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Psalm 94

Avenging God

God wants to bless his people. But what if their politicians, police, and judges are thugs? God will assuredly take all such evildoers down. And in the meantime, he’ll bless his own.

YHWH, avenging God
blaze, avenging God!
2 Rise up, earth’s final judge
and give the arrogant what they deserve.

3 How long will evildoers, YHWH
how long will evildoers party and prance?
4 All these wicked people spew out invective—
they bluster and brag to beat the band.
5 They crush your people, YHWH
they oppress your very own.
6 They kill widows and immigrants
and murder the fatherless
7 assuring themselves,
“YHWH isn’t looking—
Jacob’s God hasn’t got a clue!”

8 Listen, you simpletons!
When will you wise guys wise up?
9 Do you really think
the one who made our ears can’t hear
and who made our eyes can’t see?
10 Is the fount of all knowledge so dumb?
And do you really think
the one who disciplines entire nations
isn’t up to rebuking you?
11 YHWH knows what big plans
they have for themselves
and that their plans will all come to nothing.

12 How blessed are those you discipline
instructing them in your Torah, YHWH.
13 You grant them rest during dark days
while a pit is being dug
to take down the wicked.
14 Because YHWH doesn’t forsake his people
he never abandons his own.
15 Judgment will once more be just
the longings of people of integrity fulfilled.

16 Who will side with me against evildoers
and defend me against the wicked?
17 If YHWH hadn’t helped me
I’d have been quickly consigned
to the silence of the grave.
18 But the moment I cried out:
“My foot’s slipping!”
your unfailing love held me fast, YHWH.
19 When my anxiety mounted
your comfort brought me sweet relief.

20 Can toxic leaders be your allies—
those who abuse the weak
under cover of law?
21 The wicked gang up on God-seekers
and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But YHWH is my fortress
and God my rock of refuge.
23 God will make their sins recoil on them—
their own evil crash down on their heads.
YHWH our God will totally do away with them.


What can God’s people do when the wicked gang up on them and God seems impotent or maybe even indifferent? We must hold onto the need for judgment of evil, knowing that God’s vengeance is never arbitrary: he always judges the predatory on behalf of the vulnerable. But vengeance isn’t ours to take, though God typically uses human agents to enact his judgment.

Evildoers will be destroyed, their plans will backfire, though not fast enough for us. So the psalmist mocks the evildoers for their folly and, like the martyrs of the Apocalypse, she asks, How long till you avenge, God?

Justice will eventually come. But while we wait, what blessing is there for God-seekers, especially those with little chance of worldly success? Anyone who seeks God can experience him in all his transforming power. No matter how weak and poor we are, we can know the blessedness of God’s friendship: companionship, instruction, guidance, patient correction, protection, rest, and joy. God never abandons his own.

God freely transforms all who submit to him—transforms us into his likeness, giving us a nobility and a dignity, a strength and wisdom, evildoers know nothing about. And no matter how dark the night, we can walk in the assurance that we’re on the winning side, that God’s just rule will yet triumph and transform our entire world.

Jesus, I lament the evils of those who abuse your poor—who abuse you—under cover of law. Stand up and restore justice on behalf of the weak, I pray. May your will be done on earth as in heaven. Help me submit to you as you make me more just, merciful and humble like you. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

How blessed are those you discipline
instructing them in your Torah, YHWH.

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.