Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 64

The best defense

To think of prayer as any sort of protection against an evildoer’s poisonous tongue seems the height of folly. Yet according to this psalm, the best defense is a divine offense in answer to prayer.

A David psalm.

1 O God, hear my anguished cry!
Protect my life from the enemy’s terror.
2 Hide me from the band of evildoers
this mob of malcontents.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim their bitter words like arrows.

They shoot at the innocent from hiding
they shoot suddenly, without fear.
They hold firm to their evil intent.
They talk about secretly setting traps
saying, “Who will see them?”
Plotting their evil scheme, they gloat
“We’ve planned the perfect crime!”
The human heart and mind are inscrutable.

But God will let fly his arrow
and they’ll be wounded suddenly.
Their own tongues will trip them up
such that onlookers will flee.
Everyone will stand in awe
talking about God’s judgment
taking it seriously.
10 God-seekers will rejoice in YHWH
and take refuge in him.
And all who long to please him
will praise him.

Words can give life or take it away. David is threatened by deadly words, with evildoers conspiring and plotting against him. Whether threats, slander, curses, or lies, the words are spoken without warning, from hiding, and are supposedly part of the perfect plot. In their arrogance, David’s enemies are confident no one will ever trace their crime back to them.

Feeling terribly vulnerable, David cries out for God to hear and hide him from his enemies, who make one critical mistake: they leave God out of their calculations. But God sees to it that evil designs its own obituary, as God uses the very tongues they felt so confident in to engineer their own downfall. God’s “arrows” are both invisible and dead accurate.

Thus, the evildoers who so carefully did everything in secret are made a public spectacle that causes everyone to flee in horror. The crowning irony is that, having considered themselves untouchable, they become a public advertisement for God’s power, as their defeat leaves people discussing God’s justice. His judgment of their evil makes his people happy, strengthens their resolve to trust him more and leads them to worship.

Lord, how easy it would be if I could silence anyone speaking out against me, but how much better if you make my enemies’ evil words their own undoing. Help me to trust that you’ll see that justice is done, your name is honored, my faith is built up, and my joy overflows in worship. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on this truth:

God-seekers will rejoice in YHWH
and take refuge in him.
And all who long to please him
will praise him.

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.