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Psalm 135

Worshipping the living God

Like the idols of the ancients, our modern idolatry reveals not our ability, but rather our impotence—impotence to solve the problems we’ve so ably created. Our only way out is in worshipful service of God.

Praise Yahveh’s good name!
Praise him, all you who serve Yahveh
2 who stand in Yahveh’s house
in his temple courts!
3 Praise Yahveh
for Yahveh is good.
Sing to his name
for he is gracious!
4 For Yahveh chose Jacob for himself
Israel for his prized possession.

5 I acknowledge that Yahveh is great—
our Lord is above all the gods.
6 Whatever Yahveh wants to do
he does both in the heavens and on earth
on the high seas and in the ocean depths.
7 He makes clouds rise
from one end of the earth to the other.
He shoots lightning through the rain
and unleashes winds from his heavenly vault.

8 He struck down Egypt’s firstborn
of people and animals alike.
9 He performed miraculous signs in Egypt
against Pharaoh and all his subjects.
10 He struck down many nations
and killed powerful kings:
11 Sihon, king of the Amorites
Og, king of Bashan, and all the kings of Canaan.
12 He gave their land as an inheritance
an inheritance to his people Israel.
13 Yahveh, your good name endures forever
Yahveh, your renown through all generations
14 because Yahveh defends his people
and has compassion on his servants.

15 The nations’ idols are silver and gold
made by human hands.
16 They’ve got mouths, but they don’t speak
and eyes, but they don’t see.
17 They’ve got ears, but they don’t hear—
they don’t even have breath in their mouths!
18 Their makers all end up just like them
as do all who put their trust in them.

19 House of Israel, bless Yahveh!
House of Aaron, bless Yahveh!
20 House of Levi, bless Yahveh!
You who revere Yahveh, bless Yahveh!
21 Blessed be Yahveh from Zion—
the God who lives in Jerusalem!

This chiastic psalm’s opening and closing sections give calls to worship Yahveh. Its second and fourth sections assert God’s absolute power and the gods’ impotence. This puts the focus on Yahveh’s redeeming and blessing Israel by exerting sovereignty over the nations.[1]

Seemingly post-exilic, this psalm implicitly asks: how will Yahveh—being sovereign over both creation and human history—not vindicate his people, who have been so abused by pagans? Surrounded by stronger idolatrous nations, the Israelites were tempted to view the nations’ gods as outclassing Yahveh. But the psalmist says that, unlike the impotent idols, Yahveh has himself come down to rescue his people and live in Jerusalem, effectively binding his reputation to his care for Israel. He alone deserves their unqualified faith and praise.

We’re tempted by idolatry no less than the ancients: while our idols are more subtle than theirs, they’re equally crass. Among our idols is our technological prowess, which we think makes us masters of the universe. But our power has put us at grave risk of nuclear and environmental holocausts. Ironically, the greater our power, the less secure we become. However, while surveying human history leaves no room for optimism, the psalmist gives us ample reason to hope in God.

Forgive me for thinking I know best, God, allowing myself to be drawn into idolatry. Not reserving my worship for you alone. Help me worship and trust you as the God who came down and freely poured out his love on Zion’s hill to fully redeem lost souls like me. I bless your holy name! Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Yahveh defends his people
and has compassion on his servants.

[1] The chiastic structure is as follows: call to worship (vv. 1-4), God’s power (vv. 5-7), God’s redemption of his people (vv. 8-14), the gods’ impotence (vv. 15-18), call to worship (vv. 19-21).

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.