Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 6

A cry in the dark

We live amid the stark daily realities of sickness, grief and death, which put peace and security finally beyond our control. But what if God is behind such problems? Then he’s also the solution—our only hope.

A David psalm.

1 Don’t rebuke me in anger, YHWH
or punish me in your wrath.
Pity this poor weakling and heal me
because even my bones shudder
as anguish shakes me to my core.
And you, YHWH—how long?

Let up, YHWH
for the sake of your steadfast love!
Look down and rescue me
before it’s too late!
What good am I to you dead—
will I sing to you from my coffin?

I’ve exhausted myself crying—
my pillow awash with me
on the salt sea of my tears.
Anger darkens my vision
aging me under the outrages of my foes.

Back off, all you evildoers!
Because YHWH has heard my crying.
YHWH has heard my plea for mercy.
YHWH will answer my prayer.
10 That’s right—
my enemies will suddenly convulse
and run for their lives
like shamefaced fools!

David is ill, his illness either the result of his foes’ attacks or the occasion for them. Interestingly, the psalm concludes focusing on his enemies’ defeat and leaves his healing only implicit. This may suggest that his illness isn’t primary, but is rather caused by the stress of enemy attacks that threaten his life. Alternatively, his enemies may be attacking him because his illness has made him vulnerable. And before the advent of modern medicine, illness was often fatal in ancient times. Either way, his enemies’ threat—devastating, scandalous, ongoing—leaves him furious, anguished, shaken to the core, exhausted, asking God, “How long?”

But to David it’s not just mortal enemies against him. He clearly views his many challenges as God’s rebuke, making God David’s real problem. So, he begs God—who clearly has his full attention—to stop angrily rebuking him and rescue, heal and restore him before it’s too late.

God’s anger isn’t random or inscrutable. It always directly relates to wrongs that inflict harm, but David doesn’t mention his sins or express contrition as we might expect. He simply begs God to let up for the sake of his steadfast love. Then in humble dependence on God, he voices his conviction that YHWH has heard his cry for mercy and will assuredly rescue him. That’s why, though still at risk, David orders his enemies to back off, confident that God will turn the tables on them very soon.

In a world riddled with sickness, violence and death, I cry, How long, O God? Yet I’m comforted to know that none of these things can separate me from your unfailing love—my certain hope in this dark night. Deliver me from evil so I can glorify you with my every breath. Amen.

In your free moments today, savor these words:

Let up, YHWH
for the sake of your steadfast love!
Look down and rescue me
before it’s too late!

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.