Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 119

Biblical spirituality, from A to Z

Knowing her weakness, the psalmist seeks protection from hostile enemies who seek her ruin.* She also asks God to keep her true to him by granting her the fullness and freedom of a God-taught life.

How happy are those
who walk the path of integrity
always open to YHWH’s instruction.
2 How happy are those
whose lives line up with his decrees
who seek him wholeheartedly.
3 Wronging no one
they live life as he tells them to.
4 You’ve commanded
us to be diligent about obeying your orders.
5 If only my steps were resolute
in keeping your laws!
6 Then I’d never be ashamed
for I’d keep your commands clearly in view.
7 I’d praise you from the bottom of my heart
on seeing where your just rulings lead.
8 I will obey your statutes.
Don’t totally give up on me!

9 How can a young person
hold to the path of purity nowadays?
Only by walking carefully
where your word tells us to.
10 I seek you with all my heart—
don’t let me stray from your commands.
11 I’ve hidden your word in my heart
to keep me from sinning against you.
12 You are blessed, YHWH.
Teach me your laws.
13 I can’t stop talking
about the things you’ve said.
14 I find more joy in the path
your word has put me on
than in gaining all kinds of wealth.
15 I’ll ponder your precepts
and reflect on your paths.
16 So delighted am I to hear your voice
I won’t forget a single thing you say. 

17 Be good to your servant
so I can live to keep your word.
18 Open my eyes
to the wonderful truths in your law.
19 I’m a stranger on earth—
give me clear directions here.
20 My soul constantly aches
to know how you want me to live.
21 You blast the willfull
who put themselves under your curse
for wandering from your commands.
22 Shield me from their taunts and insults
because I’ve followed your teachings.
23 Even when powerful people
sit scheming against me
your servant stays focused on your statutes.
24 I delight in your boundary markers—
they’re my most trusted counsellors.

25 My soul clings to the dust—
give me life as you’ve promised to do.
26 When I admitted what I’d done
you answered me.
Now teach me to live as you want me to.
27 Help me grasp your precepts
and I’ll fix my mind
on the wonderful things you’ve done.
28 I’m overwhelmed by grief—
help me back onto my feet
as you said you would.
29 Keep me from all the false leads out there
by graciously guiding me in your teaching.
30 I’ve chosen to walk the path of truth
committed myself to obey your laws.
31 I’m holding onto your words for dear life—
don’t let me be disgraced, YHWH.
32 I run with abandon
down the path of your commands
for you’ve set my heart free.

33 Teach me what it means, YHWH
to walk in the path your word marks out
and I’ll stay the course.
34 Help me understand your law
so I can do all you ask
obeying you wholeheartedly.
35 Lead me in the path of your commands—
my true delight.
36 Make me long to obey you
not to get ahead at all costs.
37 Keep me from getting distracted
by worthless things.
Let me find life in walking your path.
38 Keep your promises to your servant
so that you may be revered.
39 Deflect the insults I so dread—
what matters most is what you say.
40 See how I long to please you?
In your bounty
grant me life.

41 Let your unfailing love embrace me, YHWH.
Rescue me, true to your word.
42 Then I’ll be able to refute
those who insult me
because I take you at your word.
43 Don’t take the least of your faithful words
from my mouth
for I hope in your judgments.
44 So I’ll follow your instruction always—
both now and forever.
45 I will walk in freedom
as I seek to live by your truth.
46 I’ll speak of your decrees before the powerful
without a hint of embarrassment.
47 I delight in your commandments—
how I cherish them!
48 I approach your beloved commands
with hands upraised
my mind poring over all you’ve said.

49 Remember the word you gave your servant
the word you made me hope in.
50 It’s what comforts me in my suffering—
your promise gives me life.
51 Though the headstrong really mock me
I refuse to flinch from your word.
52 When I recall your time-honored judgments
I’m encouraged, YHWH.
53 And I become furious
when I see the self-seeking abandon your law.
54 Your statutes have become my songs
here where I live in exile.
55 At night I think of all you are to me, YHWH
and pledge my love in return.
56 This has become my life
as I’ve obeyed your commandments.

57 YHWH is all I want in life—
I promise to do all you ask of me.
58 I seek your favor with all my heart:
true to your promise
grant me your grace.
59 After reflecting on my ways
I turned back
to walk in the path your word sets out.
60 Without hesitating
I hurried to obey your commands.
61 Though caught in the cords of the self-seeking
I didn’t forget your word.
62 In the middle of the night
I get up and thank you
that your decisions are unerringly just and true.
63 I’m a friend to all who revere you
to everyone who observes your precepts.
64 Your unfailing love fills the earth, YHWH!
Teach me to live as you want me to.

