Psalms 42-44
(As the Deer Pants)
June 11th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

As the deer pants for streams of water,
   so my soul pants for you, my God.
- Psalm 42:1 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

These Psalms mark the beginning of Book II. The contributing authors include the sons of Korah, who were temple musicians (Ps 42-49), Asaph, another temple musician (50), David (51-65, and 68-70), and Solomon (72). There are also one or more anonymous authors who contributed three of the Psalms in this Book II.

The first group of Psalms in this book was written by the descendants of Korah - Levites who served in the Temple. These first three Psalms are all Psalms of lament. The first two are individual laments and the last one is a community lament.

Psalms 42 and 43 can be read together because they have a common theme and common refrain, and perhaps may have originally been a singular psalm. This pair of Psalms opens with a beautiful simile that describes the author’s thirst for God “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God (Ps 42:1 - NIV).”

The author then has a conversation with his own soul that has three cycles of lamentations followed by a refrain of hope. In the first cycle the author also inserts a happy memory of good times with God, when he had gone to the temple with other people - but now is estranged in the land of Jordan (Northern Israel). The depth of pain in the author’s soul can be felt when you linger on the words, such as “my tears are my food (Ps 42:3 -NIV),” and cries that he is “oppressed by the enemy (Ps 42:9 - NIV).” In the refrain, the author encourages his soul to put its hope in God, even though he feels forgotten by the LORD.

Three different translations of this refrain are provided below in order to attempt to convey the original emotion of the author when it was scratched in Hebrew many centuries ago:

    Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

    - Psalm 42:5, 42:11, and 43:5 (KJV)

    Why, my soul, are you downcast?
       Why so disturbed within me?
    Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise him,
       my Savior and my God.

    - Psalm 42:5, 42:11, and 43:5 (NIV)

    Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
       Why are you crying the blues?
    Fix my eyes on God—
       soon I'll be praising again.
    He puts a smile on my face.
       He's my God.

    - Psalm 42:5, 42:11, and 43:5 (MSG)

The 44th Psalm conveys the Psalmists bewilderment at the current suffering that the nation is experiencing. It begins by recognizing how God’s hand had drove out the enemy, leading to victory in battle. The author notes how the nation appreciated this blessing and affirms that “we will praise your name forever (Ps 44:8- NIV).”

Given all this history, the psalmist is at a loss to explain the current predicament. He describes how God has seemed to have abandoned the nation, allowing neighbors to plunder and the people to be sold. As a result, their enemies taunt them. He concludes with a desperate cry for help:

    Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever.
    Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?

    - Psalm 44:23-24 (KJV)

Reflection and Application

The role of the sons of Korah is a sign of God’s mercy. Korah had led a rebellion against Moses, as described in Numbers 16, and was punished by God, who had the earth swallow him up (Numbers 16), but his descendants were all able to live, serve and prosper for generations. Each of us has the choice to follow the footsteps of those who rebelled against God or to follow God and put our hope in him.

A good resource for identifying patterns in the Psalms and finding additional application of the Psalms is the contemporary book Learning to Pray through the Psalms, written by James Sire and published in 2005. This book focuses on a select group of Psalms and includes one chapter that discusses Psalms 42-43. He breaks down the Psalms into the following sections (1):

    Lament 42:2-4 - Unquenchable thirst for God and remembrances of better times
    Refrain 42:5-6 - Why, my soul, are you downcast....
    Lament 42:7-10 - Overwhelming despair and feelings of forsakenness
    Refrain 42:11-12 - Why, my soul, are you downcast....
    Lament 43:1-4 - Prayer for deliverance from the wicked world
    Refrain 43:5-6 - Why, my soul, are you downcast....

The Lament at the beginning of Psalm 42 opens with an expression of longing. When the deer is thirsty he heads straight for water and thinks of nothing else, except perhaps his own safety and the safety of his family.

When a married couple is in love they long to be with each other. When they are apart they head straight for each other’s arms as quickly and safely as possible, as soon as they can, and soak up the presence of the other person, which fills their hearts with refreshment. The author expresses the same longing to be with God, indicating that his thirst is unrequited until he is in the presence of God once again.

It's worth taking a moment to explain the author's intent when he says deep calls to deep and describes waves and breakers passing over him in verse 7. The Psalmist is not referring to a day of playful and exhilarating body surfing on a Mediterranean beach, nor is he describing the joy of baptism in the Jordan. Instead he is expressing a feeling of terror in water that seems fathomless as he sinks under waves that seem endless, much like the feeling of Jonah after being tossed off a ship, or the feeling of Tom Hank's character in the movie "Castaway" when he launched his do-it-yourself raft out into giant waves of the Pacific Ocean. This is a symbolic expression by the author to indicate the depth of his despair, and is consistent with other mentions of the deep sea in the Old and New Testament, because for those cultures the sea is a great unknown where evil and danger lurks.

Most of us have felt the same type of despair as the author, and, like the author, we may have had arguments with our own souls. This is a good pair of Psalms to turn to in those times. Sire encourages us to read Psalm 42 several times and consider how we can express similar feelings during our prayers to God. Sire advises us to repeat our prayers to God over and over, rewording them to express the different dimensions of our feelings - and then wait in patient and joyful hope for the presence of God (2).

The cry to God to “awake” in Psalm 44 parallels the anguish of the disciples in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 4, when their boat is caught in a storm. They are afraid of being swept into the dangers of the sea, so they rouse Jesus, who had been sleeping in the stern, “ ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ (Mark 4:38 - NIV).” Jesus commands the sea to “be still” and provides the answer to the Psalmist and his disciples when he rebukes them for not having faith.

When we perceive that God has abandoned us we should not assume he is sleeping, but should have faith that he will deliver us in his time.

The opening of the 42nd Psalm was an inspiration for a popular contemporary worship song known as "As the Deer Pants," which uses a variation of the language from the King James Version of the Bible. In the King James Version, the first verse reads as follows: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." You can hear a version of this song by clicking the YouTube object below:

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What situations can you think of where you were “panting” for water?
    2. What are some of the high points of your life with God? Think about these and take a moment to give thanks to God for these moments – include the details of the experience that you enjoyed.
    3. What is the despair in your heart that you would like to express to God today? Take some time to tell him your raw emotions and the effect that this despair has had on your soul and body.
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in Heaven, we know you never sleep. Forgive us for being impatient and help us to put our faith in you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Fisherman and others who make their living on the water


    (1) Sire, James W, Learning to Pray Through the Psalms, Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2005, p.97
    (2) IBID, p.105

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Psalms 45-49 (A Mighty Fortress)

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