Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 90

Eternal home

Amidst life’s chaos, some people look for a way to label everything in B&W. God has never offered us such clarity. He invites us, instead, to live within the mystery and the majesty of who he is.

A prayer of Moses, the man of God.

Lord, you’ve been our true home
from time immemorial.
2 Before the mountains were born—
before you formed the earth
and gave birth to the world—
from age to endless age
you are God.

3 You turn human beings back to dust
saying: “Turn back, mortals.”
4 A thousand years are to you
like a day—like yesterday, already gone—
or a few hours in the night.
5 You sweep people away like a dream.
We’re like grass that sprouts in the morning:
6 it sprouts and blossoms in the morning
but is withered and dead by evening.
7 We’re consumed by your wrath
overwhelmed by your fury.
8 You set our sins out before you
our secret sins in the glare of your gaze.
9 Thus, our days slip away under your wrath
till we end our years with a sigh.
10 Our lifespan is just seventy years
or eighty if our strength holds out.
Yet at best it’s a lot of toil and trouble
which passes all too quickly
before our time is up and we’re gone.

11 Who among us knows
how fierce your anger is
and has the kind of reverence it calls for?
12 Teach us to live one day at a time
fully alive to you
our hearts intent on your wisdom.

13 Turn back, YHWH!
How long will your anger last?
Have pity on your servants.
14 Flood our lives
with your unfailing love every morning
so we may sing for joy for the rest of our lives.
15 Give us good times
for as many years as you’ve given us bad—
joy equal to our pain.
16 Show your servants what you can do for them
such that their children glimpse your glory.
17 And may the smile of our Master and God
light up our lives
and make all we do endure.
Yes, make all we do endure.

Moses found leading the rebellious Israelites through the wilderness for forty years a major chore. But through it he came to know God like few others have. And Moses lived before the Israelites had a homeland, holy city, monarchy, or temple. When all they had was God. The Psalter’s Book III focused largely on how the Israelites had lost all those other things in the exile. In this psalm, which opens Book IV, Moses anchors all he says in the eternal God, his people’s true home. The chiastic structure of verses 1-2—God, time, space (mountains), space (earth/world), time, God—gives us the sense that time and space are fully encompassed by our eternal God.

Nothing reveals the ravages of time like the long trek through the desert Moses led the Israelites on. He addresses all our biggest challenges—life’s combined hardships, uncertainty, and brevity, our sins, and God’s anger over them. That may seem depressing, but Moses is just facing the fact that all our walls are paper-thin. Verses 11-12 give us his key to flourishing in life, despite its many challenges: we must learn to live wisely, reverently, mindful of God’s intolerance of evil, fully alive each day to the God who is our home.

Moses concludes by asking for an end to God’s anger and for God’s unfailing love to replace his people’s misery with joyful song, He wants gladness equal to the prolonged discipline they’ve endured, blessing so unmistakable that their kids will see God’s splendor in it, and God’s favor to crown all his people do with lasting success. Death and God’s glare over our sin are constant realities in our existence. But Moses reserves the last word for God’s smile, his favor making all we do endure.

You’re my true home, Lord. Help me live one day at a time, reverently, alive to your constant presence. Help me believe you want joy to fill my life more than I do. Help me let go of the past and entrust my future to you. And may your favor crown all I do today with lasting success. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Teach us to live one day at a time
fully alive to you
our hearts intent on your wisdom.

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.