Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 119 – part 1

Biblical spirituality, from A to Z

We’re tempted to forsake God when serving him costs us dearly. The psalmist seeks God’s protection as well as deliverance from such self-sabotage in the fullness and freedom of a God-taught life.

How blessed 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
stick to the path of purity?
Only by carefully keeping your word.
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 I take such delight in your statutes
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 behold
the wonderful things your word contains.
19 I’m a stranger on earth—
give me clear directions here.
20 My soul constantly aches
to know how you judge things.
21 You blast the wilful
who put themselves under your curse
by 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 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
because you’ve set my heart free.


This is the first part of the Psalter’s longest psalm.

In our harried age, we may wish the psalmist* had simply given us an executive summary. Alternatively, we let her lead us in her long meditative prayer on what living a life centered on God’s word means. Pointing to the psalm’s comprehensiveness, 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, its 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, God continually engages our hearts in conversation. To flourish in life, we must listen to all he says.

God’s goodness and relentless love assure the psalmist that his word is trustworthy, making her delight in it. Following it enables us to navigate life correctly. By contrast, the self-seeking discount God’s truth, their false view of reality leading them astray. The psalmist acknowledges how blind she is apart from God and how messed up things get when she makes herself the center. So beyond guidance, she also asks for the ability to understand scripture, 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 assail 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 in control. And broken as she is, she realizes that she can’t live without God’s word and his loving correction.

Lord, the psalmist accurately describes 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:

I run with abandon
down the path of your commands
because you’ve set my heart free.

 

* I imagine the psalmist here as a woman of faith, like Miriam, Deborah, Hanna, or the Virgin Mary (see further, my answer to the question: Who wrote the psalms?).

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.