August 22, 2021 5 min read

(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?

[…] (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. 

Psalm 42:1–2, 5, NIV.

Lord our God, as the deer pants for refreshing water, so our souls long for you, O God. Our souls thirst for you, for the living God. We stand in your presence and pour out our hearts to you. We bring before you everything that is painful to us, all our suffering and needs. We also bring you all our hopes and the many proofs you have given us that our lives need not go to ruin but can be directed to greater things. May the light of your Spirit shine on us today and always. Amen.

The context of the words of Psalm 42:1–2, 5, NIV

The Psalm 42 - To the Chief Musician: A Contemplation of the sons of Korah -  is attributed to the Sons of Korah, but it seems to be an attribution to King David, writing to his chief musician. 

Matthew Henry - a Nonconformist minister and author in England - speculates that David might have composed this psalm when he was prevented from returning to the sanctuary in Jerusalem either due to persecution by Saul or because of Absalom's revolt.

Nearly all Psalms were written during or after the sixth-century-BCE Babylonian Exile, and that certainly seems to be the case with Psalm 42.

Chapter Summary

One of the sons of Korah wrote a song to the Lord while he was undergoing severe tests and trials in his life.

The psalmist bemoans all the troubles he has endured in his exile and prays for salvation. He laments his remoteness from the temple of God and expresses his desire for the renewal of the divine presence, asks God why he has been forgotten and why the enemy is allowed to oppress him (Psalm 42:9). An important refrain is that the enemy mock the psalmist, asking, “Where is your God? (Psalm 42:3,10). 

Psalm 42 - Honest prayer from a Discouraged Saint - verse 1–2 & 5 describes the deep need of the psalmist - one of the exiled Jews in Babylon - a sense of great need, distance from God’s house, discouraging words bring a deep sense of despair (42:1-2) and a wise speaking to the psalmist’s own soul (42:5).

Meaning of the words

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God"

The sons of Korah began this psalm with a powerful image – a deer aching with thirst. Perhaps the thirst came from drought or from heated pursuit; either way, the deer longed for and needed water. In the same way, the psalmist’s soul longed for and needed God.

"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God"

The psalmist wasn’t thirsty for water, but for God. Drinking and thirst are common pictures of man’s spiritual need and God’s supply. Here, the emphasis is on the desperation of the need.

One may go many days without food, but thirst shows an even more urgent need.

"When can I go and meet with God?"

For the sons of Korah – connected to the tabernacle and the temple and their rituals – there was an appointed place to go and meet with God. This was a longing to connect again with God and His people at the tabernacle or temple.

"Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?"

The psalmist paused from the painful memory to challenge his own soul. He did not surrender to his feelings of spiritual depression and discouragement. Instead, he challenged them and brought them before God. He said to those cast down and disquieted feelings, “Hope in God. He will come through again, because He has before.”

This is a long way from the surrender that often traps the discouraged or spiritually depressed person. He didn’t say, “My soul is cast down and that’s how it is. There is nothing I can do about it.” The challenge made to his own soul – demanding that it explain a reason why it should be so cast down – is a wonderful example. There were some valid reasons for discouragement; there were many more reasons for hope.

It also wasn’t as if he had not already given many reasons for his discouragement. Many things bothered him.

  • Distance from home and the house of God 

(42:2) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

(42:6) My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon - from Mount Mizar.

  • Taunting unbelievers 

(42:3) My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

(42:10) My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

  • Memories of better days & the present absence of past spiritual thrills

(42:4) 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.

  • Overwhelming trials of life 

(42:7) Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

  • God’s seemingly slow response 

(42:9) I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

Still, it was as if the psalmist said, “Those are not good enough reasons to be cast down when I think of the greatness of God and the help of His favor and presence.”

"Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God"

In his discouragement, the psalmist spoke to himself – perhaps even preached to himself. He didn’t feel filled with praise at the moment. Yet he was confident that as he did what he could to direct his hope in God, that praise would come forth. “I don’t feel like praising Him now, but He is worthy of my hope – and I shall yet praise Him.”

The help of His countenance: The psalmist knew to look for help in God’s countenance – that is, the approving face of God. He found a better place by challenging his sense of gloom and seeking after God’s face, His countenance.

In seeking the help of His countenance, the psalmist understood that the answers were not within himself, but in the living God. He didn’t look within, he looked up.


Babylonian Exile (March 16, 597 BC - 538 BC)

The deer pants for streams of water

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