Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 12

When truth is gone

We often don’t know how vital truth is till we find ourselves wading through a slough of lies and the oppressed pay the price for its loss. Thankfully, God not only cares, but will act to defend the defenceless.

A David psalm.

Help, YHWH!
There’s no one faithful left!
People of integrity
have vanished from the human race!
Everyone lies to each other.
They flatter and fawn
—say one thing, think another.
May YHWH cut off their sweet-talking lips
and cut out their big-talking tongues.
They boast, “We say whatever we like
and get whatever we want.
We answer to no one!”

But YHWH says, “I’m going to take action now.
Because the poor are being plundered
the needy groaning
I will grant them the protection they long for.”
YHWH’s words are unalloyed
like silver refined in a furnace seven times over.
You, YHWH, will protect us.
You’ll guard us forever from this lying lot
even though the wicked strut about
and everyone everywhere honors moral rot.

Lamenting that nobody tells the truth or keeps their word, David cries for help. People boast and brag as if objective reality were totally irrelevant. All that matters is how they call things. They blame others for their wrongs. They praise those they detest to get what they want from them. Playing loose, they view their words as instruments of will and themselves as able to write their own rules. Their goals throughout are to plunder the poor, maintain their power and have everything for themselves. They assure themselves they’ll never have to answer to anyone for their words or actions. This explains David’s urgency.

Mercifully, God commits to acting on behalf of the poor. He knows the powerful have taken what little the poor had from them. He’s heard the earth’s wretched groaning and cares enough to defend them.

In sharp contrast to the empty talk of earth’s powerbrokers, God’s words are utterly reliable, purified to the nth degree. So David expresses his confidence in God. On the surface, nothing has changed. Yet in charge, the wicked still swagger and crow. And everybody still honors moral filth. But David knows everything has fundamentally changed because God has spoken.

On the surface nothing’s changed since David wrote this, God. The power-hungry still abuse their words and the poor alike. People still celebrate immorality. Yet you’ve spoken definitively in Christ and your word is truth. So I now simply ask you to do what you’ve pledged to do. Amen.

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.