Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 40

God cares about the humble poor

Recalling God’s past deliverance can strengthen our faith when facing another crisis. Rededicating ourselves to trust and obey is vital too. David does both while urgently asking for God’s help.

For the worship leader. A David psalm. 

I waited and waited for YHWH
and he bent down and heard my cry.
He pulled me up out of the desolate pit
out of its muck and its mire.
He planted my feet on solid rock
and made my footing sure.
He gave me a brand-new song to sing
a song of praise to our God.
Looking on, awestruck
many put their trust in YHWH.

4 How fortunate are those
who put their trust in YHWH
instead of false gods and false guides.
You, YHWH, my God
have done many wonderful things for us.
No one else has planned for us
anything like the things you’ve planned.
If I tried to list them all
I couldn’t even begin
for they’re beyond all counting.

6 You take no delight
in mere sacrifice or offerings.
No, you’ve opened my ears to hear:
it’s not burnt-offerings
or sin offerings you’re after.
So I said, “Here I am.
I’ve come to do what the scroll asks of me.”
I delight to do your will, O God.
I hold your Torah in my heart
not just my hands.

9 I’ve told the good news of your faithful rescue
to your assembled people.
As you know, YHWH
I’ve kept nothing back.
10 I haven’t withheld
word of how you save the helpless.
I’ve spoken of your faithfulness
in rescuing me.
I haven’t withheld
your unfailing love or faithfulness
from the great congregation.
11 You won’t withhold your compassion
from me, YHWH.
Your unfailing love and faithfulness
will keep me safe forever.

12 But countless troubles have engulfed me!
I can’t see any way out
as my sins have caught up with me.
They outnumber the hairs on my head
and my heart fails me.

13 Rescue me, YHWH!
Hurry and help me, YHWH!
14 Let shame and confusion overtake
all those who seek to destroy me.
Rout in humiliation
all who want to see me hurt.
15 May all who revel in my ruin
be devastated by their own humiliation.
16 But may everyone who seeks you
be glad and rejoice in you.
Let all who love what you’re doing
to save humankind
say, “YHWH is great!”

17 Poor and needy as I am
the Lord cares about me.
You’re my help and my deliverer.
My God, don’t delay!

David celebrates a time when God rescued him and set his feet on solid ground, recalling how he sang a new song because—as with Miriam and Moses at the Red Sea—no existing song would do. After so dramatic a rescue, it would have been unthinkable to pretend it didn’t happen and not publicly praise God.

David is loyal to God alone. He knows worship without the heart doesn’t please God. So he listens with the ears God has opened, obeys and, even more—like a lover—longs to please his Lord. And in an act of self-offering, he devotes himself wholly to God, assuring God that his law shapes his thoughts and desires.

David wants his life to be shaped by God’s Torah, or instruction. This psalm may have accompanied David’s presentation of his own personally handwritten copy of Deuteronomy—representing the entire Torah—to God along with his commitment to follow it. Deuteronomy includes the Shema: “You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” which was vital to every Israelite king. David sees this wholehearted presentation of himself as the best offering to accompany his urgent request for protection from his always present enemies.

David faces wave after wave of opposition and his many sins entangle him. God’s having set David’s feet on solid rock once doesn’t mean he won’t have to cry to him from the watery depths again. Feeling hopeless once more, his courage failing him, he can turn only to the God who graciously rescues the undeserving. Marvelling that his creator cares for such a poor and needy soul, he once more urges God to help him without delay and puts his hope in him.

Help me turn to you, God, when I’m weak and over my head, attacked by those who would love to see me to fail. You don’t want me just going through the motions. You want my ears and my heart. To change me, inside and out. Help me, Lord, to hope in your unfailing love always. Amen.

When you have a free moment today, pray these words:

I delight to do your will, O God.
I hold your Torah in my heart
not just my hands.

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.