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Psalm 124

If God is for us

David’s warriors were often both outnumbered and outclassed, humanly speaking. Here David praises God for defending them in a dire situation, reminding us that God dwarfs every challenge we face.

A David song. A song of ascents.

If Yahveh hadn’t been for us—
let Israel say it—
2 if Yahveh hadn’t been for us
when humankind fought against us
3 their anger raging wildly
they would have swallowed us alive.
4 The floodwaters would have engulfed us
the torrent swept us away.
5 The raging waters
would have overwhelmed us
body and soul.

6 Praise Yahveh
who didn’t drop us
into their monstrous jaws!
7 We escaped with our lives
like a bird from a hunter’s trap.
The trap burst open
and we are free!

8 Our help comes from Yahveh
maker of the heavens and the earth.

David presents the challenge the Israelites faced when attacked by a fighting force so superior that he and his men had no chance, humanly speaking. He first likens his enemies to a raging flood and then to a hateful monster, both images evoking pagan creation myths which depicted the chaotic primal waters as a sea monster. Those images evoke biblical events too—of Yahveh’s subduing the primeval waters with a simple word and later making a path through the sea to free the Israelites from monstrous Egypt.

David’s enemies would likely have assessed their fight with him as being of no contest at all. But leaving Yahveh out of the equation, they grossly miscalculated since they were unwittingly picking a fight with the God of the universe. With the equation corrected, the fight was far more of a foregone conclusion than David’s enemies could ever have imagined—but in the opposite direction.

Perhaps David uses the word “humankind” to suggest that, even if all the rest of humankind joined forces against Israel, God’s enemies would still be no match for Israel. With Yahveh unwaveringly on Israel’s side, he simply breaks the trap and frees the helpless bird. So all praise and thanks belong to him.

Jesus, I’m no match for all the evil I’m up against in this world, but you fight for me. As I walk in loving obedience, no one can pry me away from you. With you on my side, who can possibly defeat me? Help me stand strong against evil and live in joyful trust that you won’t fail me. Amen.

Meditate on these words during your free moments today:

Our help comes from Yahveh
maker of the heavens and the earth.


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.