Bible Commentaries
Psalms 42

Parker's The People's BibleParker's The People's Bible

Verses 1-11

Thirsting for God

Psa 42:1

Why does the hart pant after the water brooks? Why does not the hart go quietly and take its draught of limpid water? Why this panting, why this heart-beating, why this pulsing all over? See how the poor beast pants, quakes in distress! The little birds go and take their sip of dew with decent quietude; they make no stir or tumult Why then should the hart pant? for the term is energetic, indicative of an excited state of blood. We need some other word here to explain the situation; put in the word "chased" or the word "hunted," and we have the idea: As the hunted hart, the hart chased by hounds; as the hart flying from the enemy, more dead than living; as the overrun, overborne, imperilled hart pants and cries for the water brooks, so... then we fill in our human experience; for if we are living any life at all we are hunted and chased, persecuted, threatened. If we are living quiet and unassailed lives, moving about at our own pace easily, depend upon it we are giving the enemy no distress; he is quite content to have it so, he knows that men in that condition cannot drink much water; they do not feel their need of it. It is hunted souls that pray, threatened, chased souls that cry out mightily for the living God. Until we are sensible of being hunted we cannot pray much. We can pray dimly, respectably, fluently, and in many huddled and incoherent sentences ask God to do something without ever caring to test the answer; but when the breath of the hound is upon our neck, when his very next spring will bring him upon us, and we shall be overthrown in a terrific confusion and fear, then we begin to pant for the living God. Away with your praying, and let us have panting, for your praying may be but a mechanical exercise, tribute paid to custom; but panting means prostration, earnestness, weakness of a kind which is the beginning of strength. How very much cool praying we have, and. what very delicately calculated compliments have been paid by watching critics to that kind of praying, so quiet, so restful, so measured, so easy altogether. Far too much so, ruinously so. Who shall take the kingdom by force? The violent. You do not want the water if you ask for it in that tame tone.

"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so..." The "so" is balanced by the "as." These words of manner must be equal the one to the other; the hart will be ashamed of them if it should ever come to know that so quiet, tame speech addressed to heaven is supposed to represent its earnestness when it is hunted by furious hounds.

"As the hart..." Then this soul-panting after God is natural. Always distinguish between a natural and an acquired appetite or desire. Whatever is natural admits of legitimate satisfaction; whatever is acquired grows by what it feeds on until it works out the ruin of its devotee. "As the hart panteth after the water brooks..." No hart ever panted after wine; no bird in the air ever fluttered because of a desire to be intoxicated. As the hart panteth after water, God's wine. The appetite or the thirst, then, is natural, inborn, divinely implanted or created; and when we lose or leave the line of nature we become weak, infatuated, lost. Carry up all your instincts and impulses to their highest utility and suggestiveness; be very careful that you do not intermix with them acquired, temporary, polluted appetites and impulses. Tertullian says the natural response of the human heart is Christian. You are very fond of quoting old theology, why do you not quote Tertullian? You are fond of patristic literature, especially where you can only read a line here and there and make no sense of it, why do you not quote this testimony of an old writer? It is a noble testimony, it is a true testimony. We have done injustice to nature if we say it does not know God or care for God; when a right appeal is addressed to man his response is an affirmative answer. The understanding needs God, the heart, in all its tumult of emotion and all its agony of dissatisfaction, needs the living One, who alone has the fountain of living waters. It is the unbeliever who is unnatural. A man has to overthrow the whole system of the universe when he becomes an infidel; that is to say, he has to overthrow it so far as it is a basis of calculation, so far as it is a unit which can be utilised in working out all the great problems of experience and destiny. It is the infidel who works all the destructive miracles. When a man prays he is himself, he is realising the purpose of God in his creation; when a man goes to the sanctuary he is then in his best mood, he is in his finest aspect and condition. The sanctuary is not a stone building put up by human hands, it is his Father's house, a rough emblem of the house heavenly. Do not suppose, therefore, that prayer is an acquired habit. Prayer represents the soul in its divine purpose, the soul at its best, the soul with the sunshine on it. It is natural, in the profoundest sense of the term, to seek God; it is perverted nature, fallen or corrupt nature, that flees from the divine presence.

