Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 15

Who is welcomed at God’s table?

Moses’ law calls us to be holy, but always in God’s strength, not our own. This psalm essentially asks what it means to be in union with our gracious Redeemer God.

 A David psalm.

1 What kind of person
do you welcome into your tabernacle, YHWH
to live on your holy hill?

People of integrity
who do what’s right
and speak truth from the heart.
Who don’t slander
harm their neighbor
or hurt their neighbor’s reputation.
Who loathe depraved people
and honor God-fearers.
Who keep their oaths, no matter what
and refuse to go back on their word.
Who lend to the poor
without charging them interest
and refuse to rob the innocent of justice
for a bribe.

The person who lives like this
will never be shaken.

In contrast to the preceding psalms, this one describes the person who pleases God. While the tabernacle was the tent devoted to God’s worship, it was also his earthly home or palace. Hence, David is asking what God looks for in the person he includes in his royal household, as Saul included David in his household and David included Mephibosheth in his. What kind of person does God welcome into the blessing and protection of his home? This question is vital because inclusion in a royal household always held the combined promise of royal favor for living in accord with the monarch’s values and threat of disfavor for rejecting them.

While God offers refuge, his holiness makes it demanding. However, we don’t live by the moral values listed here in our own strength. And David’s list doesn’t mean God only accepts perfection. After all, the sanctuary was the very place sinners were invited to seek forgiveness from the God who knew how prone they were to wander. But unlike the gods of Canaan, YHWH isn’t moody or capricious, and he doesn’t cut deals with evildoers to gain their adulation. Instead, he welcomes people of character, who want to live holy lives and who seek his forgiveness when they fall short.

Verse by verse, the body of the psalm alternates between the positive and negative, both being equally important. Positively, God welcomes those who have integrity, do what’s right, speak honestly, loathe the loathsome, honor the God-fearing, and keep their word. Negatively, they don’t slander, harm others, gossip, take advantage of the poor, or take bribes. The point is that YHWH is unchanging in his holiness and, hence, knowable. Through no fault of his own, David had to flee from Saul’s house because Saul was so messed up. By contrast, God never withdraws the welcome he extends to those who, by his grace, seek to live as the psalm describes. They thus live in confidence that they’ll never fall from his favor.

Though you are holy and I’m far from perfect, Lord, I would eat at your table and serve in your kingdom. Help me see as you see, love what you love, hate what you hate, please you in all I do, and model my character after yours. Make me holy as you are holy, I pray. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

The person who lives like this
will never be shaken.

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.