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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 2
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PSALM 42

In the first place, David shows that when he was forced to flee by reason of the cruelty of Saul, and was living in a state of exile, what most of all grieved him was, that he was deprived of the opportunity of access to the sanctuary; for he preferred the service of God to every earthly advantage. In the second place, he shows that being tempted with despair, he had in this respect a very difficult contest to sustain. In order to strengthen his hope, he also introduces prayer and meditation on the grace of God. Last of all, he again makes mention of the inward conflict which he had with the sorrow which he experienced.

To the chief musician. A lesson of instruction to the sons of Korah.

The name of David is not expressly mentioned in the inscription of this psalm. Many conjecture that the sons of Korah were the authors of it. This, I think, is not at all probable. As it is composed in the person of David, who, it is well known, was endued above all others with the spirit of prophecy, who will believe that it was written and composed for him by another person? He was the teacher generally of the whole Church, and a distinguished instrument of the Spirit. He had already delivered to the company of the Levites, of whom the sons of Korah formed a part, other psalms to be sung by them. What need, then, had he to borrow their help, or to have recourse to their assistance in a matter which he was much better able of himself to execute than they were? To me, therefore, it seems more probable, that the sons of Korah are here mentioned because this psalm was committed as a precious treasure to be preserved by them, as we know that out of the number of the singers, some were chosen and appointed to be keepers of the psalms. That there is no mention made of David’s name does not of itself involve any difficulty, since we see the same omission in other psalms, of which there is, notwithstanding, the strongest grounds for concluding that he was the author. As to the word משכיל, maskil, I have already made some remarks upon it in the thirty-second psalm. This word, it is true, is sometimes found in the inscription of other psalms besides those in which David declares that he had been subjected to the chastening rod of God. It is, however, to be observed, that it is properly applied to chastisements, since the design of them is to instruct the children of God, when they do not sufficiently profit from doctrine. As to the particular time of the composition of this psalm, expositors are not altogether agreed. Some suppose that David here complains of his calamity, when he was expelled from the throne by his son Absalom. But I am rather disposed to entertain a different opinion, founded, if I mistake not, upon good reasons. The rebellion of Absalom was very soon suppressed, so that it did not long prevent David from approaching the sanctuary. And yet, the lamentation which he here makes refers expressly to a long state of exile, under which he had languished, and, as it were, pined away with grief. It is not the sorrow merely of a few days which he describes in the third verse; nay, the scope of the entire composition will clearly show that he had languished for a long time in the wretched condition of which he speaks. It has been alleged as an argument against referring this psalm to the reign of Saul, that the ark of the covenant was neglected during his reign, so that it is not very likely that David at that time conducted the stated choral services in the sanctuary; but this argument is not very conclusive: for although Saul only worshipped God as a mere matter of form, yet he was unwilling to be regarded in any other light than as a devout man. And as to David, he has shown in other parts of his writings with what diligence he frequented the holy assemblies, and more especially on festival days. Certainly, these words which we shall meet with in Psalm 55:14, “We walked unto the house of God in company,” relate to the time of Saul.

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