“My soul thirsts for God;
To God, the living one, when shall I come?
I shall be seen before the presence of God.”
(Psalm 42:3 [verse 2 in English translations])
Again, we see the language of thirsting for the living water of God. And again, it is essential to put before our hearts and eyes the question, is this the song and cry of our heart? Do we genuinely long for the things of God or do we flee from them? Sadly, professing Christians often flee from the presence of God (in practice, not in word) because drawing near to God exposes sin, it humbles, and it demands that we submit to another’s authority in our lives. At the same time, drawing near to God fills and floods our soul with grace that can be lived out in a community that desperately needs to experience the grace of God in their lives.
Note, too, the idea of the soul in Hebrew notion of the soul is not so much a spiritual element as it is the entirety of our existence. In other words, it is not just our mind or our passions that are to long for God, but everything about us! Even our flesh is to long for God—every aspect of our person! Is this, indeed, how you live? Is this longing something that marks your life not only in church, but also in the community, in your family, and in your idle time. You could even translate this as “My life thirsts for God.” The question we must ask is, “Does our life really reflect this thirsting for God? Indeed, such thirsting is not only a mark of a believer (Matthew 5:6) but it is also the source of water that will flow from God and never cease to fill our lives (John 4:14).
The psalmist now adds to the imagery of the quest for water by referring to God as “the Living One.” This language has double significance in this context. First, in the context of one’s thirst being filled, the ancient Jews referred to running water as “living water.” It is moving and it can sustain life—it is fresh and not stagnant or bitter. As a result of this, “living water” was not only desirable to the people (and reminiscent of the language of the stream in the previous verse), but it was considered spiritual as well, and it was only with living water that baptisms and other purification rituals could be performed. Hence, for example, we find John the Baptist standing in the Jordan River, a source of living water to use as he baptized the people that came to him in droves (most likely through the process of dipping hyssop in the water and sprinkling it on those that came for baptism—Psalm 51:7).
The second level of significance is that God is the living God (Daniel 6:26) and the God of the living, not the dead (Matthew 22:32). God is not like the lifeless idols crafted by men, nor are his followers left to the depths of the grave—indeed, our God will redeem his own and not abandon us to the fires of Judgment. Indeed, God is the God of the living—the spiritually alive, that is, for when he enters our sin-dead hearts he gives us new birth and then lives eternally in our hearts. Indeed, God, the living God, not only makes his people alive, but he so fills them with living water that it flows from their lives into the lives of those around them (John 7:38).
Loved ones, and know that it is because of this work of God, we have not only the hope of life here, but also the hope of eternal life in the presence of God. No, Christian, he will never leave nor forsake you—even to the ends of the earth. Indeed, there is no God like our God—the living one; beloved, quench your thirst in Him.
“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?