Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 84

Holy desire

A Korahite psalm.

Beauty and desire go together. Our marketers exploit this, telling us the more beauty we can snag the happier we’ll be. But what if our longing for God—beauty personified—trumped everything else?

How lovely is your residence
YHWH, Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
2 How I long, how I ache
for YHWH’s courts!
I cry out, body and soul
for the living God.
3 Even little birds have found a home
common sparrows a nest
to lay their young by your altars
YHWH, Lord of Heaven’s Armies
my God and my king.
4 How lucky are all those
who get to live in your house
and praise you all day long!

5 How blessed are those
who find their strength in you—
in whose hearts the road to Zion runs.
6 As they traverse the Valley of Tears[1]
it becomes a place gushing with springs
and the early rains cover it with blessing.
7 The pilgrims grow stronger and stronger
with every ridge they climb
till at last the God of gods appears on Zion.

8 YHWH, God of Heaven’s Armies
hear my prayer.
Listen, God of Jacob!
9 Behold our shield, O God—
look down on the face of your anointed.
10 Better a single day in your courts
than a thousand anywhere else—
to sleep on the threshold of God’s house
than to live comfortably among the wicked.
11 For YHWH our God is a sun and a shield.
He gives grace and glory.
Nothing good does he withhold
from those who walk with integrity.
12 YHWH, Lord of Heaven’s Armies
how blessed are those who trust in you!

The psalmist speaks of pilgrimage in company with others, a pilgrimage crowned by the pilgrims’ meeting God in a sacred festival. Joyful songs fill God’s glorious temple-home and—like his angels above—the pilgrims are overcome by awe.

Most Israelites attended these life-giving events in Jerusalem annually at best. The psalmist pines for the temple’s beauty, which represents God’s transcendent loveliness. Seeing small birds nesting in the eaves of the temple court, she wishes she could live there too. Saint Augustine said the good believer’s whole life is “a holy longing,” a longing that transforms us.

God strengthens all who long for Zion and turns the journey’s hard parts into places of blessing. Though most of the journey is uphill, pilgrims are energized in anticipation of their goal, their physical and spiritual ascent being one.

The psalmist prays for blessing for Israel’s “shield,” their king, whose just rule makes her pilgrimage and all it represents possible. She’d rather spend one day in God’s presence than any number elsewhere, would rather find herself at the temple’s periphery than enjoy all the prosperity and perks of the self-serving. For the God who guides and protects us withholds nothing that’s for our good. And the good life is marked by the intimacy with God the psalm pictures.

God, you are perfect beauty, goodness, truth and joy—the very things I long for, though often apart from you. Still, my true home is where you are, the pilgrim path is in my heart. So, help me keep my eyes on you, walk with integrity and trust you for all the path ahead. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on this truth:

YHWH our God is a sun and a shield.
He gives grace and glory.
Nothing good does he withhold
from those who walk with integrity.

 

[1] Scholars suggest the Valley of Tears, of Baca, or of Balsams here, though none are known locations. But whatever our translation choice, the context suggests it was a difficult or dry part of the journey.

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.