Theme: A Litany of Uplifting Contrasts
From this week’s lessons we learn of God’s power and mercy to heal, and what we need to do in response.
Scripture: Psalm 30:1-12
From time to time in these studies I have pointed out that there are various types of psalms—the scholars call them genres—and that it is often helpful to remember the type one is dealing with in a specific psalm. Psalm 30 is a thanksgiving psalm. However, it is related to a type of psalm known as a lament, since thanksgiving psalms are usually expressions of praise to God for having heard a lament. In this case, some of the words of the lament are preserved in verses 9 and 10. Thanksgiving psalms are also related to hymns, another genre, since the psalmist’s thanksgiving usually takes the form of sung praise.
The title of this psalm identifies it as being “for the dedication of the temple” (actually, “for the house”). This does not help us understand it very much, although there has been a great deal of speculation as to what “house” might refer to.1
What is helpful is to realize that it is a psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance from a great sickness, which becomes evident as we read through it. Sometimes language like this occurs in less explicit psalms, and we have found ourselves asking whether the psalm is talking about real sickness or sickness which is somehow symbolic. We wonder whether it is referring to spiritual sickness, depression or even danger from enemies. There is no such question here. David had been sick enough to die. But God had rescued him, bringing him up from what he describes as “the depths,” “the grave” or “the pit.” Now, having been rescued, he not only himself praises God but also calls on others of the Lord’s people to join him on the ground that his experience is common to God’s saints. This leads to the best known and most frequently quoted verse of the psalm, verse 5: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
From a literary point of view, the most striking feature of the psalm is its remarkable sets of contrasts, which is also probably the most helpful way to approach it. I highlight the four main ones in this study, but each of these contains further contrasts as elaborations of the central idea. I count more than a dozen in all.
When we were studying Psalm 28 I pointed out that, although David speaks of “the pit” in that psalm, meaning Sheol or the abode of the dead, he does not say that he has fallen into it. On the contrary, he pictured himself as tottering on the edge, crying out for help before he falls and is gone forever. In this psalm David says he had already fallen into the depths or grave, though he is careful not to use the word “pit” (or Sheol) as something into which he has fallen, since that would imply that he had died. What he is saying is that he had fallen into what was apparently his final illness and that he was on the very brink of death. We speak of a man being so old or so sick that he has one foot in the grave. But David is saying that he was so sick that his enemies had actually, in their minds at least, laid him out in his coffin. It is from this that God delivered him.
What type of psalm is this? Why is David thankful?
What is the psalm’s most striking feature?
What is “the pit”? Why does David omit that word in this psalm when describing his situation?
Reflection: Are your own experiences of lament followed by praise?
1The chief possibilities are: 1) the temple, which is how the Revised Standard Version translated the word (the chief difficulty being that the first temple had not yet been constructed); and 2) David’s own house, that is, his palace. This is the first time since Psalm 18 that a title has linked a psalm to a specific historical event or function.