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Psalm 60

When human help is worthless

How can you trust God after he’s left you wounded, hurt and shaken? How can you go on fighting for good when it didn’t work out well last time and you suffered loss? Why trust God again?

 A David psalm. When he clashed with Aram-Naharaim and Aram-Zobah, and Joab returned and struck down 12,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt.[a]

O God, you’ve rejected us
and wrecked our defences.
You were angry, but now revive us.
You rocked the land and ripped it open.
Heal its wounds before it founders.
You made your people suffer hardship
and drink a brew that sent us reeling.
Raise up a banner for those who revere you
where they can rally out of bowshot.
Stretch out your right hand and help us
so your loved ones may be rescued. 

God has spoken in his holiness:
“In triumph I’ll parcel out Shechem
and measure off the Valley of Succoth.
Gilead is mine and Manasseh mine.
Ephraim is my helmet, Judah my scepter!
Moab is my washbasin
onto Edom I toss my shoes
and over Philistia shout triumphant!”

Who will take me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom
10 if not you who rejected us, God?
You no longer lead our armies to battle.
11 Help us fight against our foes
for human help is worthless.
12 With God’s help we’ll fight courageously
and he’ll trample down our enemies!

David needs to strike enemy nations preemptively on their home turf, which gives them the natural advantage. What makes it harder is that David’s army has been badly beaten. He describes Israel’s defeat in cataclysmic terms, of God’s having wrenched and torn the land apart. David sees their defeat as God’s abandoning them, making them down a medicine with serious side effects.

Demoralized and facing a stronger foe, military strategists always look for more soldiers, better weapons, smarter strategies. However, David knows such things will never do for the battles they must fight. So he cries out for God to heal the nation and lead them into battle. Yet it’s really hard to trust God after he’s roughed you up. That’s David’s struggle: how to trust God after he’s sent them reeling.

The psalm’s core quotes God on his declared ownership of the entire region. It’s all his home turf to do what he likes with. Moab is his laundry room, well fortified Edom his mud room![b] He calls Ephraim his helmet and Judah his scepter because he reigns through them. This reassures David that he can count on the same God who wounded them to heal them, lead them and rescue them now.

It’s hard to believe you’ll come through for me, Lord, when you’ve just deserted me—though it was my self-reliance that messed me up. But my foes are way bigger than me. You’re my only hope, and all my battles belong to you. So I trust you to heal me and reign through me. Amen.

Meditate on this during your free moments today:

With God’s help we’ll fight courageously
and he’ll trample down our enemies!


[a] This psalm may have inspired David and Joab to trust God prior to the battles mentioned.

[b] Sela (Petra), Edom’s capital city, was arguably the best fortified city in David’s world.

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.