“As a deer pants for flowing streams, 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?” (Psalms 42:1-2, ESV)
This Psalm was my grandmother’s favorite. I’ve always loved it as well; but for a long while I never really understood why. The imagery is compelling, drawing us into the psalmist’s state of mind. It’s so easy to fixate on one part of a Psalm or other section of scripture, perhaps because of something particularly beautiful, reading on but never really letting it go enough to track the rest. While Psalm 42 uses beautiful imagery, it also uses dark imagery.
The psalmist uses water imagery deftly to illustrate the turmoil in his life. The opening verse speaks of “flowing streams,” which are alive and life-giving. As the deer has a deep longing and need, so the psalmist needs living water from the “living God.”
In verse 3 he contrasts the life-giving water with tears, another water image. His spiritual and emotional thirst is not quenched by the “food” of his tears as he remembers his time spent leading the people of God in worship.
Then, in verse 7, we see two dark water images. Each successive image reveals deeper chaos in his life. Waterfalls and breaking waves pound him, leading him to entertain the thought that God has forgotten him (v. 9).
In addition to the water imagery, the psalmist uses repetition to remind himself of his hope in God. He does this three times.
In verse 3 we see the use of “day and night.” Here it is a negative. But he turns it around in verse 8, where he reminds himself of God’s love and a song within him. We also see that twice he recalls the mockery of his enemies (verses 3 & 10), but each time he looks within and reminds himself that, despite everything negative that’s going on in his life, God is still his hope (verses 5 & 11). This is how he finishes his song, with hope.
With COVID still painfully fresh in our minds, and a host of other things that seem to cast their vote against us, Psalm 42 can serve as a reminder that it is okay to have doubts. It’s okay to acknowledge it when you feel beaten down. You are not telling God anything that He doesn’t already know! But at the same time, we must also refresh our memory of God’s love and His faithfulness. He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). This is why Psalm 42 is one of my favorite Psalms.
As always, these are the musings of a mindful disciple. Blessings on your week!
Image by Timothy J Krause