Psalms For Life
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Psalm 135

Worshipping the living God

Like the idols of the ancients, our modern idolatry reveals not our ability, but rather our impotence—impotence to solve the problems we’ve so ably created. Our only refuge is in worshipful service of God.

Hallelujah!
Praise YHWH’s good name!
Praise him, all you who serve YHWH
2 who stand in YHWH’s house
in his temple courts!
3 Praise YHWH
for YHWH is good.
Sing to his name
for he is gracious!
4 For YHWH chose Jacob for himself
Israel for his prized possession.

5 I acknowledge that YHWH is great—
our Lord is above all rival gods.
6 Whatever YHWH wants to do
he does both in the heavens and on the earth
on the high seas and in the ocean depths.
7 He makes clouds rise
from one end of the earth to the other.
He shoots lightning through the rain
and unleashes winds from his heavenly vault.

8 He struck down Egypt’s firstborn
of people and animals alike.
9 He performed miraculous signs in Egypt
against Pharaoh and all his subjects.
10 He struck down many nations
and killed powerful kings:
11 Sihon, king of the Amorites
Og, king of Bashan, and all the kings of Canaan.
12 He gave their land as an inheritance
an inheritance to his people Israel.
13 YHWH, your good name endures forever
YHWH, your renown through all generations
14 because YHWH defends his people
and has compassion on his servants.

15 The nations’ idols are silver and gold
made by human hands.
16 They’ve got mouths, but they don’t speak
and eyes, but they don’t see.
17 They’ve got ears, but they don’t hear—
they don’t even have breath in their mouths!
18 Their makers all end up just like them
as do all who put their trust in them.

19 House of Israel, bless YHWH!
House of Aaron, bless YHWH!
20 House of Levi, bless YHWH!
You who revere YHWH, bless YHWH!
21 Blessed be YHWH from Zion—
the God who makes his home in Jerusalem!
Hallelujah!

This chiastic psalm’s opening and closing sections give calls to worship YHWH. Its second and fourth sections assert God’s absolute power and the gods’ impotence. This puts the focus on YHWH’s redeeming and blessing Israel by exerting sovereignty over the nations.[1]

Seemingly post-exilic, this psalm implicitly asks: how will YHWH—being sovereign over both creation and human history—not vindicate his people, who have been so abused by pagans? Surrounded by stronger idolatrous nations, the Israelites were tempted to view the nations’ gods as outclassing YHWH. But the psalmist says that, unlike the nations’ impotent idols, YHWH has himself come down to rescue his people and live in Jerusalem, effectively binding his reputation to his people Israel and his care for them. He alone deserves their unqualified faith and praise.

We’re tempted by idolatry no less than the ancients. While our idols may be more subtle than theirs, they’re equally crass. Perhaps chief among our idols is our technological prowess, which we think makes us masters of the universe. But our power has put us at grave risk of nuclear, environmental, and social disasters. Ironically, the greater our power, the more insecure we become, as history has demonstrated time and again. In that sense, AI is no different from earlier technologies: it holds out greater promise than anything before it and poses greater risks too. But while history leaves no room for optimism, the psalmist gives us ample reason to hope in God.

Forgive me for thinking I know best, God, allowing myself to be drawn into idolatry. Not reserving my worship for you alone. Help me worship and trust you as the God who came down and freely poured out his love on Zion’s hill to redeem and restore lost souls like me. I bless your holy name! Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

YHWH defends his people
and has compassion on his servants.

[1] The chiasm is as follows: call to worship (vv. 1-4), God’s power over the gods (vv. 5-7), GOD’S REDEMPTION OF HIS PEOPLE (vv. 8-14), the gods’ impotence (vv. 15-18), call to worship (vv. 19-21).

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.