The architecture of ontology in the Hebrew Bible both distances YHWH from his human creatures and brings him very near to them.
YHWH’s altitude—he is portrayed as lofty, exalted, lifted up—is paired in compassionate paradox with his proximity to the most lowly. In one stirring passage in the book of Isaiah, he is exalted and yet lives with the lowly and crushed. In the hundred thirty-eighth psalm, he sees the lowly with exquisite precision.
Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar. (Psalms 138:6 NIV)
Ordinary conceptions of exalted power are subverted yet again in the second line of the quoted verse, for there he perceives the person who exalts himself to apparent proximity with YHWH from afar. To attempt to move nearer to YHWH by self-exaltation is in fact to distance oneself in a tragic feat of self-deception.
YHWH the most high sees and draws near to his daughters and sons when they have become most low.
The poet who stands behind Psalm 138 does not conclude his reflections with this beautiful observation, made in the abstract. Rather, he voices a poignant declaration and plea, rich with the very lowliness that he has described.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. The LORD will fulfill [his purpose] for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands. (Psalms 138:7–8 NIV)
With unexpected regularity, the Psalms pair the most confident declarations of YHWH’s care with the most plaintive requests that such care not falter.
The psalmist has known, indeed at some level he knows, that YHWH’s purposeful care will not be interrupted by the doubt-mongering agonies of human experience. Yet his final word—Do not abandon the works of your hands!—cries out with a discernible tremble that YHWH’s much-celebrated love might not exhaust itself while his own life is not yet concluded.
With remarkable self-awareness, with extraordinary understanding of both the glory and the degradation of human existence, the psalmist locates his own frail life within a phrase that has become familiar to the reader as a signature descriptor of YHWH’s creation: the work(s) of your hands.
The poet knows himself to be an object of that very craftsmanship. With sun, moon, and stars he glimpses in himself the fingerprints of a Master Artist. Yet he knows that, here below, some flawed attempts at created beauty end up discarded on the studio floor, too marred by accident or inherent flaw to become anything good.
For a moment, he wonders if YHWH, flawless creator and sustainer, might also allow himself such a momentary lapse.
Do not discard me … !
… cries the human work-in-progress.
Do not discard me!, we cry out as we read, finding our condition in his.