Psalm 42:1-2 As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?
Matthew 5: 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
John 4:13-14 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
Revelation 7:16-17 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.
A word loaded with figurative meaning is the word, “thirst.” In the Bible, “thirst” is a translation of the Hebrew sama, and the Greek dipsos. We have an English word that is derived from dipsos, the word dipsomania used of extreme thirstiness, but especially of the insatiable craving for alcoholic beverages. Thirst refers to the sensation of dryness in the mouth and throat caused by the lack of fluids which results in a desire to drink. From this sensation it seems that people of almost any language use the word thirst as a synonym for a strong desire or craving for whatever the object, like a thirst for knowledge, or a thirst for wealth.
Have you ever really been truly thirsty? To some degree we all know the sensation of thirst and the longing for a drink especially when expending a lot of energy. In the heat of summer when our bodies do a lot of perspiring they cry out for more fluids. But very few of us have ever been in the desert without water to the point of serious life-threatening dehydration and known the real pain of thirst or a craving for water like Hagar and her son in the wilderness of Beersheba (Gen. 21:14f).
Clearly, because of the obvious analogies, thirst is a prominent theme of the Bible. The term thirst or thirsty, etc., is found 57 times in the NASB. The word “drought” referring to a scarcity of water in the land and conditions that cause great thirst is used eight times. But in addition, three terms that refer to the arid and dry portions of the Middle East, the words desert, wilderness, and Negev (the wilderness or desert to the south of Palestine) are used altogether nearly 300 times. While these terms generally refer to specific locations, they are often used with the spiritual connotation of spiritual drought and barrenness.
The climate of Palestine, especially away from the coastline and the hill country, can often be hot and dry. Occasional Sirocco winds bring intense heat from the desert. Maintaining an adequate water supply for human and animal consumption, as well as for agriculture, was in biblical times a perennial problem. Thirst was a frequent and occasionally life-threatening concern.1
So obviously, the concept of thirst is naturally used in Scripture of both physical and spiritual thirst and naturally speaks of two things: (1) of the appetite, longing, or desire to quench one’s thirst, but also (2) of a state of dryness in which there is the need of liquid to quench the thirst, to refresh, and be protected from the life-threatening problems of dehydration. Statements like the one in Revelation 7:16, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst,” speaks of the state of a perfect spiritual condition that leads to perfect and continued spiritual health and satisfaction that exists in heaven in the presence of the Savior.
We also know, however, that some things quench our thirst better than others. Yet water can never quench the thirst of some things such as salt regardless of how much you drink. So the concept of thirst becomes a powerful means of communicating spiritual truth in the Bible. And it is this that I want to address in this short study particularly as it might be used as a point of reflection in connection with the Lord’s Table. Why? Because in this memorial believers eat of the bread and drink of the cup which stand as pictures of feeding, sustaining, and satisfying one’s life through the person and work of Christ and that through the process of daily fellowship with Him, the abiding life.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?
The Context: Exiled in Jordan in the far north of Palestine, the Psalmist remembers and longs for the past experiences in Jerusalem in the temple which was, for ancient Israel, the special place of God’s presence and thus, the special place of worship and fellowship with the Lord and with the people of God.
The Psalmist expresses his longing and need. First, in verse 1, there is the analogy to the deer that, perhaps because it has been chased up into the hills by hunters, longs for and has to search long and hard for the water brooks on the arid hills of Palestine. Like the deer, the Psalmist longs for fellowship with God and His people in the temple at Jerusalem because only this can quench the thirst of his soul. Second, there is the specific statement expressing his thirst in verse 2, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Perhaps this expresses two things in the mind of the Psalmist:
(1) It expressed his theology or his biblical understanding and faith generally speaking. From the Psalmist’s knowledge and faith in the Word, he knew that he, as all human beings, had been created for God and for fellowship with God. There was in his life and at the core of his being a vacuum that only God could fill. There were other longings and needs, but no matter how successful he was in filling those other longings, without the knowledge of God and daily intimacy with Him, life would be, like a gerbil on a treadmill, without real satisfaction. Finding happiness without true and real fellowship with the living God (a cry for reality) would be like a dog chasing his tail (cf. Eph. 4:17-19).
