The Fathers on Psalm 42

This post is part of an ongoing series offering translations of various early Church father’s commentaries on the Psalms.

Psalm 42

As the deer longs for streams of water,

so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, the living God.

When can I enter and see the face of God?

My tears have been my bread day and night,

as they ask me every day, “Where is your God?”d

Those times I recall

as I pour out my soul,

When I would cross over to the shrine of the Mighty One,

to the house of God,

Amid loud cries of thanksgiving,

with the multitude keeping festival.

Why are you downcast, my soul;

why do you groan within me?

Wait for God, for I shall again praise him,

my savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;

therefore I remember you

From the land of the Jordan and Hermon,

from Mount Mizar,

Deep calls to deep

in the roar of your torrents,

and all your waves and breakers

sweep over me.

By day may the LORD send his mercy,

and by night may his righteousness be with me!

I will pray to the God of my life,

I will say to God, my rock:

“Why do you forget me?

Why must I go about mourning

with the enemy oppressing me?”

It shatters my bones, when my adversaries reproach me,

when they say to me every day: “Where is your God?”

Why are you downcast, my soul,

why do you groan within me?

Wait for God, for I shall again praise him,

my savior and my God.

 

 

Athanasius: “If you have a deep longing for God and you hear your enemies mocking you, do not be troubled. Understand that such longing brings eternal blessing and comfort you soul with hope in God. In this way, relieving and lightening your suffering in life, say Psalm 42.”[1]

Diodore of Tarsus: The title of the forty-second psalm indicates that the psalm was given by blessed David to the sons of Korah, who were singers or temple singers engaged in performing to the accompaniment of musical instruments. The psalm is composed from the viewpoint of the people longing to see their own place, pining for it and begging God to be freed from the captivity and slavery in Babylon and to return to their own place, the memory of which had the effect of arousing them to stronger desire of the places and the holy temple…. As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. This creature is said to be thirsty and, on account of its natural dryness, not to stray far from water. So the meaning is, What this creature experiences by nature, I also suffer by choice, longing for the holy places from which I have been transported. Continuing the figure, he goes on, My soul thirsts for God, the living God. Then, to comment on the thirst and the excessive degree of longing, he goes on, When can I enter and see the face of God?—in other words, This I long for, to see the time when I return to Jerusalem, where the temple is located and God is worshiped, and I present myself in person to God (their impression being that God really dwelt only in Jerusalem). My tears have been my bread day and night: the longing in me for the return was great and the desire in me as pleasing as bread is pleasing to a hungry person. As they ask me every day, Where is your God? The enemies’ taunts inflamed me more, he is saying, and those claiming that God is not helping me aroused in me further desire to see help from you…. Those times I recall as I pour out my soul: I ruminated on the holy places—the temple, the liturgy, the festivals there—and the recollection inflamed my longing (I pour out meaning, I went to pieces, as Symmachus also said). When I would cross over to the shrine of the Mighty One, to the house of God: how I used to walk as far as God’s wonderful tabernacle (meaning the temple). Amid loud cries of thanksgiving, with the multitude keeping festival: I recalled also this fact, that in the temple I heard those voices raised in wonderful confession and thanksgiving, as well as those not celebrating the festival. Why are you downcast, my soul; why do you groan within me? Wait for God, for I shall again praise him: since the memory of those events caused me unbearable pangs, and I found no one to console me in the distress, the reasons of which I alone had a personal understanding, I urged myself to find comfort in hope in God’s help. The savior of my person and my God, [2] my person meaning my reputation, my dignity: I said to myself, I hoped in God, who always cared for my salvation and my dignity…. My soul is downcast within me: after these thoughts, however, I was again confused, the recollection of the places overcoming the consolation from the thought of them. Hence he goes on, For this reason I shall remember you from the land of Jordan and Hermon, from a small mountain:[3] being disturbed, I was not in a condition to remember that wonderful land (referring to it by the river Jordan and Mount Hermon). Small is used as a gloss to suggest again someone earnestly longing for the place, a metaphor from people fond of little children giving them nicknames. Deep calls on deep to the sound of your torrents: I remembered that while I was living there, vast numbers beyond my experience assembled and were combined with other enemies, and in this fashion they gave vent to your unspeakable wrath (by deep referring to the vast number, and by torrents to God’s wrath). So his meaning is, A vast number of enemies assembled against me and gave vent to your wrath as if borne along by waterfalls, as it were. And all your waves and breakers sweep over me: yet I was the butt of all your threats and bursts of rage, which were lifted up over me like breakers and encircled me. By day may the LORD send his mercy, and by night may his righteousness be with me! He means the rapidity of God’s help, as if to say, just as in your anger you inflicted waves of enemies on me, so in your wish to save me you brought rapid assistance, the result being that together with your commands you did not prevent my thanking you, nothing coming between your command and my enjoyment. I will pray to the God of my life: immediately thanksgiving directed to God who granted me life arises in me…. I will say to God, my rock: Why do you forget me? I promptly add that if you support me in this way, why do you allow me to suffer? It was not the mark of a friend to allow such awful punishments in this way. Why must I go about mourning with the enemy oppressing me? Why was I downcast for such a long time with foes besetting and distressing me? It shatters my bones, when my adversaries reproach me: the foes had the greatest pretext to taunt me on seeing the extent of the weakness to which I was reduced. When they say to me every day: Where is your God? They seemed even to have good grounds for taunting me in the fact that your loving-kindness for a long time passed me by…. Why are you downcast, my soul, why do you groan within me? Wait for God, for I shall again praise him, my savior and my God. Pondering all this within myself, then, I was again encouraged not to be alarmed, but to hope in God, who readily provides me with salvation and again makes me glorious. Turning their thoughts over and over, sometimes in despair, sometimes in hope, is typical of suffering people.[4]

