Most of us have sung the chorus “As the deer panteth for the water, so soul longeth after thee.” This song is based on Ps 42 and 43. The psalm depicts a deer emerging from the safety of trees and approaching the stream cautiously. The image is of the animal trying to stretch its neck towards the water from as far as possible. It is a gently picture, but charged with suspense. We can almost feel the thirst of a dry mouth either from a hot run, or a slow drying from lack of sufficient water. We may ask why the deer does not just rush to stream and quench its thirst. It is because of fear of enemies. It cannot drink without caution.
We are to understand that the deer is the psalmist, and the water is the Lord. The psalmist thirsty for the Lord but in the psalm he does not get water but only his tears. This is because he is separated from God, and his enemies taunt him saying “Where is your God?” (42:3) He also recalls his visits to the temple saying “I used to go.” (42:4)
What keeps a person from going to church? Some Israelites were exiled in Babylon and couldn’t worship at their temple. Perhaps the psalmist had drifted away from God. Perhaps something had upset him and in his anger he stayed away from the assembling of God’s people. But there remained in his heart a deep longing for God. Sometimes in our travels we are unable to locate a church and miss a service. Sometimes sickness keeps us away.
The psalmist addresses himself as though he was two people. He said “”Why are you cast down?” (42:5,11; 43:5) When you are discouraged, ask “why?” Searching out the cause for sorrow is often the best step to healing. Not knowing why we are depressed magnifies the problem. A clearer view makes the monsters smaller. Knowing the cause we might realize that it is not enough to get me down so much.
Various things depress us: misunderstandings with friends or family, approaching deadlines, poor performance in school or work. In his depression the psalmist said “Deep calls to Deep.” (42:7) The waves and billows are probably the pressure of and emotions of his situation. He was drowning in despair. One wave followed another. It does not have to be many waves. One or two big waves is enough.
The foothills of Mt Herman are where the Jordan begins. Jordan, the name is derived from the word “to descend.” It flows to the lowest spot on earth, the Dead Sea. Deep calling to deep is probably the sound of crashing waterfalls cascading down Herman connecting the deep above to the deep below. The psalmist is overwhelmed by his helplessness as he hears the waterfall. He imagines that deeps have joined hands against him.
Israelites hated the sea. Many psalms contain the phrase “Sing O coastlands!” Israelites rejoiced to get ashore again. Several psalms describe deliverance from the ocean billows, struggling to recover when pushed down by another wave. Fatigue takes over and the struggling one has no other hope than God and a miracle.
The psalms depict God as a rock—that is the opposite image of water. They describe God as lifting one out of the pit, the mud and the slime, Setting the feet on a rock, and giving him a firm place to stand (Ps 40:2) Ps 61:1 asks God to Lead me to the Rock that is higher.” Psalm 62:2 describes God as the Rock of salvation. Interestingly in the wilderness God produced water of out a rock twice. The Rock can provide water to slake your thirst.
On the cross Jesus cried out “I thirst.” It may not have been only for water, but due to separation from the Father. Could our bodies be thirsting more than we suspect? Are we drinking enough Water of Life? Those who know tell us that we usually do not drink enough water. We need to drink more than we feel like in order to prevent thirst. Discouragement is symptom of separation from God. When we feel depressed or discouraged we need to turn to God. However, unlike the deer, there is no need for caution or fear, for God nothing can harm us in God’s presence.
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