Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 103

God’s lavish love

In some Christian traditions, an angry, vindictive God is just waiting for us to mess up before he pulls the rug out from under us. This psalm offers the perfect antidote to such a parody of biblical truth.

A David psalm.

1 Praise YHWH
my soul within me!
With every fiber of my being
praise his holy name!
2 Praise YHWH
heart and soul
forgetting none of his good gifts.
3 He forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases.
4 He redeems your life from destruction
and crowns you with boundless love and mercy.
5 He lavishes such goodness on you
that your vigor is renewed like an eagle’s.

6 YHWH vindicates and gives justice
to all the oppressed.
7 He revealed his ways to Moses
his feats to ordinary Israelites.
8 YHWH is gracious and compassionate
slow to anger
and overflowing in unrelenting love.
9 He doesn’t hold onto his anger indefinitely
or accuse us endlessly.
10 He doesn’t punish us as our sins deserve
or pay us in full for our wrongdoing.
11 Because as high as the heavens
are above the earth
so vast is his unrelenting love
for all who revere him.
12 As far as east is from west
that’s how far he’s removed our sins from us.
13 As a father is merciful to his children
so YHWH is merciful
toward those who revere him.
14 For he knows full well what we’re made of—
he remembers we’re only dust.
15 Mere mortals
we’re like wild grass or field flowers
that burst into life and flourish.
16 Then when the first hot wind blows by
they disappear without leaving a trace.
17 But YHWH’s unrelenting love
for those who revere him
had no beginning
and it will never end.
He acts with redemptive justice
toward their children’s children and beyond
18 toward all who are loyal to his covenant
and keep his commandments.

19 With YHWH’s throne founded
in high heaven above
his rule extends over all.
20 Praise YHWH
all you mighty angels who attend to his word
and carry out his commands!
21 Praise YHWH
all of heaven’s armies
you servants on alert to please him in every way!
22 Praise YHWH
all his creatures
throughout all his dominion!
Praise YHWH
my soul within me!

Well-known for its opening lines of self-talk, this psalm has David urging himself not to take any of YHWH’s mercies for granted or feel entitled. David gives many reasons to praise God:  he forgives, heals, redeems, restores, and renews. David sees God as holy, both just and merciful—vindicating and rescuing the oppressed. We’d be lost without either justice or mercy. Though we struggle to hold these qualities together in tension, God unites the two perfectly.

Some see God as angry and vindictive in the Old Testament, but David sets the record straight: God is just and punishes evil, but his anger is limited, while his love is endless. That was the key point YHWH made when he revealed his glory to Moses. YHWH said the essence of his majesty was his incomparable, unrelenting love (Ex. 33-34). He could easily have obliterated his rebellious people for worshipping the golden calf, but he redeemed and forgave them instead.

David picks up on that theme here, and he’s doubtless speaking from personal experience since God has lavished the same extravagant love on him, sinner that he is. After all the grace God had poured out on him, he had grown entitled and cavalierly stolen both the wife and the life of one of his most loyal supporters. While David deserved destruction, God graciously forgave and restored him, making David warn himself here against taking any of God’s good gifts for granted.

Such redeeming love is cause for celebration on the scale we find in John’s Revelation, where all of heaven joins the redeemed from every corner of the world to worship the Lion who is a Lamb. David ends by urging himself once more to praise God, his praise now finding its place in creation’s great eternal chorus.

Jesus, thank you that you reign over all and are unfailingly merciful and just. Help me to see you truly—gracious, slow to anger, overflowing in lavish love. Empower me to live as you lived, pleasing your Father as only those who know him truly can. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

As high as the heavens
are above the earth
so vast is his unrelenting love
for all who revere him.


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.