In a special preaching class at SBTS, around 1978, George Arthur Buttrick, then about 86, commented that certain passages left the preacher mute, they were beyond profound. Deep calleth unto deep . . . . Yes, in Psalm 42, opening Book 2, the psalmist limns deer, streams of water, the “I” and “my soul,” depression; but the LORD who gives loyal love and gives songs in the night, the living God, his mountain summit, his deliverer, is absent. When will I be able to go and appear in God’s presence? (v.2–see the face of God) Not so his enemies, his mourning and depression. My tears have become my food day and night. (v.3) But despite all the psalmist is undeterred: I will again give thanks to my God for his saving intervention. (vv 5-11) I can imagine the psalmist driven to the high hills by enemies, separated from the community of Israel and temple worship, needing reunion, vindication, and the soul-quenching presence of the LORD. Enemies say relentlessly Where is your God? (vv 3, 10) There were the deer, drinking deeply at the mountain streams early and late, hiding in secure places at other times. They, too, live in refuge and seek to replenish their souls. O, to seek God early and late each day! The promise is at mid-psalm: One deep stream calls out to another at the sound of your waterfalls; all your billows and waves overwhelm me. By day the LORD decrees his loyal love, and by night his song is with me, a prayer to the living God. (vv 7-8) And twice the psalmist says to his soul Wait for God! (vv 5, 11) Meantime the psalmist knows the depth of his distress and the saving intervention of God–both at once?–as he is overwhelmed in the stream’s torrent. This might be the place where the preacher knows only to choose the best understanding for the day. The stream so desired appears ready for drinking, it announces love by day and songs by night, yet for the psalmist the promise of deeper replenishment is not fulfilled. Hope remains, though, for one deep stream calls out to another — deep calleth unto deep — the human soul in bottomless need calls out to the LORD who is the endless resource.
I will add here that Psalm 43 following shows God’s holy hill where he lives as our psalmist’s desire. In the mountains of Psalm 42, only promises, the true source is on a special hill. See, too, Revelation 21:9–22:5.
Quotations from the NET Bible ; for superlative poetic value, try the Authorized or King James Version.
(Dr. Buttrick was visiting by special request by SBTS from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary where he was a guest lecturer. He was among the most profound of preachers and lecturers.)
Copyright 2012 by Jerry Summers.