Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 36

When alternate realities collide

Those who ignore God give in to evil, which wreaks havoc in both their own lives and the lives of others. David chooses rather to submit to God and experience the love that holds the cosmos together.

A psalm of David, YHWH’s servant.

Deep in evildoers’ hearts
rebellion calls to them
and with no fear of God
they’ve got nothing to restrain them.
2 In their blind conceit
they think their sin
won’t ever be caught and condemned.
3 The words flowing from their mouths
are evil distortions
because they’ve deserted goodness and wisdom.
4 They lie awake in bed
plotting tomorrow’s dark schemes
commit to walking the wrong path
and make no effort to resist evil.

5 But your love, YHWH
reaches to the heavens
your faithfulness stretches to the clouds.
6 Your justice is like the mighty mountains
your judgments like the ocean deep.
You sustain people and animals alike, YHWH.

7 How precious your love, O God
that Adam’s sons and Eve’s daughters
should find shelter in the shadow of your wings!
8 They feast on the abundance of your house
and drink freely from your Eden-fresh river.
9 For you are the source of life
and in your light we see light.

 10 Keep on showing mercy to all who know you
and faithfulness to those who love you.
11 Don’t let arrogant feet crush me
or wicked hands exclude me.
12 Look!
Those who made evil their trade
lie face down, overthrown
never to rise again.


David’s world was just as full of hatred and violence as ours today. Both pagan and (at times) Israelite armies wanted David dead. Here he clearly contrasts the evildoers’ character with that of God, before weaving the two themes together in his closing prayer. And honest though this psalm is, it’s also brimful of hope.

Considering God’s purposes irrelevant, self-seekers are constantly drawn to evil. Not fearing God, they assure themselves they won’t be caught and punished. So they don’t resist evil. They thus become fools, as evil takes shape in thoughts, words, and deeds that distort reality and wreak destruction in their lives and the lives of others.

But YHWH’s boundless love holds the universe together. His faithfulness dwarfs all the evildoers’ treachery. His determination and ability to set our world to rights are indomitable, his judgments unfathomable. Though self-seekers assert their self-sufficiency, God in fact sustains all life. He provides shelter, provision, life, and light to all in his household.

Biblically, the temple is God’s earthly residence, from which he provides lavishly for his people. But in another sense, the whole world was created to be his temple, and he provides lavishly for all throughout creation. He gives life and light to all humanity. And the light of his face lights up his people’s faces especially.

With Eden in mind throughout, David knows evil will either crush him or be crushed. So he asks God to continue to show his people mercy and faithfulness and protect him from his enemies’ attempts to crush and disenfranchise him. And so sure is he that God will act on his behalf that he can already see his enemies’ downfall.

When I think evil has the upper hand, Lord, I reduce you to my size. But you have the whole world in your hands. Help me to love freely, boldly—as you do—and to live wisely. Deliver me from evil and shelter me always in the shadow of your wings. Amen.

In your free moments, meditate on these words:

Your love, YHWH
reaches to the heavens
your faithfulness stretches to the clouds.

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.