Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 129

Facing relentless opposition

God’s enemies bitterly oppose his people for submitting to his sovereignty. The psalmist responds by celebrating God’s protection and asking him to totally nullify his foes’ opposition.

A song of ascents.

1 Though they’ve brutally attacked me
ever since I was young—
let Israel say it.
2 Though they’ve brutally attacked me
ever since I was young
they’ve never managed to destroy me.
3 Plowers drove their plow
right down my back
cutting long furrows in it.
4 But YHWH the Just
cut away the fetters
the wicked had bound me with!

5 May all who hate Zion
be driven back in disgrace.
6 Make them like grass on a rooftop
that’s scorched by a desert wind
before it can even grow
7 big enough to fill a reaper’s hand
or be put into a farmer’s sheave.
8 And let no passersby say to them:
“YHWH’s blessings be on you!
We bless you in YHWH’s name!”


With Pharoah determined to hold onto his slaves, YHWH divided the sea before the Israelites. Thus, Israel was a people born under attack. Ripping the Israelites’ backs open with inhuman floggings, the Egyptians had tamed them like a plow tames a stubborn field. Then, bursting their bonds, YHWH set his people free. As surrounding nations viciously attacked them in the centuries following, God similarly defended them. From the first, Israel’s patriarchs, as well as David and his royal line, all faced hostility too. Because God’s enemies invariably oppose those representing his claim over the earth.

Facing similar opposition, the psalmist asks God to defeat his enemies again, making them like grass so stunted and scorched the reaper doesn’t give it a second glance. She ends praying that no one will wish God’s blessing on his enemies during harvest-time.

While the New Testament calls us to bless our enemies, Jesus also taught us to pray for God’s reign to come. This involves his ending all his enemies’ efforts to oppress and dehumanize others and block his gracious rule. Thus, prayers for the forgiveness of God’s enemies—as Jesus prayed on the cross—are compatible with prayers for their resounding defeat. We must hold these two prayers in tension.

Submitting to your rule, Jesus, means facing the world’s opposition, taking up my cross and following you. Grant me grace to await your judgment of evildoers and to lavish your love on them even while praying against their evil attempts to block your just rule over the earth. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Plowers drove their plow
right down my back
cutting long furrows in it.
But YHWH the Just cut away the fetters
the wicked had bound me with.

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.