“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, ‘Where is your God?’" (Psalm 42:1-3).
As the opening verses above indicate, in Psalm 42, which is a contemplation of the sons of Korah, the picture is given of a person who is panting because they are excessively thirsty. They describe themselves as a deer who has run a long distance and is now panting for a water brook to satisfy its thirst (Psalm 42:1). As one who enjoys outdoor activities, I can certainly relate to having great thirst. When I am thirsty, I am in hot pursuit to find some cool liquids such as water to satisfy my thirst. However, the person described in Psalm 42 does not thirst for water, but for God (Psalm 42:2).
Why is the person described in Psalm 42 panting and thirsting so much for God? It appears this person was being persecuted for their belief in God: “My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:3). The enemies of this person were mocking his faith in God and it hurt him: “As with a breaking of my bones, my enemies reproach me, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’" (Psalm 42:10).
This psalm appears to have been written during a time when the writer was unable to go to worship with God’s people. This might have been because of the persecution of his enemies. The writer reflects upon better times when he enjoyed going to feast with God’s people: “When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast” (Psalm 42:4). After contemplating his being inability to worship God with God’s people and, then, having to hear his enemies mock him saying, “Where is your God?”, would be like pouring salt in his wounds!
The writer says his soul was “cast down” (Psalm 42:5, 6, 11). He felt completely wiped out much like how a person feels who is exhausted from working outside in the hot heat. He is so depleted he can hardly get up. His enemies have so persecuted him as to make him so thirsty that if his thirst is not soon satisfied he will no longer be able to get up and will perish.
His solution is to seek God as the deer pants for the water brooks. He will reflect and remember God’s blessings: “O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar. Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me. The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me-- A prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:6-8). Notice as he calls upon God, God abundantly satisfies his thirst by sending waves and waterfalls. This quenches his thirst an enables him to cling to his hope in God in the midst of his persecution!
As I read Psalm 42, I reflect and ask, “Am I thirsty for God? Do I pant for Him in prayer and pursue the water brooks of His Word?” Jesus said, “…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). Today, I will strive will pant for God and seek after Him as the only one who can satisfy my thirst!
“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:11).