Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 34

God of the helpless and hopeless

Our society praises supposedly “self-made” men and women. David here tells us we’re far wiser to rely ultimately on the God of all grace than on our own limited abilities.

A David psalm. About the time he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, causing the king to send him away.

I will praise YHWH at all times—
his praise will continually be on my lips!
2 I’ll boast about what YHWH has done.
Let the downcast hear me and take heart.
3 Proclaim YHWH’s greatness with me
giving his good name all the airplay we can.
4 I asked YHWH for help and he answered me
and saved me from all I feared.
5 Look to him and you will beam with joy
not hang your head in shame.
6 This wretched soul cried out
and YHWH heard him
and rescued him from innumerable troubles.
7 The angel of YHWH stands on guard
for those who fear him and saves them.
8 Taste and see how good YHWH is.
How happy are those who take refuge in him!
9 Revere YHWH, all you who belong to him
because those who revere him lack nothing.
10 Even strong lions fail in the hunt
and are racked by hunger
but those who seek YHWH lack nothing good.

11 Come, my friends, listen to me
and I’ll teach you what it means to revere YHWH.
12 Which of you wants to live life to the full
day after day, year after year?
13 Then don’t let an evil word escape your lips
and keep your tongue from twisting the truth.
14 Shun evil and do good
strive for peace—pursue it resolutely.
15 YHWH keeps his eye on all who seek him
his ear tuned to their every cry.
16 But YHWH is dead set against evildoers
to erase all trace of them from the earth.
17 Any God-seeker who cries out to YHWH
he hears, saving them from all their troubles.
18 YHWH is close to the broken-hearted
and delivers those crushed in spirit.
19 Countless troubles beset the God-seeker
but YHWH rescues them from them all.
20 He protects all their bones—
not a single one gets broken.
21 Evil deals the wicked a deathblow
as those who hate God-seekers
incur his judgment.
22 But YHWH redeems his servants’ lives.
No one who takes refuge in him
ends up condemned.


The psalm’s acrostic form points to the breadth of its teaching on revering God. Israel’s neighbors saw their gods as arrogant, haughty, contemptuous of underdogs. This rendered religion an fear-based effort to impress the gods with one’s worth. By contrast, David insists that YHWH is more than ready to rescue us when we reach the end of our self-sufficiency.

Achieving fame at such an early age, David had become overly confident. His sudden fall from King Saul’s favor badly shook, but didn’t demolish, his self-reliance. Then came the laugh-out-loud episode that ended his stay in Gath when David’s best efforts at “looking good” reduced him to a slobbering lunatic. Like Abraham and Isaac before him, he deceived a Philistine king to save his skin. From an honor-shame perspective, David’s deranged performance before an enemy king was the nadir of his life until then. Like the patriarchs, though, he learned that we’re best to rely not on our self-sufficiency, but rather on the God who loves to help the helpless. David boasts about God alone because it wasn’t David’s theatrics, but God’s goodness that saved him that day.

As faith-building as his psalm is, David doesn’t glibly promise us a trouble-free life if we only trust God. Rather, he says pleasing God invariably brings lots of trouble, though we can be assured that God redeems his servants’ lives. Revering God also demands kindness, truth-telling, doing good, seeking peace—all hard work. But it’s ultimately far more rewarding than it costs since it leads to the truly good life (Dt. 28:1-14). It’s a far better deal than self-sufficient evildoing, which is its own undoing. That’s why David urges his hearers to do two things: taste and see for themselves that trusting in God’s all-sufficiency is the way to freedom and joy and celebrate God with him.

Lord, you call me to a life of doing good, speaking truth, seeking peace. And you promise to stay close, redeem me, and protect me from danger. Deliver me from all my vain efforts to impress anybody. Help me to trust you wholly and discover how truly good you are. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

YHWH redeems his servants’ lives.
No one who takes refuge in him
ends up condemned.

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.