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Psalm 141

Deliver me from evil

The self-serving make their evils so enticing, reasonable, even necessary. Meanwhile, fellow believers can often be a royal pain. But neither of these realities comes close to making David consider changing sides.

A David psalm.

Yahveh, I’m calling on you—
come quickly to me!
Hear my voice calling out to you.
2 Receive my prayer as incense
my outstretched hands as the evening sacrifice.

3 Post a guard beside my mouth, Yahveh
a watch at the gate of my lips.
4 Keep my mind from being pulled toward evil
lest I join in the wrongdoing of the self-serving.
Don’t let me feast on their delicacies.
5 Let a God-seeker strike me—
I’ll count it a kindness.
When they correct me
it is oil for my head—
let me never refuse it.
But I constantly pray
against the evil deeds of wrongdoers.
6 When their leaders are hurled onto the rocks
let the people hear my words which are sweet.

7 Like clods of dirt plowed and broken up
our bones lie strewn at the very mouth of Sheol.
8 But my eyes are fixed on you
Yahveh, my Lord.
In you I take refuge—
don’t leave me naked, exposed.
9 Keep me from the trap they’ve set for me
from all the snares of the self-serving.
10 Let the wicked fall right into their own net
while I pass by unscathed.

With the self-serving out to trap him, David sees how vulnerable he is: figuratively, he and other God-seekers lie beaten up at death’s door. But David’s desperation makes him fix his eyes intently on the only one who can deliver him from evil and take down his enemies.

Interestingly, the snares David is determined to avoid aren’t seemingly literal, physical traps. Rather, he’s tempted by the self-centered person’s “delicacies,” the perks that come to people from putting themselves ahead of God. Knowing how tempted he is by such delights, he asks God to guard his mouth. He’s drawn to think thoughts that pull him away from God. Sensible, practical thoughts, like the many ways we can justify mistreating the little guy to get a bigger share of the pie. He knows how very easily he can be sucked into seeing such evil as normal, justifiable, even unavoidable.

David resolutely opposes this selfishness and prays against it, convinced of its eventual doom. In fact, so opposed is he to it that he’d rather endure indignity or correction from fellow God-seekers and even considers such disturbances a treat compared to the delicacies of the self-serving. Still, knowing how prone he is to wander, David urgently asks God to help him resist the evil around him.

Resisting all the evil you faced, Jesus, you did your Father’s will, even at the cost of your life. I would follow you. But without your help, Lord, I’m a sitting duck, adept at rationalizing my self-serving ways and so easily offended by Christian smallness. Deliver me from evil, I pray. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray these words:

Receive my prayer as incense
my outstretched hands as the evening sacrifice.

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.