1 As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God; 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come, and appear before God?
Psalms 42 and 43 go together to form a song of lament, and, in the end, of hope. The song begins with the psalmist in deep despair, crying out for God in the midst of trouble. His enemies mock him asking “Where is your God?” And the psalmist has no answer, since it seems his God has abandoned him. But in Psalm 43, the psalmist turns to prayer, confident that the Lord will hear him. The Lord will deliver him and lead him rejoicing back to the place of worship, where he will be vindicated for his reliance upon the Lord.
The psalmist uses the picture of a deer searching the valley for a deep water channel to quench its thirst. This is how his soul feels: parched, dry, and in need of spiritual refreshment. It is this state of dryness that brings about the hopelessness he feels. Because his soul is lacking the life-giving water of God’s word and His presence, he lacks assurance that God remembers him. He feels lost and helpless, and close to spiritual death. He needs the “living God”–the God of life, the God who is life, the God who defines life, to reawaken his soul.
“When shall I come, and appear before God?” he cries out. He desperately wants to be in the presence of God, to worship Him, and give Him the praise He is due. Given the way he speaks of going to the dwelling place of God and the altar of God in 43:3-4, it’s likely he’s referring to the temple as the place where he can bask in God’s presence and worship Him with joy and thanksgiving.
One of the wonderful things about Scripture is the way it can speak to us where we are. The Lord inspired these people to write with brutal honesty, both in times of rejoicing, and in the midst of trials. In this way, Scripture reaches out to us, identifies with us, and also points us to Christ. This is certainly the case with this song. Do we not hear the cry of our hearts, when doubts torment us, and when we feel distant and apart from the Lord? Are we not with the psalmist, longing for the presence of God, and spiritual refreshment?
Through the words of the psalmist, the Lord would have us turn our cries into prayer, and seek His face despite our feelings. He wants us to know He is there, and He cares for us. Indeed, He wants us to long for Him, to long for the house of the Lord, where we can give praise to His name, and hear His word proclaimed. Ironically, this longing for the Lord is the sign of a healthy soul: a soul whose highest desire is to appear before God.
May we, by God’s grace, know what it is to long for Him with every fiber of our being, and also to find fulfillment and refreshment in His word and in His presence. Have a great week!