Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 14 2019 - Psalm 42-43 – As the deer pants

Psalms 42 and 43 really constitute a single psalm as is indicated by the refrain in 42:5, 11 and 43:5.

We take clean drinkable water for granted; we just have to turn on the tap and it gushes out. But in Israel the rains only came at certain times of year and many rivers would dry up at other times. As the sun beat down upon the dry land plants would wither and die. Animals such as deer would become desperate to find food and water – if they did not manage to do so they would die.

This is the picture used by the author of this psalm to express the intensity of his longing for God:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

The psalm is a lament written by someone who seems to have found himself cut off from the people of God and, he feels, cut off from God himself. He longs for a real sense of God's presence and the joy of experiencing God's love. If he cannot find God he will die.

God made us for fellowship with him; without such fellowship we feel that we are lacking some essential part of our life. But we have been locked out of Paradise to be alone in the world.

This surely is the experience of many in our world. They may gleefully deny the existence of God and declare that mankind has come of age but they cannot totally erase that longing for something more – for a sense that life means something and for a glimpse of some transcendent reality.

God sent his Son into the world to reveal his love for us and to call us back into fellowship with him. Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has torn the curtain that separates God from humankind. He is the one who speaks of himself as the source of living water, the one who can supply the refreshment of God's gracious presence to the dry and thirsty soul.

Yet even we who have come to know the living God through the Lord Jesus Christ have to confess that there are times when he seems far off from us. In such times we long for the sense of God's nearness that we have enjoyed in the past (42:4). The hymn writer William Cowper often suffered from spiritual depression and went through periods when God seemed absent from his experience. In one of his hymns he writes:

Where is the blessedness I knew, when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view of Jesus, and His Word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed! How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void the world can never fill.

At such times it is God's Spirit within us who stirs up a longing for God that no one and nothing else can satisfy – the longing expressed in this psalm; "deep calls to deep…" (42:7). Then we also need to counsel ourselves. We need to remember God's love for us in the Lord Jesus and his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. We need to rebuke our own despair and to place our hope afresh in the God who has saved us through his Son and will yet save us (42:5, 11 and 43:5).

Lord, increase my longing for communion with you and then in your goodness respond to my cry by making me to know your presence and your love. Give me then a spirit of praise and enable me to testify to others that you are the one who satisfies the thirsty soul.

Peter Misselbrook