What does it mean that deep calls to deep (Psalm 42:7)?Question: "What does it mean that deep calls to deep (Psalm 42:7)?"
Answer: King David was the psalmist who lamented, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7). What did David mean when he said that “deep calls to deep?”
While David was a man after God’s own heart, he was also someone who experienced extreme emotional highs and lows. In Scripture we see David vacillate from heights of rejoicing to valleys of depression, from resolute confidence to feeble despair, and from glorious triumph to dejected grief. David wrote Psalm 42 during the time when he had been driven from his throne by his rebellious son Absalom. David had fled for his life and was living in exile far from the city and temple of God.
In the verses leading up to the statement that “deep calls to deep,” David explained that he had been thirsting for the presence of God like a deer panting for streams of water (Psalm 42:1). The exiled David was longing for His Savior in tears while his enemies taunted him. Cut off from Jerusalem, David could only remember what it was like to take part in worship with shouts of joy in the festive processionals. By reminiscing, David attempted to encourage himself in the Lord and place his hope in God. In his psalm, he waffles between confidence that he would soon be able to praise the Lord as he had in the past, and despair over his present affliction.
The language of Psalm 42 is poetic and metaphorical. “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me” (Psalm 42:7, NKJV). David portrays his distress figuratively: it’s as if waves and breakers are sweeping over him. Trouble was surging, with one overwhelming swell coming after another. The “deep” trials he faced kept coming, wave-like—deep after deep.
The Hebrew word translated here as “deep” refers to the deepest depths of the sea. David had lost all footing, and he felt as if recurring waves of trouble had plunged his soul into a bottomless ocean of sorrow and despair. Jonah had used similar language to describe his predicament after God’s discipline in his life: “You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me” (Jonah 2:3).
There’s another interpretation of the word deep in Psalm 42, viz., that David is expressing the fact that his soul was in deep need of God. David called out from his place of profound need for the unfathomable greatness of God.
James Smith and Robert Lee beautifully elaborate on this meaning of “deep calls to deep” in Handfuls on Purpose for Christian Workers and Bible Students: “The deep of man’s need calleth unto the deep of God’s fulness; and the deep of God’s fulness calleth unto the deep of man’s need. Between our emptiness and His all-sufficiency there is a great gulf. . . . Deep calleth unto deep. The deep mercy of God needs our emptiness, into which it might pour itself. . . . Nothing can fully meet the depth of our need but the depth of His Almighty fulness” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971. Vol. 8, p. 11.)
We hit upon the meaning of “deep calls to deep” when we recognize that human needs are great, but the riches of God are greater. Our wisdom is shallow, but His knowledge and judgments are unsearchable (Romans 11:33–34). God’s thoughts are deep (Psalm 92:5). His love is as deep as His immense heart (Ephesians 3:18–19), as He proved when He gave His only begotten Son to die for us (John 3:16). The height, breadth, and depth of God’s resources are without measure. From the depth of his despair, David found help in the depth of God’s goodness, and he was able to say in conclusion, “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:11, NLT).
Recommended Resource: Be Still ... and Know That I Am God: Devotions for Every Day of the Year by Gus Keiser
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Questions about Psalms
What does it mean that deep calls to deep (Psalm 42:7)?