Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 55

Prayer to the burden-bearing God

Betrayal, whether personal or on a broader social scale, is very hard to bear. Like David, we see conflict, gouging, fraud and violence in our cities. Whether we know it or not, we are all of us under attack.[a]

A David psalm.

Listen to my prayer, O God.
Don’t pretend you don’t hear my cry!
Pay attention and answer me
because my trouble torments me.
I shudder at the enemy’s shouts
and the evildoers’ threats leave me distraught.
For they hurl curses down on me
and vent their fury on me.

My heart pounds in my chest
as death’s terrors overwhelm me.
Gripped by fear and trembling
I shake uncontrollably
and say, “If only I had wings like a dove
I’d fly away and find rest!
7 I’d flee far away
and find a safe place in the wilderness.
I’d hurry and find a shelter for myself there
from this raging storm of abuse.”

Muddy their thoughts, Lord
and muddle their words
for I see Violence and Quarreling in the city.
10 Tragically, they’re the ones
who patrol its walls day and night
leaving Malice and Mischief living inside
11 Ruin a permanent resident
and Fraud and Gouging
ever-present in its marketplace!

12 It’s not an enemy taunting me—
that I could bear.
Nor is it a rival insolently tearing me down—
from that I could hide.
13 No, it’s you, my kindred spirit
my ally and close friend
14 whose companionship was so enjoyable to me
walking together with the crowd in God’s house!
15 Let death seize them suddenly
and the grave swallow them alive
for evil makes its home in their hearts.

16 But I call on God
and YHWH rescues me.
17 Morning, noon and night
I voice my complaint with loud moans
and he hears my cry.
18 He will redeem me safe and sound
from the battle around me
though so many people oppose me.
19 God, who sits enthroned forever
will hear me and humble them
since they’re obstinate and don’t fear him.

20 My companion attacked their friends
and violated their covenant.
21 Though their speech was smooth as butter
their heart was set on war.
Though their words felt like a soothing lotion
they proved to be sharpened swords.

22 Share your burden with YHWH
and he’ll sustain you.
He’ll never allow God-seekers to be destroyed.

23 But you, God, will throw the wicked down
into the deepest pit.
The treacherous and bloodthirsty
won’t live out half their days.
But as for me, I put my trust in you.

In hyperbolic descriptions, David takes us on the emotional rollercoaster of his current alienation and danger. He’s surrounded by enemies. But far more bitter, a close friend and confidant has betrayed him. This leaves him feeling so vulnerable he longs to escape his situation entirely. He also laments the havoc unfolding under his enemies, who have put the city’s safety into the hands of personified Violence and Quarreling and, so, betrayed their people as a whole.

With so much at stake, David’s requests come out as imperatives, telling God to both rescue him from his enemies and give them the reckoning they so richly deserve. Besides endangering his life, they wreak havoc on many other vulnerable people. So without mincing words, David virtually asks God to send his enemies to hell.[b] And he intersperses his laments and petitions with assurances of God’s power and commitment to deal with evil decisively and support his people—probably as much for his own encouragement as for ours.

We aren’t given the specifics of David’s situation. But the fact that this psalm fit the situations of both Jeremiah and Jesus[c] so well should tell us it’s for all of us in some way or other.

God, I lament the city’s, the nation’s, the world’s betrayal by people more invested in their own wealth and power than the welfare of those in their care. Please end their misrule. I believe you care and will act. Help me to surrender my burden to you and trust you to sustain me. Amen.

Meditate on this truth during your free moments today:

Unload your burden onto YHWH and he’ll sustain you.
He’ll never allow God-seekers to be overcome.

 

[a] Satan is the accuser of God’s children, and he and the spiritual forces at his command constantly try to weaken and defeat us in our efforts to do good.

[b] Verse 15. J.C, McCann, Jr. (2015) 456. David’s paradigm here seems to be that of Israel’s exodus, by which the Israelites were released to the freedom God wanted them to know and their enemies simultaneously overthrown.

[c] Jer. 9:1-3; Jesus could easily have prayed this psalm before Judas betrayed him in Gethsemane.

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.