Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 119 – part 4

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.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
106 I’ve sworn an oath
and I’m going to keep it:
to obey all your 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 the reward they bring lasts forever.

113 Being fully 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
since 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 What 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 wrong me.
123 My eyes have given out on me
watching, longing for you to come through
and deliver me as you’ve promised to.
124 Show your servant your unfailing love
and teach me to please you.
125 I’m your servant:
help me understand your guide to life.
126 Now is the time for you to act, YHWH
for people have encroached on your law.
127 I love your truth more than gold
even the finest of gold.
128 So, I follow all your teachings
and hate every path leading away from you.

129 Your decrees are wonderful—
that’s why I obey them.
130 The elucidation of your words brings light:
it gives understanding to the open-minded.
131 My mouth open and panting
I long for your commandments.
132 Turn my way and be gracious to me
as you always are to those who love you.
133 Steady my steps in your word
and don’t let sin gain control over 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 from my eyes
when I see how people ignore your teachings.

137 You are righteous, YHWH
and your rulings reflect you perfectly.
138 All your commands are righteous
and totally trustworthy.
139 My passion to please you consumes me
because my enemies have forgotten your words.
140 Time and again
your promise has proven true
which is why your servant loves it.
141 Though I’m discounted and despised
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 What you’ve decreed is forever righteous.
Help me understand it so I can live.


This is the fourth 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, she 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 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 word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

 

* 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.