Psalms For Life
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Psalm 101

The king’s integrity

Power easily corrupts, but not when we exercise it as God does, which is what he calls us to do. This psalm expresses the king’s commitment to do just that, thus setting an example for all in the land to follow.

A David psalm.

I will sing of mercy and justice.
I’ll sing to you, YHWH.
2 I’m going to focus
on walking the path of integrity.
When will you come to me?

I’ll walk with integrity of heart
within my home.
3 I won’t gaze on anything degraded.
I can’t stand those who act crookedly
and won’t let such evil ensnare me.
4 I’ll steer clear of perverted deeds
and make it my goal
to know as little of evil as possible.
5 I’ll get rid of
those who secretly slander their neighbor.
I won’t put up with
haughty eyes or arrogant hearts.
6 Instead I’ll be watching
for the land’s most trustworthy people
and surround myself with them.
Only those who walk the path of integrity
will I choose to serve me.
7 No one given to corruption
will I keep in my presence
nor will liars last in my service.

8 Morning by morning
I’ll root out
those promoting wickedness in the land
and rid YHWH’s city of all who do harm.

Often mistaken as a celebration of hard-nosed intolerance, this psalm extols mercy and justice, qualities that should characterize all God’s people. It then outlines qualities and actions we’d ask of any king or government official. David commits to integrity and urgently asks when God will meet him since he knows he can’t build a good society without God powerfully present in it.

The psalm’s middle section spells out what living with integrity and ruling according to God’s justice and mercy mean practically. David names seven evils he’ll reject, seven signifying his utter intolerance of corruption. He concludes by saying he’ll make freeing the land from treachery and inhumanity his top priority.

The psalm implies that enacting good laws is never enough. A leader’s heart commitments produce their character, which gives rise to their conduct. Without a leader’s striving after personal integrity, good laws won’t make a society good since the leader sets the standard for everyone else to follow.

A psalm about David’s rule may seem out-of-place in Book IV since this book mostly points back to the time before the Davidic covenant, which Psalm 89 says God has trashed. This suggests the Psalms editor wants to highlight the commitments every leader must make while waiting for the Messiah to establish universal peace on earth.

I live in the hope of your kingdom’s coming to earth, Lord, committed to living a life of integrity, mercy and justice. Yet all I do is vain unless you work with me. Move in me, Lord, meet me, speak your truth to me! May your will be done in and through me just as it’s done in heaven. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

I’m going to focus on walking the path of integrity.
When will you come to me?

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.