Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 61

In the King’s service

What happens when God disciplines you, you repent, and he forgives and restores you to fellowship? Does he then sideline you or reassign you? This psalm asks God for mercy, protection and reassignment too.

A David psalm.

Hear my cry, O God
listen to my prayer!
2 I call to you from the end of the earth
my heart fainting.
Lead me to the rock that towers above me
3 for you’re my refuge
a fortress against my foes.

4 Let me stay in your tent forever
safe in the shelter of your wings.
5 For you’ve accepted my vows, God
and granted me the heritage
of those who revere your name.

6 Lengthen the king’s life
so it spans future generations!
7 May he reign in God’s presence forever
with your unfailing love and faithfulness
guarding him.

8 So I’ll sing my praise to you forever
and fulfill my vows to you day after day.

Traditionally associated with Absalom’s attempted coup, this psalm finds David once more far from home and hanging on for dear life.[1] With only God between him and death, he asks him to guide him to the kind of rock that’s untouched by the flash flood’s chaos. Not claiming to be blameless, David longs for the refuge of God’s sanctuary, the ark of the covenant’s outspread wings picturing God’s gracious shelter.

In verses 6-7, David refers indirectly to himself, asking God to lengthen “the king’s” life. Currently dethroned, David takes nothing for granted[2] and implicitly asks God to reinstate him as king. He uses the royal court’s hyperbolic language, asking to reign forever. He may also be thinking of his eternal dynasty and the Messiah to come from him.[3] In any case, he envisions ruling on God’s behalf, in fellowship with him, protected not by mere mortals, but rather by God’s unfailing love and faithfulness.

Believing God has granted him a place in Israel’s commonwealth, David has vowed to make thanksgiving offerings to him when he returns home. He thus ends anticipating that holy scene in the tabernacle, his praises rising to heaven as he and his people celebrate God’s goodness together for endless days to come.

However far I’ve wandered, you hear me when I call you, Lord. You graciously forgive and reassign me in your service—to reign under you. Though the way ahead be hard, I want to obey you. Help me to please you, protected by your unfailing love and faithfulness. Amen.

In your spare moments today, pray this prayer:

Lead me to the rock that towers above me
for you’re my refuge, a fortress against my foes.

 

[1] 2 Sam. 15:13-19:8.

[2] 2 Sam. 15:25-26 (cf. 2 Sam. 16:10-12).

[3] Some scholars think verses 6-7, written in third person, were spliced into the psalm by a later editor. But I see no need to resort to such an explanation.
The prophet Nathan promised David his dynasty would endure forever (2 Sam. 7:16).

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.