Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 85

When grace and truth embrace

What do you do when you’ve badly squandered God’s grace and feel utterly unworthy of more? What else can you do other than cast yourself again on the God who graciously restores penitent sinners?

YHWH, you once delighted in your land
restoring Jacob’s prosperity.
2 You forgave your people’s iniquity
and pardoned all their sin.
3 You held back all your fury
and turned away from your burning anger.

4 Turn our lives around again, God our savior.
Let go of your anger against us.
5 Will you be outraged forever
holding onto your wrath for all time?
6 Won’t you give us life again
so your people can rejoice in you?
7 Show us your unfailing love, YHWH
grant us your saving help.

8 I’m listening to what YHWH our God says.
He promises well-being to his people—
to all who trust in him.
But let them not return to their folly.
9 Yes, he’s about to rescue those who revere him
so his glory may reside in our land.
10 Grace and truth embrace—
justice and peace kiss.
11 Loyalty will spring up from the earth
and justice look down from heaven above.
12 YHWH himself will grant us the good life
and our land yield its harvest.
13 Justice will march before him
making a path for him to walk.

The psalmist seems to be writing after the Babylonian exile, when the Jews struggled to rebuild in a situation far harder than before it. Regardless, the psalm offers one ground alone for seeking restoration from God—that he graciously pardons and restores rebels, as the psalm’s opening verses recount. Indeed, his covenant promised Israel not only punishment for violators, but also restoration for penitents.

And God doesn’t just forgive and grant material blessing. He also promises to unite grace and truth, righteousness and well-being, among his people. We find it virtually impossible to hold grace and truth, mercy and justice, together as one. Some even insist that whatever you gain of mercy you lose of justice. The Bible rejects that thinking, but we hold justice and mercy, grace and truth, together only to the degree that we’re one with the God in whom they are one.

So this union is God’s doing. As his people embrace his saving grace by faith, they know all-encompassing harmony and his glory inhabits their land. This happens as God’s will is done on earth—human loyalty sprouts from the ground and divine justice beams down from above. This redemption—yielding a prosperous, just, and harmonious land—is what his people are to seek as they await his coming.

Prone to wander and leave the God I love, Lord, I seek forgiveness and restoration. Keep me clinging to your grace, refusing to be drawn back into my foolish ways, till doing right means doing well, your grace and truth become one in me and your glory fills my life. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

I’m listening to what YHWH our God says.
He promises well-being to his people—
to all who trust in him.
But let them not return to their folly.

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.