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Psalm 17

Vindicate me, Lord!

A prayer of David.

Hear my plea for vindication, Yahveh.
Listen to my appeal.
Pay attention to my prayer
uttered without any deceit.
It’s your verdict I await
for you see what’s right.

If you examine my heart—
catch me at night unawares—
you’ll find nothing.
I’ve determined not to sin
in anything I say.
In contrast to what others do
I’ve obeyed your word
resolutely avoiding the plunderer’s path.
My steps have held to your path
my feet haven’t faltered.

I call on you, God
for you will answer me.
Bend down and hear the words I pray.
Reveal the wonder of your lovingkindness
you who powerfully deliver
all who seek refuge in you from their enemies.
Guard me as you would your very eyesa
hide me in the shadow of your wings.
Protect me from the wicked who ravage me
these brutal enemies surrounding me.
10 They have become rebellious
and speak arrogantly.
11 Having tracked me down
they now hem me in
and look for a way to hurl me to the ground
12 like a lion eager to rip me apart
a powerful lion crouching in ambush.

13 Move out, Yahveh!
Attack them and take them down!
Wield your sword to save me from the wicked.
14 Rescue me by your strong hand, Yahveh
destroy those who look to this world
for their reward.
But satisfy the hungerb of your treasured ones.
Give them enough so their kids have plenty
and their grandkids too.
15 When you vindicate me
I’ll behold your face.
I’ll be satisfied when I awaken
beholding your glorious face.

Behind this plea for justice is the idea of mutual obligation seen in the last psalm and throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Gen. 12:1-3), that God has promised to care for those who obey him. Formidable enemies have accused David of the sort of crime that could cost him his life—perhaps of trying to take Saul’s crown. Like powerful lions, they want to devour him.

David appeals to heaven’s high court because he’s not guilty, and he’s clearly not finding justice down here. Thankfully, God sees all, is just and compassionate, and his verdict is final. So David asks God to examine him thoroughly, even surprise him. He just wants the truth to come out.

Then in language that evokes the Exodus, David prays for vindication, deliverance and judgment on his enemies. As with Israel at the Red Sea, powerful enemies have tracked him down, cornered him and are about to destroy him. His only hope is the God who delivers the oppressed who shelter in him. David cries out to him, fully convinced that—as in the Exodus—God’s face will shine on him at the break of day and Yahveh will be all he needs and more.

Despite all our technological progress, not that much has changed since ancient times. The wicked still oppress the vulnerable. But thankfully, you haven’t changed at all, Lord. So I ask you to vindicate, deliver and richly bless your poor and judge their enemies. Smile on us, I pray. Amen.

a Literally, “your pupil” (Heb. “the apple of your eye”).

b Literally, “fill the bellies.”

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.