Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 119 – part 5

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.

145 I cry to you with all my heart, YHWH.
Answer me and I’ll do all you ask of me.
146 I call on you to save me
so I can live as you’ve commanded me to.
147 I’m up before the dawn
crying for help, hoping in your word.
148 I lie awake through the night watches
pondering your promise.
149 Listen to me
because your love never fails, YHWH.
Give me life in keeping with your covenant.
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 deliver 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
since they totally ignore 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 heed a word you say.
159 See how I love your instruction, YHWH
and lovingly keep me alive.
160 Every word you utter is rock-solid—
all your just judgments stand 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 utterly detest falsehood
but I love your word.
164 I praise you seven times a day
because your judgments are just.
165 Those who love your law
have great peace
and nothing makes them stumble.
166 I wait expectantly for your deliverance
obeying your commands as I do, YHWH.
167 My soul hangs on your every word
which I love with all my heart.
168 I follow your guidance
and abide by your counsel
because you know me inside out.

169 Let my cry reach you, YHWH
give me understanding as you said you would.
170 Listen to my prayer
and deliver me as you promised.
171 My lips overflow with praise
because you teach me your statutes.
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
because I haven’t forgotten your commands.

This is the last 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 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:

I’ve gone astray like a lost sheep.
Come and search for your servant
for I haven’t forgotten your commands.

 

* 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.