Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 68

My God, my king

However remote God may seem, unconcerned about the evil ravaging our world, David assures us he’s come to live among us and is powerful, compassionate, and determined to bless the weak and enact justice for all.

A David psalm.

Let God rise up
and his enemies be scattered!
May those who hate him flee before him.
2 Let them be blown away
like a puff of smoke.
May evildoers perish before God
like wax melting before a flame
3 while those who put their trust in God
rejoice, exult before him
and are overcome with joy.

4 Sing to God
make music to his name.
Raise a song to the Cloud Rider
whose name is YHWH.
5 A father to the fatherless
and a defender of widows
is the God whose house is holy.
6 God provides homes for the homeless
and releases prisoners to joyful freedom
while those who rebel against him
live in a burnt-out wasteland.

7 When you led your people out
marching through the wilderness, God
8 the earth shook
and the heavens poured
before you, the God of Sinai
before God, the God of Israel!
9 You sent a generous downpour, God
to revive your weary land.
10 Your people settled in the land, God
in your goodness you provided for the poor.

11 The Lord gave the word
and a great contingent of women spread the news:
12 “Kings and their armies are fleeing headlong
as the women at home divide the spoils!
13 Even you who sleep between the sheepfolds
shimmer like the silver-tipped wings of a dove
its feathers glistening with gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered the kings in battle
a blizzard engulfed Dark Mountain!”

15 What a majestic mountain Mount Bashan is—
a multi-peaked mountain!
16 Why, multi-peaked mountain
do you envy the mountain God chose for his home
where YHWH will live forever?
17 With myriads and myriads of chariots
the Lord came from Sinai into his sanctuary.
18 You ascended its heights
leading captives in parade, YHWH God
and receiving tribute from people—
even from the rebellious.

19 Blessed be YHWH
who bears our burdens day after day
the God who saves us!
20 Our God is a God who delivers—
Sovereign YHWH delivers us from death.
21 Yes, God will crush his enemies’ skulls
the hairy heads
of those who swagger in their guilt.
22 YHWH says, “I’ll bring your enemies back
from Bashan and from the depths of the sea
23 so your feet can tramp through their blood
and your dogs lap up their share too.”

24 People saw your triumphal procession, God
the procession of my God and king
into the sanctuary.
25 The singers went first
the musicians in the back
and the young women beating drums in between.
26 “Bless God in the great congregation
YHWH, you descendants of Israel!”
27 Little Benjamin is out front, leading
with the princes of Judah in company
followed by Zebulun and Naphtali’s princes.

28 Summon your power, God!
the power you exerted
on our behalf before, God.
29 Earth’s kings bring their tribute
to your temple in Jerusalem
30 Rebuke the crocodiles lurking in the reeds
that herd of bellowing bulls
among the calves of the nations.
Trample down those who lust after booty.
Scatter the nations that delight in war.
31 Envoys will make their way from Egypt
and Nubians hurry toward God
with outstretched hands.

32 Sing to God, earth’s kingdoms!
Sing praise to the Lord.  Selah
33 To him who rides
through the heavens’ ancient heights.
Hear the deafening sound of him
thundering across the sky!
34 Ascribe power to God
who reigns in majesty over Israel
and reveals his power in the skies.
35 God is awesome in his sanctuary
the God of Israel
who gives strength and power to his people.
Blessed be God!

David presents Israel’s story here in terms of not God’s accompanying Israel, but rather Israel’s accompanying him on his victory march from Egypt to Zion. Since his Israelite audience knows the component stories and connecting pieces well, David gives highlights with a movie trailer’s style and speed. While this makes the psalm a fun read, it’s also challenging, especially given the textual problems. David has YHWH’s superiority over Baal in mind throughout, calling YHWH “Cloud Rider,” a Canaanite name for Baal, whose chariot supposedly thundered through the clouds on its way to battle.

David recounts some of God’s victories over those who tried to prevent Israel from reaching Canaan, where God was enthroned in Zion’s sanctuary. YHWH irresistibly subdues Israel’s enemies, pictured as stealthy crocodiles and threatening bulls. And everywhere God blesses the overlooked: the homeless, fatherless, widows. Even the shepherds, who didn’t go to war but slept with their sheep, receive abundant booty. This likely refers to to the family of Jael, the woman who crushed the skull of the Canaanite commander, Sisera, as he slept in her tent. If so, it may counter a negative reference to shepherds in Deborah’s victory song (Jud. 5:16).

David humorously personifies the towering Mount Bashan, Baal’s alleged home, furious because YHWH had overlooked it to make Mount Zion, a mere fraction of Bashan’s height, his home instead. David effectively says, “Yeah, Bashan, God really did choose squat, little Zion, over you. Eat your heart out!”

David says God will bring the Israelites’ enemies back from Bashan and the depths of the sea so they can tramp through their blood, referring to Canaanites going all the way to Bashan to seek victory and to Pharoah’s troops similarly hellbent on Israel’s destruction. But despite their determination, they’re destined to be crushed in keeping with Gen. 3:15.

Why does God’s coming to take up residence in Jerusalem call for universal praise? Because it means he’s redeeming our undeserving race, ridding the world of evil and war, releasing the oppressed, and ruling with justice for all. This enables us to join him now in resisting evil as we look for that great day when all earth’s peoples bow in worship before him.

Thank you, Jesus, that your love overcame hate on the cross. You ascended Zion’s hill and disarmed the powers of evil to bless the weak,  bear my burdens daily, and ultimately judge the earth and fill it with your glory. Help me now to give you my full devotion, Lord. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Blessed be YHWH
who bears our burdens day after day
the God who saves us!

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.