Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 140

The God who rescues the afflicted

How can God care about justice in a world rife with domestic abuse, religious violence, war crimes? Though unjustly attacked, David is sure the God of covenant faithfulness cares deeply about injustice.

To the music director. A David psalm.

Deliver me, YHWH, from malicious men.
Save me from violent men
2 who plot evil in their hearts
and are always bent on war.
3 Their sharp tongues
are just like serpents’ tongues
while viper venom stains their lips. Selah
4 Keep me, YHWH
from the grasp of the wicked
from violent men intent on my downfall.
5 The arrogant have set a trap for me
spreading their nets out to catch me
laying snares beside my path. Selah. 

6 I pledge my allegiance, YHWH:
“You alone are my God.”
Listen, YHWH—
to you I cry for mercy.
7 YHWH my Lord
my saving strength
you covered my head on the day of battle.

8 Do not, YHWH
grant the desires of the wicked—
don’t let their evil scheme succeed
lest they be exalted. Selah
9 May the mischief their own lips produced
cover the heads of those who surround me.
10 Rain down burning coals on them
and send them sprawling into gaping pits
never to rise again.
11 Let no slanderer make headway in the land.
Let evil hunt violent men down relentlessly.

12 I know YHWH will advocate for the afflicted
and execute justice for the downtrodden.
13 Then God-seekers will praise your name
and God-pleasers will live in your presence.

David writes in crisis, with Saul’s elite or some other powerful gang surrounding him. Intent on killing him, they’re ready to start a fight over the least little offence. Though doubtless frank- and friendly-sounding, their words are vicious and violent underneath, like those of the serpent of old.

The psalm’s focal point is David’s urgent plea for covenant protection, sandwiched between his pledge of allegiance and his grateful testimony to God’s faithfulness.[1] Refusing to turn to other gods in desperation, David puts all his hope in YHWH, the one who faithfully shielded him from violence before.

Urging God to judge the scoundrels bent on killing him, David asks only that they fall prey to their own evil plots, reap what they’ve sown, and be put out of business once and for all. While we don’t know his precise situation, he’s effectively pledging to leave vengeance to God.

David ends with hope: he’s convinced YHWH will come through for him, vindicate him, fill him with praise, and restore him to God’s temple. Later Jews who returned from exile only to endure slanderous attacks by vicious enemies would have found this prayer very encouraging. With David, we can be confident that God will vindicate his people, renew us, and fill us with joy.

Enduring slander and vicious plots, Jesus, you fought for evil’s victims and yet pleaded for mercy for your attackers, seeing me in both. Since you’re fully committed to me, help me trust you, no matter what. Grant me grace to believe you’ll come through for me and I’ll yet praise you. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

I know YHWH will advocate for the afflicted
and execute justice for the downtrodden.

[1] This psalm’s first eleven verses are structured chiastically, covering the following topics: violent men (1-2), lips (3), scoundrels’ plots (4-5), CONFESSIONS OF MUTUAL COVENANTAL LOYALTY (6-7), scoundrels’ plots (8), lips (9-10), violent men (11). The last two verses serve like a coda, wrapping things up.

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.