2. Psalms: Thirsting for God (Psalms 27, 42-43, 63)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (28:44)

James J. Tissot (1836-1902), David Praying in the Night
James J. Tissot (1836-1902, French artist and illustrator), "David Praying in the Night," OT watercolour series. Jewish Museum, New York.
When I read the Psalms I am often shocked by how very personal some of these psalms are. Most are not framed as national prayers, but as personal pleas, the song of a heart hungry and thirsty to know God better. As we examine this theme, let's consider four psalms: 27, 42-43, and 63. As before, please take the time to read each psalm out loud from your favorite translation before studying the comments below.

Psalm 27 - Your face, Lord, I Will Seek

This psalm doesn't seem to be forged in the heart of a crisis. Rather it looks back reflectively upon the strength David has experienced in the past. It is certainly a psalm that celebrates the protection of the Lord in times of trouble.

Confident in Yahweh I Do Not Fear Trouble (27:1-3)

"1The LORD is my light and my salvation --
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life --
of whom shall I be afraid?
2When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
3Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident." (27:1-3)

These first few verses celebrate the utter lack of fear with which David's faith in Yahweh strengthens his heart. Notice the imagery of Yahweh that David begins with in verse 1:

  • My light
  • My salvation
  • My stronghold

Since Yahweh is his light, salvation, and fortress, he walks with a certain confidence, even in trouble.

Safe in the House of the Lord (27:4-6)

The next section focuses on the confidence David feels in "the house of the Lord."

"4One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
5For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.
6Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the LORD." (27:4-6)

The terms "house" (bayît1), "temple" (hêkāl2), "dwelling/shelter/pavilion" (sōk3), and "tabernacle" (´ōhel4) are all used synonymously. Even though Solomon's Temple wasn't built until after David's time -- the tabernacle was at Shiloh then -- the expression "temple" is a generic term that means "palace, a king's dwelling quarters," and was used of the tabernacle itself (1 Samuel 1:9).

There are many references in the Psalms to dwelling in God's house, beginning with the familiar Psalm 23:6, "and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Others include:

"Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple." (Psalm 65:4)
"How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God....

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper
in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked."
(Psalm 84:1-2, 10)

One such verse I learned as a boy:

"I was glad when they said to me,
'Let us go to the house of the LORD!'" (Psalm 122.1, NRSV)

Priests and Levites might occasionally actually "dwell" in the tabernacle or temple during their period of duty -- Samuel did as a boy (1 Samuel 3). Moreover, the Israelites were well aware that the temple couldn't confine God to a single place (1 Kings 8:27). But in the psalms, to "dwell in the house of the Lord" is a metaphor for being close to the Lord at all times. It expresses the longing of the psalmist to draw near to God. It is also the psalmist's place of safety and rejoicing.

Your Face, Lord, I Will Seek (27:7-12)

"Hear my voice when I call, O LORD;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!'
Your face, LORD, I will seek." (27:7-8)

Now we see another expression of devotion, to "seek the face" of the Lord. "Seek" (bāqash) comes from a root that connotes a person's earnest seeking of something or someone. Its intention is that its object be found or acquired (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13; Malachi 3:1).5 The expression "seek the face (pe) of" means (of a human ruler) to seek an audience with, (of God), it means to seek his presence, that is, to be face to face with him (Hosea 5:15; 1 Chronicles 16:11= Psalm 105:4; 2 Chronicles 7:14; 2 Samuel 21:1; Psalm 24:6).6 It speaks of desiring, a yearning for personal intimacy with the Almighty, seeking a personal hearing before the Lord himself. We see this same kind of flat-out, earnest seeking in the Apostle Paul:

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11)

The expression in verse 9, "hide one's face," means to refuse to allow one into his presence, to refuse to answer one's petition. The psalmist calls on God not to reject him, even as his parents may have (verse 10), and he is confident that the Lord will "receive" him.

"9Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.
10Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me." (27:9-10)

He calls on God to instruct him, to lead him "in a straight path," since his way is perilous with enemies all around.

