From My Soul Waits
Psalm 42 & 43
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. (v. 5)
In several Hebrew manuscripts, these two psalms are joined together, which indicates that at one time they probably were a single psalm. The fact that they share a common refrain – “Why are you cast down, O my soul,” (see Psalms 42:6, 11, and 43:5) – is strong support for this view. The song is the prayer of someone who is experiencing an excruciating sense of separation from God. The psalmist uses poignant imagery: Just as a thirsty deer pants after the life-giving drink that comes from your presence, O Lord, (v. 42:1). While the Hebrew word nephesh is translated here and elsewhere in the psalms as soul, meaning a person’s most true self, it can also mean throat. The psalmist’s longing for God is virtually audible, like the croaking sound of a parched throat. The psalmist is looking for more than refreshment – he is thirsting for life itself. Water – that most basic of life-giving elements: remove it from our reach for only a few days and we are consigned to a bitter and uncomfortable death.
So, what is the condition of a dehydrated soul? While the sweet waters of God’s presence are absent, the psalmist has not run dry of his own salty tears. They are the only moisture he has known for days. What makes it worse is that those who see his condition, rather than offering comfort, add scorn to his own doubts. “Now where is this God of yours?” they cruelly sneer. The bitterness of the present makes this tormented soul nostalgic for the time when he went joyfully to the temple with his fellow worshipers. In fact, he was often the first of the whole assembly to go into the house of the Lord with praise on his lips. He remembers the “good ol’ days” and he mourns their loss. Where have those days gone? As only a poet can say it, he is afraid he will die of thirst for God, and at the same time fears he will drown in a sea of sorrow. All your waves and stormy seas have flooded over me, (v. 7). Like Peter sinking into the roiling waters of the Galilee, the psalmist has only one cry to make: “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:20)
In the end, after pouring out his bitter complaint, it is almost as if the psalmist is having a word with himself. He knows from experience that God can and will save him. Soul, he says, why have you given up hope? (Hang on just a little longer, dry throat!) Trust your God, and before long your thirst will be quenched and, once again, you will be singing.
From The Fathers
In God’s home there is an everlasting party. What is celebrated there is not some occasion that passes; the choirs of angels keep eternal festival, for the eternally present face of God is joy never diminished. This is a feast day that does not open at dawn, or close at sundown. (Augustine)
I thirst for many things, Lord, but not enough for you.
Yet what is this dryness in my soul, if not the unquenched desire to know you?
Today, I’d like it if drinking from you lasted longer than my drinking from anything else, if only by a drop or two.