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Psalm 36

When alternate realities collide

A psalm of David, Yahveh’s servant.

Deep in their hearts
rebellion calls to evildoers.
And with no fear of God
there’s nothing to restrain them.
2 They’ve fooled themselves into thinking
their sin won’t ever be caught and condemned.
3 The words flowing from their mouths
are evil distortions
because they’ve deserted goodness and wisdom.
4 They lie awake in bed
planning tomorrow’s evil schemes
commit to walking the wrong path
and put up no resistance to evil.

5 But your love, Yahveh, reaches to the heavens
your faithfulness stretches to the clouds.
6 Your justice is like the mighty mountains
your judgments like the ocean deep, Yahveh
and you sustain people and animals alike.

7 How precious your love, O God
that Eve’s daughters and Adam’s sons
find shelter in the shadow of your wings!
8 They feast on the abundance of your house
and drink freely from your Eden-fresh river.
9 For you are the source of life
and in your light we see light.

 10 Keep on showing mercy to all who know you
and faithfulness to those who love you.
11 Don’t let arrogant feet stomp on me
or faithless hands shut me out.
12 There the self-seekers lie face down!
They’ve been thrown down
never to rise again.

David’s world was just as full of hatred and violence as ours today. Israelite powerbrokers—both real and aspiring—and pagan armies all wanted him dead. Here he clearly contrasts the self-seekers’ character with that of God, before weaving the two themes together in his closing prayer.[1] But honest though this psalm is, its’ brimful of hope.

Considering God irrelevant, self-seekers are constantly drawn to evil. Not fearing God, they assure themselves they won’t be caught and don’t bother resisting evil. They thus become fools, as evil takes shape in thoughts, words and deeds that distort reality and wreak destruction in their own lives and those of others.

But Yahveh’s boundless love holds the universe together. His faithfulness dwarfs the evildoers’ treachery. His determination and ability to set our world to rights are indomitable, his judgments unfathomable. Though self-seekers assert their self-sufficiency, God in fact sustains all life. In his house, he lavishly gives shelter, provision, life and light.[2]

David concludes by asking God to continue to show his people mercy and faithfulness and protect him from everyone out to get him. And so sure is he that God will act on his behalf that he can already see his enemies’ downfall.

Whenever I fear that evil has the upper hand, Lord, I reduce you to my size. But who is like you, whose love holds the whole universe together? Help me to love freely, boldly—as you do—and to live wisely. Deliver me from evil and shelter me always in the shadow of your wings. Amen.


[1] Scholars missing the connection between these topics often view this psalm as a patchwork of a couple of psalms.

[2] Some scholars say this refers to the temple in Jerusalem, others to God’s creation generally. I believe both are right. Biblically, the temple is God’s earthly residence, from which he provides lavishly for his people. But in another sense, the whole world was created as his temple, and he provides lavishly for all throughout creation; Brueggemann (2014) 179-80. John 1:4 corroborates this latter notion, saying that the Word gives life and light to humanity. But having said that, it’s to his own people’s lives that the light of God’s face brings good things (Num. 6:24-26).

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.