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Psalm 12

When truth is gone

A David psalm.

Help, Yahveh!
There’s no one faithful left!
People of integrity are fast disappearing!
Everyone lies to each other.
They flatter and fawn
—say one thing, think another.
May Yahveh cut off their sweet-talking lips
and cut out their big-talking tongues.
They boast, “We say whatever we like
and get whatever we want.
We answer to no one!”

But Yahveh says, “I’m going to take action now.
because the poor are being plundered
the needy are groaning
I will grant them the protection they long for.”
Yahveh’s words are unalloyed
like silver refined in a furnace seven times over.
You, Yahveh, will protect us.
You’ll guard us forever from this lying lot
even though the wicked strut about
and everyone everywhere honors moral rot.

Lamenting that nobody tells the truth or keeps their word, David cries for help. People boast and brag as if objective reality were totally irrelevant. All that matters is how they call things. They blame others for their wrongs. They praise those they detest to get what they want from them. Playing loose, they view their words as instruments of will and themselves as able to write their own rules. Their goals throughout are to plunder the poor, maintain their power and have everything for themselves. They assure themselves they’ll never have to answer to anyone for their words or actions. This explains David’s urgency.

Mercifully, God commits to acting on behalf of the poor. He knows the powerful have taken what little the poor had from them. He’s heard the earth’s wretched groaning and cares enough to defend them.

In sharp contrast to the empty talk of earth’s powerbrokers, God’s words are utterly reliable, purified to the nth degree. So David expresses his confidence in God. On the surface, nothing has changed. Yet in charge, the wicked still swagger and crow. And everybody still honors moral filth. But David knows everything has fundamentally changed because God has spoken.

On the surface nothing’s changed since David wrote this, God. The power-hungry still abuse their words and the poor alike. People still celebrate immorality. Yet you’ve spoken definitively in Christ and your word is truth. So I now simply ask you to do what you’ve pledged to do. 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.