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Psalm 24

Serving the all-glorious king

When other means don’t work, most people try to induce God or the gods to help them get what they want. David says we need to start with God, who both owns us and our world and has taught us how to live.

A David psalm.

The earth and everything in it
belongs to Yahveh
the world and all who live in it.
2 Because he’s the one
who brought up dry land
out of the surging seas
laying its foundations in the ocean streams.

3 Who can ascend Yahveh’s hill
and stand in his holy place?
4 Those with clean hands and pure hearts
who don’t try to use God
for their own ends
or take oaths to deceive.
5 They’ll receive Yahveh’s blessing
and restoration from the God who saves them.
6 That’s what all who seek him are like
who long to see the face of Jacob’s God.

7 Stand tall, gateway!
Swing wide, you ancient doors
so the king of glory can come in!
8 Who is this glorious king?
Yahveh, strong and mighty!
Yahveh, unyielding in battle!
9 Stand tall, gateway!
Swing wide, you ancient doors
so the king of glory can come in!
10 Who is this glorious king?
Yahveh, captain of heaven’s armies
he is the all-glorious king!

Israel’s Canaanite neighbors believed Ba’al defeated the gods responsible for earth’s primordial chaos, Yamm (sea) and Nahar (river/stream), to bring order to creation. Countering that belief, David says Yahveh is the one who created earth’s order and reigns as king over all—seas and streams (v. 2), and all earth’s inhabitants included.

Since God inhabits the world to redeem it from its chaos and evil, David further distinguishes Israelite from Canaanite religion by asking who Yahveh welcomes into the sacred space of his earthly home (i.e., tabernacle). Unlike Baal, Yahveh is both holy and gracious. He welcomes people with pure hands and hearts: holy, loving, authentic, humble, truthful. As they seek him, he blesses and restores them for their neighbors’ sake.

But what of Israel’s enemies, as hell-bent on increasing their share of the region’s pie as any despot today? Presenting Yahveh as his people’s invincible defender returning home from battle, David orders Jerusalem’s personified gates to open to her triumphant king. Having described those allowed to enter Yahveh’s presence, he now describes the God who seeks to enter Jerusalem, as her rightful king. No one stands a chance against him. Welcoming their triumphant king on his terms, not theirs, is an act of faith that issues in the holy living he asks of them.

Thank you, Jesus, that the world is yours by both creation and redemption. You ascended Zion’s holy hill with perfect passion, purity, and power. But we shut you out and nailed you to a cross. O Lord, help me open my heart wide to all the blessings you want to bestow on me today. Amen.

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.