Thirsting For God — Jesse Tubbs

So you want to be spiritual, do you?  This is a concept that can be easily misunderstood.  You are spiritual because you are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).  Man is a living soul (Eccl. 12:7); he is dust and spirit.  However, he is not intended to be a stagnate being.  He should grow in the “knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10; 2 Pet. 1:2).  Man must also know himself.  That is how Psalm 42 helps us.

The passage begins with “the deer,” an animal like our male whitetail.  I remember a hunt long ago.  I sat watching this wily old buck slip through the thick trees.  Suddenly he stopped at the tree line between thick brush and a wide clearing.  He stuck out just enough of his head to get a glance at my tree-stand.  Quietly, he disappeared back into the thick bush.  I waited because I knew where he was going; there was a stream on the other side of the cleared field.  He had to cross the open field and I knew it.  I would get a shot when the deer walked out into the opening, so I waited.  After about fifteen minutes, without warning, that deer came out of those trees at full speed and was across the open field before I could blink.  I really didn’t mind not getting a shot.  It was enough just to see the deer’s strong instinctive impulse to get water.  He could no more refuse that urge than I could fly.

The author of Psalm 42 puts the reader into that picture.  The deer and mankind share a similar urge.  The spirit-man must worship his Maker.  He must drink of God.  The deer is seen responding to an instinctive need.  By nature, he has a strong dependence on the water.  Therefore, the animals are always near water.  Worship has always been central to man’s relationship with God.

The composers of Psalm 42 are said to be the “sons of Korah,” Levites of the family of Kohath.  They took part in the musical part of the temple worship.  It appears reasonable to see how worship overtones are natural to this psalm.  The reader cannot escape all the implications of his soul’s need.

Consider those Babylonian captives that returned to Jerusalem.  They had left off their regular Bible reading and temple services.  However, after completing the wall the people “spake unto Ezra…bring the book of the Law of Moses” (Neh. 8:1ff).  James Excell said, “They have a yearning after it.  They are not contented with their existing condition, but desire better things.  And they have an instinctive feeling that to hear God’s word will help them.”  Closer to home, we experienced the same during the desperate days of the Covid pandemic.

Deep yearning is expressed in the words, “When shall I come and appear before God?”  (Ps. 42:2).  Imagine that you are a Hebrew (possibly David fleeing from Absalom), on the run in a wilderness.  Your enemies are not only pursuing but gaining.  You are cut off from returning to the temple of God.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many examples of rivers, streams, and springs found in the Old Testament?  A possible reason is because water is the clearest image of God’s presence, influence, and saving power.  The examples begin in the Garden as the mist “watered the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:6).  Ezekiel described a river of blessings that “flowed from under the temple” (Ezek. 47:1-12).  At the end of Scripture we have John’s “river of life” (Rev. 22:1-2).  All show significance of life dependency and water.  This dependency is a picture of man’s need for and dependence on God.

From the “green pastures” and “still waters” (Ps. 23:2) to the “uttermost parts of the sea” (Ps. 139:9), the hungry soul cannot be without God.  The book of Psalms is filled with images of the waters that supply life to all the animals of the forest.  These all depict how the Almighty supplies life to the hungry souls of men.  Put another way, man has an itch that only God can scratch.  David drew from this life-sustaining urge, the longing of a thirsty soul (Ps. 63:1-5).  Trudging through the desolate wilderness, his heart was sustained by the Almighty.  The thought continues through the gospels with Jesus’ own words:  “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.  He that believes on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).

As we consider the entirety of Psalm 42, it is important to think about all that the Psalmist had endured.  He was…

Taunted (v. 3).  “Where is your God?”  Not a sincere question, it was mockery like that which Jesus received on the cross (Matt. 27:42).

Tempted (vs. 5-6a).  “Why am I bowed low?”  Depressed and despondent, the inner man cries out for help.  Think of Jeremiah’s cry, “My bowels, my bowels; I am pained at my very heart” (Jer. 4:19).

Toiling (vs. 7, 9).  “Thy billows are gone over me.”  This expresses the common feeling that one is losing the battle.  The weakened faith finds no rest.

Triumphant (v. 11).  “My enemy does not triumph over me.”  Hallelujah to the heavens!  The victory has already been won at the cross.  These verses scream of the joy we know when the Lord “is our portion” (Lam. 3:24).

Life is a burden on mankind (cf. Ps. 32; 38; 43:2-4).  Yet there is hope.  As the hymn says:

Living below, in this old sinful world/Hardly a comfort can afford/Striving alone, to face temptations sore/ Where could I go but to the Lord?

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