Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 119 – part 3

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.

73 Your hands have moulded 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 delighted 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 word 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 disgrace.

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 dried-up
like a wineskin in a smoky place
I don’t forget your statutes.
84 How long must your servant hold on—
when will you bring my stalkers 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 Even 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 everything together
since everything exists to serve you.
92 If your word hadn’t been my delight
my suffering would have been the end of me.
93 I’ll never forget your precepts
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 lie in wait to destroy me
your words are what I focus on.
96 I’ve seen how limiting seeking perfection is
but obeying your commandments
leads to wide-open vistas.

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 have more insight
than even the wisest of sages
because I live by your precepts.
101 I’ve avoided getting onto a perilous path
by staying within the bounds set by 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 gain the wisdom to hate every false path.

This is the third 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 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, pray these words:

How I love your word, YHWH—
I think about it all day long!

 

* 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.