"11Teach me your way, O LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence." (27:11-12)

I Will See the Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living (27:13-14)

This has been a lament, but like many laments, it ends on the upswing, a word of hope and confidence:

"13I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
14Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD." (27:13-14)

Verses 13 and 14 describe the psalmist's attitude in the midst of his trial and struggle. "The land of the living" means this life, rather than in the afterlife. I will see the Lord provide deliverance in my lifetime! In verse 14 he counsels both himself and others to develop both strength and perseverance. Look at the interesting kind of parallelism:

  • Wait for/expect (qāwā) the Lord
  • Be strong (ḥāzaq)7
  • Take heart8
  • Wait for/expect the Lord

"Wait for the LORD" (NIV, NRSV), "wait on the LORD" (KJV), is well translated by the NJB as, "Put your hope in Yahweh." The verb qāwā means "to wait or look for with eager expectation."9

This command to "wait for the LORD" both precedes and follows the commands to be strong. It wraps them with a commitment to wait expectantly until Yahweh comes through with the answer, the help needed. It doesn't give up. It reminds me of some of my favorite New Testament verses:

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:58, RSV)
"And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised." (Hebrews 6:15)
"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36)
Q1. (Psalm 27) What does it mean that David desires to "dwell in the house of the Lord"? What does it mean to "seek his face"? How does David provide hope at the end of this Psalm?





Psalm 42-43 - Combating Depression with Faith

Our second psalm in this chapter is really two psalms -- Psalms 42 and 43, which belong as a single psalm. This is surely a lament of one who is sore pressed but is seeking God. While the psalmist pours out his soul to the Lord in complaint, at the end of the psalm you see a characteristic upswing of hope that usually, but not always, concludes this type of psalm. The structure falls naturally into three parts, each ending with the same repeated refrain:

1. 42:1-5 a. Lament (verses 1-4)
b. Refrain (verse 5)
2. 42:6-11 a. Lament (verses 6-10)
b. Refrain (verse 11)
3. 43:1-5 a. Lament (verses 1-4)
b. Refrain (verse 5)

From the title we can see that it is intended to be sung, since it is addressed "For the director of music." It is titled "a maskil," a word which designates 13 psalms. It may mean an "efficacious psalm" or "skillful psalm," but we don't really know the meaning.10 It seems to be a companion to Psalm 43, though the two psalms can be sung independently of each other.

The title also tells us the author, "the Sons of Korah." They were a Levitical family, singers and musicians of the temple choir founded by Heman the Ezrahite (1 Chronicles 6:31-46). It seems to be the anguished cry of one who is exile far from Jerusalem -- whether the exile was in the mountainous headwaters of the Jordan (42:6) or beyond that in Babylon, we don't know.

A Thirst of a Parched Soul for God (42:1-2)

Wherever he writes from, this former temple musician expresses in the most graphic image his thirst for God:

"1As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
2My soul thirsts (ṣāmē´11) for God,
for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?" (42:1-2)

We're given the word picture or simile of a wild animal in a parched, unrelenting wilderness craving water, in this case, of a stag or hart12 literally on his last legs from dehydration. The verb is a rare one, `ārag, "pant for, long for," used only here and in Joel 1:20.13 The psalmist compares his spiritual thirst to the physical thirst of the deer.

Psalm 63, "A psalm of David, when he was in the Desert of Judah," uses a similar image of spiritual thirst.

"O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts (ṣāmē´) for you,
my body longs14 for you,
in a dry and weary15 land
where there is no water." (63:1)

At the time he wrote this psalm, David himself was living in the desert in order to escape capture by his enemy. He experienced the extreme dryness of the desert, the plant life stunted from lack of moisture. The parched land, he realized, is much like his own dry soul that thirsts to be refreshed from God himself. A third psalm, again from David, bears this same image:

"I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you
like a parched16 land. (143:6)

Spreading out one's hands is a sign of prayer.

Doubt and Longing for Past Joy (42:3-4)

Back to Psalm 42, this temple musician in exile continues his lament, plagued by doubt and remembrance:

"3My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
'Where is your God?'
4These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng." (42:3-4)

Once our author had been a key participant in the joyous festival processions up to the temple in Jerusalem, punctuated by shouts of joy, singing, and praise. Now he is far from the temple courts that remind him of God. His erstwhile friends stab doubts into his heart, "Where is your God now?" and it is taking its toll on his spirit.

