Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 56

The God whose word is sure

Being vulnerable, we seek assurance of safety and success from every available quarter—even from powerbrokers whose word can’t be trusted. Only God’s word proves reliable in the end.

A David psalm. When the Philistines seized him in Gath. 

1 Be gracious to me, O God
for people are attacking me
tearing me down all day long!
They trample me underfoot
so many boldly attacking me.
O Most High
3 I turn in faith to you when I’m afraid.
4 Having put my trust in God
whose word I praise
I’m unafraid:
what can mere mortals do to me?
Obsessed with hurting me
they twist my words all day long.
They join together, lurk and spy
watching my every move
determined to take my life.
Don’t let them get away with their crimes!
Strike the nations down in your anger, God!

You’ve tracked my tossing and turning
and collected all my tears in your bottle
recording each one in your ledger.
My enemies will turn back
when I cry to you for help.
I know this because God is for me.
10 I trust in God, whose word I praise.
I trust in YHWH, whose word I praise.
11 Having put my trust in God
I’m unafraid:
what can mere mortals do to me?
12 I will yet fulfill my vows to you, God
and offer sacrifices to thank you.
13 For you’ve delivered me from death
kept my feet from stumbling
so I can walk before you, God
in the light of life.

Tired of being the mouse in Saul’s cat-and-mouse game, David flees to Gath, in a move both desperate and daring. It’s desperate because he runs straight into the arms of his enemy, just as political refugees often do now, hoping to find a welcome due to their having a common foe. The common foe in this case is King Saul. It’s also daring because David seeks shelter from the very Philistines he’d defeated and shamed by decapitating their champion, Goliath. Doubtless still smouldering over that, some there—likely Goliath’s kinsmen—surveil David and drag him before their king, determined to cast doubt on his reliability, strip him of the king’s protection, and put him to death.

David knows the Philistine king’s word is worthless since he’ll cave under pressure. David knows only God’s promise of protection is rock-solid trustworthy, beyond reproach. So he turns to his true protector, putting his trust in him.

He takes comfort in God’s character. Far from being indifferent to our pain, God knows all we’ve suffered and treasures every tear we shed. Doubtless clinging to God’s promise that he’ll be Israel’s next king, David knows that, with God for him, his enemies can’t possibly do anything to him that God doesn’t permit, provided David keeps his eyes on him. David thus experiences God’s peace though still in grave danger, humanly speaking. He prays that God will judge his enemies and rescue him, as he walks in God’s life-giving light.

Lord, you know all I’m up against and cherish my every tear. You are unequivocally for me—no matter how much opposition I face or how weak and vulnerable I feel. I put my trust in your sure promise today. Establish your sovereign rule in and through me, I pray. Amen.

Hold onto this truth in your free moments today:

You’ve delivered me from death
kept my feet from stumbling
so I can walk before you, God
in the light of life.

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.