Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 22

For the abandoned of the earth 

While the homeless poor are among earth’s abandoned, others know abandonment without physical poverty. Regardless, this psalm points to the God who cares for the abandoned and restores them to joy.

A David psalm. 

1 My God, my God
why have you abandoned me?
Why are you always out of earshot
however loud I roar?
2 All day long I call, God
but you don’t answer me.
Nor do I let up at night
but you grant me no relief. 

3 Yet you’re enthroned as the Holy One
the object of Israel’s praises.
4 Our ancestors put their trust in you—
they trusted and you saved them.
5 They cried to you and were rescued—
they trusted and you never shamed them.

6 But I’m a worm, subhuman
a blot on the earth
despised by everyone!
7 All who see me shake their heads
gape and sneer:
8 “He trusts in YHWH!
Why doesn’t YHWH come and save him?
If he’s so keen on him
let him deliver him!”

 9 You were the midwife
who eased me out of my mother’s womb
and made me feel safe at her breasts.
10 You gave me my very first breath
so there was never a time
when you weren’t my God.
11 Don’t stand aloof from me
now that trouble has found me here
helpless and alone! 

12 Many bulls surround me
monstrous bulls from Bashan
their nostrils flared.
13 Ravenous lions rage and roar at me
their powerful jaws gaping.
14 I’m spilt like water on the ground
my bones unhinged
my heart melted like wax inside me
15 my strength shrivelled to nothing
my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth
here where you’ve laid me out
in the dust of death.

 16 A pack of wild dogs has surrounded me
a gang of thugs has closed in
piercing my hands and feet.
17 I count all my bones
while people gawk and stare.
18 They divide my garments among them
and roll the dice for my clothes. 

19 But you, YHWH
don’t distance yourself from me!
Hurry and help me, my strength!
20 Save my life from the sword
from these snarling dogs!
21 Save me from the lions’ jaws
from the bulls’ horns!

22 I’ll tell all my family
what you’ve done
praise you before everyone worshipping.
23 Praise YHWH, all you who fear him!
Honor him, Jacob’s descendants!
Revere him, Israel’s posterity!
24 Because he didn’t despise or detest
the destitute with all his troubles.
He didn’t turn away aloof.
Instead, when he cried out to him for help
he heard him.

25 So my praise will overflow
when the whole congregation comes together.
I’ll keep my vows for all who worship to see.
26 The poor will feast to their heart’s content
and all who seek YHWH will praise him.
“May your hearts revel in life always!” 

27 From one end of the earth to the other
people will acknowledge YHWH and turn to him.
Every people from every race on earth
will bow low before him.
28 Because all power and authority
belong to YHWH:
he reigns supreme over the nations!
29 All of earth’s powerbrokers will feast and worship.
Every mortal will reverently bow before him—
including those helpless to save their lives.
30 On hearing what YHWH has done
our children will give their allegiance too.
31 They in turn will announce to those yet unborn
what he’s done to put his world to rights—
the good news of his deliverance.

Despite its anguished opening, this psalm expresses David’s faith powerfully. David takes us all the way from dark despair to radiant joy, simply by faith in his faithful God. The psalm’s opening lines—made famous by Jesus’s utterance on the cross—voice David’s lived reality. His anger gives some of his words a raw, rude edge. Here we should recall God’s candid admission in Isaiah 54:7: “I abandoned you for a short time, but with great compassion I will bring you back.” David prays for God’s post-abandonment compassion here.

Far more than railing, David desperately begs the God who repeatedly rescued Israel—the only God he’s ever known—to come and help him. He describes his own helplessness and humiliation and his enemies’ inhumanity and indifference. Not only are they near and God far away. God has left him in the dust to die.

Then suddenly in verse 22, David pivots from despair to hope. Nothing in his situation has changed. Just his focus, remembering what God is like. Unlike the gods, who shun the destitute, YHWH hears, and his amazing compassion is fully equalled by his authority and power. He’s in complete command of the planet. So, David imagines his deliverance and him praising God and fulfilling his vows before everyone, with feasting and joy. He sees it leading ultimately to the universal acknowledgment of God’s greatness and a faith that cascades down through future generations.

Most Christians assume David wrote this psalm specifically about Jesus. He actually wrote it about his own plight. But whether or not he knew it, he was also speaking of Jesus, the supreme example of God-forsakenness. Inspired poetry always speaks to far more than it knows.

Jesus, thank you that, as with David, you help me make sense of my story. Help me to believe that, even when I feel abandoned, your compassion and authority are more real than anything else in my situation. Help me to call out to you till the day my joy overflows in praise. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

He didn’t despise or detest
the destitute with all his troubles.
He didn’t turn away aloof.
Instead, when he cried out to him for help
he heard him.

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.