Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 126

Sowing with tears

Sometimes our grief or pain can make us so desperate to find a way out that we resort to self-centered “positive thinking” or name-it-and-claim-it techniques. This psalm models a far different approach.

A song of ascents.

When YHWH restored Zion’s fortunes
we felt sure we were dreaming.
2 Our lives became
wild torrents of laughter and song.
Our pagan neighbors saw it and said:
“YHWH’s done great things for them!”
3 YHWH’s done such amazing things for us
our joy overflows.

4 Restore our fortunes again, YHWH
like the wadis of the Negev—
bone dry to brimming with life.

5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with joyful songs.
6 Those who carry their seeds out weeping
will dance the harvest home to songs of joy!

The psalmist begins with a backward glance, either at the Jews’ astonishing escape from Egypt or their equally astonishimg return from Babylon. The idea that an ancient empire would free its slaves and send them back home was the sort of crazy we meet in only dreams. When the Israelites did meet it in reality, it brought them such joy no outsiders looking on could help but see it.

But no sooner has the psalmist* celebrated God’s past redemption of Israel than she begs him to do it again. Memories of such miracles can mock us later when we’re left in pain and hope seems out of the question. The Jews who returned from Babylon felt overwhelmed when they saw the colossal challenges facing them in their homeland.

Situations like this can leave us struggling desperately to find a solution. We may even try to strong-arm God through some name-it-and-claim-it scheme, as today’s “prosperity gospel” does, redefining faith, holiness, and more. Such distortions are easily mistaken for truth when mashed together with historic creeds. But however urgent our need, biblical faith is radically God-centered and allows that some of God’s best gifts look like anything but gifts.

What we need most is a heart yielded to the God of all truth and all hope—which is itself a miracle and a foretaste of heaven, however daunting our present circumstances. The psalmist ends with a promise or, perhaps, a declaration about how heaven’s economy works: while God may let us weep as we sow our seeds, he will assuredly make the day come when we bring the harvest home to joyous song.

Lord, I need only the abundance you bring me, the kind that keeps you front and center. Deliver me from all my attempts to turn you into a glorified vending machine. Help me know you’re with me and will yet fill me with joy, even if my tears are all that water the seeds I now sow. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Restore our fortunes again, YHWH
like the wadis of the Negev—
bone dry to brimming with life.


* 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?).


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.