Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 24

Serving the all-glorious king

We have a tendency to turn to God for help only when nothing else works. David says we need to start with God, who owns us and our world and who has taught us how to live.

A David psalm.

The earth and everything in it
belongs to YHWH
the world and all who live in it.
2 Because he was the one
who brought up dry land
out of the surging seas
laying its foundations in the ocean streams.

3 Who can ascend YHWH’s hill?
Who can stand in his holy place?
4 Those with clean hands and pure hearts
who don’t abuse God’s name
to their own advantage
or take oaths to deceive.
5 They’ll receive YHWH’s blessing
and be vindicated by the God who saves them.
6 That’s what the people who seek him are like
who seek the face of Jacob’s God.  Selah

7 Lift up your heads, gateway!
Stand tall and straight
you ancient doors
so the King of glory can come in!
8 Who is the King of glory?
YHWH, strong and mighty!
YHWH, unyielding in battle!
9 Lift up your heads, gateway!
Stand tall and straight
you ancient doors
so the King of glory can come in!
10 Who is the King of glory?
YHWH, Commander of Heaven’s Armies
he is the King of glory!

David gives us three distinct pictures here. Israel’s Canaanite neighbors claimed their god Baal brought order to creation by defeating the gods who held everything in chaos, Yamm (sea) and Nahar (river/stream). Countering that belief, David pictures YHWH as the one who gave creation its order and implicitly reigns over all—earth’s seas and streams, and all its inhabitants included. We all answer to him, creation’s owner.

David’s second picture relates to God’s sacred palace—his tabernacle—on Zion’s holy hill, where God lives among his people. The ancient world’s gods all demanded external purification for admission to their sanctuaries. David’s readers would have expected him to list such prerequisites. But instead, he calls them to be holy, loving, truthful people, speaking only of moral purity of hand and heart.

The next line relates to the prohibition against misusing God’s name (Ex. 20:7). The idea is of not hiding our moral bankruptcy behind conspicuous divine namedropping, only pretending to serve God.[1] Only those who sincerely walk the talk seek God’s face. Here David alludes to Jacob’s meeting with God when Esau was advancing to slaughter him. Jacob marvelled afterwards that he had survived seeing God’s face. (Even Moses couldn’t see God’s face and live.) God blesses all who seek him earnestly as Jacob did.

David’s last image has him calling to Jerusalem’s personified gates to open up to their divine king, returning triumphant from battle. The Israelites’ enemies aren’t just hellbent on increasing their share of the region’s pie. They’re also determined to thwart God’s purposes on earth by destroying his people. But YHWH is their invincible defender.

Having described those admitted into YHWH’s presence, David turns it around, showing God seeking entrance. As earth’s creator, Zion’s divine king is irresistible. But he’s gracious also. While we must admit him on his terms, not ours, still we must admit him: he awaits his people’s choice. He won’t force his way in.

Though we shut you out, Jesus, and nailed you to a cross, you ascended Zion’s holy hill with perfect passion, purity, and power. Thank you for loving your creation so much that you’d redeem it at such great cost. Lord, help me open my heart wide to your life-transforming glory today. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Who is the King of glory?
YHWH, Commander of Heaven’s Armies
he is the King of glory!

 

[1] This psalm’s chiasm highlights our urgent need to love our divine king truly and our neighbors as ourselves: A: All belong to earth’s creator-king (vv. 1-2), B: Who can stand in YHWH’s presence? (v. 3), C: Those with clean hands and pure hearts (v. 4a), D: THOSE WHO DON’T ABUSE GOD’S NAME OR SWEAR FALSELY (v. 4b), C: These receive God’s blessing and vindication (v. 5), B: These are the people who seek God’s face (v. 6), A: All must submit to earth’s glorious king (vv. 7-10).

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.