St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Wednesday, June 3
Devotion on Psalm 42 by John Ramsey
PSALM 42 (NIV)
1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. 5 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. 6 My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. 8 By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” 10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 11 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.
As we wait these days for some good news, some closure, and a return to a former lifestyle we now cherish more than ever, we can definitely appreciate the longing that the Psalmist expresses in this Psalm. Many Bible scholars think that David wrote this Psalm, even though it is not attributed to him in scripture, after fleeing Jerusalem to live in exile in fear of his son Absolam (2 Samuel 15). In this Psalm text, the writer reminisces over past days of fervent worshipping in the temple in Jerusalem, a city s/he can now only see in the distance from high mountains. With these reminiscences, the writer was displaying that very human mind behavior of seeking relief from present sorrow in recollections of a pleasant past. Specifically, s/he recalls fondly the Jerusalem temple services and the “festive throng” with whom s/he worshipped. That sounds a lot like my recent reminiscences of past Woodland services and the wonderful friends there that we are not able to see now. But the common human mind behavior did not work for the Psalmist and it doesn’t work well for us today either. The exile has caused the writer extreme mourning and grief, and s/he is surrounded by hostile and taunting non-believers. In agony s/he cries out to God for relief. Instead, God imparts a deeper understanding, the understanding that this “mortal agony” will not prevail if our soul finds the Lord.
Perhaps another look at this Psalm can help us through our formidable present ordeals. Certainly we too, like the writer, have reason now for worry, mournfulness, grief, uncertainty, reminiscences of happier times past, and maybe even fear of our “foes”. What God tells us here is that these problems are merely earthly mortal issues and He has a higher purpose for us. After all, this passage says that He has given each of us a soul, which is not of this earth and will not perish. This song’s message is that if our souls long for God, we will share eternity with Him. The God of our life will not forsake us if we make His mercy, truth, and power our refuge.
That this passage is meant to be a song is pretty unquestionable. First of all, it appears in Psalms! Further, the inscription above the Psalm literally says “For the Director of Music”. The text itself is formed like a hymn, with first a stanza 1 comprised of Bible verses 1-4, describing dire circumstances, followed by an uplifting redemptive refrain in Bible verse 5. Then comes a stanza 2 comprised of Bible verses 6-10, describing more dire circumstances, followed by the repeated triumphant refrain of Bible verse 5 verbatim in Bible verse 11. As in many hymns, the beginning lines of this Psalm (Bible verses 1-2) succinctly state and illuminate the theme of the entire text – our souls desperately and naturally long for God. And, again as in several of our hymns, the stanzas pose worldly problems but the refrain is a joyous celebration of the solution – hope in God our Savior.
This Psalm has been a favorite of mine for only a short time. As many of you know, 2019 was a difficult year for Patricia and me in light of her significant medical issues. To relieve some stress, I began to relisten to some peaceful Renaissance choral music to unwind and relax. In doing so I rediscovered Palestrina’s beautiful “Sicut Cervus” and decided I wanted to learn the meaning of the Latin words: “Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus”. An almost literal translation is “As the deer longs for the fonts of water, so longs my soul for Thee, God”. When Palestrina (1525-1594) wrote this song, he used as his text Psalm 42:1 from the Roman Psalter. This led me to a reading of all of Psalm 42 and even more comfort than the music alone afforded me in that troubling time. My hope and prayer is that Psalm 42 can give us all a similar lift in these current troubling times. By the way, if you want to hear the three minutes of musical bliss that is Palestrina’s “Sicut Cervus”, just google or bing “Palestrina Sicut Cervus Cambridge”. Select the video version with the sheet music shown and you can even pick a part and sing along with the Cambridge Singers (and I happen to know that several of you just LOVE to sight-read!).
In thinking of Psalm 42:
The original Biblical word for the verb in verse 1 has been traditionally most translated into English as “longs” (e.g. RSV, NLT, GNT) or “pants” (e.g. NIV, KJV (as “panteth”)). Other noted translations are “craves” (e.g. CEB) and “thirsts” (e.g. NCV). Which one of these expresses the thought of verse 1 best to you? In particular, do you distinguish between “longs” and “pants” in terms of the passiveness or activeness of the verb?
If we believe our soul should long first and foremost for God, for what else does our soul crave? Whatever those “elses” are, are they commensurate and complementary with our longing for God? What can we do to ensure all our soul’s longings are centered around our longing for God?
Prayer Thoughts In The Words Of An Old Hymn:
As Pants the Hart* for Cooling Streams
(* – “hart” is a British term for the male of a type of European deer; the term is used instead of “deer” in some Biblical translations of Psalm 42:1 (e.g. KJV))
Text: N. Tate (1652-1715), N. Brady (1639-1726)
Music: H. Wilson (1766-1824)
As pants the hart for cooling streams
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for Thee,
And Thy refreshing grace.
Why restless, why cast down, my soul?
Trust God, who will employ
His aid for thee, and change these sighs
To thankful hymns of joy.
For Thee, my God, the living God,
My thirsty soul doth pine;
Oh, when shall I behold Thy face,
Thou Majesty Divine?
God of my strength, how long shall I,
Like one forgotten, mourn,
Forlorn, forsaken, and exposed
To my oppressor’s scorn?
Why restless, why cast down, my soul?
Hope still, and thou shalt sing
The praise of Him who is thy God,
Thy health’s eternal spring.