Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 8

Such wisdom, power and love!

Cynics sneer at God’s having made humans the center of so fantastic a universe. But however reasonable such cynicism may seem, biblical scripture has always insisted on a counter-intuitive story.

 For the music director, on the gittith. A David psalm.

1 YHWH, our Lord
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Your glory outshines suns
and stars beyond counting!
2 By the mouths of little children—
mere babes at the breast—
you’ve founded a stronghold
to bring your vengeful foes to a dead stop.
3 When I look up at the glittering night sky
it’s your handiwork I see—
the moon and stars you made.
4 So, what on earth are we
that you care for us?
Why give us mortals a second thought? 

5 Yet you made us
the pinnacle of your creation
with only you above
and crowned us with glory and honor—
6 lords of the earth—
putting everything under our feet:
7 sheep and cattle on the hillside
lions and wolves in the wild
8 every bird that flies the skies above
every fish that swims the seven seas. 

9 YHWH, our Lord
how majestic is your name in all the earth!


David praises YHWH, whose majesty surpasses that of the starry skies above. While it may seem odd that God builds a stronghold in this context, other regional creation myths had the creator follow his victory over the forces of chaos in creation with building a stronghold to keep those forces at bay. YHWH does the same, but his stronghold is built of words uttered by little children. This connects with a theme running right through scripture: God chooses the weak to defeat the mighty.

The poem’s structure makes its main point—humankind’s glorious partnership with God in ruling the earth—unmistakably clear.[1] David asks two questions virtually synonymous in the Hebrew (v. 4) to bring the poem to a dramatic standstill against the movement on either side of them. We thus pivot from seeing humans as insignificant amidst the glory of the cosmos to seeing them as glorious in their position just below God in authority, representing him on earth. This alludes to Genesis 1, where God creates humans to reflect his glory and rule over his creation under him.

The question behind the psalm is: What would make so wise and powerful a God share responsibility for ruling his creation with the likes of Adam and Eve? What would keep him from washing his hands of them when they turned their stewardship under God into twisted self-seeking, as he knew they would? Only one thing: his unrelenting love, a radical idea in the ancient world, where the fickle gods cared nothing for their puny mortal subjects.

The New Testament goes on to declare that all of God’s purposes in creation are ultimately realized in Jesus, the perfect human, as he fully revealed God’s love and decisively restored the hope of glory to our race. So, David implicitly points to Jesus here.

David’s recognition of both God’s infinite greatness and his inexhaustible love and grace prompts him to end as he began, praising God for his incomparable majesty, so evident in his wise ordering of creation.

Your wisdom, power and love are amazing, Lord. You have mere kids silence your foes! Give me simple, childlike faith to believe your love is unstoppable. Fill me with that love, and fit me to rule as your faithful servant over whatever part of your world you put under my care. Amen.

In your free moments today, pray these words:

YHWH, our Lord
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

[1] The psalm’s chiastic structure is as follows: A: YHWH’s magnificence in creation (v. 1), B: God’s cosmic glory and strength (vv. 2-3), C: WHAT ARE MERE HUMANS THAT YOU NOTICE THEM? (v. 4), B: Humanity’s earthly glory (vv. 5-8); A: YHWH’s magnificence in creation (v. 9).

 

 

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.