Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 118

The rejected stone

Like us today, most post-exilic Jews lived under pagan authorities who suppressed their faith. Recounting his rejection and rescue from death, the psalmist calls his people to faith in the God who is always on their side.

Give thanks to YHWH because he’s good.
His faithful love endures forever!
2 Let Israel say:
“His faithful love endures forever!”
3 Let the Aaronic priests  say:
“His faithful love endures forever!”
4 Let all who revere YHWH say:
“His faithful love endures forever!”

5 Cornered, with nowhere to turn
I cried out to YHWH
and YHWH answered me
bringing me out into true freedom.
6 With YHWH for me
I’ve nothing to fear:
what can mere mortals do to me?
7 With YHWH on my side, helping me
I’ll be satisfied when I see
the downfall of those who hate me.
8 It’s better to take refuge in YHWH
than to put your trust in people.
9 It’s better to take refuge in YHWH
than to rely on the most powerful people around.
10 When hostile nations surrounded me
I defeated them in YHWH’s name.
11 When they surrounded me
totally surrounded me
I defeated them in YHWH’s name.
12 They surrounded me like a swarm of bees
only to burn up like dried thistles
as I defeated them in YHWH’s name.
13 Pushed hard, I was falling fast
but YHWH came to my rescue.
14 YHWH is my strength and my song—
he’s become my savior.
15 The camp of God-seekers
rings with shouts of joy and victory:
“YHWH’s strong hand struck the decisive blow!”
16 “YHWH’s strong hand is raised in victory!”
“YHWH’s strong hand decided the outcome!”
17 “I’m not going to die!”
I’ll live to tell what YHWH has done.
18 Though YHWH tested me to the limit
he didn’t hand me over to Death.
19 Swing wide the gates of goodness and justice
so I can enter in to thank YHWH.
20 This is the gate to YHWH’s house
the gate those who put their trust in God enter.
21 I praise you for answering my prayers
for rescuing me from death.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has now been made the capstone!
23 This is solely YHWH’s doing
and it’s astounding to see.
24 This is the day YHWH has made—
let’s celebrate and revel in what he’s done.
25 YHWH, we pray you’d rescue us!
YHWH, please make us flourish!
26 Blessed is the one who comes
in YHWH’s name.
We bless you from YHWH’s house.
27 YHWH is God
and he’s shone his light on us.
Line the path with festive branches
all the way to the horns of the altar.
28 You’re my God and I praise you.
You’re my God and I extol you!
29 Give thanks to YHWH because he’s good.
His faithful love endures forever!

We don’t know when this psalm was written or who wrote it. But clearly, a psalm recounting the psalmist’s deliverance from pagans threatening him would have thoroughly encouraged post-exilic Jews, living under pagans who suppressed their faith. With no way out, the psalmist thought he was going to die. Then God, whose gracious love is unfailing, showed up to turn the tide, enabling the psalmist to defeat his foes.

This led to exuberant celebration in God’s camp. Returning home, the psalmist calls out for Jerusalem’s gates to open so he can praise God and tell his people what God has done for him and what he’s learned in the process. Namely, that he should neither fear what people can do to him, nor hang his hopes on what people can do for him. Ultimately, he must revere and trust God, who alone is his savior and his song.

The psalm’s last section gives the community’s response to the psalmist. Since the reversal of his fortunes was entirely God’s doing, his people recognize the psalmist has been blessed by God. They exclaim that God has taken the stone the builders considered worthless and made it the building’s one indispensable stone, exalted above all others. Rejoicing in God’s favor, they embrace him as their God, ask him for ongoing success, and give him their wholehearted praise.

Not surprisingly, Jesus applied verses 22-23 to himself in the gospels (e.g., Mt. 21:42). He knew his rejection by the nation’s religious leaders was only preliminary to God’s exaltation of him to the place of highest honor. When we are wrongfully rejected, we can be encouraged to know we’re in good company and, like Jesus, can look to God to give us his place for us in the temple he is building.

How easily I alternate between fearing people to looking to people to save me, Jesus. But you’re the one who rescues and releases me to flourish in your chosen place—taking the stone the builders deemed worthless and glorifying it in your temple. Thank you for your faithful love. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Give thanks to YHWH because he’s good
and his faithful love endures forever!

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.