1. As the hart crieth1 for the fountains of water, so my soul crieth after thee, O Jehovah! 2. My soul hath thirsted for God, even for the living God: when shall I come to appear before the face of God? 3. My tears have been my bread day and night, while they say daily to me, Where is thy God?
1. As the hart crieth for the fountains of water, etc. The meaning of these two verses simply is, that David preferred to all the enjoyments, riches, pleasures, and honors of this world, the opportunity of access to the sanctuary, that in this way he might cherish and strengthen his faith and piety by the exercises prescribed in the Law. When he says that he cried for the living God, we are not to understand it merely in the sense of a burning love and desire towards God: but we ought to remember in what manner it is that, God allures us to himself, and by what means he raises our minds upwards. He does not enjoin us to ascend forthwith into heaven, but, consulting our weakness, he descends to us. David, then, considering that the way of access was shut against him, cried to God, because he was excluded from the outward service of the sanctuary, which is the sacred bond of intercourse with God. I do not mean to say that the observance of external ceremonies can of itself bring us into favor with God, but they are religious exercises which we cannot bear to want by reason of our infirmity. David, therefore, being excluded from the sanctuary, is no less grieved than if he had been separated from God himself. He did not, it is true, cease in the meantime to direct his prayers towards heaven, and even to the sanctuary itself; but conscious of his own infirmity, he was specially grieved that the way by which the faithful obtained access to God was shut against him. This is an example which may well suffice to put to shame the arrogance of those who without concern can bear to be deprived of those means,2 or rather, who proudly despise them, as if it were in their power to ascend to heaven in a moment's flight; nay, as if they surpassed David in zeal and alacrity of mind. We must not, however, imagine that the prophet suffered himself to rest in earthly elements,3 but only that he made use of them as a ladder, by which he might ascend to God, finding that he had not wings with which to fly thither. The similitude which he takes from a hart is designed to express the extreme ardor of his desire. The sense in which some explain this is, that the waters are eagerly sought by the harts, that they may recover from fatigue; but this, perhaps, is too limited. I admit that if the hunter pursue the stag, and the dogs also follow hard after it, when it comes to a river it gathers new strength by plunging into it. But we know also that at certain seasons of the year, harts, with an almost incredible desire, and more intensely than could proceed from mere thirst, seek after water; and although I would not contend for it, yet I think this is referred to by the prophet here.
The second verse illustrates more clearly what I have already said, that David does not simply speak of the presence of God, but of the presence of God in connection with certain symbols; for he sets before himself the tabernacle, the altar, the sacrifices, and other ceremonies by which God had testified that he would be near his people; and that it behoved the faithful, in seeking to approach God, to begin by those things. Not that they should continue attached to them, but that they should, by the help of these signs and outward means, seek to behold the glory of God, which of itself is hidden from the sight. Accordingly, when we see the marks of the divine presence engraven on the word, or on external symbols, we can say with David that there is the face of God, provided we come with pure hearts to seek him in a spiritual manner. But when we imagine God to be present otherwise than he has revealed himself in his word, and the sacred institutions of his worship, or when we form any gross or earthly conception of his heavenly majesty, we are only inventing for ourselves visionary representations, which disfigure the glory of God, and turn his truth into a lie.
3. My tears have been my bread. Here the Psalmist mentions another sharp piercing shaft with which the wicked and malevolent grievously wounded his heart. There can be no doubt that Satan made use of such means as these to fan the flame that consumed him with grief. "What," we may suppose that adversary to say, "wouldst thou have? Seest thou not that God hath cast thee off? For certainly he desires to be worshipped in the tabernacle, to which you have now no opportunity of access, and from which you are as it were banished." These were violent assaults, and enough to have overturned the faith of this holy man, unless, supported by the power of the Spirit in a more than ordinary degree, he had made a strong and vigorous resistance. It is evident that his feelings had been really and strongly affected. We may be often agitated, and yet not to such an extent as to abstain from eating and drinking; but when a man voluntarily abstains from food, and indulges so much in weeping, that he daily neglects his ordinary meals, and is continually overwhelmed in sorrow, it is obvious that he is troubled in no light degree; but that he is wounded severely, and even to the heart.4 Now, David says, that he did not experience greater relief in any thing whatever than from weeping; and, therefore, he gave himself up to it, just in the same manner as men take pleasure and enjoyment in eating; and this he says had been the case every day, and not only for a short time. Let us, therefore, whenever the ungodly triumph over us in our miseries, and spitefully taunt us that God is against us, never forget that it is Satan who moves them to speak in this manner, in order to overthrow our faith; and that, therefore, it is not time for us to take our ease, or to yield to indifference, when a war so dangerous is waged against us. There is still another reason which ought to inspire us with such feelings, and it is this, that the name of God is held up to scorn by the ungodly; for they cannot scoff at our faith without greatly reproaching him. If, then, we are not altogether insensible, we must in such circumstances be affected with the deepest sorrow.