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Psalm 59

With God in the real world 

People say it’s a dog-eat-dog existence in “the real world,” that you must hit first in order to get ahead and hit back when you’re hit. This psalm advocates a different approach, one of trusting God to fight for us.

A David psalm. When Saul put his house under surveillance in order to kill him.

Rescue me from my foes, my God—
protect me from those attacking me!
Rescue me from these thugs—
from these hitmen protect me!
See them lurking to ambush me.
The powerful conspire against me
but not for anything I’ve done, Yahveh.
4 No, they hurry into position for no fault of mine.
Wake up, God!
See what’s happening and help me!
Yahveh, Commander of heaven’s armies
you’re Israel’s God.
Wake up and punish all your foes!
Don’t spare any of these traitors who plot evil!

Every night they’re back roaming the streets
like a pack of howling dogs.
They spew a stream of abuse from their mouths
snarl razor-sharp words and chortle
Who overhears anything we say?
But you laugh out loud, Yahveh—
you scoff at all the nations.
My Strength, I wait for you to rescue me
because you’re my fortress, God.

10 The God whose love never fails
will come through for me.
God will make sure
I look down on my enemies’ lifeless bodies—
not they on mine.
11 But don’t kill them suddenly
lest my people forget just as quickly.
No, make them stagger and reel.
Take them down in slow-motion
O Lord, our Shield.
12 May all the arrogant curses and filthy lies
that pour out of their mouths
bring about their own downfall.
13 Obliterate them in your anger.
Decimate them so that everyone everywhere
knows that Israel’s God reigns supreme.

14 Every night they’re back
like a pack of howling dogs.
15 See, they roam and scavenge all night long
growling if they don’t get their fill.
16 But I sing of your power.
Every morning I’ll shout
about your unfailing love.
For you’ve been my fortress
my refuge when I had nowhere else to turn.
17 O my Strength, I’ll sing praises to you
for you’re a high fortress to me
the God who shows me unfailing love.

Sure that David threatens his supremacy, Saul determines to get rid of him and puts him under constant surveillance. David can’t convince Saul of his innocence and, so, is left to live in Saul’s trap. His enemies control everything outside his house, like a pack of wild dogs with the run of the city’s streets at night. So David cries out to God for protection, asking him to rid the world of his enemies, and in such a way that people don’t quickly forget what it says about the true way to get ahead.[1] David repeats his refrain about God’s being his strength to counter his repeated description of the menacing dogs and emphasize God’s faithfulness and unfailing love.

Like Psalms 56-58, this psalm declares that God rules the world. Though evil persists in it and often seems to be in control, God’s love constantly works to counter it, blessing those who live by not the lust for power, but rather the power of love.

You reign, Lord, though evil often has the upper hand, leaving those who please you struggling. Help me to believe your love reigns and live accordingly, to walk by faith even when I can’t see what you’re doing. And help me praise you for your unfailing love and shelter. Amen.

Meditate on this in your free moments today: 

O my Strength, I’ll sing praises to you for you’re a high fortress to me, the God who shows me unfailing love!

[1] This seems vengeful to us, but David saw it as a practical necessity since someone was going to die—either him or his assassins. Disturbed by the evil example his enemies set for the nation, he asks God to make a memorable example of them in their deaths. But he doesn’t take vengeance into his own hands.

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.