Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 27

In the eye of the storm

We live in a world bent on our destruction. Fear lurks around every corner—fear that, left unchecked, can utterly cripple us. We find relief from all our fears only in God’s presence.

A David psalm.

YHWH is my light and my salvation.
Who should I fear?
YHWH is my rock-solid fortress.
Who should I dread?

2 When vicious thugs close in on me
teeth bared for the kill
it’s my enemies, my foes
who trip and fall flat.
3 Even if a whole army deploys against me
my heart won’t give way to fear.
Though war breaks out against me
my course remains steady.

4 One thing I’ve asked of YHWH—
I seek it above all else.
To live in YHWH’s house
every day of my life
to gaze on his matchless beauty
and hear of his gracious intentions toward me.
5 For when I’m in trouble
he shelters me under his roof
hides me inside his tent
lifts me to the safety of a crag.
6 Now with my head held high
above my enemies surrounding me
I offer sacrifices to YHWH
and fill his tent with joyful shouts
music and songs of praise.

7 So, hear my voice, YHWH
as I cry out to you.
Be gracious and answer me.
8 My heart says of you
“Come, seek my face.”
I do seek your face, YHWH.
9 Don’t hide your face from me
or angrily push your servant aside
you who have been my help.
Don’t leave me or forsake me
my God who rescues me!
10 Even if my mom and dad abandon me
YHWH will take me in his arms.
11 Teach me how to live life to the full, YHWH
and lead me on a level path
for many wait for me to slip and fall.
12 Don’t turn me over to my enemies
for them to do whatever they want with me—
those who witness falsely against me
maliciously seeking my blood.

13 I firmly believe I will yet see
YHWH’s goodness poured out on me
here in this life.
14 Wait, wait for YHWH to come through!
Be strong and take heart!
Wait for YHWH to come through!

David’s radiant confidence in verses 1-6 makes it hard to imagine he’s in trouble now. But his urgent pleas in verses 7-11 tell us the dangers he previously mentioned—e.g., an army on his doorstep—weren’t just hyperbole, but rather suggested his vulnerability in the moment. David doesn’t just have a huge capacity to laugh danger off. Instead, he’s made an existential choice to trust YHWH, who has always proven faithful. That choice is what maintains the tension between the two halves of the psalm, holding them together.That and the fact that trust is always close to fear in the midst of the storm.

Which of David’s images should we take literally? Perhaps the line between literal and figurative doesn’t matter so much here. David faced literal armies bearing down on him (e.g., 1 Sam. 24) and, as we’ve seen, he longed to be a member of God’s household (e.g., Psa. 15). It’s immaterial whether he was literally lifted out of danger, onto a crag. Like Van Gogh’s swirling brush strokes in “The Starry Night,” his descriptions go beyond the purely literal to make what he depicts live and pulse for us. In any case, the concreteness of his images makes them applicable to life’s many diverse situations.

At the psalm’s core is David’s deep longing to know God and engage with him daily, a longing intensified by David’s desperation. He seeks this relationship because God alone is absolutely reliable. Everyone else fails us at some point, even our parents, who brought us into the world. This makes David confident God will come through for him. So, using the words of Moses and Joshua, he charges himself to be strong and courageous in obeying God and waiting for him to do what he alone can do.

Lord, you’re my shelter in the storm, the true center of all that is. Help me to seek you with all my heart, to prize you above all else and cherish your every word to me. Light my way and empower me with your strength. Make me bold always to trust, obey, and wait for you. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray these words:

One thing I’ve asked of YHWH—
I seek it above all else.
To live in YHWH’s house
every day of my life
to gaze on his matchless beauty
and hear of his gracious intentions toward me.

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.