Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms. Schaff, Philip (editor). New York: Christian Literature Publishing Col, 1886. Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers: Series 1: Volume VIII. Re-published 2014, Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle electronic edition, ISBN-13: 978-1-78379-372-3.
Psalm 42 opens with a statement of longing for the Lord. Augustine asks who would cry out to God in this way, then concludes that it is every Christian who has found “the sweetness” there is in Christ (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323287). He compares this longing to that of catechumens who desire baptism. For this reason, Psalm 42 was commonly chanted at baptisms (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323294).
Augustine notes the Psalm is ascribed to “the sons of Korah,” which Augustine interprets to mean “sons of the bridegroom” and thus sons of Christ (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323302). For this reason, Augustine takes the overall message to call Christians to run like a deer to the Christ, the source of living water. He further reports that a stag will kill serpents, then become very thirsty, causing it to run to water (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323310).
In verse two, Augustine focuses on the desire for Christ which His people have. It is a longing for what Jesus gives (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323326). This is the beauty of the Lord in His house. Augustine notes the unusual statement of verse three, where tears become “bread” rather than “drink.” He takes this as something which would sustain us, but not diminish our longing for the water of God (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323334). At the heart of this search for God Augustine finds the distinction between the true God and the gods of the pagans, which are local idols. In comparison, pointing out the God of the Bible is more difficult. This is why verse four shows the search as for something “above myself” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323342). The Psalmist then returns to the theme of looking for God in His tabernacle, the place where He seems to dwell with humans. Augustine goes on to speak of the way we might have special music at festive times in a household, but that in God’s presence there is “an eternal holiday” which will never end (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323373).
Augustine acknowledges the gulf between being with the Lord and living our earthly life. He compares this to our longing for God with tears even when we know where to look for God (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323381). We are mortal and frail now, though we have an incorruptible immortality. This dichotomy leads the Psalmist to ask why his soul is downcast (v. 5). We have a hope in God, regardless of our sorrows. Verse six points out that our souls are disquieted because of ourselves. We know God’s perfection and our own selves. This should bother us (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323404). Yet it is exactly that dissonance which drives us to seek God and His forgiveness - from Hermon to the Jordan, a place of exaltation and a place of baptism for forgiveness (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323412).
In verse seven, Augustine makes a comment that he is going to continue through the Psalm despite fatigue, due to the fervor of the hearers (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323421_. The profound depths of God’s judgments and of men’s hearts call to one another (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323429). Augustine considers these the largely incomprehensible and unseen elements of God and man. This is how we learn wisdom. Particularly, as we take heed to the judgments of God, we are confronted by His presence and are threatened by God’s “waves.” However, Augustine confesses that the hope we have in God is well founded. God will show mercy. He helps His people (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323453).
Alluding to Aesop and the ant, who stores things up in the summer, Augustine tells his readers to learn trust in God during times of prosperity so as to rest secure in tribulation (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323461), Yet, in verse nine we do wonder if God has forsaken us during times of trial. The language of rejection is very common Verse 11 records the attacks of adversaries who ask why God has left us (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323488).Verse 11 then reaffirms the trust we have in God. We can hope in Him (Augustine Psalms, loc. 323495).