Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 66

Kneel

Bringing our requests to God is a key part of prayer. But far more important than being a means of getting what we need from him, prayer is a vital to his transforming us into the people he wants us to be.

1 Shout joyfully to God
all the earth!
Sing praise to his glorious name—
give him all the honor he deserves.
Say to God:
“How awe-inspiring are the things you’ve done!
So overwhelming is your power
that your foes all fall to their knees.
All the earth bows before you
and sings your praises—
sings praise to your name!”  Selah

Come and see what God has done—
his awesome deeds on behalf of humankind.
6 He turned the sea into dry land
they passed through the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in him
7 who rules by his power forever
and keeps a watchful eye on the nations.
Let no rebels exalt themselves in defiance!

Bless our God, you peoples
let everyone hear his praise—
the God who has kept us alive
and kept our feet from stumbling.
10 You tested us, God
refined us like silver refined by fire.
11 You led us into a trap
and loaded chains around our waists.
12 You let men ride over our heads.
We went through fire and water—
then you led us out
to a lush place where we could breathe easy.

13 I’ll bring burnt offerings to your house
fulfilling my vows to you
14 vows my lips uttered
and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.
15 I’ll offer you choice burnt offerings
and the sacrificial aroma of rams.
I’ll offer bulls and goats.
 
16 Come and listen
all you who revere God
and I’ll tell you what he’s done for me.
17 I cried out to him
praising him as I did.
18 If I had harbored sin in my heart
the Lord wouldn’t have heard me.
19 But God did hear and answer my prayer.
20 May God be praised!
He didn’t refuse my prayer
or withdraw his steadfast love from me.


Baal worship was all about getting him to give you what you wanted—whether a bumper crop, a son to carry on the farm, or victory in battle. Believing Baal put on the biggest show in town, you did whatever he required for him to fill your order, theoretically speaking. Many Israelites approached God in a transactional manner too, but Israel’s God required more of them. He wanted them to pursue holiness, or the kind of moral likeness to him that allowed for fellowship with him.

The psalmist here weaves together the community’s experience with her own personal experience of God, the two being closely intertwined. In Israel’s exodus and conquest, God revealed himself to the world as both earth’s all-powerful sovereign, the judge of oppressors, and Israel’s gracious redeemer. While he refines his people through hardship, he gives himself in love to them too. And those truths were meant for everyone on earth since God had always intended to bless the entire world through Israel. So the psalmist calls everyone everywhere to worship in response.

God wasn’t just good for the nation, though. The same God who rescued Israel heard the individual believer’s prayers too. But biblical worship was never about getting God to dance to our tune. It’s always been about being in an interactive partnership with him. Sometimes he takes us through fire and water to teach us vital truths, makes us endure trials before releasing us to a place of lush abundance. His bigger goal is always to purify and make us more like him. And his gracious dealings always evoke joyful worship for his unfailing love never and thanksgiving for his meeting us in our need.

How could I possibly deserve your unfailing friendship, God? I’m amazed that you care for me and teach me what I need to know, great God that you are. How can I do less in return than kneel before you, freely pouring out my love in praise and thanks? Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

We went through fire and water—
then you led us out
to a lush place where we could breathe easy.

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.