I felt brave last night and decided to read a Psalm in Hebrew. ”The Original Hebrew,” as some people say–as if there’s an unoriginal Hebrew. So I open up my JPS Hebrew Bible and, starting from the back, reading right- to-left, I find Psalm 69. Why Psalm 69? Because it is so deep that I can easily pour out the rest of my life on it and not make huge breakthroughs. As I start wrestling with the big, spidery Hebrew letters, I try to get a sense of the sonorous, rhythmic sound of Hebrew poetry. It’s emphasis on the long, final –ah syllable of each word makes it sound like waves of the ocean crashing on the rocks, my Hebrew professor used to say. True, true beauty not only in content, but also in form.
But as I struggle with the long-forgotten vocabulary, I’m reminded of the time God said to Job: Where were you when I created the earth? And: Can you catch a crocodile? I can’t read Hebrew with anything even approaching fluency. I guess my skill level is officially at “Decipher with great effort.” A pity, but it does give great background for studying the Word of God.
I switch to the English column in the bilingual Old Testament.
Starting at Psalm 69, the Psalm of Psalms for people in pain, I read along until I get to Psalm 70:5 and get stopped in my tracks.
But let all who seek You be glad and rejoice in You.
Let those who are eager for your deliverance always say:
“Extolled be God!”
Why is this important? Because it models for us the correct prayer attitude towards God in the midst of pain. It doesn’t say: “When you’re hurting, keep on begging God for relief,” or “Let your groans of pain climb up into His ear.” It says: When you need God so bad that you’re ‘eager for deliverance,’ when the water comes up to your nose and your feet are slipping, what do you do then? You praise Him. “Extolled be God!” Lesson: The bigger trouble you’re in, the more you should praise God.
If you tend to paste texts up on your bathroom mirror, and you suffer with chronic pain, this one is certainly a candidate. This reaction is wired into our Judaeo-Christian DNA. When I have a flare-up, and I can hardly speak or move, I sometimes turn the palms of my hands upward and whisper: “Thank you, Jesus. Praise your glory, Lord.” And sure as morning follows night, relief comes. Why do I do this? I’m not sure. But it feels right and honest and sincere.