65 You’ve done your servant good
just as you promised, YHWH.
66 Teach me discernment and good judgment
for I’m committed to keeping your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted
I went astray
but now I obey your word.
68 You are goodness personified
and all you do is good.
Teach me to obey your laws.
69 Though the arrogant smear me with lies
I give all my attention to what you’re saying.
70 Their hearts are calloused, unfeeling
but I delight in your teachings.
71 The suffering I went through did me good
for it made me take your laws to heart.
72 The words you speak
are worth more to me
than a fortune in silver and gold.

73 Your hands molded me
and made me into the person I am—
now give me the understanding I need
to learn to please you.
74 Those who revere you
will be thrilled to see
that I’ve put my hope in your word.
75 I know your judgments are just, YHWH
that you made me suffer
out of faithfulness.
76 Let your unfailing love comfort me
in keeping with what you promised your servant.
77 Show me compassion so I may live
because your teaching is my delight.
78 Let the insolent be shamed
for giving me a bad name with all their lies.
Meanwhile, I’ll stay focused on your directives.
79 May those who revere you regroup around me
those who know your teachings.
80 May my heart be blameless in obeying you
so I’m spared any further shame.

81 Bone-weary from waiting for you to save me
I still hope in your word.
82 My eyes are worn out
from watching for you to keep your promise.
When will you come through for me?
83 Though I’ve become
like a wineskin left in smoke
I don’t forget your statutes.
84 How long must your servant hold on—
when will you bring my tormentors to justice?
85 The arrogant have dug pits to trap me
in defiance of your law.
86 All your commands can be trusted.
Help me when people hound me with falsehoods.
87 Though they almost made an end of me
I didn’t abandon your way of living.
88 In keeping with your unfailing love
give me life and I’ll live to please you.

89 Forever, YHWH
your word stands indisputable in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness extends throughout all time
as enduring as the earth you created.
91 To this day your decree holds it all together
since everything exists to serve you.
92 If your teaching hadn’t been my delight
my suffering would have been the end of me.
93 I’ll never forget your instructions
for you’ve given me new life through them.
94 I am yours—rescue me
because I’ve made it my goal
to follow all your directives.
95 Though evildoers are intent on destroying me
I’m focused on keeping your word.
96 I’ve seen how limiting everything else is.
By contrast, your commandments
lead to wide-open horizons.

97 How I love your word, YHWH—
I think about it all day long!
98 Your commands constantly guide me
making me wiser than my enemies.
99 I understand more than all my teachers
because I meditate on your words.
100 I even have more insight
than the wisest of sages
because I go by what you’ve said.
101 I’ve avoided getting onto a perilous path
by staying within the bounds set in your word.
102 I haven’t deviated from your laws
because you’re the one who taught me.
103 How sweet your words are to my taste—
I crave nothing more!
104 From your precepts
I’ve gained the wisdom to hate every false way.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
106 I’ve sworn an oath and I will keep it—
to obey your love-shaped laws.
107 I’ve endured terrible suffering, YHWH.
Grant me life as you promised.
108 Accept my freely offered praise, YHWH
and teach me to think your thoughts after you.
109 My life is in constant danger
yet I refuse to turn back from your path.
110 Though the wicked are trying to trap me
I don’t wander from the way you marked out.
111 Your words are my heritage forever—
they’re my heart’s greatest joy.
112 I’ve resolved to obey your statutes always
since their reward lasts forever.

113 Being totally committed to your revelation
I hate people whose allegiance is divided.
114 You’re my shelter, my shield—
I put my hope in your word.
115 Get away, you evildoers—
I’m obeying the commands of my God!
116 True to your word
empower me and I’ll live.
Don’t let my hopes be dashed.
117 Support me
and I’ll be rescued and live to keep your laws.
118 You reject all who stray from your teachings
for their deceptions are false.
119 Because you remove the wicked
from the earth like dross
I’m dedicated to all you’ve said.
120 I tremble before you:
your judgments fill me with awe.

121 Everything I’ve done is just and right.
Don’t now turn me over to my oppressors.
122 Guarantee your servant’s well-being—
don’t let arrogant people get me.
123 My eyes have given out on me
watching, waiting for you to come through
and deliver me as you promised.
124 Show your servant your unfailing love
and teach me to please you.
125 I’m your servant—
help me understand
so I can live out your word.
126 Now is the time for you to act, YHWH
for people have encroached on your revelation.
127 I love your truth more than gold
even the purest gold.
128 So I follow all your teachings
and hate everything that leads away from you.

