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Psalm 116

He sets the captive free

The psalmist loves God in response to God’s love for him. This is every true believer’s story. Besides telling of God’s rescuing him, the psalmist describes his response to God—or what loving God looks like.

I love Yahveh
because he heard my cry
heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned and heard me
I’ll pray to him as long as I live.
3 Gripped by fear and anxiety
with Death dragging me off to the grave
4 I implored Yahveh:
“Save me, Yahveh!”
5 How kind Yahveh is, how good!
How tenderhearted, this God of ours!
6 Yahveh took care of the thoughtless—
when I was all but lost
he rescued me.
7 “Rest easy, my heart
seeing how lavishly Yahveh has loved you.”

8 You kept me from dying, Yahveh
dried my tears
kept me from ruin.
9 Now I walk with Yahveh
with a new lease on life.
10 It was faith that made me tell you
“I’m in deep trouble!”
11 And faith even when I said in panic
“There’s not a soul I can count on!”
12 What can I possibly give Yahveh
for all his kindness to me?
13 I’ll raise the cup of salvation
and pray to Yahveh
based on all he’s shown himself to be.
14 I’ll keep my vows to Yahveh
in front of all his people.
15 In Yahveh’s eyes
his devoted servants’ death is grievous.
16 I am your servant, Yahveh
the son of your servant-girl
and you’ve freed me from my chains.
17 I’ll offer you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and pray to you, Yahveh
based on all you’ve shown yourself to be.
18 I’ll honor my vows to Yahveh
in the presence of all his people
19 in the courtyards of Yahveh’s house
in the heart of Jerusalem.
Praise Yahveh!

The psalmist says he loves God because God saved his life. He gives very few details, implying only that he was heedless or unwary, and that everyone he trusted failed him. Unable to escape Death’s clutches, he begged for mercy, and God heard and saved him. Moving forward, such undeserved love gives him confidence that God is for him.

The psalmist calls himself the son of God’s servant-girl, meaning that he’s doubly bound to him, with no possibility of emancipation. Yet God has freed him from death, filling his heart with praise. With his life restored to him, the psalmist rededicates himself to God. He says he’ll do three things to show his devotion to God, all prayer-bathed in company with God’s people, in God’s house. He’ll offer salvation’s cup, pay his vows to God, and offer a thanksgiving sacrifice.

The cup referred to wine poured out before God in token of the life the psalmist owes him. But Jews later identified it with a cup drunk in Passover, celebrating Israel’s rescue from Egypt. As Jesus shared that cup with his disciples at the Last Supper, those ideas coalesced and took on new meaning—as the wine was both the new covenant in his outpoured blood and the celebration of his victory over death.

I love you, Lord, because you first loved me. Careless as I was, you poured out your life to rescue me from certain death. How can I possibly repay you for the love you’ve lavished on me? I can only fill your house with praise and offer myself in service to you, which is true freedom. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

I love Yahveh because he heard my cry
heard my cry for mercy.

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.