Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm is without a title. The name of the author is unknown, and, of course, it is not known on what occasion the psalm was composed. It bears, however, a very strong resemblance, in its general spirit and in its structure, to Psa 42:1-11, and was, beyond doubt, composed by the same author, and in reference to the same occasion. The resemblance between the two psalms is so striking that many have supposed that they are parts of the same psalm, and as this one terminates with the same language Psa 43:5 as that which occurs at the close of the two parts of Psa 42:1-11 Psa 42:5, Psa 42:11, it has been conjectured by many that this is the third part or strophe of the psalm, and that they have been separated by mistake of the transcribers. See introduction to Psa 42:1-11. It would be impossible to account for the fact that they had become separated in the majority Hebrew manuscripts if they had originally constituted one psalm; while the fact of their being found united in a small number of Hebrew manuscripts is easily accounted for, as the resemblance of the two may have led the transcribers to suppose that they were parts of one composition. The probability is, that this psalm was composed by the same author, as a kind of supplement to the former psalm, or as expressing, in a slightly different form, the emotions which passed through his mind on that same occasion.
The psalm contains
(1) an earnest appeal to God to assist the suffering author, and to protect him from the efforts of an ungodly nation, and from the designs of the deceitful and unjust man, Psa 43:1;
(2) an appeal to God as his strength, with the language of anxious inquiry why he had cast him off, and had suffered him to go mourning because of the oppression of his enemy, Psa 43:2;
(3) an earnest prayer that God would interpose, and would send out his light and his truth, and would permit him to go again to his holy hill, to the tabernacles, and to the altar, Psa 43:3-4; and
(4), as in Psa 42:5, Psa 42:11, self-reproach that he is thus dejected and dispirited, and an appeal to his own soul to arouse itself, and to put its trust in God. It is a psalm, like the former, of great practical value to those who, in affliction, are sad and desponding.
Judge me, O God - This does not mean, Pronounce sentence upon me; but, Undertake my cause; interpose in my behalf; do justice in the case. He regarded his own cause as right; he felt that he was greatly wronged by the treatment which he received from people, and he asks to have it shown that he was not guilty of what his enemies charged on him; that he was an upright man, and a friend of God. See Psa 7:8, note; Psa 26:1, note.
And plead my cause - See the notes at Psa 35:1. "Against an ungodly nation." Margin, unmerciful. Literally, "from a nation not merciful," or not; religious. The idea is, that the nation or people referred to manifested none of the spirit of religion in their conduct toward him; that he was treated with severity and injustice. This entire description would agree well with the state of things in the time of the rebellion of Absalom, when David was driven from his home and his throne: 2 Sam. 15, following.
O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man - Margin, as in Hebrew, from a man of deceit and iniquity. This would apply well to the case and character of Absalom, or perhaps more directly and properly to the character and counsel of Ahithophel, among the leading conspirators in the rebellion of Absalom, to whose counsels much of the rebellion was owing: Sa2 15:31; compare Sa2 16:23; Sa2 17:14, Sa2 17:23.
For thou art the God of my strength - See Psa 18:2, note; Psa 28:7, note.
Why dost thou cast me off? - As if I were none of thine; as if I were wholly abandoned. Compare the notes at Psa 22:1. The word rendered "cast off" - זנח zânach - is a word which implies strong disgust or loathing: "Why dost thou cast me off as a loathsome or disgusting object?" Compare Rev 3:16. The Hebrew word means properly to be foul, to be rancid, to stink: then, to be loathsome or abominable; and then, to treat or regard anything as such. Compare Hos 8:3, Hos 8:5; Isa 19:6.
Why go I mourning ... - See the notes at Psa 42:9. This expression, with others of a similar character, renders it morally certain that this psalm was composed by the same person, and with reference to the same circumstances, as the former.
O send out thy light and thy truth - Send them forth as from thy presence; or, let them be made manifest. The word light here is equivalent to favor or mercy, as when one prays for the "light of God's countenance" (see the notes at Psa 4:6); and the idea is, that now, in the time of darkness and trouble, when the light of God's countenance seemed to be withdrawn or hidden, he prays that God would impart light; that he would restore his favor; that he would conduct him back again to his former privileges. The word truth here is equivalent to truthfulness or faithfulness; and the prayer is, that God would manifest his faithfulness to him as one of his own people, by restoring him to the privileges and blessings from which he had been unjustly driven. Compare the notesat Psa 25:5.
Let them lead me - That is, Let them lead me back to my accustomed privileges; let me go under their guidance to the enjoyment of the blessings connected with the place of public worship.
Let them bring me unto thy holy hill - Mount Zion; the place where the worship of God was then celebrated, and hence called the "holy hill" of God.
And to thy tabernacles - The tabernacle was the sacred tent erected for the worship of God (see the notes at Psa 15:1), and was regarded as the place where Yahweh had his abode. The tabernacle was divided, as the temple was afterward, into two parts or rooms, the holy and the most holy place (see the notes at Heb 9:1-5); and hence the plural term, tabernacles, might be employed in speaking of it. The language here implies, as in Psa 42:1-11, that the author of the psalm was now exiled or banished from this, and hence, also it may be inferred that the two psalms were composed by the same author, and with reference to the same occasion. If the reference here, moreover, is to Mount Zion as the "holy hill," it may be observed that this would fix the composition of the psalm to the time of David, as before his time that was not the place of the worship of God, but was made "holy" by his removing the ark there. After his time the place of worship was removed to Mount Moriah, where the temple was built. It cannot be demonstrated, however, with absolute certainty that the reference here is to Mount Zion, though that seems in every way probable. Compare Psa 2:6, note; Psa 3:4, note; compare Sa2 5:7-9; Sa2 6:17.
Then will I go unto the altar of God - The altar on Mount Zion, where sacrifices were offered: Sa2 6:17. The meaning is, that he would again unite with others in the public and customary worship of God. Compare the notes at Psa 42:4.
Unto God - Into the immediate presence of God; the place where he was worshipped.
My exceeding joy - Margin, the gladness of my joy. The Septuagint renders this, "who makes my youth joyous:" or, "the joy of my youth," (Thompson) The Hebrew is, the gladness of my joy; meaning, that God was the source of his joy, so that he found all his happiness in Him.
Yea, upon the harp will I praise thee - Compare the notes at Psa 33:2-3. Instruments of music were commonly used in the worship of God, and David is represented as excelling in the music of the harp. Compare Sa1 16:16-23.
O God, my God - It was not merely God as such that he desired to worship, or to whom he now appealed, but God as his God, the God to whom he had devoted himself, and whom he regarded as his God even in affliction and trouble. Compare the notes at Psa 22:1.
Why art thou cast down?... - See Psa 42:5, note; Psa 42:11, note. The sameness of this verse with Psa 42:5, Psa 42:11 proves, as has been already remarked, that this psalm was composed by the same writer, and with reference to the same subject as the former. The doctrine which is taught is the same - that we should not be dejected or cast down in the troubles of life, but should hope in God, and look forward to better times, if not in this world, certainly in the world to come. If we are his children, we shall "yet praise him;" we shall acknowledge him as the "health" or the salvation (Hebrew) of our countenance; as one who by giving "salvation" diffuses joy over our countenance; as one who will manifest himself as our God. He who has an eternity of blessedness before him - he who is to dwell forever in a world of peace and joy - he who is soon to enter an abode where there will be no sin, no sadness, no tears, no death - he who is to commence a career of glory which is never to terminate and never to change - should not be cast down - should not be overwhelmed with sorrow.