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Psalm 144

Overcoming evil

Hostile to God’s plan for his world, the dark powers controlling our culture do all they can to keep us from seeing through their lies and seeking him. We overcome them through the power of his love.

A David psalm.

Blessed be Yahveh, my rock
who trains my hands for war
my fingers for battle.
2 My steadfast ally, my fortress
my tower of safety, my deliverer
the shield I shelter behind
who subdues my people under me.

3 Yahveh, what is humankind
that you notice us?
Why give us mortals a second thought?
4 A human life is like a single breath
our days a fleeting shadow.

5 Break through the sky and come down, Yahveh.
Touch the mountains and make them smoke.
6 Crack your lightning and scatter them—
shoot your arrows and panic them.

7 Reach down your hand from above
and save me!
Pull me out of the seething waters—
from the grip of aliens
8 whose mouths utter lies
and whose right hands are equally false.
9 I will sing a new song to you, God
playing a ten-stringed harp for you
10 the God who gives victory to kings
and rescues your servant David
from the sinister sword.
11 Save me!
Rescue me from the grip of aliens
whose mouths utter lies
and whose right hands are equally false.

12 Then our sons will flourish in their youth
like well-nurtured plants
our daughters like corner columns
beautifully carved to grace a palace.
13 Our barns will be filled with all kinds of crops
our flocks increase by thousands
by myriads in our fields
14 and our oxen be loaded down.
There’ll be no breaching our defenses
no going into exile
no cry of anguish in the streets.
15 How blessed the people all this is true of!
How blessed the people whose God is Yahveh!

David’s opening lines and repeated cries of “save me!” tell us he desperately needs God to protect and help him to overcome the enemies bent on killing him. Misleading in every way, his foes are aliens, whether literally or metaphorically—like Saul, whose hostility to David made him God’s enemy, despite his lip service to him.

Weaving lines from several earlier psalms—including Psalms 8, 18, and 33—into his cry for help, David infuses each with new life and meaning. He begins and ends with blessing since it’s only through God’s blessing that we overcome evil and are restored. David acknowledges that God’s caring for his people and giving his kings victory is beyond understanding except, implicitly, in the mystery of God’s love.

Desperate though David is—exiled from Jerusalem and under severe attack—he envisions the new song he’ll sing to celebrate a deliverance of such magnitude that no existing song will do. His rescue will usher in a peace and prosperity by which every Israelite child will flourish, and insecurity, exile, and anguish are no more. All this blessing flows from the mutual embrace of David’s gracious God and his people, that truth being one post-exilic Jews took great comfort in.

Jesus, you defeated evil by resisting the lies surrounding us—that arrogance, greed, and sensualism give us true life. Take hold of my hand and rescue me from the stormy waters threatening me. Your love and grace alone can save me. Help me believe I live fully only in your loving embrace. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Stretch down your hand from above and save me!
Pull me out of the seething waters—
from the grip of aliens.

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.