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Psalm 30 Biblical Commentary:
A Psalm. A Song for the Dedication of the Temple. By David.
This is usually classified as an individual psalm of praise or thanksgiving for deliverance. It was used at the rededication of the temple in 164 B.C. after Judas Maccabeus defeated Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had profaned the temple, but was written long before that.
PSALM 30:1-3. PRAISE FOR DELIVERANCE
1 I will extol you, Yahweh, for you have raised me up,
and have not made my foes to rejoice over me.
2 Yahweh my God, I cried to you,
and you have healed me.
3 Yahweh, you have brought up my soul from Sheol.
You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
“I will extol (Hebrew: rum) you, Yahweh, for you have raised me up” (Hebrew: dalah) (v. 1a). The word rum (extol) means to raise or lift up or exalt. The word dalah means to draw up or lift up, and was used, among other things, for drawing water from a well. Here we have the psalmist responding to being lifted up from a bad situation by lifting up the Lord’s name in praise.
Verse 3 gives additional insight to this verse. There the psalmist speaks of Yahweh bringing up his soul from Sheol––and keeping him alive so that he might not go down to the pit. Yahweh may have saved him from death.
“and have not made my foes to rejoice (Hebrew: samah) over me” (v. 1b). The word samah means to rejoice or gloat. The psalmist is picturing in his mind what it would have been like to have suffered defeat––and to have seen his enemies standing over him gloating at his misery. He thanks Yahweh for sparing him that humiliation.
“Yahweh my God, I cried to you, and you have healed (Hebrew: rapa) me” (v. 2). The word rapa means to heal or to restore to health. At first blush, it would appear that the psalmist is thanking Yahweh for healing his illness. That could be the case, but the word foes (or enemies) in verse 1 suggest that Yahweh saved him from his enemies, possibly in battle, rather than healed him from an illness.
“Yahweh, you have brought up my soul (Hebrew: nepes) from Sheol” (v. 3a). The Israelites used the word nepes to mean breath, the animating force that gives the creature life––and, by extension, the living creature itself. Therefore, when God breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, “the man became a living being” (nepes) (Genesis 2:7).
The meaning of Sheol is somewhat inexact. That word appears in the Old Testament about 60 times, and means the grave or death (Genesis 37:35; 42:38, etc.). Nowhere in the Old Testament is Sheol described as a place of punishment. For the most part, the Old Testament holds out no promise of an afterlife or resurrection. That began to change two or three centuries before Jesus.
The Septuagint (the LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) translates Sheol as Hades. The New Testament uses the word Hades ten times, where it is the abode of dead who are awaiting final judgment. Jesus contrasts being “exalted to heaven” and “brought down to Hades” (Matthew 11:23), making clear that Hades is not to be desired.
“You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit” (Hebrew: bor) (v. 3b). A bor was a pit, a well, or a cistern (an underground reservoir, usually hewn in rock, used to collect rainwater). Pits of that sort could be hazardous to the unwary person or animal who might fall in a pit and die there. Pits would be especially hazardous to small children––or even to older children who might tease danger on the brim of a pit.
The pit reminds us of Joseph, who was thrown in a pit by his brothers, intending that he would die there. They ultimately relented, selling him into slavery instead (Genesis 37:18ff).
The pit also reminds us of Jeremiah, whose enemies threw him in a cistern intending that he would die there (Jeremiah 37:11ff).
In this verse, pit is a synonym for Sheol, and is thus intended to mean a place of death––”a dreadful end” (Ezekiel 26:20-21).
But the psalmist expresses thanks and praise that Yahweh kept him alive so that he might not be abandoned to the pit––the place of death––the dreadful end.
PSALM 30:4-5. AN INVITATION TO CORPORATE PRAISE
4 Sing praise to Yahweh, you saints of his.
Give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment.
His favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may stay for the night,
but joy comes in the morning.
“Sing praise to Yahweh, you saints (Hebrew: hasiyd) of his” (v. 4a). Hasid means kind, merciful, or pious––i.e., those whose actions manifest their faith in Yahweh––those who have allowed Yahweh and Yahweh’s law to shape their lives.
