Even in Bible times deer were game animals, and they were permitted in the Israelite diet because they chew the cud and “divide the hoof.” They are admired for their agility and grace, even in difficult terrain, and when they sense danger they are able to run swiftly. As the sole caretakers for fawns, does are gentle. In an arid environment like that of Israel, deer would have had to travel long distances to find water. Beautiful, graceful, swift, and sure-footed, deer were often used by the writers of Scripture to portray personal and spiritual qualities.
When David took his quill and wrote, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Ps 42:1), he presented a compelling picture of the natural desire humans have for God. That longing may be distracted or even badly derailed by our experiences in life, but it lies at the heart of what being created in God’s image truly means. The deer’s simple, single-minded desire to have its thirst quenched points to what ought to always be true in our relationship with God-that we long to be satisfied in him.
Second Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 both record a powerful song of deliverance by David in which he writes, “He makes my feet like those of a deer and gave me sure footing on high places” (2 Sam 22:34; Ps 18:33). Freedom, nimbleness, and sure-footedness combine in David’s simile of a deer in its natural mountain environment and remind us of the abundance of life that God has for us as we trust him. The Creator has fitted and designed his creatures for the places where they live. They thrive where other creatures can not survive. The parallel between the deer’s dexterity on high and hazardous terrain and our need for wise functioning in the equally dangerous “high places” of human society makes David’s picture an apt one. The prophet Habakkuk can find no better symbol in his own psalm: “The LORD Almighty is my strength. He makes my feet like those of a deer. He makes me walk on the mountains” (Hab 3:19). The agility of deer also makes them a fitting symbol for those who are healed by God: “those who are lame will leap like deer” (Isa 35:6). When God restores the land, such will be people’s joy that the best image the prophet could find to express it is lame people becoming as agile as deer.
In the poetic language of Song of Solomon, deer or gazelles represent grace, beauty, and youthful energy (2:7,9,17). When alarmed they hurry off, but with a beautiful and long stride that epitomizes graceful motion. The groom sees admirable characteristics in his bride that remind him of those animals in motion, and he is so eager to be reunited with her that he urges her to come with similar haste. For her part, the bride sees her groom’s approach as the tireless bounding of a stag. He comes to her quickly and purposefully.