I’ve been reading Psalm 42 a lot lately, the one about the deer panting for the water. I relate to it. I’m just like the guy in the psalm and I want to keep my spirits up too because I know it’s going to be okay in the end.
But the more I read it the more confused I got until I started pondering. Now I think I can explain most of it so it makes sense when you read it.
Here’s the Pig’s verse by verse explication. By the way, I am using the New Revised Standard Version. Bible scholar David Hamilton once told me he thought it gives the best idea of what the original Greek and Hebrew says.
Verse 1. As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
Pretty good image, huh? Now I figure not every deer is longing for flowing streams, just the ones who got lost out on the desert. They’re wandering around the Mojave gasping “Water, water!”
But deer don’t just go out to the desert, they know there’s no water out there. They stay in the fields and pastures. So either somebody pushed them out of a truck, or maybe there’s a terrible drought and all the little streams have dried up. Like in California. It’s hot and dry all summer and never a drop of rain, so if the winter rains don’t come and the streams dry up, it’s bad news for the deer. Also the raccoons and mice.
So verse 1 means this guy has got himself into a place where all his streams have dried up. Everything he depends on and expects to quench his thirst – spiritual in this case – has dried up and blown away. He’s just sitting there reading the Bible but not comprehending the words, feeling sort of dead inside.
I’m ignoring the part about ‘my soul longs for you’. But it’s funny. Why doesn’t he just say ‘I long for you?’
Verse 2: My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
The psalmist repeats himself, which is how they wrote these things. It’s expected. For emphasis. Then he throws us a zinger. He wants to go where he can see God’s face?
God doesn’t have a face. Never did. The old Hebrew guys were the ones who first realized God was Spirit. So I think he means he wants to go back to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews believed God was really centered and focused in that particular earthly spot. You go in there and that’s as close to God as you can get. Kind of an odd idea, since God is everywhere. Maybe some readers who are Jewish scholars would care to comment.
There was this place inside the temple called The Holy of Holies, where only the high priest could go in and then only once a year. You can read about it in Exodus. That’s where he could get as close to God as it was possible to be on this earth.
So I’m guessing this spiritually dry guy is actually one of the highest priests of Israel and he’s in big trouble because everyone expects he’s the man who really is in contact with the Almighty. But he’s not.
Verse 3. My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’
A real puzzler. Yet it’s the heart of his complaint. Who are these people who are taunting him? Certainly not other Jews, because they know where his God is. Over at the Temple. You could say, “Well, it’s just a manner of speaking. What they mean is ‘how come your God doesn’t answer your prayers if he’s so great?’” But that comes down to the same problem. A Jew would never mock God like that. It doesn’t feel right to me.
I think, for some reason the priest is off on his travels. Maybe he’s been sent on a diplomatic mission to the King of Assyria or something. And he wishes he was back home with his brothers and sisters. If the Assyrians said “Where is your God?” they would mean it literally. Because their gods were actual chickens or something else that you could see. Okay, not chickens. Giant statues with horns, say. How about a big stone lion?
Wait, we’re not done with verse three yet. What about “tears for food”? Either the psalmist is so upset he can’t eat or, more likely, he is fasting. And tears are the second watery thing in this psalm so far. First, the water you need to live, and now the salty water of sorrow.
Next post: Homesick in Assyria. Or maybe on Mt. Mizar.