Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 26

The road to character

What believer hasn’t served God only to feel he’s seemingly lumped them in with unbelievers or those who only pretend to serve him? This is David’s prayer when he felt that way.

A David psalm.

1 Vindicate me, YHWH
for I’ve lived with integrity
and trusted YHWH without wavering.
2 Examine me, YHWH, try me—
test me, heart and mind.

3 I keep your steadfast love always in view
and walk in your truth.
4 I don’t run with those who lead empty lives
or hang around with spiritual pretenders.
5 I can’t stand the gang of thugs
and have nothing to do with
those who give themselves to evil.
6 I wash my hands in innocence
and circle your altar, YHWH
7 thanking you out loud
for all the wonderful things you’ve done.
8 I love the house you’ve made your home
the place where your glory shines.
9 Don’t drag me away
with those who ignore what you say
or take my life
when you call scoundrels to account—
10 men who brandish a blade in one hand
and a bribe in the other.
11 Unlike them, I live with integrity.
Redeem me, be merciful to me.

12 My feet are planted on level ground.
When all his people come together
I will worship YHWH.

This psalm’s first word (shaphat) can mean “vindicate,” “judge,” and “render a verdict.” Since David mentions no accusations against him, he seems to be asking God to examine his life and see not that he’s perfect, but rather that he genuinely seeks to please God and keep his covenant. Accordingly, he asks God to keep his part of the covenant by blessing him.

David double-frames his prayer with an emphasis on integrity and the security it brings. Like Psalm 1, this psalm speaks of life in relationship to God and contrasts the believer’s values, lifestyle, focus, and end with those of unbelievers who cheat, bribe, and bully their way through life. David asks God to notice that he’s walking a completely different path from those who just pretend to serve God—that his path is bounded by YHWH’s love and truth. On that basis, he asks God to redeem him, not curse him with evildoers. He doesn’t need to mention the covenant for his hearers to know he has its requirements and rewards in mind.

David loves God’s sanctuary, where he can glimpse God’s glory. On entering, he washes his hands in token of his having no part in the sins of evildoers, and he looks to YHWH for grace and redemption. Circling the altar, David overflows with praise in company with God’s people. Knowing that we’re created for relationship with God—to worship him—David puts this at the heart of his poem.[1] Since this is the path he’s chosen, he ends as he began, with a practical declaration of faith: living for God puts him on level ground, where he won’t slip, as those on life’s alternate pathway eventually will.

Jesus, you call me not to impress others with my seeming goodness, but to model your character from the inside out. Help me resist evil’s deadly pull, make you my focus, and join your people in worshipping you. Help me believe that this is where I truly stand secure. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Vindicate me, YHWH
for I’ve lived with integrity
and trusted YHWH without wavering.

 

[1] The psalm’s chiasm is as follows: A: I’ve chosen integrity’s path, leading to stability (1-3), B: I avoid evildoers (4-5), C: I cleanse myself before your altar (6), D: I GIVE YOU PRAISE AND THANKS (7), C: I love the house where God’s glory rests (8), B: Don’t treat me like an evildoer (9-10), A: I’ve chosen integrity’s path, leading to stability in community (11-12).

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.