"As the hart panteth..." That would be a poor place to stop at; there is no punctuation after the word "panteth." God is not mocked, nor will he mock his earnest creatures. "As the hart panteth after the water brooks." Who made them? Why, the brooks were there before the hart was; the provision was made before the need was felt. See how one part of life is balanced by the other. "As the hart panteth after the water brooks." How knew the hart that the water brooks were what he wanted in the time of his burning thirst? Doth not nature herself teach you? Is there not a presence within you always teaching you alphabets and simple reading books, and the higher literature? Who found out that water would be a good thing to take when the tongue was parched with thirst? Did any bright angel say to the hart, Now in the present condition of your temperature what you really need is a draught of this limpid water? The hart knew that without being told; the moment the hunted beast saw the water brooks, there he was. The idea to fix the mind upon, however, is this that provision is made for every legitimate impulse, aspiration, desire, thirst of the soul. Can we accuse God of the unpardonable cruelty of having created an appetite and forgotten to provide for its satisfaction? "Eat and drink abundantly, O beloved!" is the cry of heaven's hospitality. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for these capacities shall all be filled to overflow. Why then are you looking round to see what you can invent for the satisfaction of your thirst? Can you invent more than a river, a fountain, an eternally-springing water? These are God's provisions. You can make mixtures of your own, and you can so mix your inventions as to increase the thirst which they momentarily allay. All man-made drinks help to make intenser the thirst to which they address their hypocritical, their false, their costly appeal. Nothing can quench thirst but water water God's wine.

"As the hart panteth after" goes out in desire of. Why did not the hart satisfy itself from within? Does not the hunted beast carry its own supplies of food and drink? Do the young lions roar after their prey and seek their meat from God? Why do they not turn in upon themselves, saying, Lions carry their own bounty, lions are indebted to nothing external, lions feed upon that which they themselves carry within? The cry of all nature is for something beyond itself. If no provision has been made for that cry, then God has mocked his creatures, and is therefore no longer God, we cannot say concerning him, "God is love." We have not enough within ourselves; we have to go out for everything, and the going does us good. Blessed be they who have to go a long way to church. If a man shall turn in next door to the sanctuary the probability is he will never go to church at all; when he is there, he is not there. It is the walk that helps us to pray; it is the journey that becomes part of the sacrament. We have to go out for knowledge. The most learned man in the world never left his own son his personal knowledge of the alphabet. He left him his penholder and gold pen. What a mockery! as who should say, Now, dear boy, take this gold pen, and do what I did; begin where I ended. Every man has to go outside of himself for his alphabet.

So much for the hart, chased and panted, hunted, hound-pursued: what of the human soul? "So panteth." That word "so" must be interpreted in all the length and breadth of its meaning if we would understand this text All nature pants after something else in nature. The flowers every morning pant in their sweet, gentle way for the rain; they cannot go to it, so the rain comes to them. That is how dear Mother Nature treats her household. The hart has to go after the water brooks, but the water brooks in the form of rain have to come after the flower. They cannot move an inch towards the fountain; but they know about it, they are quite sure it is there; and is there not, to poet's dreaming eye, some look of expectancy in the flower as it watches the gathering cloud? The harvest pants in its speechless way for the sun. Sometimes the harvest says, I do not want any more rain, I have had too much rain; I want long days of sunshine; I am almost ripe, I feel as if in one week more I should be like gold, but just now, for want of the sun, I feel wet and shivering and self-disappointed: oh, I cry for light, for heat, for cloudless days! Everything in nature wants something else in nature, and thus the commerce of creation is kept up, the great free trade of natural elements communicating with one another is maintained. The bees where be ye for, winged ones? what seek ye? the flowers, the pollen; we seek food; we have a great factory to keep going, and we are out early to make a good day of it. Have you no honey within yourselves? No. Is it an absolute necessity that you must come out in this early morning and continue all day working in this sort of way? Yes. That is how God keeps house. If any man hath undertaken to make his own gods, let him have his home-made deities, a whole closetful of them if he likes, a whole museum-full if it so please him, and let them do what they can for him when he wants them. Men go out for the landscape. A man is not complete without the summer. A man may go to the mountain for beauty or grandeur; true: but he goes to the mountain for something more. Nature is not only beautiful, flowery; nature is medicinal. The sea is the doctor, the mountain is the physician. Old loving Mother Nature has her own drug stores; frequent them, and you will seldom go elsewhere. There is not a mountain in the world that is not helping the health of the world. The great Atlantic or any of the great seas are so many great sanitary powers. They are not merely so many miles long or broad; they are sanitive agents. All the little flowers are doctors. If you were to go out ever so heart-sore, you might get better by talking to a primrose. Lift up your eyes, behold who created these things, suns and stars and systems. He who rolled the stars along counted the hail's of your head.