129 Your decrees are so wonderful—
that’s why I obey them.
130 The opening up of your words
brings light to those lost without them.
131 I open my mouth and pant
longing for your commandments.
132 Turn my way and be gracious to me
as you always do for those who love you.
133 Steady me in your word
when the going gets tough—
don’t let sin gain control of me.
134 Free me from the grip of oppressors
so I can live as you tell me to.
135 Bathe your servant
in the warmth of your smile
and teach me all you want of me.
136 Rivers of tears stream down my face
when I see how people disregard your word.

137 You are righteous, YHWH
and your rulings reflect you perfectly.
138 Everything you’ve required is righteous
and totally trustworthy.
139 My passion to please you consumes me
because my enemies forget your words.
140 Time and again
your promise has proven true
which is why your servant loves it.
141 Though I’m disregarded and disliked
I don’t forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness endures forever
and your instruction holds true forever.
143 Even when trouble and torment grip me
your commands still bring me joy.
144 Your laws are forever righteous.
Give me understanding so I can live.

145 I cry to you with all my heart—
answer me, YHWH
and I’ll do all you ask of me.
146 I call on you to save me
so I can live as you command me to.
147 I’m up before dawn
crying for help
putting my hope in your word.
148 And I lie awake through the night
pondering your promise.
149 Listen to me
because your love never fails, YHWH.
Give me life in keeping with your law.
150 The closer my persecutors get to me
the farther they are from your word.
151 But you are closer still, YHWH
and your promises are trustworthy.
152 I long ago learned that your precepts
were made to stand forever.

153 Look on my suffering and rescue me
because I haven’t forgotten your law.
154 Be my advocate and defend me.
Give me life as you promised.
155 The wicked have no right at all to deliverance
because they pay no attention to your word.
156 You’ve shown me so much compassion:
preserve my life as you promised, YHWH.
157 My enemies and oppressors are numerous
but I haven’t turned away from your laws.
158 I’m appalled when I see the treacherous
who don’t listen to a word you say.
159 Notice how I love your teaching, YHWH
and lovingly keep me alive.
160 Every word you utter is reliable:
all your just judgments hold true forever.

161 Powerful people harass me for no reason
but your word alone strikes fear in me.
162 I’m overjoyed by your promise
like someone striking it rich.
163 I absolutely detest falsehood
but I love what you’ve revealed.
164 I praise you seven times a day
because your judgments are just.
165 Those who love your law
know perfect peace—
there are no stumbling blocks in their path.
166 I wait expectantly for your rescue
obeying your commands as I do, YHWH.
167 I heed all your teachings
and love them dearly.
168 I follow your guidance
and abide by your counsel
because you know me inside out.

169 Let my cry reach you, YHWH
help me understand as you said you would.
170 Listen to my prayer
and deliver me as you promised.
171 Let praise flow through my lips
as you teach me your will.
172 Let your word roll off my tongue
for all your commands are just.
173 Keep your hand free to steady me
since I’ve chosen your counsel.
174 I long for your deliverance, YHWH
for your instruction is my delight.
175 Let me live to praise you
sustained by your life-giving laws.
176 I’ve gone astray like a lost sheep.
Come and search for your servant
for I haven’t forgotten your commands.

In our harried age, we wish the psalmist had given us an executive summary here. Alternatively, we let her lead us in her long meditative prayer on what living life centered on God’s word means. Highlighting the psalm’s wholeness, its twenty-two stanzas go through the letters of the alphabet in turn, the first Hebrew word in each verse beginning with each stanza’s given letter. If we read this longest of all psalms through in one sitting, the effect is powerful.

The psalmist begins with the blessedness of obeying God, whose written word cuts through our complacency, revealing our urgent need of him. Besides speaking through scripture and sound teaching, God continually engages our hearts in conversation. To flourish in life, we must listen to all he says.

God’s goodness and unfailing love assure the psalmist that his word is trustworthy, making her delight in it. Following it enables us to navigate life correctly. While the self-seeking discount God’s truth, their false view of reality leads astray. The psalmist acknowledges how blind she is apart from God, how messed up things get when she makes herself the center. So beyond guidance, she also asks for the ability to understand, walk in its light, and communicate it to others. Only then can she count on God’s faithfulness. She can’t take it for granted.

The psalmist is also anxious about her vulnerability to attack. For powerful people misrepresent, mock, and viciously attack not just God’s truth, but also anyone following it. So she prays and waits for God to come through for her, as he has before. She clings to the fact that she can count on him even when he doesn’t seem to be in control. Her brokenness makes her so aware of her need to hear God’s word that she knows she can’t live without it, despite all her best efforts.

Lord, the psalmist has accurately described me and my world. How incredible that you walk and talk with me! Help me attend to all your words—to cling to them as if they’re my life, which they are. Open my mind to your truth, give me grace to obey it, and deliver me from evil, I pray. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Your unfailing love fills the earth, YHWH.
Teach me to live as you want me to.

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.