Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Book I

The psalms are not randomly thrown together, and the way they’re organized is significant. They’re grouped into five “books,”  mimicking the five books of Moses’ law. The first four books end with a verse of praise that belong to the book, not the psalm they’re attached to. The editors of the Psalms may have wanted the book’s structure to imply that, even though the psalms are mainly prayers written by believers, they bear the same authority as the Torah since it was God who gave the prayers to their writers.

The ordering of the five books and of the psalms within each book tells us something about their meaning. The first book includes Psalms 1 through 41. This collection includes many psalms written by David, many of them laments. There are small connections between successive psalms, giving each of the books a discernible forward movement–with a predominance of laments, giving way to full-on praise in the fifth book. This suggests that while we endure hardships and pain in this life, we’re moving relentlessly toward a kingdom when all will be joy and praise.


Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.