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Psalm 11

When the bottom falls out

A David psalm.

I’ve taken refuge in Yahveh.
How can you say to me:
“Fly away like a bird to the mountains”?
2 “Look, the wicked stand poised, ready to shoot!
They’ve put their arrow to the string
and bent back their bow
to shoot the upright from the shadows.
3 If the foundations of justice are destroyed
what can those who want things made right do?”

4 Yahveh is still in his holy temple
his heavenly throne secure as ever.
He takes everything in
examines everyone everywhere.
5 Yahveh the Just probes the wicked
and he can’t stand anyone who loves brutality.
6 He’ll rain down burning coals and sulphur on them
served up on a scorching whirlwind.
7 Being just, Yahveh loves justice.
Those who want to please him
will behold his face.

What can good people do when evildoers take control and mercilessly jerk them around? What can they do when the very people who should protect them attack them whenever they can? Such moral chaos leaves just two options. Fear tells you to run for the hills. Fear for your life, your livelihood, your social standing, or just the fear that nothing will ever change—so you just give up and walk away. The other option is to stay put, but you need a very good reason to do that.

David gives us that reason in verse 4. Yahveh isn’t just present in his holy temple—down the street—to hear and to help. He’s also fully in charge and watching every move the ruthless make, despite all appearances to the contrary. He will call the violent to account and loathes them as much as he loves those who do right. Unlike the pagan gods, he’s perfectly just and always sides with those who seek justice. He doesn’t always come running when we want him to. But his one and only response to evil is judgment, while he invites all who want things made right into a face-to-face relationship with him.

Lord, when evildoers use their power to crush and to kill, you see all they do and will yet judge their evil deeds. Thank you that you’re just and care for the weak and poor. Please root out corruption in the name of law and order. Replace it with true justice, I pray. Amen.

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.