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Psalm 128

How a man lives well

Many believe it’s entirely within their power to create the life they want—for example, work gainfully, marry, have kids who grow up to lead happy lives. This psalm tells us all these things are gifts from God.

A song of ascents.

Blessed is the man who reveres Yahveh
who walks in his ways.
2 You’ll enjoy all the benefits
of what you work for.
You’ll be content
and all will go well for you.
3 Your wife will be
like a beautiful vine in your home
richly laden with grapes.
And your children will thrive around your table
like young olive shoots.
4 This is how the man who reveres Yahveh
will be blessed.

5 May Yahveh grant you
this blessed life from Zion!
May you see Jerusalem prosper
your whole life long!
6 And may you live to see your children’s children!
May Israel flourish
under God’s gracious rule!

This psalm presents the good life and how to attain it, specifically for men. Such male-oriented guidance may seem out of place in the modern West, where we may deem models of women’s achievement more needful. But men need God’s guidance no less than women, especially men in strongly male-dominant societies like the psalmist’s.

While the psalm presents the life male believers may seek from God, we shouldn’t understand it as guaranteeing it to every godly man. As many other psalms show, serving God often involves self-denial, hardship, and suffering. The psalm simply presents the norm for men—akin to Proverbs 31 for women—when it pictures them providing for their families through their own labor, leading to their contentment and prosperity. The psalm’s agricultural images convey the idea of a home bursting with life and blessing. The previous psalm pictured a man with many supportive sons. This one pictures his wife as a vine bearing the children they long for, children thriving around their dinner table like olive shoots.

The psalmist prays for blessings cascading from God in Zion down through the generations. Clearly, the blessings she describes are for men who partner with God. Their God-blessed lives together produce their society’s wholeness. She thus concludes with a prayer for Israel’s well-being and peace.

Lord, the ability to benefit from my work, have healthy kids, and watch them grow to maturity—all these are gifts from your loving hand. Make me gratefully dependent on you. And help me make my entire community flourish until the day you fill the earth with blessing and with peace. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Blessed is the man who reveres Yahveh
who walks in his ways.

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.