Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 19

Succeeding where Adam failed

Any path to success that doesn’t address temptation yields a very limited sort of success. David addresses sin’s pull through an openness to divine instruction in a “with-God” relationship.

 A David Psalm.

 1 The heavens declare God’s glory
the skies announce his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they repeat the message
night after night they make it known.
3 Though without a word, sound or syntax
4 it’s broadcast to earth’s farthest corners
beamed everywhere with perfect clarity.

Every evening the starry sky appears
like a vast tent God pitches for the sun to sleep in.
5 The sun appears each morning
glowing like a groom on his honeymoon
eager as an athlete at the starting line.
6 The sun then blazes around its course
from one end of the sky to the other
with such intensity
that nothing escapes its heat.

7 YHWH’s Torah is so flawless
it refreshes the soul.
YHWH’s covenant is so trustworthy
it makes the naïve wise.
8 YHWH’s directions are so just
they make the heart soar
YHWH’s commands so luminous
they give sight to blind eyes.
9 YHWH’s reverence is so pure
it endures forever.
YHWH’s judgments are truthful
and altogether faithful.
10 More desirable than gold—
even mountains of pure gold.
Sweeter than a hatful
of strawberries picked in the wild.
11 They warn your servant of danger
and beckon to rich reward.

 12 How else can we detect our faults?
Cleanse me from hidden sins.
13 And rescue your servant
from presumptuous sins—
thinking I don’t need you
thinking I know better—
don’t ever let them master me.
Then I’ll be wholly yours
free from open rebellion.
14 May every word tmy mouth utters
and every thought my heart harbors
be pleasing to you, YHWH
my Rock and my Redeemer.

Written with Genesis 1-4 in mind, this psalm—which C. S. Lewis considered one of the world’s greatest lyrics—moves in sequence from God’s revelation in creation and scripture to David’s plea for deliverance from evil. Creation—represented by the night sky and the sun—clearly attests to God’s power and majesty, beaming the message everywhere 24/7. Ancient Middle Eastern myths made the sun the god of justice and pictured him as a glowing athlete and a beaming bridegroom. Subverting this imagery to portray the sun as God’s servant, David goes on to contrast the scorching sun with God’s life-giving word.

In both creation accounts in Genesis, creation is followed by divine instruction. David likewise pivots in verse seven from creation’s revelation of God to scripture’s revelation of Israel’s redeemer. As the sun gives physical light, scripture gives light and life to the soul. “Desirable” (nehemad) appears in Genesis 3 where Eve naïvely desires the forbidden fruit, believing it will open her eyes and make her wise. David instead says that God’s guidance in scripture makes the naïve wise, opens eyes, and is supremely desirable.

This prompts David to ask why we so easily go wrong. He prays to avoid both hidden sins and open rebellion. He clearly sees that sin starts in the heart. He seeks protection from the presumptuous sins that led Adam and Eve astray. Using the same word God used when warning Cain of the danger he was in, David prays evil won’t “master” him, as it did Cain. David knows well that if he loses this battle, evil will subvert his soul. He ends by asking God to make everything he thinks, desires, and says pleasing to God and by placing his trust in YHWH, his rock of refuge and his redeemer.

Lord, you speak to me through both creation and scripture. Help me listen and respond with humility and gratitude. Help me to succeed where Adam and Cain failed—to heed all your warnings, resist temptation, refuse blind guides, and desire you above all. You’re my only hope! Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

May every word my mouth utters
and every thought my heart harbors
be pleasing to you, YHWH
my Rock and my Redeemer.

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.