Combating Depression with Self-Talk, Remembrance, and Praise (42:5-8)

But he is not content to grovel in his misery. He addresses himself, his soul, his innermost being (nephesh):

"5Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon -- from Mount Mizar.
7Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
8By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me--
a prayer to the God of my life. (42:5-8)

At the risk of being too analytical in this context of spiritual and poetic feeling, I can see three approaches that the psalmist uses to combat his doubt and depression.

  1. Self-talk, words addressed to himself, of hope, that he will eventually have cause to rejoice in God again. (42:5)
  2. Deliberate remembrance, recalling God to mind, (42:6-7)
  3. Singing and praying to God night and day (42:8)

Deep Calls to Deep (42:7)

I've often wondered what the phrase "Deep calls to deep" means in verse 7. The noun is tehôm, "deep, depths, deep places," usually used of the ocean depths, but sometimes of surface springs coming from subterranean waters far below (Deuteronomy 8:7; Psalm 78:15). Synonymns17 are used figuratively in Psalms 69:2 ("I have come into the deep waters....") and 130:1 ("Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD....").

I think in the context, by "deep calls to deep," the psalmist means that the deep waters in the waterfall pool before him remind him of the depth of pain in his spirit. Along a similar vein, the violent waterfalls of the Jordan in the rainy season remind him of the breakers and waves of the ocean deep. Instead of providing solace, they remind him of his turmoil of soul.

Continuing to Combat Depression with Hope (42:9-11)

The struggle continues -- doubts, physical aching, and scoffers don't cease.

"9I say to God my Rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?"
10My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
"Where is your God?" (42:9-10)

But the psalmist doesn't let up his resistance. His self-talk of hope reappears in verse 11.

"Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God." (42:11)

Send Forth Your Light and Guide Me (Psalm 43:1-5)

As the psalm continues in chapter 43, the psalmist begins to come out of his depression. He calls:

"3Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
4Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God." (43:3-4)

Now in his heart God is leading him back to the temple mount in Jerusalem. He takes out his harp and is worshipping and praising with joy and delight. Now the final refrain seems to take hold in his spirit. His hope is firmly reestablished in the Lord:

"... For I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God." (43:5b)

Psalms 42 and 43 are a lament, but a lament in which the author struggles to praise. I suppose it is one of my favorites because it expresses so well an honest but determined seeking of God in the face of the spiritual struggles that I face -- and probably you. Why don't you let these twin psalms mold your prayers, in times of trial.

Q2. (Psalms 42-43). What is the psalmist feeling during this spiritual struggle? How does he combat his spiritual depression? Have you ever felt this way? How did you reach out to God at this time?




Psalm 63 - Earnestly I Seek You

Psalm 63 is the final psalm we'll consider in this series. We already looked at verse 1 earlier in this chapter when we examined the powerful image of the soul's dryness and thirst:

"A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.
O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water."

"Seek earnestly" (NIV, NASB) or "early will I seek" (KJV) is shāḥar, "be intent on, inquire for, seek."18 The word for dawn comes from this root,19 so the word suggests an eagerness that is willing to rise early to continue the quest with earnestness. In my experience of more than five decades as a Christian I've observed that a passive person seldom connects with God in any satisfying or authentic manner. The Scripture says:

"From there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul." (Deuteronomy 4:29, NRSV)
"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)

I Will Lift Up My Hands in Your Name (63:2-8)

Like the descendent of Korah in Psalms 42-43 above, here David remembers his precious times of worship in the sanctuary and it fills him with joy!