Pseudo-Athanasius: The sons of Korah sing this, introducing the persons of Israel, which at the end of times will confess Christ. As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. Like a stag longing for springs of water, My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I enter and see the face of God?, so he too longed to appear to the face of the Father—clearly through the Son—in order that when he deserves salvation in him Those times I recall as I pour out my soul, When I would cross over to the shrine of the Mighty One, to the house of God, Amid loud cries of thanksgiving, with the multitude keeping festival, and crosses over to the place of the wonderful tabernacle as far as the house of God, he may also deserve the banquet with the saints where is the sound of merrymaking and of confession of those who celebrate. Why are you downcast, my soul; why do you groan within me? Wait for God, for I shall again praise him, my savior and my God.  Hence they console the soul that is weary and troubled, recalling some of the miracles which were done for them in past: My soul is downcast within me; therefore I remember you From the land of the Jordan and Hermon, from Mount Mizar, that they passed through the Jordan by foot, and the hail which in the days of Samuel came down on the Philistines, and their crossing over the Red Sea, and the victory over the Assyrians in the days of Hezekiah; Why are you downcast, my soul, why do you groan within me? Wait for God, for I shall again praise him, my savior and my God, that through these the soul may be strengthened by hope in God and may confess him.[5]


[1] Benjamin Wayman. Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms (Brewster, M.A.: Paraclete Press: 2014), 9.

[2] Non-LXX verse.

[3] Non-LXX verse. ἀπὸ ὄρους μικροῦ translated as “from a small mountain” rather than “from Mount Mizar.”

