Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 108

Impossible possibility

The coming of God’s kingdom has always been impossible, humanly speaking. Our part in that venture sometimes seems impossible too. This psalm tackles that problem head-on.

My heart is set, God—
I won’t be stopped.
I’m going to sing and make music.
Wake up, my soul!
Wake up, harp and lyre!
I will wake up the dawn!
I’ll celebrate you among the nations, my Lord
sing your praises to everyone everywhere.
For your unfailing love is so vast
it reaches the heavens
and your faithfulness so big
it touches the clouds.

Rise up high above the heavens, O God!
Reign in glory over all the earth!
Stretch out your strong hand and help us
so your beloved people are rescued. 

God has spoken in his holiness:
“In triumph I will parcel out Shechem
and measure off the Valley of Succoth.
Gilead is mine and Manasseh mine too.
Ephraim is my helmet, Judah my scepter!
Moab is my washbasin
onto Edom I toss my shoes
and over Philistia shout triumphant!” 

10 Who will take me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom
11 if not you who have abandoned us, God
and no longer march out with our armies?

12 Help us fight against our foes
since human help is worthless.
13 With God’s help we’ll fight courageously.
Yes, he’s the one
who will crush our oppressors!

This psalm seamlessly joins selections from two other David psalms—Psalms 57:7-11 and 60:5-12. Far from being unoriginal, the psalm gives both selections new meaning by combining them in their new post-exilic context.

Restored to their land, the Israelites joyfully celebrate God’s lovingkindness before the nations. But now they’re starting from scratch, with Jerusalem’s destruction a living memory. The Edomites, the Israelites’ relatives through Esau, played a pivotal role in that catastrophe. Remembering how it played out really pains the Israelites since they hadn’t been aggressive toward the Edomites. This leads the psalmist to reflect on the Israelites’ current situation, what brought them to this point, and where they’re to go from here.

So God assures them that nothing has really changed from David’s day: God is just as committed as ever to Israel—to both Judah and Ephraim—and he’s still sovereign over the surrounding nations that threaten them. Israel ruled over the nations named here in Israel’s heyday. And the psalmist believes God’s kingdom will yet cover the earth, but with neither Joshua nor David to lead them, they don’t know how to proceed.

Despite God’s having brought his people back “home,” their extreme vulnerability and hardships in the land call his restoration of them into question. Since their challenges far exceed the realm of human help, the psalmist knows only God can establish his kingdom on earth. The psalmist seems to be looking forward to and longing for the Messiah God would send to deliver his people from their enemies. Besides asking for God’s help, the psalmist commits to partnering courageously with him and celebrating his victory over evil long before it happens.

Thank you, Jesus, that your faithfulness reaches to the clouds, but I’m very vulnerable to attack, and the way ahead is unclear. Lead me against my foes, grant me your help, and give me courage. I know human help is worthless in such a fight as this. May your kingdom come, I pray. Amen.

In your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Stretch out your right hand and help us
so your beloved children are rescued.

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.