Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 116

He sets the captive free

As believers, we love God in response to his love for us. Besides telling of God’s rescuing him, the psalmist describes his response to God—that is, what loving God looks like.

I love YHWH
because he heard my cry
heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned and heard me
I’ll pray to him as long as I live.
3 Gripped by fear and anxiety
with death dragging me off to the grave
4 I implored YHWH:
“Save me, YHWH!”
5 How kind YHWH is, how good!
How tenderhearted, this God of ours!
6 YHWH preserved the careless—
when I was all but lost
he rescued me.
7 Rest easy again, my soul
seeing how lavishly YHWH has loved you.

8 You kept me from dying, YHWH
dried my tears
kept me from ruin.
9 Now I walk with YHWH
with a new lease on life.
10 I kept faith when I said
“I’m in deep trouble!”
11 And even when I said in panic
“Everyone’s a liar!”

12 What can I possibly give YHWH
for all his kindness to me?
13 I’ll raise the cup of salvation
and call on YHWH
based on all he’s revealed himself to be.
14 I’ll keep my vows to YHWH
in front of all his people.
15 In YHWH’s eyes
his devoted servants’ death is grievous.
16 I am your servant, YHWH
the son of your servant-girl
and you’ve freed me from my chains.
17 I’ll offer you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on YHWH
based on all he’s revealed himself to be.
18 I’ll pay my vows to YHWH
in the presence of all his people
19 in the courtyards of YHWH’s house
in the heart of Jerusalem.
Praise YHWH!

The psalmist says he loves God because God saved his life. He gives very few details, saying only that he was heedless or unthinking, and that everyone he trusted failed him. Unable to escape death’s clutches, he begged for mercy, and God heard and saved him. Such undeserved love gives him confidence that God is for him.

The psalmist calls himself the son of God’s servant-girl, the scullery maid, the person on the bottom rung in God’s household. Being born to God’s servant makes the psalmist doubly bound to God, with no possibility of emancipation. Yet God has freed him from death, filling his heart with praise. With his life restored to him, the psalmist rededicates himself to God. He says he’ll do three things to show his devotion to God, all of them prayer-bathed in company with God’s people in God’s house. He’ll offer salvation’s cup, pay his vows to God, and offer a thanksgiving sacrifice.

The cup referred to wine poured out before God in token of the life the psalmist owes him. Later Jews identified it with a cup drunk in Passover, celebrating Israel’s rescue from Egypt. As Jesus shared that cup with his disciples at the Last Supper, those ideas coalesced and took on new meaning—as the wine was both the new covenant in his outpoured blood and the celebration of his death’s victory over darkness and death.

I love you, Lord, because you first loved me. Careless as I was, you poured out your life to rescue me from certain death. How can I possibly repay you for the love you’ve lavished on me? I can only fill your house with praise and offer my life in service to you, which is true freedom. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

I love YHWH because he heard my cry
heard my cry for mercy.

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.