From Mourning to Morning
Psalm 30 is a psalm of thanksgiving written by David after God had delivered him from a severe trial—probably an illness. According to the superscription it was written “For the dedication of the temple” but that is somewhat mysterious. David did not live to see the temple built. That task fell to his son and successor, Solomon. I think it likely that these words written by David were later appropriated for the ceremony of dedication or rededication of the temple.
That could be one of three historical occasions. First, the dedication of the temple of Solomon when it was completed around 966 BC. The second possibility is when the Second Temple was built after the return of the exiles from the Babylonian Captivity about the year 515 BC. And third, it could have been used in the rededication of the temple by the Maccabees after it had been desecrated by Antiochus IV (c. 200 BC).
We just don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. Apparently, the dedicators (or re-dedicators) of the temple saw David’s praise to God after a time of difficulty as applicable to their circumstances and made use of the already existing psalm to express the praise of the nation to the God who had helped them.
One of the first things you see when you read the psalm is that it begins and ends with praise. “I will extol you, Lord” (vs. 1), “Lord, my God, I will praise you forever” (vs. 12). Like bookends, the psalm is contained by David’s praise.
A Song of Praise (vss. 1-5)
The psalm easily divides into three sections. In the first section, verses 1-5 David sings his praise to God for rescuing him and then invites God’s people the join him.
Vss. 1-3 – David lists his reasons for praising God.
will exalt you, Lord,
“You lifted me out of the depths . . .” The word for lifted refers to pulling a bucket up from a well. David feels that he is sinking and that God had pulled him up, just as one might pull the pail up out of the well. There is a play on words here—to exalt means to “lift up”. So, David is saying, “I will lift you up because you have lifted me up.” “The depths,” Sheol (vs. 3a) or “the pit” (vs. 3b) is an Old Testament reference to the grave or the “place of the dead. David feels as if he is sinking into death but God has lifted him out.
“Did not let my enemies gloat over me” – David had plenty of enemies who would have been happy to see him dead.
“You healed me” – indicates that David’s difficulty was an illness. Sometimes illness is God’s chastening discipline. I think that is the case here, as we will see later. His illness is so severe that David believed that he was going to die, “You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit” (vs. 3).
Then, in verse 4, David invites God’s people to join him in praise,
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name.
Praise is not just an individual thing. It involves the whole community of faith. Others are encouraged by our praise to God and we are encouraged by others telling of God’s care for them. That is why we invite you to share your praises in the service. Corporate praise grows out of the individuals’ experiences. As we share what God has done for us others are encouraged in their struggles.
In calling for praise, David contrasts God’s temporary anger with his eternal grace.
For his anger lasts only a
Even though God may chasten us to discipline us, his anger is temporary but his grace is eternal. David compares the struggles of life with an eternity of joy and concludes that the latter outweighs the former. As Paul observed in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
David had been through a difficult time – a time which he thought would end in his death. But God had intervened and David’s life had been spared. He had been healed. And from the overflow of his gratitude he sings his praise to God and invites others to praise God as well.
A Struggle Recalled (vss. 9-10)
Then, in verses 4-10 David recalls his struggle:
I felt secure, I said,
Ironically, his struggle had begun in a time of prosperity. David says, “When I felt secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken’” (vs. 6). Before his illness David felt secure and that led to overconfidence— “I will never be shaken,” he said. After his trouble, David saw that that the mountain-like stability that he felt came from the Lord’s favor. Maybe this was the reason for David’s suffering—the Lord afflicting David to teach him humility and reliance on God. “But when you hid your face, I was dismayed.” When David had become proud, God removed his blessing from him and David became “dismayed” (lit. “terrified”).
This is what had happened when David numbered the fighting men of Israel and Judah. Read the story in 2 Samuel 24. David, in his pride of his power, decided to count the fighting men—even though his commander Joab warned him against it. Afterward the prophet Gad came to David and gave him a choice: three years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies or three days of plague. David said, “Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands” (2 Samuel 24:14) and chose the third option. A great plague broke out and 70,000 people died. Finally, the plague was ended when David prayed confessing his sin and offered sacrifice.
When things are going well for us there is a danger that we will forget the Lord. Remember what God told the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land:
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deuteronomy 8:10-14).
There is nothing that we have that the Lord did not give us. There is nothing we have that he cannot take away if he so pleases. And sometimes he does, to teach us to find our strength and satisfaction in him alone.
“My son, do not make light
of the Lord’s discipline,
David confesses that he engaged in a little bargaining with God in verse 9:
is gained if I am silenced,
In essence this says, “If I die, Lord, I won’t be able to praise you. So, if you want my praise, you better keep me alive.”
The pit, as mentioned before, is another name for death. And David says, “If I return to the dust (which is what happens when we die) I won’t be praising.” In the Old Testament, the view of death was nowhere as developed as in the New Testament. It was thought that when you died your soul descended into Sheol (the pit) a place of shadows and silence. It wasn’t hell but it wasn’t Heaven either. There may have been some concept of eternal reward or punishment, but is wasn’t fully developed. It remained for the New Testament and the gospel of Jesus to declare the hope of eternal life in fellowship with God.
I think we’ve all done this. “Lord, if you get me out of this, I promise I’ll change. I’ll praise you more. I’ll pray more. I’ll read the Bible more. I won’t be so impatient.” But David finally realizes that it’s no good bargaining with God. God owes us nothing. He needs nothing from us. His glory is not enhanced by our praise of him, nor is it diminished by our refusal to praise him. All that we can do is throw ourselves on his mercy and trust in his grace – his unmerited favor toward us.
A Great Reversal (vss. 11-12)
When David turns from his pride and self-reliance and begins to trust only in God’s grace, then he experiences the great reversal of verses 11-12:
turned my wailing into dancing;
David acknowledges that it is God who has turned his mourning into joy. “You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” – sackcloth was worn as a sign of mourning. David states that God has removed his mourning clothes and clothed him in garments of joy. This is the spirit of Isaiah 61:10,
delight greatly in the Lord;
He realized also that the purpose of God’s deliverance is that David might praise him. This he determines to do and expresses his intention of praising God eternally.
I believe that God can and does heal and deliver.
But sometimes he withholds healing. What then? An opportunity to see our trials in the light of 2 Corinthians 4:17,