Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 136

God’s unrelenting love

Some today blame God for all the evils in the world. By contrast, the psalmist sees God’s gracious care for all of creation and celebrates his unyielding love, which welcomes his lost children back home.

Give thanks to YHWH for he is good—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever!
2 Give thanks to the God of gods—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever!
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
4 Who alone has performed great marvels—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
5 Who stretched out the heavens in wisdom—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
6 Who laid earth’s deep-sea foundations—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
7 Who made great lights—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
8 The sun to reign over the day—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
9 The moon and stars to reign over the night—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
10 Who struck down Egypt’s firstborn—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
11 And brought Israel out of that morass—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
12 With a strong hand and outstretched arm—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
13 Who split the Sea of Reeds in two—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
14 Taking Israel right through the middle of it—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
15 But leaving Pharaoh and his army in the sea—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
16 Who led his people through the desert—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
17 Who struck down great kings—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
18 Who killed mighty kings—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites—
      for his unrelenting love endures forever…
20 And Og, king of Bashan—
       for his unrelenting love endures forever…
21 And gave their lands as an inheritance—
       for his unrelenting love endures forever…
22 An inheritance to his servant Israel—
        for his unrelenting love endures forever…
23 Who stood by us when we were at our lowest—
        for his unrelenting love endures forever…
24 And rescued us from our foes—
        for his unrelenting love endures forever…
25 Who provides food for every creature alive—
       for his unrelenting love endures forever…
26 Give thanks to the God of heaven—
       for his unrelenting love endures forever!

This psalm focuses on God’s relentless love, as celebrated repeatedly in its refrain, likely sung antiphonally in communal worship. Framing the psalm with calls to thanksgiving, the psalmist says creation and redemption reveal God’s love in both the past and present. Not only did his love fire the sun and put the moon and stars in place. It gifts us with every meal we eat, sustaining all of life.

The psalm’s core tells how God’s gracious love rescued his people from Egypt, led them, and gave them their own land. Some find it scandalous that God decimated Egypt’s firstborn, Pharoah and his army, plus other kings and nations. But to the psalmist, everyone who opposes God and his good plan for his world is effectively choosing their own death.

Verse 23-24 speak of God’s love fighting for his people, no matter how far they’ve fallen. Post-exilic Jews doubtless saw Israel’s Babylonian captivity and return from exile in those verses. The psalm doesn’t celebrate religious imperialism. Rather, it opens our eyes to see in all creation the same unflinching love that welcomes abject prodigals home. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

Lord, open my eyes to your unflinching love in all the world around me. You could have written the whole of planet earth off—washed your hands of us. But day-by-day you still make the sun rise, the earth grow food. You still bind us to yourself in love. Thank you for such steadfast love. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

He stood by us when we were at our lowest—
for his unrelenting love endures forever.

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.