While preparing for a sermon on Psalm 42 recently, I stumbled across an odd text-critical issue.
Most commentators point out the presence of a repeated refrain/chorus in verses 5 and 11, which also appears in Psalm 43:5. In several English translations, these are rendered identically, e.g. ESV:
“5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation 6 and my God.”
(See also NIV, NLT, NRSV and the LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament)
However, the original text of verse 5b (v6 in the Masoretic Text [MT]) actually reads as follows:1
הוֹחִ֣ילִי לֵֽ֭אלֹהִים כִּי־ע֥וֹד אוֹדֶ֗נּוּ יְשׁוּע֥וֹת פָּנָֽיו׃ אֱֽלֹהַ֗י
Translation: “Hope in God (Elohim); for again I shall praise [the] salvation/help of His face/countenance, my God.”
In contrast, the original text of the second “refrain” in verse 11 (v12 in the MT) is preserved slightly differently:
הוֹחִ֣ילִי לֵֽ֭אלֹהִים כִּי־ע֣וֹד אוֹדֶ֑נּוּ יְשׁוּעֹ֥ת פָּ֝נַ֗י וֵֽאלֹהָֽי׃
Translation: “Hope in God (Elohim); for again I shall praise [the] salvation/help of my face/countenance, and my God.”
(The third “refrain” in Psalm 43 is identical to this).
So if we reflected what’s pointed in the MT, verse 5 ends with “His face, my God”; while verse 11 ends with “my face, and my God.”
While some older translations preserve this difference (see KJV, CUV), most have chosen to ignore it and smooth out the text, perhaps assuming the Masoretic scribe mucked up and should have copy-pasted more accurately.2
But I think there’s something to be said for having slightly different refrains. The first refrain is actually inviting us not just to praise Him, but literally the salvation of (or from) His face. In our sorrows, what we need to remind ourselves of is more than theory that God saves — we need to remember His smiling face on us! Charles Spurgeon reflects this well:
“Salvations come from the propitious face of God, and he will yet lift up his countenance upon us. Note well that the main hope and chief desire of David rest in the smile of God. His face is what he seeks and hopes to see, and this will recover his low spirits, this will put to scorn his laughing enemies, this will restore to him all the joys of those holy and happy days around which memory lingers…”CH Spurgeon, “The Treasury of David”, Psalm 42
After singing gospel truths, we move from picturing God’s smile to wearing a smile on our face. His favour bursts through and lifts our mood. Following the Hebrew divisions reminds us of that.
If you think it’s odd that a chorus can have slightly different words, here’s a modern-day example: one of the most powerful moments in CityAlight’s brilliant worship song, Only A Holy God is how in verse 4 they first sing “Only a Holy God”, then repeat it slightly differently with “Only my Holy God”.
So if we let the refrains speak for themselves, Psalm 42 invites us to pour our sorrows out to God (v1-4, 6-7, 9-10), reminds ourselves of the salvation that comes from His face (v5), and ends with our own countenances renewed and restored (v11).
That’s the “cognitive therapy” that the Sons of Korah invites us to practice when we worship together.
1. While the : traditionally indicates the start of a new verse, for some reason it sits inside the letter ו that indicates “his salvation”. The scribe actually ends the sentence with “my God” (אֱֽלֹהַ֗י), then leaves a large space prior to continuing on. For the Hebrew nerds out there you can see for yourself here (on the very last line, bottom left).
2. Specifically, they read Ps 42:5-6a as if the letter ו that renders as “his face” belongs to the next word as “and my God”. This reading is unlikely given that the ו doesn’t have a segol (..) that would positively link it to the word “my God” in the same way as Ps 42:11 and 43:5 both do. The scribe has intentionally pointed them differently.