Psalm 42 marks the beginning of Book II of the Psalms. Exiled to the northern fringes of Israelite territory, forced by taunting enemies to reside far from the house of God (see also Ps. 63 and 84), the psalmist, who dearly loves God, grieves over feeling forgotten and rejected by God. Many throughout the ages have testified to that same sense of abandonment, described here in terms of a parching thirst for God (st. 1) and recalling past seasons of worshiping God with multitudes in the temple (st. 2). But faith revives hope in God's faithfulness (st. 3). Though overwhelmed by troubles, the exile still remembers God (st. 4) and asks that God will remember him in the face of jeering unbelievers (st. 5). The psalmist prays for vindication from enemies (st. 6) and for restoration to God's precious presence (st. 7).
Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one psalm. To honor the structure of the original, the Psalter Hymnal Revision Committee asked members Bert Polman (PHH 37) and Jack Reiffer (b. Grand Rapids, MI, 1944) to versify both psalms so they could be sung together to GENEVAN 42. The composite text includes several lines from the 1931 versification by Dewey Westra (PHH 98) published in earlier editions of the Psalter Hymnal.
Jack Reiffer was chair of the text subcommittee of the revision committee. A graduate of Calvin College and Seminary, he is currently pastor of a church in Washington, D.C.; he has also served congregations in Chicago and Champaign, Illinois.
Bert Polman, Psalter Hymnal Handbook
God’s children are not called to come before God’s throne with a list of accomplishments, or merits or goodness; they are called, says Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 26, to come with the humility that “…offers nothing but our need for mercy.” Such a cry for mercy comes from our “dying-away of the old self” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, Question and Answer 88) which expresses that we are “genuinely sorry for our sin and more and more…hate and run away from it” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, Question and Answer 89).
The gifts of renewal and pardon come only “through true faith” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, Question and Answer 20) and are “gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merits” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, Question and Answer 21). The very act of faith is to plead for his mercy.