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 somehow treating them like they aren’t really serving him at all? David prayed this 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 unrelenting 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—
I have nothing to do with
those who give themselves to evil.

6 I wash my hands in innocence
and circle your altar, YHWH
7 in order to thank you out loud
and recount all the wonderful things you’ve done.
8 I love the house you’ve made your home
the place where your glory shines, YHWH.

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 hold out 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” and “judge,” but it can also mean “render a verdict.” Since David mentions no accusations against him, he’s not asking God to defend him against evildoers’ accusations. Rather, he’s asking God to examine him and see that he genuinely seeks to serve God and keep his covenant. He’s not claiming to be perfect. But since he’s resolutely held to God’s path, he’s asking God to keep his part of the covenant by blessing him, not punishing him with unbelievers.

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 values, lifestyle, focus, and end of believers with those who cheat, bribe, and bully their way through life. David tells God he’s walking the path bounded by YHWH’s grace and truth, not that of those who merely pretend to serve God. 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 blessings and curses in mind.

Since we’re created for relationship with God—to worship him—David puts this at the heart of his poem.[1] David loves God’s sanctuary, where he glimpses God’s glory. On entering, he washes his hands to show that he wants 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. This being the path David has 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 everyone 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 worship with your people. Bless me in this place, where I truly stand secure. Amen.

In 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: Call for God to recognize I’m on integrity’s path (vv. 1-3), B: I avoid evildoers (vv. 4-5), C: I worship in purity before your altar (v. 6), D: I PUBLICLY PRAISE AND THANK YOU (v. 7), C: I love the house where your glory shines (v. 8), B: Don’t treat me like an evildoer (vv. 9-10), A: Call for redemption and declaration that I’ll yet worship on integrity’s path (vv. 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.