Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 99

King YHWH is holy!

Like today’s super-rich, ancient kings distanced themselves from the masses beneath them. So they all expected the King of the universe, in all his holiness, to do the same. But his idea of holiness differs radically from ours.

YHWH reigns—
let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned between the cherubim—
let the earth quake!
2 YHWH is mighty in Zion
exalted far above all the peoples.
3 Let them praise our majestic
awe-inspiring God:
he is holy!

4 Mighty King, passionate about justice
you’ve established what’s fair
and done only what’s just and right
to Jacob’s descendants.
5 Exalt YHWH our God as king
bow low before his footstool—
he is holy!

6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests
and Samuel another who called on his name.
They cried out to YHWH
and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud
and they did what he said
keeping the laws he gave them.
8 YHWH our God
you answered their prayers
and forgave their sins
yet you punished them when they did wrong.
9 Exalt YHWH our God as king
and worship at his holy mountain
because YHWH our God is holy!

The psalmist* views the proclamation of YHWH’s kingship as cause for earth’s peoples to tremble and the earth to quake. What’s so awe-inspiring about God? Though utterly transcendent, he’s powerfully present, manifesting his presence between the ark of the covenant’s cherubim in Jerusalem. While transcendence and immanence don’t usually go together, YHWH is a one-of-a-kind God: though exalted over all, he rescues those who call on him for help and forgives their sins.

Unlike any of his rivals, this all-powerful king loves justice, cares for the oppressed, and has given his people a law that demands the same of them. All his dealings with his people have been just and right. So he asks nothing of them that he doesn’t unfailingly give them. Again, all this sets him apart as holy.

Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, were three prophet-priests God used to intercede for his people before Israel had kings. God heard them and spared his people, not because these men were perfect. In fact, everyone knew they were flawed. God heard them because he’s merciful. We see another aspect of his holiness here, his ethical wholeness. We mortals either forgive or judge and often veer back and forth between the two. God knew from the first what to expect of Jacob and his descendants. But in his wholeness, God encompasses both mercy and judgment with no conflict whatsoever, and he’s totally committed to redeeming the lost.

The psalmist is astounded that this God, who revealed himself as the Holy One of Israel, is sovereign over the universe and hears his people’s prayers. Centuries later God revealed this more fully in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit. Though the psalmist couldn’t see that part of the picture, she knows there could be only one true response to God’s holiness, which is why she calls the world to bow low and worship before him.

You determined to redeem the Israelites, God, because your holiness isn’t avoidance of sinners so much as a commitment to show mercy while judging justly—to bear our sins, at whatever cost. I exalt you, Lord! There’s no one like you! Make me holy as you are holy, I pray. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Exalt YHWH our God as king
bow low before his footstool—
he is holy!


* I imagine the psalmist here as a woman of faith, like Miriam, Deborah, Hanna, or the Virgin Mary (see further, my answer to the question: Who wrote the psalms?).


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.