"2I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
3Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
4I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
7Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me." (63:2-8)

David's memory of God's love stimulates praise. "Love" (NIV), "lovingkindness" (KJV), "steadfast love" (NRSV) is ḥesed. It means more than obligatory loyalty within a covenant relationship, as some have suggested. It is a love that includes acts of kindness and mercy. The images of the KJV's "lovingkindness" are not far from the fullness of meaning of the word.20 Notice the result of David's recognition of this firm and lasting love, expressed in this wonderful parallelism:

  1. Lips that glorify (3b),
  2. Lifelong praise (4a),
  3. Prayer (signified by the lifting of hands, 4b),
  4. Fullness in one's inner being, "my soul will be satisfied" (5a),
  5. Singing praise (5b),
  6. A memory of God in the night-time hours (6),
  7. A singing in the refuge provided by God's strong presence (7),
  8. An mutual holding of one another -- the soul clasps God tight, God's hand securely grasps21 David (8).

As I think of this psalm I recall the song made famous by Debbie Boone decades ago, "You Light Up My Life,"22 applying it to God's presence. Yes, an assurance of God's love is life-changing!

God Will Deliver David from His Enemies (63:9-11)

The psalm concludes with David's confidence in God's ultimate deliverance:

"9They who seek my life will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.
Experiencing the Psalms, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, a Bible study on Psalms in 12 lessons
Now all the lessons are available together in e-book and paperback formats.

11But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God's name will praise him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced."

Consider the emotional course of the psalm:

  1. Earnest seeking in a period of dryness of soul and hiding from one's enemies (verse 1)
  2. A remembrance of God's presence and especially His steadfast and merciful love. (verses 2-3a)
  3. The outflow of praise, prayer, and faith resulting in a fullness of soul (verses (3b-8)
  4. A confidence that God will bring ultimate deliverance to him, the king (verses (9-11)
Q3. (Psalm 63) Why is recognition that God loves you the basis of all faith? What does this realization bring about in your life?




What do you do? How do you respond when you recognize the dryness of your soul? Do you earnestly seek or are you passive? In these psalms we see a course not only for the psalmist, but for ourselves to seek afresh the face of God and find fullness for our souls.

Exercise. For one of the psalms in this lesson -- or another psalm with a similar theme -- do one of the suggested exercises to help you experience the Psalms (www.jesuswalk.com/psalms/psalms-exercises.htm). These include such things as praying a psalm, meditating, reading to a shut-in, paraphrasing, writing your own psalm, singing, preparing a liturgy, and memorizing. Then report to the forum what the exercise meant to you personally or share what you've written with others.


Lord, sometimes we do feel dry and parched in our souls. I pray that you would put within me and within my brothers and sisters the same kind of earnestness to seek you that is required of true followers. Help me, help us, to seek you with all our hearts and find the fullness of soul that you have for us. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.


  • "As the Deer," words and music by Martin Nystrom (© 1894, Maranatha! Music). Psalm 42:1.
  • "As Pants the Hart for Streams," words unknown paraphrase, music, "Consolation" by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Psalm 42.
  • "As Thirsts the Hart for Water Brooks," words unknown paraphrase, music by William B. Bradbury (c. 1858). Psalm 42.
  • "As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams," words by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady (1696), music by Ludwig Spohr (1835). Psalm 42.
  • "Beautiful," words and music by Dennis Cleveland (© 1982, Maranatha! Music). Psalm 27:4
  • "Early, My God, without Delay," words by Isaac Watts (1719), music: "St. Mark," by Henry J. Gauntlett (1805-1876), and other composers. Psalm 63:1-2
  • "I Hunger and I Thirst," words by John S. B. Monsell (1866), music: "Eccles," by Bertram Luard-Selby (1904). Psalm 63:1
  • "I Will Bless Thee, O Lord," words and music by Esther Watanabe (© 1970, Esther Watanabe). Psalm 63:4
  • "Isn't He Beautiful?" words and music by John Wimber (© 1980, Mercy Publishing). Psalm 27:4.
  • "One Thing Have I Desired," words and music by Stuart Scott (© 1984, Maranatha! Music). Psalm 27:4
  • "Psalm 27," by John Michael Talbot (© 1990, Birdwing Music). Psalm 27.
  • "Psalm 27:1," words and music by Pauline Michael Mills (© 1966, Fred Bock Music Company). Psalm 27:1.
  • "Send the Light" (the blessed Gospel light), words and music by Charles H. Gabriel (1890). Psalm 43:3
  • "Thy Lovingkindness" (Is Better than Life), words and music by Hugh Mitchell (© 1956, New Spring). Psalm 63:3-4.
  • "The Lord Is My Light" (and my salvation, Whom shall I fear?), words and music by Pauline Michael Mills (© 1966, Fred Bock Music Company). Psalm 27:1, 3.
  • "We Must Wait on the Lord," words and music by Randy Thomas (© 1979, Maranatha! Music). Psalm 27:14.


