As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you,
O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
Where is your God? (Ps 42:1–3)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
The great irony of faith is that we approach God out of our poverty, not our riches. The riches of Babylon and Egypt flowed from their abundance of water and irrigation systems, while the poverty of Israel blew in with the dust storms from its deserts. Yet, Egypt and Babylon are known for their idolatry and sin, while Israel is known for its law and prophets (Card 2005, 16). What do the Books of the Law and the Prophets say about satisfying the hunger and thirst for righteousness?
The Books of the Law
Hungering and thirsting were not part of God’s original plan, which we know because food and water were abundant in the Garden of Eden, as we read:
And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. (Gen 2:8-10)
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived in direct communion with God and righteousness was a fruit of that communion, which broke down when Adam and Eve sinned (Gen 3:23). When we mourn our sin and the loss of our communion with God, we hunger and thirst for the righteousness, which is a metaphor for the blessings and tangible fruit of that communion.
Restoration of this communion was a goal of the Mosaic covenant, as suggested in Deuteronomy:
And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. (Deut 11:13–15)
Obeying the commandments involves loving and serving God, who will respond by sending rain in its season granting you a full harvest and an abundant life for you and yours. By contrast, reluctant service to God will result in servitude, hunger, thirst and deprivation:
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. (Deut 28:47–48)
Destruction follows from disobedience—under the law one literally reaps what one sows in respect to one’s relationship with God. In fact, God’s judgment follows from hungering and thirsting for mere physical things, even things like the law (Exod 17:3).
This is, in fact, the basis for the curse for not accepting the new covenant in Christ. Paul writes: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:28) To be given over to one’s passions is a curse and it leads to self-destruction because both the mind and the heart are corrupted by sin.
The Books of the Prophets
In the Law, one reaps what one sows; in the Prophets, the wise are clever and the foolish are ignorant of the ways of the world, as we read:
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Prov 25:21–22)
This reward follows for respecting worldly wisdom, because God created both heaven and earth—all knowledge is God’s knowledge (Prov 1:7; 2 Chr 1:10–13). So the wise leave the door open for enemies to become friends by treating their enemies humanly, feeding them and offering them drink, as Jesus teaches (Matt 5:44–45).
Feeding and drinking find metaphorical uses in the Prophets, as we read: “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer 3:15) Jesus himself is this good shepherd (John 10:11–16), but this hunger is relieved metaphorically through “knowledge and understanding” rather than through physical consumption. Likewise, mere consumption is not the point when Isaiah alludes to abundant water and food, evoking the image of a return to Eden:
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isa 55:1–2)
Isaiah offers spiritual water and food which, like their physical counterparts in Eden, were abundantly provided. He infers (as does the Fourth Beatitude) that by hungering and thirsting for righteousness, God will smile on our efforts and heaven will not be far off (Rev 22:17).
Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Hunger and Thirst for God
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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com