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Psalm 52

Hoping in God’s goodness

When we see others grossly mistreated, we want to tell their abusers off. In David’s imagined talk, he does just that, but with a twist. He lets his angry words against the brute lead him to the God who cares.

A David psalm. When Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, “David went to Ahimelech’s house.”

Why do you brag
about your evildoing, Strongman
when God’s unfailing love
holds strong all day long?
Like a well-honed razor, your tongue
plots atrocity and crafts betrayal.
You love evil instead of good
lying instead of truth-telling.
You love using your words to devour,
you treacherous tongue!

But God will demolish you once and for all—
grab you and rip you out of your home—
uproot you from the land of the living.

God-seekers will see it and be stunned.
Then they’ll laugh and say
“Look what happened
to the guy who didn’t put his trust in God
but relied on his wealth and brute power
to get ahead!”
But me? I’m like an olive tree
flourishing in God’s house.
I’ll trust in God’s unfailing love
forever and ever.
I’ll never stop thanking you
for what you’ve done, Lord.
In company with all your loyal servants
I’ll wait for you to act
in keeping with your good name.

David wrote this after Doeg, Saul’s cutthroat Edomite employee, told Saul he’d seen the priests at the national shrine assist David. Doeg knew this would trigger a murderous rage in Saul, but he didn’t care. He cared only what it would do for him—namely, win him points with Saul. When Saul’s guards blanched at his order to slaughter all the priests, Doeg stepped up, massacring hundreds of innocent people.[a] And instead of feeling remorse, he felt proud of his brutality. Like so many throughout history, he’d embraced the twin lies that material wealth and power are all that matter and we get ahead by ruthlessly looking out for “number one.”

David knows how laughable Strongman’s view of reality is, that he loves all the wrong things and his life will eventually be cut short. So he directly challenges his lies, insisting that Strongman’s evil hasn’t diminished God’s commitment to care for his own. Implicitly, David also challenges everyone vulnerable to Strongman not to follow him, relying on their own abilities, but to trust in God’s unfailing love instead. Like David, we truly flourish only by living in fellowship with God, within the community of his loyal servants, hoping in his goodness.

Trusting myself, not you, Lord, I end up stepping on others in my push to get on top. But when I trust you and obey, you make me strong. Help me to tap into your strength and grow like an olive tree in your house, as I hope in your unfailing mercy and goodness. Amen.

In your spare moments today, ponder these words:

I’m like an olive tree, flourishing in God’s house.


[a] See 1 Samuel 21-22.

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.