Vol. 31 Num. 41
“As the Hart Longs for Flowing Streams”
First Published: September 3, 1998
Our new hymn of the month is based upon Psalm 42. It is called by the name of its first phrase: “As the Hart Longs for Flowing Streams.” The tune is very simple but is also very beautiful. It is an old Appalachian folk melody in long meter. The deliberate pace of the tune gives the singer the opportunity to reflect upon the profound longings of the psalmist. Psalm 42 is the first psalm of “book two” of the Psalms, and poignantly expresses the psalmist’s desire for the presence of God in a time of trouble and exile.
The first stanza of our hymn of the month is a mediation on Psalm 42:1-2. This passage reads this way in the New American Standard version: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?” The last phrase “appear before God” reads as follows in some manuscripts: “see the face of God.” And so, Danna Harkin (the author and arranger of this scripture song) renders the text like this: “As the hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul does thirst for the living God; when shall I come to see thy face?” This stanza expresses, in vivid imagery, the Christian soul’s desire for the Lord. As we sing it, we ought to be praying that the Holy Spirit would fill us with such a desire for communion with the living God.
The song’s second stanza flows from the third through the fifth verses (and has allusions to the seventh verse) of Psalm 42. We sing: “My tears have fed me day and night, while men have said ‘Where is your God?’ But I recall as my soul pours dry, the days of praise within thy house.” In this sentence we are joining in the psalmist’s experience of being mocked for his seemingly fruitless trust in the Lord, and we are saying that even when we feel as if we have been emptied out that we hang on by the recollection of sweet days of praise in the Lord’s house. By the very singing of this stanza we acknowledge to ourselves several things, even as we lift God’s psalm back to him: (1) the Christian life is often beset with almost unbearable grief; (2) many times our human support is lacking in these hard seasons and we must rely on God alone; and (3) there are times when we are so depleted and dry that we have to recall days of grace in order to endure. Now, of course, the very singing of this psalm in corporate worship ought also to remind us that we are not alone in our difficult circumstances. God has not banished us to solitude in the vicissitudes of life, we walk our ways in both sunshine and shadow with a whole host of fellow believers (many of whom are directly acquainted with our kind of situation).
The final stanza ascends from depression to issue a bracing self-challenge: “Why do I mourn and toil within, when it is mine to hope in God? I shall again sing praise to him; he is my help, he is my God.” These words challenge the spiritually depressed saint to evaluate his despair in light of the real hope he has in the Lord. Then the believer takes heart from three great verities. First, he will again praise the Lord. This is an absolute fact, here and hereafter for everyone who trusts in God. Second, the Lord himself is his helper, his aid, his supporter. What more comforting thought can we have in time of trouble? Third, the Lord himself is his God! These important truths drawn from Psalm 42:11 conclude this lovely scriptural meditation.
May God use this little song to encourage us in times of trouble and may he give us the grace to sing this psalm together, with grace in the heart.