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Book I

The psalms are not randomly thrown together, and the way they’re organized is significant. They’re grouped into five “books,”  mimicking the five books of Moses’ law. The first four books end with a verse of praise that belong to the book, not the psalm they’re attached to. The editors of the Psalms may have wanted the book’s structure to imply that, even though the psalms are mainly prayers written by believers, they bear the same authority as the Torah since it was God who gave the prayers to their writers.

The ordering of the five books and of the psalms within each book tells us something about their meaning. The first book includes Psalms 1 through 41. This collection includes many psalms written by David, many of them laments. There are small connections between successive psalms, giving each of the books a discernible forward movement–with a predominance of laments, giving way to full-on praise in the fifth book. This suggests that while we endure hardships and pain in this life, we’re moving relentlessly toward a kingdom when all will be joy and praise.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name 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. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.