Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 53

Life without God

We humans are prone to disregard God and his moral standards, as if we know better. Doing so, we mistreat others. But thankfully, God is committed to righting every wrong and restoring his people’s fortunes.

A David psalm.

Fools rule God right out of their lives.
Polluted of soul, they yield to impulse
choose badly and commit deplorable acts.
Not one of them does good.

God looks down on our race from heaven
to see if he can find anyone anywhere
with the good sense to seek God.
But they’ve all missed the turn and become foul.
No one does good—not even one.

Have they no clue, these evildoers
who devour my people like a hunk of bread
and think they can somehow evade God?a
5 One day they’ll be seized by terror
like no one’s ever seen before.
For God will scatter your assailants’ bones.
You’ll put them to shame
because God has rejected them.

O, how I wish Israel’s deliverance
would come from Zion!
When God restores his people’s fortunes
what joy for Jacob—what delight for Israel!

As popular as it is nowadays, deciding God doesn’t exist or else doesn’t care how we live is extremely foolish. It very conveniently leaves us on our own to determine how best to live our lives. But crossing that moral threshold leads on to a place where we inevitably run short of integrity and harm others and ourselves. Nobody starts out wanting to be immoral or cruel. We all pride ourselves in our fairness. Yet driven by our brokenness, we cut corners and aren’t fair to either others, ourselves or God. This comes from ignoring him, which we all do, left to ourselves.

Farther down this path, we can reach a place where cruelty to God’s people becomes as casual and routine as eating bread—all because we think we can sidestep God. But however safe and smart it seems in the moment, it ultimately leads to overwhelming terror, loss and shame. For God will one day rescue his people and right every wrong done to them.

The psalmist longs for that day, when God shows up and restores his people’s fortunes. He can already see his people dancing, hear their boisterous shouts and songs and laughter.

Why do I think I can somehow lean on my own understanding, ignoring you, Lord, and not go wrong? Deliver me from such arrogance. Help me to believe you will indeed defend your people and right every wrong. I long for the day when we celebrate your unqualified triumph. Amen.

In your spare moments today, ponder these words:

“When God restores his people’s fortunes, what joy for Jacob—what delight for Israel!”

 

a See note on Psalm 14:4. Fools think they won’t ever have to encounter God.

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.