to them.

The sons of Korah.

Eleven psalms are attributed to the sons of Korah. They breathe a deep passion for being near the Lord and his presence. They lament being separated for any reason. When in despair, the sons of Korah exhorted their own souls to remember the goodness and grace they had received and that they would again experience joy and worship in his presence.

So who was Korah? (And, therefore, who were his descendants?) Korah was a descendant of Levi and Aaron, a priest, with responsibilities for the house of the Lord. But he was also a rebel; in fact, a leader of a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. On account of this rebellion (see Numbers 16), he and his family and followers were killed by the Lord. A point is made in Nu26:11, however, that “the line of Korah did not die out.” The abiding assessment from that period is of Korah and his family as rebels (Numbers 26:7-11 and 26:57-27:4).

A family with shame attached to their name, perhaps forever. What hope had this family of honor, much less service in the house of the Lord (in the PRESENCE of the Lord)? Incredibly, we see this family now emerging as ministers in the house of the Lord, as ones from whom glorious psalms of praise to God come. What happened?

Grace. Concrete and coming from restoration to the presence of God. King David was God’s human vessel to show grace to this family of priests by making them gatekeepers and ministers for the temple that his Solomon would build. From a human standpoint we may wonder if David was motivated by having seen the grace from God given to his own family (his ancestresses Rahab and Ruth were gentiles, impossibly included in the people of God by God himself). Whatever reason we might try to marshal, God, through David, invited the descendants of Korah back into ministry, into his very presence! God not only took away their shame, but restored their honor by putting them near his presence. This is not just abstract kindness, but living, ongoing relationship with the holy God who had judged their forebearers. How much greater is the grace we have received in Christ—brought near to his presence forever. We have hope where there was no reason to have any hope. How great is our God.

As I said, eleven psalms of passion for God’s presence are attributed to the sons of Korah. They look beyond themselves for a hope that was not theirs by nature or right. They look to the one who lifted them up, dead dogs by all circumstances, now gatekeepers and ministers in the presence of the Lord.

What a picture of the grace that comes from God. Nothing they did brought this on them. God, through David, acted to bring them life, and they responded with dedicated worship and songs of praise that minister to you and me three millennia later. (Small wonder that they also express their gratitude by writing one of the great psalms to extol God’s earthly king, the Davidic descendant—Psalm 45, which psalm has its ultimate fulfillment as praise to Christ, the king who has brought incredible grace to all of us people.)

1. Sons of Korah psalms = 11 total: Book II: (they begin Book II) 42, 44-49 Book III: 84-85, 87-88
2. Background passages on Korah and the sons of Korah:
a. History—Numbers 16; 26:7-11; 26:57-27:4
b. Geneaology and temple responsibilities—1 Chronicles 6:22-49 (esp. 33, 37); 9:17-34; 26:1-19. See also 2 Chr 20:19.
3. Except for 48 and 87, all Korah psalms are for the director of music

Blessings, Al


  1. Belinda said,

    June 5, 2006 at 8:34 am

    Hi! You don’t know me but I just wanted to say that my father-in-law had gamma knife surgery two years ago on a benign brain tumour. Its effects were amazing and the tumour shrank incredibly, more than anyone had expected. He said the surgery was very easy on him – in fact he flew from London to Belfast the next day and had no after effects at all.
    He had surgery wearing a weird frame to help guide the rays – the frame was a bit unnerving – so take a deep breath!
    Hoping yours goes as well. Do you know what to expect?
    Belinda Millar

  2. Kent Morton said,

    June 5, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    Dear Brother Al,

    You are ever the teacher! I share your fondness for Pslams 42-43 and for the testimony of grace afforded to the sons of Korah, and appreciate so much your telling of the story. Whenever I read Ps. 42/43 I am reminded of the song Peter Conway wrote from it — one of the earliest songs I learned as a new believer. Sometimes I can still hear the ringing tone of his Martin guitar, playing from the red couch in our living room, or at True Far. All experiences I was able to enjoy and still treasure because of you and others who sowed the seeds of truth in my heart so many years ago.

    I was just praying for you as I walked and cannot shake the conviction that you are Kingdom property, where the Lord’s banner of ownership is planted firmly (“This one is Mine!”), and that you have been invaded by an unlawful trespasser who deserves eviction. And so I pray accordingly. And return to catch up with your news for the first time in some days, and find that you are still teaching me. Hallelujah! Thank you!

  3. Angelo said,

    June 5, 2006 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Al

    Recently I was meditating on Psalm 42 and 43 while preparing a message on Satisfying the Thirst of Our Soul. I was encouraged by seeing the connection of the thirst of the soul in these Psalms with Psalm 23 where the Shepherd restores the soul by leading David beside quiet waters. Now fast forward to Jesus, the Good Shepherd’s words in Jn.4 and 7 when He refers to Himself as “living water” and says “everyone who drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” and “If anyone is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, stream of living water will flow from within him.” (By this He meant the Holy Spirit)

    John Piper comments on this in Monday Morning Meditation on Thirst from A GodWard Life by summarizing that Jesus by giving us a spring of water – satisfies thirst not by removing the need but to provide living water whenever our souls are thirsty.

    Revelation 22 brings it all together in the marvelous description of the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God in the great city of the new heavens and earth where everything will be made new – finishing with this compassionate and powerful invitation “The Spirit and the bride say, Come! And let him who hears say, Come! Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes let him take the free gift of the water of life.

    Al, my heavenly brother and eartlhy friend my prayer for you, Libbie and the family is you all will drink daily and deeply of the living water that restores and satisfies the thirst of your souls.

    Blessings, Angelo

  4. Linda Foh said,

    June 5, 2006 at 9:12 pm

    Dear Al,
    Thanks again for ministering to us from Psalm 42. I’ve been thinking about your surgery tomorrow and praying for God’s mercy for you, Libbie and the family. The first question of the Heidelburg Catechism is the only one I know but it’s great.

    Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

    Answer. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

    As you go through the surgery tomorrow, Psalm 4:8, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.”

    What a God we have!


  5. Dan Passerelli said,

    June 6, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for this. My reading of the Psalms has never been the same since our group of “Minor League” WTS guys from New Life looked at Psalm 16 with you. And here again in Ps 42, more pictures of grace. Thanks for encouraging my faith today, helping me to see Jesus more clearly.

  6. Stuart Sacks said,

    February 5, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    What great encouragement for me as I remember the folly of my former days and reflect upon the fact that God restores the fallen to fruitful service.

  7. Jodi Finley said,

    July 28, 2007 at 10:53 am

    I am a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist faith. This April I answered the call of the Lord and began filling the pulpit of the Chauncey UMC, a rural farming community. My message for tomorrow will be focused on Psalm 85 and I found your blog on the sons of Korah a blessing as I prepared. I hope to visit again as time allows, in the meantime, thank you so much and God bless you! Jodi Finley

  8. RUTH MWANGI said,

    September 24, 2007 at 7:45 am

    May the Lord be with you all the days of your live be sending for encouraging word using the E-mail above

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