The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” Wisdom about God comes from the mouth of one who has known distress and despair.
The word salvation is an important one in the Hebrew Bible, but its Hebraic meaning has been largely lost to us. Like other Hebrew words for redemption, righteousness, and justice, popular and contemporary definitions have lost the substantive grounding we find in the Old Testament texts.
Salvation in the Hebrew Scriptures is largely a poetic word, most often found in the Psalms and in the poetry of the prophets. Nearly half of the psalms contain one or more occurrences of this word. Salvation was considered primarily communal and had an “of this world” character. The psalmist in 118 sings a song of praise because God came to him in his despair and saved him. Salvation, the Hebrews believed, could come time and time again when the community needed deliverance.
Some relate the word salvation to other Hebrew words meaning “spacious” and “wide”—connoting a hopefulness that God can deliver us from what restricts or oppresses us, those times when it is hard to breathe because the world seems to be caving in around us. We are given room, a liberating space within which to live. This implies a God who actively participates in the life of the community and in the lives of individuals. Our God listens and hears the cries of distress that arise from our human living. It implies God’s willingness and desire that we be given a full and wide berth to live abundantly. The word bears witness to God’s willingness to come to us and to continue coming to us as the world brings us tragedy and despair.
God, we thank you for the times you have pulled us forth from the restrictive stretches and places in our lives so that we could breathe in the fullness of life you desire for us. Amen.