"So panteth my soul after thee, O God." Yea, for nothing less. Man needs all God. Every sinner needs the whole Cross. Every flower needs the whole solar system. Some have attempted to calculate how much light falls upon this little earth-vessel, and they cannot calculate all the light that falls here because enough rolls off the edges to fill with glory and with summer unnumbered worlds like ours. In my consciousness of sin I need every drop of blood the Saviour shed on Calvary; if I had not the very last drop I am still conscious of being undelivered, I am a soul ill at ease. Herein is the mystery of divine passion and love, that we can all have the whole, a mystery, mayhap a contradiction in words, but a sweet reality in experience. You could have all the sun. The monarch may have the whole sun, and the little mendicant far outside the palace can lie in the sunshine all day. It is not in the power of potentates to take the whole sun in any selfish way. When they have had satisfaction of sunlight the meanest beast in the forest can go out and bathe its face in the sunlight. Nothing less than God will satisfy the panting soul. We have drunk up all the little streams and rivers; we have taken them up as a very little thing, and still the heart has been sore with thirst. Yet the soul of man can do with nothing inferior. We know the true God, here described as the living God; we cannot do with a deaf deity, we can have no relation whatever to a merely historical divinity; we must have a present God, a present Saviour, a present Spirit, in us, living in us, abiding in us, supping with us, a night meal, a hospitality that takes the hideousness out of night.

"For thee, O God." Then for nothing strange. As the water brooks were made for the chased or panting hart, so God lives to satisfy the soul of man. There is nothing strange in the relation; whatever there is strange in life is in the non-relation or the unrealised relation between God and the soul. Herein see the greatness of the soul of man. What does that soul need to fill it and satisfy it, and quiet it, and give it all its possible consciousness of glory? It needs the living God. Herein is the origin of man. We may form opinions about this detailed process or that, as to a direct creation of the human form out of the dust, or an evolution of human nature from microscopic germs and plasms; so be it, the soul needs God, the soul cries out for God. Atheists themselves are intermittently religious. Even God-deniers are in some degree in an unconscious sense God-seekers. Life is thus a tragedy, a mystery, a self-contradiction, a great agony; and sometimes men are more infidel in words than they are in feeling. Men become angry with themselves, petulant, self-chafed, and they say things they do not mean in order, as it were, to goad the soul to say the right thing. If men have had no experience of these mysteries, it is not in the power of the human teacher to bring them to such knowledge. To live we must die. Here you may judge yourselves by your aspirations: what do you want? what do you pant for? what do you need? If you can say, "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee; Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I want a higher life, a broader, clearer conception of discipline and duty and destiny," though you fall seven times a day the devil shall not rejoice over you; he shall still say about you, This man cannot be damned; I drag him through perdition, and he comes out praying; I mock him, I disappoint him. I inflict upon him innumerable and intolerable pains, and no sooner do I release my hold for one moment than his whole soul bends itself as if in an attitude of prayer. Thus, let us mock the devil, and bring glory to God. How can we attain this great position, realise this sacred relation, but for him who is the Son of man, the Son of God, our Advocate with the Father, the Daysman who is able to lay a hand upon both and make reconciliation? Jesus revealed the Father, Jesus brought us to the living water. His sweet voice, all music gathered up into one solemn and pensive yet resonant tone, says, "If any man thirst" Lord, we all thirst; I thirst, thou wounded Lamb of God; we all thirst: go on, we interrupt thee because our thirst is so scorching "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." That is the hospitality of love. That is the offer of Heaven.

Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 42". Parker's The People's Bible. 1885-95.