Give thanks to his holy (Hebrew: qodes) name” (Hebrew: zeker) (v. 4b). Qodes means holy or sacred––something consecrated for a Godly purpose. Yahweh is holy, and calls his people to be holy.
Zeker means remember or remembrance, so this verse would seem to be best translated, “his holy remembrance”––but most translations say “his holy name.”
Perhaps the best way to understand this is to note the importance that Yahweh placed on people remembering his mighty works:
- The Exodus (Exodus 6ff)––his provision for Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 16ff).
- Yahweh’s commandments (Exodus 20ff)
- His leadership into the Promised Land (Joshua 1ff)
- His deliverance of Israel from its enemies.
When people remembered these things, they remembered Yahweh––and Yahweh’s name.
This emphasis on remembrance carries through to the New Testament, where Jesus made remembrance a key component of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26).
“For (Yahweh’s) anger (Hebrew: ‘ap) is but for a moment (v. 5a). The word ‘ap means nostril or anger. That might seem like an odd pairing, but the Hebrews thought of the nostrils as the place where they could best detect anger. That will seem less odd when we think of the phrase “flaring nostrils,” which we use to indicate high emotion such as anger or a “fight or flight” response.
In both Old and New Testaments, God’s wrath is understood as the response of a righteous God to sin––his anger in the face of evil and the punishment that he devised for sinners.
But the psalmist says that Yahweh’s anger is but for a moment. That seems reassuring, but we know that Yahweh’s anger often cost someone his life––and that Yahweh’s anger has eschatological (end of time) overtones. It will especially be exercised “in the day of wrath… (when God) “will pay back to everyone according to their works” (Romans 2:6).
“His favor (Hebrew: rason) is for a lifetime” (Hebrew: hay) (v. 5b). The word rason means pleasure, delight, or favor. When used for God, it means the favor which he dispenses to people.
The word hay means a living being. As used here, lifetime is a good translation, because there is life.
The psalmist is conveying his faith that Yahweh’s anger is only momentary, but Yahweh’s love and providence are forever.
Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (v. 5c). This expresses the same contrast reflected in the first half of this verse. Weeping or sorrow or fear might trouble us by night, but they evaporate with the rising of the sun. In this context, it means that Yahweh might permit us to suffer for a time, but will also bring us relief.
Nighttime can be frightening. When it is dark, we are more likely to stumble and fall. Criminals prefer to do their evil deeds under the cover of darkness, so there is a genuine threat associated with night. People often awaken in the middle of the night, troubled by a problem that they are helpless to resolve until daylight comes. Winter darkness often contributes to depression, especially in the far north and far south latitudes.
In both Old and New Testaments, but especially in the New Testament, “night” and “darkness” are used metaphorically to symbolize evil or danger or judgment (Micah 3:5-6; Zechariah 14:7; John 9:4; 11:9-10; Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:6-9; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5).
But there will be no night in the new Jerusalem, because “the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (v. 23).
PSALM 30:6-10. THE PSALMIST’S PRAYER
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 You, Yahweh, when you favored me, made my mountain stand strong;
but when you hid your face, I was troubled.
8 I cried to you, Yahweh.
To Yahweh I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit?
Shall the dust praise you?
Shall it declare your truth?
10 Hear, Yahweh, and have mercy on me.
Yahweh, be my helper.”
In these verses, the psalmist remembers his prosperity––followed by his fall, his distress, and his appeals for mercy.
“As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved'” (Hebrew: mot) (v. 6). The word mot means moved or shaken. The psalmist is remembering a time of prosperity when he thought the good times would never end. He was riding high, and unprepared for the day when he might fall.
During prosperous times, we are likely to give ourselves credit for our prosperity. “I’m a self-made man (or woman),” we tell ourselves. “I became rich the old fashioned way. I earned it!” That can create a false sense of security, because we can think that we did it––and can certainly maintain it and do it again.
“You, Yahweh, when you favored me, made my mountain stand strong;
but when you hid your face, I was troubled” (Hebrew: bahal) (v. 7). But having experienced the fall that followed the prosperous season, the psalmist is able to understand that the Lord made him prosperous––and then hid his face, leaving the psalmist in a bad way.
