As the Deer
“As a deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, God.”
(Psalm 42:2 [verse 1 in English])
While we typically envision deer to be more of a European and North American species of animal, the Roe Deer and the Fallow deer are common to Israel. And much like dogs, deer do not sweat, but instead kind of pant when they are hot and need to cool down. Hence the imagery. The deer is not just casually thirsty for cool, refreshing water, but if the deer is panting, the deer is hot and will overheat if it does not get water to help cool it down. If we take the analogy to its logical end, we would expect panting to be taking place after some exertion, a run perhaps away from a hunter.
While it is true that sometimes when we dig deeply into a metaphor, we lose the meaning of the metaphor, I don’t think that such is true in this case. We must not only appreciate that the psalmist’s soul longs after God, but we must ask why it longs after God and as to the nature of this longing. Is God something that simply adds some refreshment to an otherwise pleasant afternoon, or is God one to whom we desperately flee, knowing that our only hope of survival is the water that flows from the throne of His grace, lest we be destroyed by those who seek our life in this world. Indeed, as we delve deeper into this psalm, we will realize that much of the language centers around God’s preservation of his own people in the face of great oppression much as a deer spends much of its life being pursued by a hunter.
But what does it mean to really long for something? The Hebrew word, gOrÍo (arog), means to crave for or desire something with every fiber of your being. It is the knowing that if you do not get that which you are striving for, you indeed will perish and wither away. I wonder, sometimes, whether we really think that way about God. Do we really long for him? Do we really crave his Word or are both an afterthought—a convenient solution to the ills of the day or a tradition by which we feel good about ourselves? Beloved, feel the spirit and desire behind these words, understand the necessity by which the psalmist is seeking God’s presence, and know, given that its author is a son of Asaph, that these brothers knew trouble and grief—but they knew the mercy of God as well and clung to it. Will you?