Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 32

Amazing Grace

Scorning “sin” and “guilt” as false concepts, our society tells us to make up our own moral code. David operated like that for a while till he came clean with the God who longs to forgive us and restore our joy.

A David psalm.

1 How blessed the person
whose rebellion is forgiven—
totally erased from God’s ledger!
2 How blessed the person
whose guilt YHWH doesn’t count against them!
With no reason to hide
their spirit is open and unafraid before him.

3 When I bottled up my sins inside me
they gnawed on my bones
through the endless groan of each long day.
4 Your hand lay heavy on me day and night
sapping my strength like summer’s searing heat.
5 Then I admitted my sin to you
and stopped hiding my guilt, saying to myself
“It’s time to confess my rebellion to YHWH.”
So I blurted everything out
and you instantly removed my guilt
and forgave my sin.

6 That’s why everyone committed to you
should pray to you while they can.
Then when the storm breaks
the floodwaters won’t reach them.
7 You’re my shelter
protecting me till all danger is past
and filling my ears with joyful cries of rescue.

 8 “I’ll teach you and show you the way to take.
I’ll lovingly guide you
with my eye on you.”

9 So don’t be a senseless horse or mule
that won’t come near and submit
without bit and bridle.”
10 What troubles await
those who rebel against God!
But unrelenting love
surrounds all who trust in YHWH.
11 So rejoice in YHWH
you who trust and obey him!
Shout for joy
all you who seek to live right!

God created us as not automatons to obey him perfectly, but rather individuals to know the freedom essential to loving him. He never forces himself—or the freedom he brings—on anyone. God’s people, his prophets and teachers included, often fail him. This psalm, St. Augustine’s favorite, presents the right way and the wrong way to manage guilt.

Sin’s false freedom brings guilt, which we instinctively repress, only then for it to eat away at us. David doesn’t tell us which sins he’s talking about here, but the way he describes his hiding and then confessing them fits his Bathsheba-Uriah episode well. He finally abandoned the false freedom his sins brought him by acknowledging them freely to God and casting himself on God’s mercy. And when he does, God instantly restores him to true freedom by removing his guilt and covering his sins.

True freedom comes with a readiness to listen, trust, and obey that complements God’s promise to guide and protect us in the path of submission. David urges us not to be asinine, obeying only when we’re forced to. Such rebellion leads to endless trouble, while freely embracing God and his way leads to his unfailing love. In other psalms, David celebrates God’s having rescued him from external enemies. The forgiveness and freedom of obedience that love brings are cause for no less joyful celebration.

More than correct behavior, Lord, you want my heart. How amazing that you’d risk losing me to false freedom to make love possible for me, and then so freely forgive when I repent of my sin. How can I withhold my love from a God who so graciously died to cover my sin? Amen.

During your free moments today, pray these words:

You’re my shelter
protecting me till all danger is past
and filling my ears with joyful cries of rescue.

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.