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Psalm 143

I am your servant

Controlled by dark forces, our world lulls us into thinking we need just a bit of God’s help—or maybe none at all. God in turn uses life’s challenges to help us see how much we need him and draw us close.

A David psalm.

Yahveh, hear my prayer.
As the faithful one
open your ear to my pleas.
As the righteous one
answer me.
2 Don’t call your servant to account
for by your standards
no one alive qualifies as righteous.
3 The enemy has chased me down
and ground me into the dust
where I’m left to rot in darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit faints
and my heart’s in despair.
5 I recall what happened long ago
reflecting on all you’ve done
pondering the things your own hands did.
6 I stretch out my hands to you
my soul thirsting for you
like parched ground for water. Selah

7 Hurry up and answer me, Yahveh
because my depression’s deepening!
Don’t hide your face from me
lest I sink down to the grave.
8 Let the dawn bring me word
of your unconditional love
for I put my trust in you.
Show me the path I should take
for I entrust my life to you.
9 Save me from my enemies, Yahveh
because I’ve run to you for refuge.

10 Teach me to do what pleases you
because you’re my God.
Guide me by your good Spirit on level ground.
11 For the sake of your good name
revive me, Yahveh.
Because you’re faithful to care for your own
bring me out of the trouble I’m in.
12 Because your love for me is unfailing
you will do away with my bitter foes.
You’ll destroy everyone who attacks me
because I am your servant.

With enemies stalking and grinding him into the dust, David is depressed and feels like his life is over. So he begs Yahveh, who has promised to care for his servants, to give him back his life.

He pleads urgently, recalling God’s great acts of redemption. Underscoring his desperate need of undeserved favor, he admits that, just like everyone else alive, he isn’t righteous by God’s standard. In that sense, he’s just like his enemies. What distinguishes him from them is that he’s God’s servant: he trusts in God’s covenant love, thirsts for God like bone-dry ground for water, and longs to please him.

Besides pleading for God’s unfailing love to break through at dawn and usher in a new day, David asks God to teach and guide him. We typically think we’ve got it together and need God to guide us only when making major decisions. By contrast, David knows how easily he falls prey to misdirection—that he needs guidance simply to please God.

Like Israel chased by Pharoah, David knows good will triumph in his situation only when evil is soundly defeated. For although God has anointed David king, death alone will make his rival stop trying to kill him. So he asks God to do away with his enemies.

Jesus, grant me your mercy. Without your Spirit’s leading, I so easily go wrong. Lead me on level ground. Faithful and overflowing in unconditional love, you’re my only hope. With you, I long for all to find your mercy. But I also pray you’ll eliminate all who’d rather die than submit to you. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Show me the path I should take
for I entrust my entire life to you.

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.