Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 113

Praise the high yet humble God

The rich and powerful domesticate religion, making it an opiate to control the masses. But YHWH will have none of it. He sides always with society’s outcasts and most vulnerable against their oppressors.

Praise YHWH!
You who serve YHWH
praise YHWH for all he’s shown himself to be.
2 May YHWH’s good name
be blessed both now and forever.
3 YHWH’s name is to be praised
everywhere on earth.
4 YHWH reigns supreme over all the nations
his glory transcending the heavens.

5 Who can compare with YHWH our God?
He’s enthroned on high
6 yet he stoops down low
to behold the heavens and earth.
7 He raises the poor up from the dust
and lifts the wretched from the garbage heap
8 seating them with the very best
and the very best of his people.
9 And the woman who grieves her childlessness
he makes the happy mother of children.[1]

Jews still use this psalm in celebrating Passover, when God rescued Israel from slavery. Beginning a series of five hallel, or praise, psalms, it calls YHWH’s servants to praise him because the name he’s won in all his dealings with Israel is like no other. By calling for universal praise, the psalm is both missionary and polemical, implying that no other power has a prior claim on us.

Everyone in the surrounding nations sought the sort of exaltation they saw in their gods, who were extremely arrogant and aloof. By contrast, though YHWH is the highest of the high, he cares enough for the lowest of the low—implicitly, the enslaved Israelites and their descendants—to bend down and lift them up out of the gutter. In a world that valued wealth and children above all else, garbage pickers and childless women were scorned and shunned. But not by YHWH!

Combining such extremes of exalted majesty and humble condescension in one person was no less shocking in ancient times than it is today. And YHWH doesn’t just extract the outcast from their mess. He creates astonishing new possibilities for them. He empowers the weak and completely reverses their fortunes, underscoring the fact that he’s like no rival god and deserves everyone’s praise everywhere on earth, both now and always.

Jesus, your disciples sang this song the night you washed their feet and wept alone in dark Gethsemane. They didn’t know they sang of you. Exalted beyond all our imagining, you laid aside your glory and came down to lift us up. I worship you, Jesus. None can compare with you. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Who can compare with YHWH our God?
He’s enthroned on high
yet he stoops down
to behold the heavens and earth.

 

[1] The Hebrew text ends with “Praise YHWH,” but it seems more likely that that call to praise belongs at the start of Psa. 114 instead. For more on this, see the note at Ps. 114:1.

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.