Psalms For Life
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Psalm 128

How a man lives well

Many believe it’s entirely within their power to create the life they want: to work gainfully, marry, have kids who grow up to lead happy lives, etc. This psalm tells us all these things are gifts from God.

A song of ascents.

Blessed is the man who reveres YHWH
who walks in his ways.
2 You’ll enjoy all the benefits
of what you work for.
You’ll be content
and all will go well for you.
3 Your wife will be
like a beautiful vine in your home
richly laden with grapes.
And your children will thrive around your table
like young olive shoots.
4 This is how the man who reveres YHWH
will be blessed.

5 May YHWH grant you
this blessed life from Zion!
May you see Jerusalem prosper
your whole life long!
6 And may you live to see your children’s children!
May Israel flourish
under God’s gracious rule!

This psalm presents the good life and how to men can attain it. Such male-oriented guidance may seem out of place in the modern West, where we may deem models of women’s achievement more needful. But men need God’s guidance no less than women, especially men in male-dominant societies like the psalmist’s.

While the psalm presents the life male believers may seek from God, that life isn’t necessarily guaranteed to every godly man. As many other psalms show, serving God often involves self-denial, hardship, and suffering. Akin to Proverbs 31 for women, the psalm presents the norm for men when picturing them providing for their families through their own labor, leading to their contentment and prosperity. The psalm’s agricultural images convey the idea of a home bursting with life and blessing. The previous psalm pictured a man with many supportive sons. This one pictures his wife as a vine bearing the children they long for, children thriving around their dinner table.

The psalmist prays for blessings cascading from God in Zion down through the generations. Clearly, the blessings she describes are for men who partner with God. Together, the God-blessed lives of such men produce their society’s wholeness. Thus, the psalmist concludes with a prayer for Israel’s well-being and peace.

Jesus, I would aspire to whatever success you have in mind for me—whatever it looks like. Help me to fulfill your will in every way, benefit from my work, and know the fullness of joy. Make me gratefully dependent on you till the day you fill the whole earth with blessing. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Blessed is the man who reveres YHWH
who walks in his ways.

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.