If you have ever attended a church (or a synagogue) then you will be aware that often the last part of the liturgy is what is known as a “doxology”, which is simply an expression of praise to God. One such doxology is how Psalm 41 finishes when it says,
13 Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.
But, there is special reason why this doxology is at the end of Psalm 41. Do you know why?
If not, let me tell you. It is because, as the introduction to the Psalms in the Jewish Study Bible says, “The book of Psalms is subdivided into five ‘Books’…” These five “books” are (1) Psalms 1-41, (2) Psalms 42-72, (3) Psalms 73-89, (4) Psalms 90-106 and (5) Psalms 107-150. This introduction adds that “The division into books is marked by the insertion of doxologies, short hymnic praises of God, at the end of each book…The division…is designed to parallel the five books of the Torah [i.e. first five books of the Bible]. As the Rabbis put it: ‘Moses gave the five books of the Torah to Israel and David gave the five books of Psalms to Israel’ (Midrash Shoher Tov, 1.2)” (# 7)
So, Psalm 41 is the last one of Book 1 and we now move onto Psalm 42, the first psalm of Book 2.
But guess what, we are actually going to consider Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 together, and if you are a habitual reader and admirer of the Psalms you will already know why.
Let me give you a hint.
Check out the following verse:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.
In fact, this verse occurs in Psalm 42 verse 5 and verse 11 as well as Psalm 43 verse 5. So, as the Introduction mentioned above says, “Psalm 42-43 are a single psalm, as indicated by their shared refrain and common theme…” And, another interesting point is that Psalm 42 is titled “For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah”, while Psalm 43 has no title but instead moves straight into the prayer poem.
Let me give you just two more pieces of information before we go deeper into these psalms which Kidner describes as “two parts of a single, close-knit poem, one of the most sadly beautiful in the Psalter.” (# 29)
Firstly, there is an interesting change from Book 1 in that Book 2 is known as the “Elohistic Psalter” and as that same introduction comments: “this section much prefers the Hebrew [word] ‘Elohim’, [meaning] ‘God’”. This is in contrast to the rest of the Psalter where Yahweh, meaning “Lord”, is used.
Secondly, “Psalm 42 also introduces the collection of Korahite psalms…the Korahites [or Sons of Korah] had a special role in Temple singing” as described in 2 Chronicles 20:19 Then some Levites from the … Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.
Let me finish this brief introduction then with another wonderful doxology found in 1 Chronicles 29:
10 David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
“Praise be to you, Lord,
the God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendour,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
12 Wealth and honour come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
13 Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.
Amen and Amen!