Praying the Psalms in Biblical Hebrew: Psalm 90:1

A student of my Beginning Biblical Hebrew class expressed interest in praying Bible verses in Hebrew, especially from the Psalms. I asked her to choose a few verses that she would like to pray in Hebrew. Psalm 90:1 is one of these. It is noted as the beginning verse of a prayer of Moses.

I will share the Hebrew words below (in the Hebrew alphabet along with pronunciation), as well as a little explanation from the Hebrew lexicon from Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB).

I’m starting with the actual prayer text that follows the designation of this Psalm as a prayer of Moses, so about halfway through the first verse.

אדני

Adonai

Lord

מעון

Ma’own

“Figurative of God as abode of His people” (BDB).

Same usage as in Psalm 91:9, which is in a similar part of the Psalter, so likely to indicate similar usage of the word or phrase.

Often what comes earlier in the sentence is brought to the front on purpose for emphasis. So this verse emphasizes God as dwelling place.

אתה

Attah

You

2nd person masculine singular, referring to God.

היית

Hayita

Have been

Qal verb Perfect aspect, from the root “hayah.” 2nd person masculine singular, referring to God. A Perfect aspect verb indicates a sense of completeness – not in the sense of “it’s over” but in the sense of fullness, no part of it left out. So God is not a halfway sort of dwelling. He’s the full deal.

A Perfect verb can also have a sense of bringing something into being and can imply duration, something that lasts. The psalmist can look back and know God has always been there for the people and really been present and come through for them – with no indication that it will stop, thus the translation “have been” which implies the action started in the past and is continuing in the present and into the future.

לנו

Lanu 

Our

Possessive that indicates “ours” – modifies “dwelling place.”

בדר ודר

Bedor Wador

In all generations.

Both words come from same root – dor – which means “of duration in the past” (emphasis on “duration” again). BDB notes, “period, age, generation – mostly poetic” – remembering the Psalms are written as poetry.

Bedor has the bet preposition prefix often translated “in.”

Wador has the waw conjunction prefix often translated “and.”

Roughly, “In generation and generation.”

Connotation: “In all generations.”

Let’s pray

Putting this Bible verse all together to pray:

Adonai

Ma’own

Attah

Hayita

Lanu 

Bedor Wador

Lord, You have been and continue to be the abode of Your people, our dwelling place in all generations. Amen

God bless you. Shalom. שׁלום

 

A Prayer in Times of Pain and Sorrow – Psalm 22 (Jesus Prayed It Too)

I love Psalm 22. In this psalm, God provides us with an awesome way to connect with Him in our sorrows, and to find His strength and peace in that place.

In this psalm, God doesn’t tell us our sorrows will completely disappear. But He shows us that He will be present with us in that place, and bring us HIS peace.

Jesus Is with Us in Our Pain

To show us that He truly understands the pain in our hearts, Jesus prayed Psalm 22 from the cross.

Here is the first verse of Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (NRSV)

And here are Jesus’ words from Matthew 27:46:

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

In His most difficult hour, when God the Father Himself had to turn away from Jesus (because Jesus had taken on all of our sin), Jesus began to pray Psalm 22. 

In praying this psalm, Jesus gives us a model for how to pray during times of sorrow. He also shows us that He is with us in our pain.

Psalm 22 Helps Us Pray in Pain

How does Psalm 22 guide us in prayer? The psalmist begins with a lament, an expression of his sorrow. From the very start, he makes it clear he is telling all of this to God – all of his pain, all of his sorrow. Out loud. To God.

In verses 1-21, the psalmist offers three laments, and they get progressively worse! He gets to the point where he feels like he is at death’s door (verse 15). And honestly, some of the other stuff sounds worse than that.

But in between these laments, something interesting happens. The psalmist remembers about God’s faithfulness. He turns to the truth He knows about God.

The Struggle in the Heart – It’s Real

That doesn’t mean the psalmist feels that truth in his heart. His heart is hurting. He knows what the truth is, but he doesn’t feel it yet. There is a battle going on in his heart. His pain and his sorrowful experiences are very real. But he also remembers that God is good.

It’s in the midst of that struggle within the heart where God does His best work.

So the psalm goes like this:

Lament (verses 1-2) – the psalmist feels abandoned by God.

Truth (verses 3-5) – the psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness in times past.

Lament (verses 6-8) – the psalmist feels scorned.

Truth (verses 9-11) – the psalmist remembers God has always been with him.

Lament (verses 12-18) – the psalmist is at death’s door (and worse).

Truth (verses 19-21) – the psalmist is confident God can deliver him.

Heart Change – God’s Peace Is Here

Notice that the truth doesn’t take away his reality or his sorrow. But it does bring peace to his heart, the peace of knowing God is present. How can we tell? Verse 22 says it all: a change of heart, where the psalmist begins to praise God in the midst of suffering. This praise grows with great intensity to the end of the psalm.

He doesn’t praise because he “has” to (although that would be okay). He praises because God has brought him peace in the midst of his very real suffering. The psalmist knows God hears his pain. He says this in verse 24. And not just his own pain, but also the pain of everyone who is suffering.

There is a lot of peace and comfort that comes from knowing that someone else is present with us in pain and really hears our heart. We need this from each other. Most importantly, we need this from God.

Sorrow and Truth – We Need Both

The beauty of this psalm, as a prayer, is the movement between lament (expression of our sorrow) and truth. Often when we pray in times of pain and sorrow, we end up with one or the other, but not both.

We need both.

We can lament and lament until there is nothing left of us. But if we haven’t taken the next step to pray for God’s truth in our situation, we end up consumed with lament, and no peace (just like the psalmist at the end of verse 2 – unable to find rest).

