Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 35

Against oppression

Serpentine forces drive evildoers to oppress the vulnerable. Against such oppressors, David cries to the God who has promised he will one day destroy all evil.

A David psalm.

Do battle with those who attack me, YHWH
fight against those who fight against me.
2 Take up shield and armor and defend me.
3 Wield spear and battleaxe against my stalkers
and tell me, “I am your victory!”
4 Bewilder and mortify those out to kill me.
Turn back in confusion those plotting my downfall.
5 Blow them away like chaff in the wind
with the angel of YHWH driving them back!
6 Make their path dark and slippery
with the angel of YHWH hot on their heels!
7 Because, unprovoked, they dug a pit for me
and for no reason, spread a net for me.
8 So now let havoc strike them without warning
and the trap they set catch them instead
throwing them headlong into their own pit.
9 Then I’ll rejoice in YHWH
and celebrate his deliverance.
10 Every bone in my body will cry out
“Who is like you, YHWH
who rescues the helpless
from those who overpower them
the poor and needy
from those who ravage them?”

11 Vicious witnesses stand up
bringing charges against me
and grilling me over crimes I know nothing of.
12 They repay me evil for good
leaving me devastated.
13 But when they were sick
I wore sackcloth and humbled myself by fasting.
I prayed and bowed my head low.
14 I grieved as if for a dear friend or brother
doubled over as if my own mother was dying.
15 But the moment I stumbled
they gathered in glee
gathered against me.
Riffraff I didn’t even know appeared
and savaged me nonstop.
16 They shower me with profanities
and gnash their teeth at me.
17 How long, YHWH
will you stand by and watch?
Rescue me from their attacks
save my one-and-only life from these lions!
18 I will thank you in the great congregation
praising you before the vast assembly.

19 Don’t let my treacherous enemies
celebrate my destruction
or those who hate me for no reason
wink at each other behind my back.
20 Never talking peace
they invent all sorts of lies
about the land’s peace-loving people.
21 Mouths gaping, they accuse me:
“Aha! We saw it with our own eyes!”
22 But you saw what happened too, YHWH
so now is not the time to keep quiet.
Don’t disappear when I need you, YHWH.
23 Wake up and come defend me!
Take up my cause, my Lord YHWH.
24 Vindicate me, YHWH my God
in keeping with your justice
and don’t let them revel in my ruin.
25 Don’t let them say to themselves
“Yes! Just what we wanted!”
Don’t let them exclaim
“We ate him alive!”
26 Humiliate and confound
those who celebrate my misfortune.
Cover with shame and disgrace
all who promote themselves at my expense.
27 Then all who long to see me vindicated
will shout and cheer.
Give them constant cause to say
“Praise YHWH
who loves to see his servant flourish!”
28 Then I will talk about your justice
and sing your praises all day long.

David is clearly dealing with treacherous enemies here, presumably Saul and his supporters. Even the worst tyrants feel the need to justify their elimination of perceived threats to their power. Sometimes they find a legal pretext for liquidating them and try them in absentia. Saul doubtless did this to David, whether formally or not.

And the entire nation heard whatever imaginary crimes Saul’s false witnesses charged David with. But running for his life, David had no chance to defend himself publicly. Saul’s injustice here was more egregious since David wasn’t just Saul’s son-in-law, but also his most loyal subject. David could easily have led a palace coup when Saul was ill, but instead David demonstrated his deep concern and prayed for Saul’s recovery. Now Saul hunts him down like an animal, repaying evil for good.

David urges God to drive away those bent on killing him, to actively vindicate him. Anyone shocked by David’s calls for divine judgment should recall that, for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, he must set things right in the world, which means battling evildoers determined to fight to the death. Whenever we pray the Lord’s prayer, we implicitly ask God to do that.

False witnesses claim they saw David commit crimes he’s astonished to hear of. So he calls God to attest to what he saw. Linking this lament to Psalm 34 is David’s awareness that, besides being his only hope of victory, YHWH loves to help the helpless, making David marvel at his unparalleled God.

David longs to tell faithful Israelites about God’s rescue so they can join him in celebrating God’s astonishing goodness. That will restore David’s honor among all those before whom he currently stands disgraced. As believers, we all have enemies as David did—especially dark enemies who, though unknown to us, want to destroy us. Hence, David’s prayer is for us too.

There’s no one like you, Jesus, who fully identified with the oppressed and will one day right every wrong. Deliver from evil all who face oppression. Lift the humble and humble their oppressors. May your will be done on earth as in heaven, for the glory of your name. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

How long, YHWH
will you stand by and watch?
Rescue me from their attacks
save my one-and-only life from these lions!

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.