Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 77

Footsteps unseen

What if we feel that God has failed us and is more problem than solution? Do we stuff it or do we honestly tell him how we feel? This psalm models honesty but in such a way that God is glorified and our faith is built up.

I cry out to God in distress—
cry out for him to hear me.
2 On the day when trouble hit
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I stretched out my hands to you
refusing to be consoled.
3 I thought about God and groaned.
The more I thought about him
the more overwhelmed I felt.

4 You’ve kept me from closing my eyes
I’m so distraught I can’t speak.
5 I think back to other times
many years ago.
6 I remember my song in the night
and reflect, asking myself:
7 “Is YHWH’s rejection final?
Will he never smile on me again?
8 Is his unfailing love gone for good?
Are his promises forever null and void?
9 Has God forgotten how to be gracious?
Has his anger shut down his compassion?”
10 Then I said, “How disastrous for me
that the Most High’s power to rescue
has run out!”

11 I call to mind what you’ve done, YHWH
and recall your miracles from long ago.
12 I recount your achievements
and reflect on all you’ve done.
13 Your ways are holy, God.
What god could possibly rival our God?
14 You’re the God who did miracles
that displayed your power to the nations.
15 Stretching out your strong arm
you redeemed your people—
Jacob and Joseph’s descendants.
16 When the waters saw you, God
when the waters saw you, they recoiled
even the briny deep shuddered.
17 The clouds poured down water
the skies thundered
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 Your thunder rolled and crashed
your lightning bolts lit up the world
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your path traversed the sea—
you strode right through the surging waters
yet your footsteps were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
under the care of Moses and Aaron.

This psalm’s jarringly different halves have made some label it a mishmash of clashing psalms. Alternatively, we can see it as the psalmist’s throwing her life’s contradictions—how things are versus how they “should be”—at God and implicitly asking him to reconcile them.

Since he’s allowed her troubles, the psalmist credits God with her grief and insomnia and questions her deepest Torah beliefs—namely, that he’s faithful, gracious, compassionate, and holy. The glory days are gone, and she wonders if God has cut her off and reneged on his promises, allowing his anger to veto his love. With all her questions crying for answers, she concludes that he’s no longer there for her. Then without missing a beat, she holds up what she knows of God from the Exodus event. She knows that he’s powerful, compassionate, holy and, yes, incomparably mysterious—his footsteps being altogether untraceable.

So the psalmist honestly faces her grief and pain, holding her lived experience up beside what scripture teaches without forcing any false resolution of the two. She thus models holding onto God when we feel like letting go, and yet doing so in such a way that we lay our case before him and ask him to resolve the tension between our deepest griefs and our faith in who he is. (Jesus urges us to do this same thing in his parable of the widow and the unjust judge, in Luke 18:1-8.) The psalmist doesn’t know how to make everything fit. But she knows who God is, and she refuses to let her disappointment and grief redefine God.

Thank you that, holy as you are, God, you aren’t threatened by my honest doubts. I think of all you’ve done and revealed yourself to be, especially in the greater Exodus—Jesus’ cross. Help me hold my hurts against its truth till you resolve the tension between my experience and my faith in you. Amen.

In your free moments today, mediate on this truth:

Your path traversed the sea—
you strode right through the surging waters
yet your footsteps were unseen.

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.