[4] TLG 6. Εἰς τὸ τέλος· εἰς σύνεσιν τοῖς υἱοῖς Κορέ. Ἡ ἐπιγραφὴ τοῦ τεσσαρακοστοῦ πρώτου ψαλμοῦ σημαίνει ὅτι ἐδόθη ὁ ψαλμὸς τοῖς υἱοῖς Κορὲ παρὰ τοῦ μακαρίου Δαυείδ. ᾨδοὶ δὲ ὑπῆρχον οὗτοι ἤτοι ψαλτῳδοὶ εἰς τὴν μετὰ τῶν ὀργάνων. ἔνδειξιν. Ἔστι δὲ ὁ ψαλμὸς ἐκ προσώπου τοῦ λαοῦ ἐπιθυμοῦντος ἰδεῖν τὰ οἰκεῖα καὶ γλιχομένου καὶ παρακαλοῦντος τὸν θεὸν ἀπαλλαγῆναι μὲν τῆς ἐν Βαβυλῶνι αἰχμαλωσίας καὶ δουλείας, ἐπανελθεῖν δὲ εἰς τὰ οἰκεῖα, ὧν ἡ μνήμη μάλιστα αὐτοὺς ἐξέκαιεν καὶ εἰς πλείονα ἦγεν ἐπιθυμίαν τῶν τόπων καὶ τοῦ ναοῦ τοῦ ἁγίου. Ὃν τρόπον ἐπιποθεῖ ἔλαφος ἐπὶ τὰς πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων, οὕτως ἐπιποθεῖ ψυχή μου πρὸς σέ, θεός.  Διψῶδες λέγεται εἶναι τὸ ζῷον καί, διὰ τὸ φύσει ξηρόν, μὴ ἀναχωρεῖν τῶν ὑδάτων. Βούλεται οὖν εἰπεῖν ὅτι ὅπερ ὑπομένει τὸ ζῷον τοῦτο ἐκ φύσεως, τοῦτο κἀγὼ ἀπὸ προαιρέσεως πάσχω ἐπιθυμῶν τῶν τόπων τῶν ἁγίων ἐξ ὧν μετανάστης ἐγενόμην. Καί, ἐπιμένων τῇ τροπῇ, ἐπάγει· Ἐδίψησεν ψυχή μου πρὸς τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἰσχυρόν, τὸν ζῶντα. Εἶτα, ἑρμηνεύων τί τὸ δίψος καὶ τί τῆς ἐπιθυμίας τὸ ὑπερβάλλον, ἐπάγει· Πότε ἥξω καὶ ὀφθήσομαι τῷ προσώπῳ τοῦ θεοῦ;  Ἀντὶ τοῦ τοῦτο ἐπιθυμῶ, τὸν καιρὸν ἰδεῖν καθ’ ὃν ἐπανέρχομαι ἐπὶ τὰ Ἱεροσόλυμα, ἔνθα ὁ ναὸς καὶ ὁ θεὸς

προσκυνεῖται, κἀγὼ παρίσταμαι φαινόμενος τῷ θεῷ. Καὶ γὰρ ὑπόληψιν εἶχον ἐν τοῖς Ἱεροσολύμοις μόνοις γνησίως

οἰκεῖν τὸν θεόν. Ἐγενήθη τὰ δάκρυά μου ἐμοὶ ἄρτος ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτός. Καὶ τοσαύτη, φησίν, ἦν ἡ ἐπιθυμία ἐν ἐμοὶ ὑπὲρ τῆς ἐπανόδου, καὶ οὕτως ἦν ἡδύ μοι τὸ ἐπιθύμημα ὡς ἔστιν ὁ ἄρτος ἡδὺς τῷ πεινῶντι. Ἐν τῷ λέγεσθαί μοι καθ’ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν· Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ θεός σου; Οἱ γὰρ ὀνειδισμοί, φησί, τῶν ἐχθρῶν πλέον μοι τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἐξέκαιον καὶ οἱ λέγοντες ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ βοηθῶν μοι θεός, ἐκεῖνοί με πλέον εἰς ἐπιθυμίαν καθίστων τοῦ ἰδεῖν

τὴν παρὰ σοῦ βοήθειαν. Ταῦτα ἐμνήσθην καὶ ἐξέχεα ἐπ’ ἐμὲ τὴν ψυχήν μου. Ἀνεπόλουν γάρ, φησί, κατ’ ἐμαυτὸν τοὺς τόπους τοὺς ἁγίους, τὸν ναόν, τὴν λατρείαν, τὴν ἐκεῖ πανήγυριν, καὶ ἡ μνήμη τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν μοι ἐξῆπτε. Τὸ δὲ «ἐξέχεα» ἀντὶ τοῦ διέχεα λέγει, ὡς καὶ Σύμμαχος ἔφη. Ὅτι διελεύσομαι ἐν τόπῳ σκηνῆς θαυμαστῆς ἕως τοῦ (1n)

