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Psalm 115

Not to us, not to us

We have much in common with post-exilic Jews, who felt like aliens in their own land, surrounded by pagans who ruled them and ridiculed their faith. This psalm calls all such believers to rely on Yahveh.

Not to us, Yahveh
not to us
but to your name be the glory
for your unfailing love and faithfulness.
2 Why should our pagan neighbors say
“Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in the heavens
doing everything he decides to do.

4 Their idols are silver and gold
objects made by human hands.
5 They’ve got mouths but don’t speak
eyes but don’t see.
6 They’ve got ears but don’t hear
noses but don’t smell.
7 They’ve got hands but don’t feel
feet but don’t walk.
They’ve got throats but don’t make a peep.
8 Their makers will end up just like them
as will all who rely on them.

9 But, you, Israel
trust in Yahveh.
He’s their true help and shield.
10 Priests of Aaron
trust in Yahveh.
He’s their true help and shield.
11 All you who revere Yahveh
trust in Yahveh.
He’s their true help and shield.

12 Yahveh watches over us
and blesses us.
He’ll bless the people of Israel
including the family of Aaron.
13 He’ll bless all who revere Yahveh
from the least to the greatest.

14 May Yahveh increase you—
both you and your children.
15 You are blessed by Yahveh
maker of heaven and earth.

16 The heavens belong to Yahveh
but he gifted the earth to humankind.
17 The dead don’t praise Yahveh
those consigned to the silence of the grave.
18 But us?
We will praise Yahveh
both now and forever.
Praise Yahveh!

After the Jews returned from exile, their pagan neighbors taunted them for having no idol. They implied that Yahveh was a no-show not just in the lineup of the gods, but also in the ongoing contest between them—that he couldn’t help them.

So the psalmist tells God that such taunts impugn God’s glory—not Israel’s. Against their taunts, she declares that Yahveh is no earthbound god and exercises absolute sovereignty over everything. She then taunts the pagans, saying, their gods are all show—as insensate and immobile as the gleaming idols representing them. Naturally, anyone relying on impotent gods will find themselves powerless too.

The psalmist challenges all her hearers to rely on Yahveh’s ability to help and protect them. She assures them he hasn’t forgotten them and will indeed bless them, evoking God’s promises both to Abraham and to the Israelites at Sinai. She then blesses them and their children, leaving no one out. Since Yahveh gave the earth to humankind in the first place, he’s lost none of his power to bless. She ends by contrasting believers with the dead, whose rejection of God has rendered them permanently unable to praise. And reminding the Israelites that they live to praise God, she calls them to praise Yahveh.

Though I don’t worship gold or silver idols, I often trust myself instead of trusting you, Lord. Not only does that offend you. It leave me powerless when all the while you’re longing to strengthen and protect me. Forgive me, and help me trust you and praise you for the glory of your name. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

He’ll bless all who revere Yahveh
from the least to the greatest.

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.