  1. Bayît is the generic word for "house, household," and can also be used of a palace or temple. You often see this in place names, such as Beth-lehem ("house of bread"), Beth-el ("house of God"), etc. (Louis Goldberg, bayît, TWOT #241).
  2. Hêkāl is sometimes used of a king's dwelling quarters, that is, a palace, a luxurious dwelling place. In the Bible it used primarily of God's house (Leonard J. Coppes, hêkāl, TWOT #493).
  3. Sōk, sūkkā has the idea of "covering." In a physical sense it is used in the building activities relative to the sacred places of worship. In a figurative sense it pictures God's protection for one who comes to him for refuge (R. D. Patterson, sōk, sūkkā, TWOT #1492).
  4. ´Ōhel is used of a dwelling, home, especially a tabernacle or tent. It was used of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Tent of Meeting (Jack P. Lewis, ´ōhel, TWOT #32a).
  5. Leonard J. Coppes, bāqash, TWOT #276. BDB p. 135.
  6. Pe, "face," is used here in the sense of presence. With a preposition the word signifies "in the presence of, before" (Victor P. Hamilton, pānā, TWOT #1782a).
  7. "Be strong" (NIV, NRSV) or "be of good courage" (KJV) is ḥāzaq, that has the basic meaning in the Qal stem of "be(come) strong" (Carl Philip Weber, ḥāzaq, TWOT #636) It is so easy to become weak; we are commanded to do the opposite.
  8. "Take heart" (NIV), "let your heart take courage" (NRSV), "let your heart be bold" (NJB), "he shall strengthen thine heart (KJV) uses the verb ´āmēṣ, "be stout, strong." In the Hiphil stem as here it has the force of "exhibit strength, feel strong ... the strength of faith and hope"(Charles L. Feinberg, ´āmēṣ, TWOT #117).
  9. John E. Hartley, qāwā, TWOT #1994.
  10. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 37; Herbert Wolf, śākal, TWOT 2263b.
  11. Ṣāmē´, "be thirsty" (John E. Hartley, TWOT #1926).
  12. ´Ayyāl, "stag, male deer," Herbert Wolf, ´wl, TWOT #45k.
  13. `Ārag, Holladay 282; BDB 788.
  14. Kāmah, "faint (with longing)" (BDB p. 484).
  15. `Āyēp, "faint, exhausted, weary." It can also be used to describe the condition of extreme thirst. It is used figuratively. "The psalmist, wandering in the desert land of Judah, realizes that his soul is in much the same parched condition as the land in which he wanders." The adjective is also used in 143:6 (Carl Schultz, `îp, TWOT #1614a).
  16. `Āyēp again.
  17. Ma`ămaqqîm, "deep, depths," and meṣûlâ, "depth, deep."
  18. Shāḥar, Holladay 366.
  19. Victor P. Hamilton, shāḥar, TWOT #2369.
  20. R. Laird Harris, ḥsd, TWOT #698a.
  21. "Upholds" is tāmak, "grasp, lay hold of, hold fast, support," from a West Semitic root that means "grasping securely" (R. D. Patterson, tāmak, TWOT 2520.
  22. "You Light Up My Life," words and music by Joe Brooks (©1976, 1977, Bigg Hill Music Corp.).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

Sign up now!To be notified about future articles, stories, and Bible studies, why don't you subscribe to our free newsletter,The Joyful Heart, by placing your e-mail address in the box below. We respect your privacy and never sell, rent, or loan our lists. Please don't subscribe your friends; let them decide for themselves.
Country(2-letter abbreviation, such as US)
Preferred FormatHTML (recommended) Plain text