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Psalm 131

Resting in God’s embrace

Many people today want it all: houses, cars, wealth, position, power, family, friends, fashion, freedom, and on and on. Which only leaves them pulled every which way. True fulfillment comes in learning to let go.

A song of ascents. A David psalm.

My heart isn’t proud, Yahveh
nor are my eyes haughty.
I’m not grasping at personal greatness
or clutching at things beyond my reach.
I’ve calmed and quieted my soul
like a baby nursed by its mother—
lulled by the sound of her heartbeat
lost in the love in her eyes.

Wait on Yahveh, Israel!
Hope in him now and always.

Having fled in terror from Goliath, everyone in Saul’s army was baffled by little David’s unflinching calm. Everyone except David’s brothers, who berated him for playing the bigshot. But David’s ambitions were far different from theirs. Ignorant of the sweet simplicity he’d found in God’s embrace, his brothers didn’t get it: he was wide open to whatever God wanted and nothing else mattered. What else explains his unearthly calm?

For dramatic reasons, I imagine David singing verses 1-2 to God after his brothers’ public tongue-lashing and then, while advancing on Goliath, shouting verse 3 over his shoulder to the dumbstruck Israelites behind him.

In any case, true fulfillment lies in surrendering to God’s will. As Jesus says, we must become like little children. Obedience may be straightforward. But faith’s letting go rarely is since accepting God’s dreams for us involves accepting his means to them too. That involves accepting our lot, actively waiting for him to show us what he wants us to do, and embracing it—usually without the certainty David had about how it will all turn out. While God’s dreams for us will cost us everything, they’ll be good with his goodness. And for all its challenges, waiting on God is still as simple as a baby’s resting in its mother’s arms.

Above the din of the world, Lord, your still small voice calls me to freedom and simplicity. All that I long for is found in your arms. Yet I so easily fear, lest the world leave me behind. Center me in you, God, that in your pure and peaceful wisdom, I may learn your gentleness, joy, and rest. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

I’ve calmed and quieted my soul
like a baby nursed by its mother—
lulled by the sound of her heartbeat
lost in the love in her eyes.

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.