Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 86

Servant song

Facing all sorts of challenges—physical, mental, financial, interpersonal—we can bring them to God, knowing he cares and will meet our needs if we truly submit to him as Lord and Master.

A David psalm.

Bend your ear and answer me, YHWH
poor and helpless as I am.
2 Protect my life for I’m devoted to you.
You’re my God—
save your servant who trusts in you.
3 Have mercy on me, Master
for I cry out to you all day long.
4 Fill your servant’s heart with joy, Lord
for I pour out my heart to you.
5 You’re so kind and forgiving, Master
rich in mercy to all who call on you.
6 Hear my prayer, YHWH
listen to my pleas for help.
7 When I’m in trouble I call on you
because you answer my prayers.

8 None of the gods is like you, Lord.
None has done anything
comparable to what you’ve done.
9 All the nations you’ve made
will come and bow before you, Master
and honor your name.
10 For you’ve shown your greatness
by doing the impossible.
You alone are God!
11 Teach me your ways, YHWH
that I may walk in your truth.
Make me wholehearted
in my reverence for your name.
12 I will praise you with all my heart
and glorify your name forever
Lord my God.
13 Your unfailing love for me is profound
rescuing me from the worst possible death.

14 An insolent rabble is after me, God!
A gang of thugs is determined to kill me
and they have no regard for you.
15 But you, Lord
are a merciful and compassionate God
slow to get angry
overflowing in mercy and truth.
16 Have mercy on me
and strengthen your servant—
save your servant-girl’s son.
17 Give me a sign of your favor, YHWH
so all who hate me will see to their shame
that you’ve helped and comforted me.


Though he desperately needs God’s help, David waits until the poem’s final section to state his problem. God’s enemies are closing in on him. But as dangerous as his enemies are, David knows they won’t decide the situation’s outcome. The two deciding factors are its two other players: David and God.

David focuses on YHWH, who is so great he blows all the competition out of the water. While the gods of the nations are arrogant, demanding, petty, and short-fused, God is their opposite in every respect. They’re also impotent next to him who, as creation’s Lord, can do the impossible and will yet rule over the nations in glory. So God holds the title, undisputed. St. Paul refers to these demonic entities as “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world” (Eph. 6:12).

David repeatedly emphasizes his being God’s servant, calling God “Lord” or “Master” seven times. Servanthood is at the core of his identity, and by definition, servants had no resources or power of their own in the ancient world. Instead, their masters were fully responsible to protect and provide for them.

This poem’s chiastic, or reverse-image, structure highlights its center point: God must teach David his way and give him a heart that longs to walk in it. Only then can he live with integrity, single-mindedly revering and obeying him.[1] This is the linchpin binding Master and servant together. It isn’t enough that everything looks good on the outside. David’s heart must be fully yielded to his Master as well.

Lord, deliver me from thinking I’m fine so long as I keep up appearances. Make me single-minded, not asking you to share the throne of my heart with rival gods. Teach me to revere your name and walk with integrity so I can bring all my needs to you, knowing that you’ll answer my prayers. Amen

In your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Teach me your way, YHWH
that I may walk in your truth
make me single-hearted
in my reverence for your name.

 

[1] The chiasm is as follows:  A: Save your servant (1-2), B: Have mercy on me (3-4), C: You are rich in mercy (5), D: When in trouble, I call on you (6-7), E: All of earth’s peoples will glorify you (8-10), F: TEACH ME YOUR WAY AND GIVE ME A HEART TO WALK IN IT (11), E: I will glorify you for rescuing me from death (12-13), D: I’m in trouble now (14), C: You are rich in mercy (15), B: Have mercy on me (16a), A: Save your servant (16b-17).

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.