Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 119 – part 2

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.

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
and obey 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 being 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 disgrace I so dread—
your way of judging things is always good.
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 I’ll follow your instruction always—
both now and forever.
45 I will walk in freedom
because I seek to live by your precepts.
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 commandments, which I love
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 turn away 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
as I make my pilgrim journey.
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 returned to walk the path your word marks out.
60 Without hesitating
I hurried to obey your commands.
61 Though caught in the cords of the self-seeking
I haven’t forgotten your word.
62 In the middle of the night
I get up and thank you
for your judgments are unerringly just and true.
63 I’m a friend to all who revere you
to all who observe your precepts.
64 Your unrelenting 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 wholeheartedly do what you ask of me.
70 Their hearts are calloused, unfeeling
but I delight in your teachings.
71 The suffering I went through did me good
because 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.

This is the second 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.

The psalmist accurately describes my world, Lord. How incredible that you walk and talk with me! Help me to 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.

 

* 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.