Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 1

The choice  

Our culture describes the good life in terms of wealth, status, and security all attained independently. This psalm offers a radically different take on the good life.

How blessed the man
who doesn’t walk the path the ungodly promote
or stand up for self-seekers’ twisted values
or sit among those who scoff and sneer.
2 He delights instead
in heeding YHWH’s Torah
drawing on its wisdom day and night.
3 This makes him thrive like a tree
planted beside a clear flowing stream
bearing fruit without pause
staying green through deadly droughts
and flourishing in all they do.

But not the ungodly!
They’re like the chaff the wind drives away.
The wicked won’t stand when justice is done
nor will wrongdoers find shelter
within the community of God-seekers.
6 For YHWH knows the path of those who seek him
while the path of those who spurn him
leads to doom and disaster.


The Psalter’s first and second psalms are meant to be read together, like a two-part psalm. Double-framing the entire book, they thus speak of the same man, God’s messianic king, whose delight in God’s torah, or instruction, leads to his resounding success, while his enemies’ disregard for God’s instruction (and for God) leads to their tragic failure. This psalm tells us where true human fulfillment lies, contrasting life’s two ways and their inevitable ends. Its opening walk-stand-sit progression suggests the way dabbling in rebellion leads finally to its full embrace.

Yet what the psalm says of the Messiah is true of all who submit to him, dwelling constantly on God’s word until it becomes part of their lives. This discipline issues not from demand, but rather delight because God’s word is life-giving. While instruction through scripture is primary here, God speaks in many ways. The psalmist commends what Calvin called a “teachable frame,” a constant openness to whatever God says to us by whatever means.

The psalm highlights the contrast between the flourishing God-seeker and the languishing self-seeker, the former a well-rooted tree, the latter wind-driven chaff. It doesn’t always look that way: the self-seeker’s end may look nothing like their path in its beginning. Indeed, there can be great appeal in being your own god, doing whatever you like, and laughing off anyone cramping your style. But ironically, such “self-fulfillment” leads to alienation: far from being true freedom, the Western concept of individual autonomy ultimately destroys it. Letting self-love crowd God out leaves us lost, excluded from the one community that matters. Delighting in his word, we flourish because he knows our path, the Hebrew word for “know” (yada‘ ) signifying intimate involvement.

While this psalm says nothing explicit about the struggle and suffering the Messiah endures, the second psalm, which completes it, points clearly in that direction. Together, these psalms frame the book with life’s great choice: we either listen to God or ignore him. Listening yields fulfillment, ignoring God life’s dissolution.

Rooted in your Father’s word, Jesus, you flourished as no one else ever has. I would live like you, Lord. Yet the choice before me is obscured in countless ways, lest I see how empty loving myself supremely is. How much better to find my true self in you. Help me cling to your guidance, whatever the cost. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

This makes him thrive like a tree
planted beside a clear flowing stream
bearing fruit without pause
staying green through deadly droughts
and flourishing in all they do.

Why YHWH?

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.