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A Closer Look
"Deep Calls to Deep"
(Psalm 42:7)     

THE QUESTION: "Deep calls to deep" has become a popular expression in some circles. It is used to refer to the 'calling' of our spirit to God's. Is this what the Psalmist is saying?

This interpretation sounds plausible at first. But the context in Psalm 42, and related language in other psalms suggest a different answer.

Look first at the whole verse:

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers have swept over me."

The Psalmist here piles up images of "mighty waters" to speak of his troubles. They are waves and breakers that "sweep over" him and threaten to drown him. "The deeps" are one piece of this image.

In fact, we have many other examples in the Psalms and OT poetry of the "mighty waters." Repeatedly the imagery of mighty waters, the roaring sea, etc. is used to describe a powerful threat. At times this threat may be literal waters, like those Israel faced at the Red Sea (cf. Jonah 2:3-5). But in many cases they are a metaphor for some other threat, often a threat to life itself ('the cords of death'/'the torrents of destruction'). One of the most common uses of the image is to refer to enemies (Ps 18:3-5, 69:2,14-15, 124:2-5, 144:6-7).

So, what exactly is happening here? We can't be certain. But the Psalmist places himself near the source of the Jordan (v.6). Perhaps he is watching at the waterfalls, listening to them crash, cascade after cascade, wave upon wave ("deep calls to deep"). As he does so, they remind him of his overwhelming troubles. Once again, we do not know his exact circumstances. Yet soon after he speaks of his enemies (Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by my enemies . . . my foes taunt me. . . " vv. 9-10). In light of the common use of the "mighty waters" images to speak of enemies, he may have them specifically in mind.

The one peculiar twist of Psalm 42 is that the writer says to God "all YOUR waves and breakers...." (cf Ps 88:6-7) He feels as if God himself has sent all these troubles.

But this is not the end of the story. Yes, the "deeps" are powerful and threating. Yet when the Psalmists cry "out of the depths" for God to save (Ps 130:1, 18:1-3), he answers. He is the mighty Lord of the storm who comes to save. He speaks his powerful word, to rebuke and silence the wind and the waves (Ps 104:7, Mark 4:39; Ps 65:7). He reaches down from on high to rescue his own from the depths... from the grave itself (Ps 18:15-16), bringing them to a safe place (Ps 40:1-2).**

**note that "the depths of the earth" and "the pit" or Sheol (death/the grave) are often interchanged with the "depths of the sea"(e.g Jonah 2:5-6)

No the "deeps" of Psalm 42 are not the depths of the human soul. Nor are they the depths of God himself. For God is greater than these deeps. He is the King enthroned over the flood (Ps 29:1-2), the One mightier than the breakers of the sea (Ps 93:3). And so the Psalmist who knows that God 'directs his love toward me' (v.8) can confidently call to himself,

Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. (v.10)

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1999 Bruce L. Johnson
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