Psalm 118

Meditations on the Psalms: Kevin Youngblood


 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.

What can man do to me?

The Lord is on my side as my helper;

I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust in man.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust in princes.

I have never felt entirely comfortable with the psalmist’s assertion in Psalm 118:6. The psalmist says “YHWH is on my side.” The Hebrew here is a little more ambiguous (יְהוָ֣ה לִ֭י) “YHWH is for me” or “YHWH is mine,” but the discomfort remains. I suppose this is because I have been warned all of my life of reducing God to the level of a human companion, a sidekick, a groupie, a cheerleader, someone who is unconditionally committed to supporting and advancing whatever cause I happen to be championing at the time. This is a legitimate concern but I fear that I may have taken it too far. Scripture also makes clear that YHWH offers his friendship to those who revere him (Exod 33:11; Isa 41:8; Job 29:4; Psalm 25:14). Verse 7 may have reinforced my discomfort by adding to this assertion the word “helper.” But this I think is because I incorrectly conceive of “helper” as an inferior, a sidekick, a copilot, one of lesser rank and training who can only “assist” the professional by handing him tools and fetching him water. Perhaps this impression has been reinforced by the way the term when applied to Eve in Genesis 2:18 has been traditionally interpreted. In reality, however, “helper” in the biblical sense refers to one of at least equal if not superior power without whom survival would not be possible. This is true of both YHWH and Eve. Once again, Scripture strikes a perfect balance that continues to elude me. Truth, it seems, is nearly always a precarious balancing act, a matter of accenting the right syllable. Perhaps that is why truth is so beautiful and delicate. When someone does strike the balance of truth it is beautiful and delicate. You just want to stand there and admire it without touching it lest you inadvertently tip the scales, sending it back in the direction of distortion.

The psalm goes on to elevate refuge in YHWH over confidence in human allies, especially human rulers. How needed this caution is in our own time and place. The level of commitment and loyalty to political ideologies and their human representatives on display in most people in our culture is frightening to behold. How this must burden our president and congressional representatives to be constantly in the media’s all-seeing eye, to be held responsible for things that everyone knows deep down are far beyond the control of any one human being or even of humanity as a whole. But what are people left with when they no longer acknowledge God? Who else can they blame or turn to for help? How desperately we need just a few people to model taking refuge in YHWH. But what does this even look like in our context? I am still working on that but I think that waking every morning and giving God first dibs on my attention is a good place to start.

Our Father,

Thank you for being our friend and helper. Your friendship with us does not diminish you but it surely elevates us. As our helper, you are the superior power without which life would be impossible and we could do nothing. As Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” Thank you for being a refuge to those weary of disappointment with all of our human leaders and worldly supports all of which fail without fail. Teach us to run to you regularly, daily, in the search for solace, Helper, Friend, Refuge.

In Jesus’ name,