Psalms For Life
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Psalm 52

Hoping in God’s goodness

Seeing others grossly mistreated, we want to tell their abusers off. In David’s imagined talk, he does just that, but with a twist: he lets his angry words against the brute lead him to the God who cares.

A David psalm. When Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, “David went to Ahimelech’s house.”

Why do you brag
about your evildoing, Bigshot
when God’s unfailing love
holds strong all day long?
Like a well-honed razor
your tongue plots atrocity and crafts betrayal.
You love evil instead of good
lying instead of speaking truth.
You love using your words to devour
you treacherous tongue!

But God will demolish you once and for all—
grab you, uproot you from your home
and rip you out of the land of the living.

God-seekers will see it and be stunned.
Then they’ll laugh and exclaim
“Look what happened
to the guy who refused to trust in God
but relied on wealth and brute strength
to get ahead!”
But me? I’m like an olive tree
flourishing in God’s house.
I’ll trust in God’s unfailing love
forever and ever.
I’ll never stop thanking you
for what you’ve done, Lord.
In company with your faithful people
I’ll put my hope in your good name.

David wrote this after Doeg, Saul’s cutthroat Edomite employee, told Saul he’d seen the priests at the nation’s shrine assist David. Doeg knew well that this would trigger a murderous rage in Saul, but he cared only about what it would do for him—namely, win him Saul’s favor and rewards. When Saul’s guards blanched at his order to slaughter all the priests, Doeg stepped up to massacre hundreds of innocent people. And instead of feeling remorse, he was proud of his brutality. Like so many others, he’d embraced the twin lies that material wealth and power are all that matter, and we get ahead by ruthlessly looking out for “Number One.”

David knows how laughable this brute’s view of reality is, that he loves all the wrong things, and his life will eventually be cut short. So he directly challenges his lies, insisting that this bigshot’s evil hasn’t diminished God’s commitment to care for his own. Implicitly, David also challenges everyone vulnerable to the bigshot not to follow him, relying on their own intelligence and abilities, but to trust in God’s unfailing love instead. Like David, we truly flourish only by living in fellowship with God, within the community of his loyal servants, hoping in his goodness.

Trusting myself, not you, Lord, I end up stepping on others in my drive to get on top. But when I trust you and obey, you make me strong. Help me to tap into your strength and grow like an olive tree in your house, as I hope in your unfailing mercy and goodness. Amen.

In your spare moments today, ponder these words:

But me? I’m like an olive tree
flourishing in God’s house.

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.