On the other hand, sometimes we rush too quickly to speak the truth. And we overlook the pain in our hearts.

Sometimes we do this because we are afraid of giving words to our sorrow or struggle – afraid that once we start crying out in pain, we will never stop.

We might also avoid the pain because people around us might get uncomfortable with our expressions of grief and sorrow. Society (even in the church) doesn’t really like “lament,” and we rarely feel like we have permission to grieve. We’re supposed to just “get over it” and move on. “It’s under the blood” – we hear that so often, meaning that whatever we are struggling with, God’s already taken care of it, in some way or another.

But when we say things like that, we risk applying truth like a band-aid without draining the wound.

It’s important that we do both: That we lament, expressing our sorrows out loud to God; and that once we have completely poured out all the pain that’s stuffed in our hearts, we then remember God’s truth.

Psalm 22 teaches us beautifully how to pray both, back and forth, until God’s peace comes into our hearts. The situation may not change. But we have His peace. We can take the next step forward in our daily life, even in the midst of painful things.

Again and Again, until Our Hearts Know God Is Here

What I also love about this psalm is how very real the psalmist is. He doesn’t just stop at verse 5. He laments again. And again! Until he is done. Really done.

Only then does he turn to praise.

When you read verses 22-31, you can tell that God’s peace has come into his heart in that place of deepest sorrow. There is nothing quite like the tearful and heartfelt praise of someone who has just cried out all of her pain to God.

Jesus Prayed This for You

If you are in pain or sorrow of any kind right now, I encourage you to read and pray through Psalm 22. Remember that Jesus Himself also prayed this psalm at His worst hour. He prayed it while carrying all of your pain and sorrow in His own body, mind, and heart. So in a way, He has already prayed this psalm for you.

When you join Him now in praying Psalm 22, He will meet you there and will bring His peace to your heart, as only He can.

That doesn’t mean your pain or sorrow will lift completely, or that your circumstances will change overnight, especially if you have experienced and are grieving a loss. But it does mean that you will have the strength and comfort of Jesus’ presence with you in that place.

You will be able to experience His peace, which is a peace like no other. It’s the peace that helps you take the next breath and keep going.

It’s also the peace that reassures you, deep in your heart, that God is here, and that He loves you from a deep well of love that’s almost beyond imagining.

Singing Prayers

Earlier this month, I enjoyed watching the movie, Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World.

One moment that really spoke to me was how Martin Luther encouraged singing in church services. These hymns were also a great way for people to keep singing praises and scripture while working in the fields throughout the day.

The Psalms were created for this as well. They are meant to be sung. I was thrilled to learn that Seedbed Publishing has created an online resource for singing Psalms to popular hymn tunes.

This is a powerful way to pray the scriptures. Often, it’s easier to remember words when they are set to music. Singing the Psalms helps us draw the words into our hearts. And music does something amazing to our spirits.

Look at Revelation 5:8 – the verse on which the harp and bowl style of worship is modeled. Music and incense (representing our prayers) rises before the throne of God.

When we sing Psalms, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We are participating in the worship around God’s throne. And we can do this any time of any day or night. How amazing!

Often, people hesitate to sing in praise because they feel like they don’t have a “singing voice.” That doesn’t matter. We don’t need voice training to sing to God. And we don’t need to feel like we can carry a tune. All He asks is that we make a joyful noise (Psalm 100:1). God gave each one of us our unique and beautiful voice. He loves to hear us.

So let’s start singing the Psalms in prayer, praise, and worship. God is worthy!

Praying the Psalms in Communion Liturgy

Currently, I am involved in a non-denominational church. Yet I grew up and at one point served in the United Methodist Church, whose prayer roots I continue to learn about. As a seminary student and prayer missionary, I am interested in learning about prayer traditions of the many branches of the Christian Church. It’s fascinating to me. I think we can learn a lot about biblically based prayer from Christian history and different church traditions.

When I was growing up in the Methodist church, we celebrated Communion on the first Sunday of the month. (Not enough, in my opinion.) Back then, before the days of overhead projectors, we used hymnals to read the Communion liturgy. By the age of five, I had it memorized – not because I was trying to, but simply because I had repeated it so many times. What I never appreciated, until now, were the biblical roots of that liturgy.

On Sunday, I opened my email to find this message from Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, who is president of Asbury Theological Seminary where I attend as a student. I am getting ready to take a class this spring on the Psalms, so this particular article caught my eye:

The Grammar of Repentance: Psalm 38

In this article, Dr. Tennent talks about the importance of repentance in Christian life. He also traces the roots of the typical Methodist Communion liturgy to many of the Psalms, as well as Isaiah.

And he says something that really stood out for me: ” … the Psalms have always been the prayer book for the people of God.”

With my passion for prayer, I am more excited than ever to study the Psalms this spring.

Even though liturgy and hymnals don’t seem to be used as much in the church as they used to be, it might be an interesting family activity (or church class) to look at some of the words of earlier church practices, trace the biblical roots, and pray those prayers as so many people have done across the ages.

If you are curious about the liturgy referred to by Dr. Tennent, here is the full text:

A Service of Word and Table IV

As I was reading over this text, so familiar when I was young, I realized that even in traditional services where hymnals are still used for Communion, often the prayers of confession and pardon are left out – probably to cut down on time. Yet that means we’re missing out on this rich tradition of prayer.

Instead of removing these prayers from the Communion liturgy, it might be helpful even to incorporate these prayers in other aspects of church life. They are great prayers.

I am only familiar with the United Methodist Communion liturgy, referred to in the article by Dr. Tennent. However, it would be interesting to look at the equivalent prayers and liturgy in the history of other branches of the Church.

Does your family or church pray any of the older liturgical prayers, or pray from the Psalms? What are your prayer traditions and practices?