οἴκου τοῦ θεοῦ. Ὅπως, φησίν, ἐβάδιζον ἕως τῆς σκηνῆς τοῦ θεοῦ τῆς θαυμαστῆς· λέγει δὲ τὸν ναόν. Ἐν φωνῇ ἀγαλλιάσεως καὶ ἐξομολογήσεως ἤχους ἑορτάζοντος. Ὑπεμιμνησκόμην γάρ, φησί, καὶ τοῦτο ὅτι γινόμενος ἐν τῷ ναῷ ἤκουον τῶν φωνῶν ἐκείνων τῶν θαυμαστῶν ἐξομολογουμένων καὶ εὐχαριστούντων καὶ μὴ πανήγυριν ποιουμένων τὸ πρᾶγμα. Ἱνατί περίλυπος εἶ, ἡ ψυχή μου, καὶ ἱνατί συνταράσσεις με; Ἔλπισον ἐπὶ τὸν θεόν, ὅτι ἐξομολογήσομαι αὐτῷ. Καὶ ἐπειδή, φησίν, ἡ μνήμη τῶν ἐκεῖ ἀνίατόν μοι τὴν ὀδύνην ἐτίθει, καὶ τὸν παρακαλοῦντα οὐχ εὕρισκον, ἐν οἷς αὐτὸς ἐγὼ μόνος ἠπιστάμην τὰς αἰτίας τῆς λύπης, ἐμαυτῷ ἐνεκελευόμην λαβεῖν παραμυθίαν τὴν ἐλπίδα τῆς βοηθείας τοῦ θεοῦ. Σωτήριον τοῦ προσώπου μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου. «Τοῦ προσώπου μου» ἵνα εἴπῃ· τῆς δόξης μου, τῆς εὐπρεπείας μου. Ἔλεγον, φησίν, ἐν ἐμαυτῷ ὅτι ἔλπισον ἐπὶ τὸν θεὸν ὃς ἀεὶ ἐφρόντισε καὶ τῆς σωτηρίας σου καὶ τῆς εὐπρεπείας σου. Πρὸς ἐμαυτὸν ψυχή μου ἐταράχθη. Ἀλλὰ μετὰ τοὺς λογισμοὺς τούτους, φησί, πάλιν ἐταραττόμην. Ἐνίκα γὰρ ἡ μνήμη τῶν τόπων τὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ λογισμοῦ παραμυθίαν. Ὅθεν ἐπιφέρει· Διὰ τοῦτο μνησθήσομαί σου ἐκ γῆς Ἰορδάνου καὶ Ἑρμωνιείμ, ἀπὸ ὄρους μικροῦ. Ἐταραττόμην δέ, φησί, καὶ οὐκ ἤμην ἐν ἐμαυτῷ ὑπομιμνησκόμενος τῆς τε γῆς τῆς θαυμαστῆς ἐκείνης, Ἰορδάνου τοῦ ποταμοῦ, τοῦ ὄρους τοῦ Ἑρμωνιεὶμ οὕτως ἐπικαλουμένου. Τὸ δὲ εἰπεῖν «μικροῦ» ὑποκοριστικῶς διακειμένου ἦν καὶ σφόδρα ποθοῦντος τὸν τόπον, ἐκ μεταφορᾶς τῶν τὰ μικρὰ παιδία φιλούντων καὶ ὑποκοριζομένων τὰ ὀνόματα. Ἄβυσσος ἄβυσσον ἐπικαλεῖται εἰς φωνὴν τῶν καταρρακτῶν σου. Ὑπεμιμνησκόμην δέ, φησίν, ὅτι ἐκεῖ διατρίβοντός μου συνελθόντα πλήθη ἄπειρα καὶ συμμίξαντα πολεμίοις ἑτέροις οὕτως τὴν ὀργήν σου ἐπλήρουν τὴν ἄφατον. «Ἄβυσσον» γὰρ καλεῖ τὸ πλῆθος, «καταρράκτας» δὲ τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν ὀργήν. Βούλεται οὖν εἰπεῖν ὅτι πλῆθος πολεμίων συνηθροίσθησαν ἐπ’ ἐμὲ πληροῦντές σου τὴν ὀργὴν ὡσανεὶ ἀπὸ καταρρακτῶν τινων φερόμενοι. Πάντες οἱ μετεωρισμοί σου καὶ τὰ κύματά σου ἐπ’ ἐμὲ διῆλθον. Καὶ ὅμως, φησίν, ὑπεδεξάμην πάσας τὰς ἀπειλάς σου καὶ τὰς ὀργάς, αἵτινες, φησί, κυμάτων δίκην ὑψώθησαν ἐπ’ ἐμοὶ καὶ ἐπέκλυσάν με.  