Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 123

On tenacious prayer

Some people arrogantly scorn and abuse those who have struggles they know nothing about. Here the psalmist models the godly response to such abuse.

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to you—
to you enthroned in the heavens.
2 As the eyes of servants
are fixed on their masters’ hand—
the eyes of a slave-girl on her mistress’s hand—
so our eyes are fixed on YHWH our God
until he has mercy on us.

3 Have mercy on us, YHWH
have mercy!
For we’ve had more than our fill of contempt.
4 More than our fill of scorn
of scorn from those who have it easy
and contempt from the arrogant.

The psalmist looks upward to God, enthroned amidst all the splendor of the light-filled heavens, its sun and moon moving at his command, its nighttime glories dazzling before the advent of artificial light. Puny commoners could approach a great king only by invitation, humbly acknowledging their place on the bottom rung in relation to him. So the psalmist acknowledges his place as God’s servant—even putting himself on the level of his scullery maid.

Since eye contact indicates equality, the slave doesn’t presume to make eye contact. But that doesn’t keep the psalmist from being keen-eyed, watching his master’s hand, waiting for YHWH to beckon, waiting on him for mercy, utterly dependent on his undeserved love.

Yet despite his humility, the psalmist won’t be denied. He refuses to take his eyes off his master’s hand till he extends it to him in mercy because he knows he and his people have no other hope. They’re drenched in the scorn and abuse of those who—smug in their relative power and ease—hold them in contempt.

Having revealed himself at Sinai as “gracious and merciful… overflowing in love that never fails,” YHWH welcomes such humble audacity in prayer (Ex. 34:6). Ironically, downtrodden though they may be, his people can look to the creator of the universe for the mercy the tin-pot bullies immediately above them withhold. Their hope lies in the God who will one day end all oppression and rid the earth of all contempt.

Jesus, you called us to this very sort of humbly tenacious prayer. So help me keep my eyes on you, intent on your mercy, refusing to take your delay as denial. As someone who can’t possibly live without your mercy, help me to extend it to others as freely as you give it to me. Amen.

Pray this prayer during your free moments today:

As the eyes of servants are fixed on their masters’ hand—
the eyes of a slave-girl on her mistress’s hand—
so our eyes are fixed on YHWH our God
until he has mercy on us.

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.