(2) But there is a second truth here: These words expressed his longing based on his experience of separation from Jerusalem. In other words, God had used the afflictions of life to sensitize or to awaken the Psalmist to his need. Undoubtedly this statement expressed the despair of his soul brought about by his experience of the futility of anything else to satisfy the deep longings of his soul. Listen to the Psalmist’s concern and self-admonition to find his comfort in God:
Psalm 42:5-8 Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence. 6 O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan, And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterfalls; All Thy breakers and Thy waves have rolled over me. 8 The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.
His despair was not just over his sufferings brought about by his enemies, but over his separation from the great place of worship where he experienced the presence of God at the temple. With the impossibility of that in the moment, he determines to remember reflectively on those days in the temple.
Application: We may know and believe the theology of the Psalmist and express his sentiment and even declare it to others, but I ask you as I ask myself, how well have we faced the reality of this in our own lives? How much have we experienced this thirsting like the deer panting for the water brooks? Or have we become desensitized, callused, and so unable to recognize the symptoms of seeking to quench our thirst at the wrong fountains?
To what degree has this reality, the reality of the barrenness of the details of life and the inability of other things to quench our thirst and give real satisfaction to our souls, truly affected us so that it has begun to change our values, priorities, and pursuits that we might, like Hagar, have our eyes opened to see the well that God has provided and go there to fill our skin with the water of His life?
Genesis 21:14-19 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba. 15 And the water in the skin was used up, and she left the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand; for I will make a great nation of him.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
This Psalm gives us a similar scenario to Psalm 42 only this time it is David who is separated not from the temple, but from the sanctuary of the temporary place of the Ark for the temple was not yet built. But the principle is the same as above. David was exiled in the desert, a dry and weary land which David saw as a picture of life without closeness and intimacy with God (cf. vss. 2-8). Without God, there is no water, nothing to quench the core need of one’s life.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary, 3 And gathered from the lands, From the east and from the west, From the north and from the south. 4 They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region; They did not find a way to an inhabited city. 5 They were hungry and thirsty; Their soul fainted within them. 6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses. 7 He led them also by a straight way, To go to an inhabited city. 8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! 9 For He has satisfied (or better as the NIV, “satisfies” as a general principle of life) the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled (or as with the NIV, “fills”) with what is good.
This Psalm describes the wanderings of Israel in the desert, again, a dry, thirsty, and a barren land, but it also calls attention to God’s faithfulness to take them out of the desert and into an inhabited city, a place of blessing with food and water. So the Psalmist closes this section with a statement that becomes a principle and a promise that extends over into the spiritual life as well—God alone, as a universal rule of life, is the one who satisfies the thirsty soul. Not only does He care about and meet our needs physically and spiritually, but He alone can meet the core desires of our lives—the source of our satisfaction.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy doings; I muse on the work of Thy hands. 6 I stretch out my hands to Thee; My soul longs for Thee, as a parched land. [Selah].
Again, we have a psalm of David in which David is under affliction or suffering and separated from the place of worship and intimate fellowship with the Lord before the Ark. Here again we have the same analogy. Without God and a life of intimate fellowship and dependence on Him, our soul becomes like a parched and thirsty land, thirsty for the refreshing waters of intimate fellowship where God is our prime source of life and happiness.
For I will pour out water on the thirsty land. And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, And My blessing on your descendants;
This passage falls within the great Messianic section of Isaiah that looks forward to the coming of the blessings of Messiah. The section begins with God’s command to Isaiah, “Comfort, O comfort My people” (40:1). Instead of the judgment that so characterizes most of chapters 1-39, Isaiah 40-66 speak of restoration, the coming of Messiah, and the blessings of the millennium. So Isaiah 44:3 anticipates the outpouring of the Spirit of God on His people to quench their thirst, their inherent need of God as it exists in the hearts of men.
“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. 3 Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David. 4 Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, A leader and commander for the peoples. 5 Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, And a nation which knows you not will run to you, Because of the Lord your God, even the Holy One of Israel; For He has glorified you.” 6 Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
The preceding chapters have foretold of the coming of the suffering servant who must die for our sins (52:13-53:12). This is followed by anticipation of coming blessing, of regathering and restoration of Israel. But essential to all of this is man’s response which consists of: a recognition of his need, repudiation of his own ability, and reception by faith of God’s way of salvation through Messiah.
Isaiah 55 begins with an invitation that accentuates man’s need and the futility of life without God. It declares the inability of the things men typically put their trust in to provide for meaning and satisfaction in life—things like money, professions, possessions, position, praise, and pleasure.
Note: man’s typical ways (pl.) of wickedness (cf. vs. 7) are really the product of one main way (sg.) of wickedness: seeking to quench our thirst by our own man-made cisterns (Jer. 2:13).
