Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 44

Face down in the dirt

When God allows us to suffer despite our faithfulness, we can slip into a sort of dull stoicism, where we think faith may work for others, but not us. This is where we need to lean in, with full honesty.

A descendants of Korah psalm.

O God, we’ve heard it ourselves—
the story our ancestors relayed to us
of what you did in their day
so long ago.
How you dispossessed nations by your power
and planted our ancestors in the land.
Suppressing their enemies
you made our ancestors flourish.
Not by their swords
did they take possession of the land
nor did their strength bring them victory.
No, it was your hand on them
your strength in them
and the light of your face streaming down on them
for you delighted in them.
You’re my King, my God:
you command victories for Jacob.
Only by your power do we gore our enemies
only through you do we trample our foes.
I put no faith in my bow
nor do I trust my sword to save me.
You’re the one
who gives us victory over our enemies
humiliating those who hate us.
We constantly praise your name, God
and boast about you nonstop.

Yet you’ve spurned us and humiliated us
and no longer march to battle with our armies.
10 You make us run from our enemies
and those who hate us plunder us.
11 You’ve turned us over
like sheep to the slaughter
and scattered us among the nations.
12 You’ve sold your people for a pittance
making nothing on the sale.
13 You’ve made us a joke to our neighbors
an object of ridicule and sneering
14 a standing joke to everyone around
so they shake their heads at the sight of us.
15 With “SHAME” tattooed across our foreheads
we live in constant disgrace
16 thanks to the taunts of vengeful enemies
who berate and revile us nonstop.
17 And all this has happened
even though we never forgot you
or violated your covenant.
18 Our hearts never turned back
our feet never left the path.
19 Yet you’ve crushed us in this haunt of jackals
and shrouded us in death’s dark gloom.
20 If we’d forgotten God’s name
or spread out our hands to some foreign god
21 wouldn’t God have found out
since he knows the secrets of every heart?
22 But no, it’s on account of you
that we’re being killed all day long—
consigned as sheep to the slaughter.

23 Wake up! Why do you sleep, Lord?
Rise up! Don’t reject us forever!
24 Why do you hide your face from us
ignoring our suffering and oppression
25 as we lie here
flat on the ground
face down in the dirt?
26 Rise up and help us!
Redeem us for the sake of your covenant love!

Like Job of old, the psalmist grapples with undeserved suffering. In flashbacks, he sees Israelite soldiers fleeing their oppressors and lying broken, beaten on the battlefield. He sees his people plundered at will, sold for a song, scattered among the nations, like sheep to the slaughter, lying disgraced in the dirt—and ridiculed all the while.

But none of this computes because the covenant set these disasters out as punishments God would inflict on its violators—which they’re not, as God knows well. They don’t rely on themselves: they know God gave their ancestors the land and that, without him, they can’t defend it. And they praise God for all he’s done. But despite their faithfulness, their divine commander has abandoned them in battle.

The psalmist sets out half of the problem here: God cares deeply and is all-powerful, yet he lets his people suffer unjustly. The other half he implies: the God of Jacob isn’t an idol we can move at will. He doesn’t jump when we say, “Jump!” How then will God respond? The psalmist has no answer. But instead of drawing back, he leans in, crying out to the God he knows is himself the answer, though he doesn’t know how.

Lord, I know all my best efforts are useless unless you grant success. Where else can I turn when dispossessed and exiled than to you? Wake up and see my plight! Why subject me to disgrace and ridicule? Redeem me by your unfailing love, for the glory of your name. Amen.

In your free moments today, pray this prayer:

You’re my King, my God:
you command victories for Jacob!

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.