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Spiritual Longing in the Psalms

P Murray

Longing for God's presence

"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" (Ps 42.1-2).

This is a Psalm giving instruction for the sons of Korah. They were a generation spared in the mercy of God, while their forebears perished when the earth opened and swallowed them up alive because of their rebellion against the servants of the Lord (Num 16). The title of this Psalm reads, "To the chief Musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah", and there are ten other Psalms which are headed in a similar way. The titles of the Psalms are as much inspired as is the text.

The Psalmist had a deep desire to be in the presence of God when these lines were written. Those who seek God's presence and have a longing desire to appear before God will always be blessed and will never go away empty. They will go on from strength to strength on the pilgrim pathway as we read in Psalm 84.7, another of the Psalms for the sons of Korah. This is echoed in the words of the hymn writer:

Yet sure, if in Thy presence
My soul still constant were,
Mine eye would, more familiar,
Its brighter glories wear.

(J N Darby)

Longing for God's Power

"My soul thirsteth for thee…To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary" (Ps 63.1-2).

This is a Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah. David had a sanctuary experience with God and speaks of "my soul" four times in this Psalm: "my soul thirsteth for thee" (v.1); "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips" (v.5); "My soul followeth hard after thee" (v.8); and, "…thy right hand upholdeth me. But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth" (vv.8-9). In Psalm 62 David wrote, "Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved", and, "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him" (vv.1-2,5).

David had a desire for the power of God to be seen in a dry and thirsty land as he had seen the Lord in the sanctuary. This is the way in which spiritual power comes - through being in the presence of God, having a sanctuary experience with Him. He is omnipotent, having all power, and David wanted that power to be expressed in his wilderness experience in a dry and thirsty land.

This world is a wilderness wide,
I have nothing to seek or to choose;
I've no thought in this waste to abide;
I have nought to regret nor to lose.

(J N Darby)

Longing for God's Place

"How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God" (Ps 84.1-2).

We now came to another Psalm for the sons of Korah. Its text, however, is more emphasised. The Psalmist appreciates the courts of the Lord's presence and expresses how lovely and beautiful is His tabernacle. Here he longs and even faints for it as a place and house to dwell in. He speaks of the sparrow having found a house and the swallow a nest there, where she could lay her young (v.3). Just as the birds of the air need a place to rear their young upon earth, so should we, as the assemblies of the Lord's people, be exercised about the generation following and rear them in the place in which He chose to place His name (Deut 12.14). This 14th verse has kept me from going outwith the assemblies of God's people in my service for Him for 71 years, beginning as a youth of 16 years. It is good when one can tell what are the distinctive features of God's assembly. Psalm 48, again for the sons of Korah, says, "Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following" (vv.12-13).

Longing for God's Precepts

"Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy righteousness" (Ps 119.40).

This is the longest Psalm in the Bible, consisting of 176 verses divided into 22 sections each of 8 verses. Each section commences with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It has been termed, "The law of the ten words", as there are ten expressions describing God's Word. The longing of the writer for the Word of God is seen throughout the Psalm. "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times" (v.20); "I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments" (v.131); "I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my delight" (v.174). May we all have a similar longing for the Scriptures and be able to keep them to the end (v.33).



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