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Here is our Lord’s personal promise. Make no mistake. In the Bible, to pursue righteousness is to pursue God, to know Him through Jesus Christ as Savior and then intimately as one’s companion and Lord.
The blessings and merits of Christ and of knowing Him are spoken as “the water of life.”
In this great passage, the blessings of the ministry of the Spirit that come to believers in Christ are seen as the only water that can quench the thirst that lies deep within a man’s soul.
Here the Lord invites us to do two things: first, to forsake our self-hewn cisterns to quench our thirst, that is, to turn from all the other routes by which we think we can find joy, and (2) He invites us to turn to Him for meaning and satisfaction through faith in Him and through fellowship with Him by the Spirit of God.
Why does the Lord do this? First, because the fact is He alone can quench our thirst. Man was created for God and at the core of our being is a vacuum that only God can fill.
But second, because all other routes to joy and meaning represent strategies for living that bypass dependence on the Lord alone. They are our means of trying to maintain, in some measure, the control of our own lives which we are so reluctant to turn over to God and rest in His care.
Why is that? Because we do not want to lose what we think we need for our happiness. We desperately cling to that which cannot fulfill our lives even though it means being eventually caught in the trap of our own making.
My friends, it is imperative that we evaluate and recognize the source and nature of our strategies by which we seek to make our lives work, our routes for joy, security, and significance. As to their nature they represent our greedy self-centeredness and self-indulgence by which we seek like mad to find happiness and satisfaction (cf. Eph. 5:17-19).
But what’s the source of our greedy selfishness, our self-centeredness, our self-indulgence? These things have their roots not from our basic needs or our deepest longings, but in a spirit of independence. They stem from our determined commitment to act independently of God in our pursuit of significance, security, and satisfaction.
Besides the basic immorality of many of the lusts of the flesh, it is this that make the lusts of the flesh so wrong and why coveting is defined as idolatry in the Bible.
Finally, we must recognize that most of our human strategies for quenching our thirst are centered in what is fleeting or passing away in a temporal world.
Ultimately then, when we face the variegated pressures of life, part of our pain and suffering comes from the fact we are seeking to live independently of the Lord and because we are looking to the wrong things for our happiness or for what only God Himself can give. The great purpose for the upward focus is to learn to be more Christlike and that means learning to live more and more dependently on the Lord and less dependently on the details of life (Phil. 4:11f).
So the next time you or I partake of the Lord’s supper to eat of the bread and drink of the cup, may it remind us that He alone can quench the thirst of our souls. Note the words of the wonderful song, Fill My Cup, Lord by Richard Blanchard:
Like the woman at the well I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy;
And then I heard my Savior speaking:
“Draw from My well that never shall run dry.”
Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up Lord,
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul,
Bread of heaven, feed me ‘til I want no more,
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!
In a world hot in pursuit of quenching its thirst with everything but God, Tozer wrote:
In the midst of this great coldness toward God there are some, I rejoice to acknowledge, who will not be content with shallow logic. They will admit the force of the argument, and then turn away with tears to hunt some lonely place and pray, “O God, show me thy glory.” They want to taste, to touch with their hearts, to see with their inner eyes the wonder that is God.
I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.2
There is an ancient tale from India about a young man who was seeking God.
He went to a wise old sage for help. “How can I find God?” he asked the old man. The old man took him to a nearby river. Out they waded into the deep water. Soon the water was up just under their chins. Suddenly the old man seized the young man by the neck and pushed him under the water. He held the young man down until the young man was flailing the water in desperation. Another minute and he may well have drowned. Up out of the water the two of them came. The young man was coughing water from his lungs and still gasping for air. Reaching the bank he asked the man indignantly, “What did that have to do with my finding God?” The old man asked him quietly, “While you were under the water, what did you want more than anything else?” The young man thought for a minute and then answered, “I wanted air. I wanted air more than anything else?” The old man replied, “When you want God as much as you wanted air, you will find him.”3
We close with this solemn warning from the lives of two men:
Writers H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw were brilliant men, yet they rejected the message of Scripture. They placed their trust in their own systems of belief, which were based on human reason. Yet they could not find lasting inner peace, and they slowly lost confidence in what they believed. Wells’ final literary work, for example, has been aptly called “a scream of despair.” And shortly before Shaw died in 1950, he wrote, “The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, have led directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”4