Ἡμέρας ἐντελεῖται κύριος τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ, καὶ νυκτὸς ᾠδὴ αὐτοῦ παρ’ ἐμοί. Τὸ τάχος βούλεται εἰπεῖν τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ βοηθείας, ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ ὀργισθεὶς κύματα πολεμίων ἐπήγαγές μοι, οὕτω βουληθεὶς ἀπαλλάξαι με ὀξυτάτην νέμεις τὴν βοήθειαν, ὥστε ἅμα τῷ προστάξαι σε μηδὲν κωλῦσαι εὐχαριστῆσαί με, οὕτως οὐδὲν εὑρίσκεται μέσον τοῦ τε σοῦ προστάγματος καὶ τῆς ἐμῆς ἀπολαύσεως. Παρἐμοὶ προσευχὴ τῷ θεῷ τῆς ζωῆς μου. Ἀλλ’ εὐθύς, φησίν, εὑρίσκεται ἐν ἐμοὶ εὐχαριστία τῷ θετῷ ἀναπεμπομένη τῷ τὴν ζωὴν χαρισαμένῳ. Ἐρῶ τῷ θεῷ· Ἀντιλήπτωρ μου εἶ· διὰ τί μου ἐπελάθου; Καὶ τοῦτο, φησίν, εὐθέως ἐπάγω ὅτι εἰ οὖν οὕτως ἀντιλαμβάνῃ μου, τίνος ἕνεκα συνεχώρησάς μοι παθεῖν; Οὐ γὰρ ἦν τοῦ φιλοῦντος οὕτω τοιαῦτα συγχωρῆσαι πάθη. Καὶ ἱνατί σκυθρωπάζων πορεύομαι ἐν τῷ ἐκθλίβειν τὸν ἐχθρόν;  Τίνος δὲ ἕνεκα, φησί, τοσοῦτον χρόνον ἐσκυθρώπασα ἐχθρῶν ἐπικειμένων καὶ ὀδυνώντων με; Ἐν τῷ καταθλᾶσθαι τὰ ὀστᾶ μου ὠνείδιζόν με οἱ ἐχθροί μου. Καὶ γὰρ μεγίστην εἶχον ἀφορμὴν οἱ ἐχθροὶ τοῦ ὀνειδίζειν με ὁρῶντες εἰς ὅσην κατηνέχθην ἀσθένειαν. Ἐν τῷ λέγειν αὐτούς μοι καθ’ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν· Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ θεός σου; Ἐδόκουν δέ μοι, φησί, καὶ εὔλογα ὀνειδίζειν, ὡς τῆς σῆς φιλανθρωπίας ἐπὶ πολὺν παρορώσης με τὸν χρόνον. Ἱνατί περίλυπος εἶ, ἡ ψυχή μου, καὶ ἱνατί συνταράσσεις με; Ἔλπισον ἐπὶ τὸν θεόν, ὅτι ἐξομολογήσομαι αὐτῷ· σωτήριον τοῦ προσώπου μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου. Ταῦτα οὖν, φησί, πάντα ἐν ἐμαυτῷ ἐνθυμούμενος πάλιν ἐνεκελευόμην ἐμαυτῷ μὴ ταράττεσθαι, ἀλλ’ ἐλπίζειν ἐπὶ τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἑτοίμως παρέχοντά μοι τὴν σωτηρίαν καὶ πάλιν ἔνδοξόν με ποιοῦντα. Ἴδιον δὲ τῶν πασχόντων τὸ συνεχεῖς λογισμοὺς ἐνστρέφειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, ποτὲ μὲν ἀπογνώσεως, ποτὲ δὲ ἐλπίδος.

[5] Syriac CSCO 387, SYRI 168 V, pg 27. Cx. PG 27:199-204 for Latin and Greek.

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