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Words: Psalm 42, metric version by Nahum Tate (b. _____, 1652; d. Aug. 12, 1715); and Nicholas Brady (b. Oct. 25, 1659; d. May 20, 1726)
Music: Spohr, by Ludwig Spohr (b. Apr. 5, 1784; d. Oct. 22, 1859)
Note: The first complete English version of the psalms in metrical form (written in versified form, to be sung as hymns) was completed in 1562, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It provided the church with psalms to sing for a century and a half, but it lacked the smoothness and elegance of holy Scripture. Psalm 42 began:
Like as the hart doth pant and bray,
The well-springs to obtain.
Something better was called for, and an improved version was produced in 1696, by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady. Tate graduated from Trinity College in Dublin. He was a distinguished playwright in his day, and in 1692 he became Britain’s poet laureate. Brady was an Anglican clergyman, and the chaplain of King William II and Queen Anne.
Tate and Brady’s original covered the whole psalm, but usually only four or five stanzas are used today. One stanza that is omitted voices the mocking enemies of Psalm 42, vs 3 in this colourful way:
Tears are my constant food, while thus
Insulting foes upbraid:
“Deluded wretch! Where’s now thy God?
And where His promised aid?”
As to the tune, It is a Common Metre melody (22.214.171.124). If you aren’t sure what that means, you can check out my article About That “Metrical Index”. I prefer one of the following tunes to Spohr’s: Belmont, Beatitudo, or Crimond.
Fox hunting was legal in Britain for five hundred years, but was finally outlawed in 2005. Some have argued that it’s part of rural culture and should remain, but the general opinion now is that it’s an unnecessary cruelty to the animals. While it is still legal to shoot foxes as a means of pest control, the traditional hunt is no more.
The hunt involved a group of unarmed enthusiasts on horseback, outfitted in black caps and scarlet tunics. Led by the master of the hounds, riders followed a pack of foxhounds searching for the scent of a red fox. Because the course often wound through brush, and over uneven ground, great skill was needed on the part of the riders. When the dogs picked up a scent, the frantic chase began and, unless the fox managed to gain the safety of its borrow, it was usually cornered, killed, and eaten by the hounds.
The first hunter mentioned in the Bible is Nimrod, the founder of Babel, which later became Babylon (Gen. 10:9-10). Isaac’s son Esau is also described as a “skillful hunter” (Gen. 25:27). He used to hunt game from which to make a tasty stew, a favourite of his father’s (Gen. 27:3-4). Proverbs describes, as an example of sloth, killing game and not bothering to cook and eat it. “The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting” (Prov. 12:27).
Hunting animals for sport and for food continues to this day all over the world. We can reject the extremes of the animal-rights activists, but still be uncomfortable with prolonging the agony of the hunted. Some sympathy for the creatures involved is appropriate, decrying any unnecessary harassment and torment of the beast. The exhausting, heart-pounding chase, the tongue lolling thirst, the desperate wild-eyed panic of the animal, seem difficult to regard as a means of amusement.
That leads us to Psalm 42, and a hymn that is based upon it. Tate and Brady’s version begins:
CH-1) As pants the hart for cooling streams,
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for Thee,
And Thy refreshing grace.
That takes an interesting liberty with verse one of the psalm, which says nothing about a “chase.” However, the psalmist later describes being oppressed and taunted by enemies (vs. 3, 9-10), so it seems an appropriate paraphrase–and otherwise, why is the deer panting, if it is not chased?
The point of the author of the psalm is that he has a desperate longing for God. In applying the poetic imagery he says, “My soul thirsts for the living God” (vs. 2). David expresses something similar. “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1).
That is the kind of thirst that leads to spiritual discovery. And there is no more desperate hunt for the thirsty soul, and no more rewarding pursuit. The Lord says to the longing one: “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). May we respond, as David did, “Early will I seek You.”
CH-3) God of my strength, how long shall I
Like one forgotten mourn,
Forlorn, forsaken and exposed
To my oppressor’s scorn?
CH-4) Why restless, why cast down, my soul?
Hope still; and thou shalt sing
The praise of Him who is thy God,
Thy health’s eternal spring.
1) Do you have those who mock your Christian faith? What do you do about that?
2) How will a spiritual thirst for God show itself in our lives?