“Hid your face” means that Yahweh distanced himself from the psalmist. God’s help was nowhere to be found. The psalmist found himself standing alone.
The word bahal goes further than troubled. It means terrified. It represents the kind of terror that we experience when the ground is suddenly cut out from beneath our feet––when our money or health or reputation suddenly turn to dust.
“I cried to you, Yahweh. To Yahweh I made supplication” (Hebrew: hanan) (v. 8). The word hanan means to be gracious or to show mercy. In this instance, the psalmist is pleading with Yahweh to be gracious or to show him mercy––to lift him from the depths to which he has fallen and to restore him to the prosperous place that he once enjoyed.
The word supplication is a reasonable translation for hanan in this verse, because supplication is to ask or plead for something.
“What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth?” (v. 9). The psalmist plays his last card here, asking Yahweh what Yahweh has to gain by the psalmist’s demise. The psalmist asks, “Shall the dust praise you?” and “Shall (the dust) declare your truth?” He implies that he will do these things for Yahweh if Yahweh will show him mercy and allow him to live. The dust from his decayed body certainly won’t be able to do these things.
Of course, there were two flaws in the psalmist’s prayer:
- The first was his assumption that, if allowed to live and return to prosperity, he will praise Yahweh and declare Yahweh’s truth.
- The second was the assumption that the psalmist held something in his hands that Yahweh needed. I am reminded of John the Baptist’s warning to those who thought that their membership in the Jewish race would save them. John said, “Don’t begin to say among yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father;’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones!” Likewise if Yahweh needs people to sing his praises, he can easily raise them up without having to rely on this psalmist.
“Hear, Yahweh, and have mercy on me. Yahweh, be my helper” (v. 10). The psalmist catches himself and stops trying to persuade Yahweh that Yahweh has something to gain by helping the psalmist. Instead, the psalmist throws himself on the mercy of the court, asking Yahweh for mercy and help. That is far more likely to achieve his redemption than his efforts to persuade Yahweh that Yahweh needs his help (v. 9). The opposite is true, and in this verse the psalmist finally acknowledges that.
PSALM 30:11-12. THANKS AND PRAISE
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing for me.
You have removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with gladness,
12 To the end that my heart may sing praise to you, and not be silent.
Yahweh my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
“You have turned my mourning into dancing for me. You have removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with gladness” (v. 11). The psalmist acknowledges that Yahweh answered his prayers and bestowed the mercy for which the psalmist had pled. Yahweh’s intervention was transformational, changing his mourning into dancing and his sackcloth into festive garments.
Sackcloth is a rough material made from the hair of goats or camels. It is the kind of cloth that a person would use for heavy-duty sacks (hence its name) or tents, but its coarse texture is uncomfortable when worn against the skin, making it unsuitable for clothing. However, people in mourning would wear sackcloth as a sign of grief. Others would wear it as a sign of repentance or a desire for atonement. A more modern term for sackcloth is “hair shirt,” although the custom of wearing rough clothing as a sign of grief or repentance is seldom observed today.
“To the end that my heart may sing praise to you, and not be silent. Yahweh my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (v. 12). In verse 9, the psalmist implied that if he were allowed to live he would praise Yahweh and declare Yahweh’s truth. Now that Yahweh has saved him, the psalmist intends sing Yahweh’s praises and thank him––forever.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Anderson, A.A., The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms 1-72 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
Broyles, Craig C., New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999
Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984)
Clifford, Richard J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Craigie, Peter C., Word Biblical Commentary, Psalms 1-50, Vol. 19 (Dallas: Word Books, 1983)
DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy; Jacobson, Rolf A.; Tanner, Beth Laneel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)
Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)
Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72, Vol. 14a (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Limburg, James, Westminster Bible Companion: Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000
Mays, James Luther, Interpretation: Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994)
McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Ross, Allen P., A Commentary on the Psalms, 1-41, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012)
Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006)
DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS & LEXICONS:
Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)
Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)
Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)
Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)
Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)
Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006)
Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)
Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009)
VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)
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