Tag Archives: Yahweh

The Song and the Story

The Song and the Story (CaD Ps 136) Wayfarer

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:16 (NIV)

Psalm 136 is one of the most fascinating of all the songs in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we all the book of Psalms. The ancient Hebrew songwriter crafted it in such a way that the the meaning and metaphor of the lyrics are as much in the structure as they are in the words. First, there’s the organization of the the theme:

  • Six verses about creation
  • Six verses about the Hebrews deliverance from slavery
  • One verse about the Hebrews being led through the wilderness
  • Six verses about the Hebrews conquest of Canaan
  • Four verses that echo/summarize the previous themes
  • A final call to praise God

There is no other psalm in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that utilizes the call and response device as this song does. Twenty-six times the refrain “His love endures forever” is used. That number is important because for the ancient Hebrews, the letters of their alphabet also did double-duty as numerals. Every letter was used as a number. When you add up the numerical values of the letters of the Hebrew name for God: YHWH (Note: the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t have vowels) the total is, you guessed it, 26.

As I thought about the structure of the song, I couldn’t help but think that it parallels every life story, my life story.

I have a creation story. There’s the time in which I was born, the family in which I was raised, the community of my childhood, and the events that set me on my path in life.

Like the Hebrew exodus from slavery, I have climactic events that shape and define my life journey. My decision to follow Christ and subsequent call to proclaim His message, my being cast in a film and meeting the mentor who would play an instrumental part in my life, my early marriage, the births of Taylor and Madison, the divorce that would end my first marriage after seventeen years, and the unexpected arrival of Wendy in my life.

Like the Hebrew wilderness experience, I have my own stretch of life’s road in which I wandered in the wilderness of my own choosing. I chose the path of the prodigal. I ran. I squandered. I was unfaithful to those I loved most. I had my own pig-slop “Aha!” moment. I had to find my way back.

Like the Hebrew conquest, I have my own slate of victories in life. I have accomplishments, awards, and successes.

And, through it all, God’s faithful, enduring love is woven through every major success and every tragic failure. His love is woven through my best moments and my worst. In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul wrote that at the end of the Great Story that contains all stories, including mine, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love. he adds, “The greatest of these is love.”

In the quiet this morning, as I look back at my own story, I am realizing just how much God’s love shows up like the repeated refrain of Psalm 136. I am also reminded that like the 26 love refrains the song writer metaphorically employed to point me to God, Yahweh, I am pointed to a God who is love incarnate, which is the destination and goal of my entire story and life journey through this world. If I’m not growing into love in increasing measure as Jesus defined it, then I am (perhaps even with the best of intentions) headed in the wrong direction.

Chapter-a-Day Mark 14

Matthias Stom's depiction of Jesus before Caia...
Image via Wikipedia

Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

 Jesus said, “I Am.” Mark 14:60-62a (NLT)

The more you understand about the scene that unfolds in today’s chapter, the more amazing it is. The religious racketeers led by their own version of the Godfather, Caiaphas the high priest (who wasn’t really in charge – the real “don” was his father-in-law, Ananias), pull together a kangaroo court in the middle of the night. The trial itself broke their several of their own laws and reveals how desperate they were to deal with Jesus secretly and swiftly, before the public got wind of it.

When Jesus answered the high priest’s question with the word “I Am,” he was making far more than a simple admission. The word Jesus used was the Hebrew Yahweh, translated “I am who I am.” It is the name to which God referred to Himself in the burning bush when He spoke to Moses (Exodus 3). The Jewish people considered that name holy, and it was reserved only for God Himself. The name was so holy, in fact, that it was never to be uttered by human lips. When Jesus responded to the high priest’s question with the word “Yahweh” He was literally claiming for Himself the holy name of God, and with that admission He drew a line in the sand.

The response from the high priest was swift and showy. He tore his robe (a traditional act  to show how grievous of a blasphemous wrong he’d just witnessed) and immediately called for a verdict. By uttering that one word and claiming to be God, Jesus sealed his human fate. He was savagely beaten for his admission and led off to the one man in Jerusalem who could legally have Him executed. It was another political move by the high priest. If Caiaphas and the religious racketeers killed Jesus, the public would turn on them. By getting the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to sign the death order, they could point the finger of blame at him.

Today, what stands out for me as I read the chapter is the reality that the line in the sand remains two thousand years later. C.S. Lewis argued that with Jesus’ bold claim of being God, we find ourselves standing in the sandals of the religious leaders. Reason and logic dictate that Jesus was either a liar (He knew he wasn’t God but claimed to be), a lunatic (He thought he was God, but wasn’t), or Lord (He knew He was God, and was exactly who He claimed to be). As we read today’s chapter and consider the enormity of Jesus’ claim,  we each must each answer the high priest’s question: “What’s your verdict?”