Psalm 30: Thank You, Lord, for Healing Me!
We have moved from the height of joy (Ps 98) down to the pits of grief (Ps 69). Now we are going to ascend again from the abyss with Psalm 30. Psalm 30 is a prayer thanking God for answering a previous prayer.
As we have observed, thanksgivings are closely related to hymns. As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word for “thanksgiving” (tôdāh) is formed from a verb which means “to praise” (yādāh).
Thanksgivings are further related to laments, since the former is seen as an answer to the latter. Walter Brueggemann has helpfully divided the Psalms into three categories.1 First are psalms of orientation (hymns) which praise God for being God. The psalmist’s world is in order. The laments are psalms of disorientation. The psalmist has lost his way. He experiences fear and grief. Finally, there are psalms of reorientation, which experience renewed hope in God. The thanksgivings in general, and Psalm 30 in particular, are in this category.
As we turn to this thanksgiving psalm, we need to realize that we are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. It surprises us to realize this. We sometimes think that what makes Christians different from non-Christians is that we know that God exists. Certainly, that’s crucial, but Romans 1:21 teaches us that everyone knows God. Strikingly, Paul here tells us that the real difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the former gives thanks to God. Remember the story of Jesus and the ten men whom he healed from leprosy (Lk 17:11–19). Of the ten, only one returned to thank him.
With that in mind, read this thanksgiving psalm of David:
A psalm. A song. For the dedication of the temple. Of David.
1 I will exalt you, O LORD,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
2 O LORD my God, I called to you for help
and you healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought me up from the grave;
you spared me from going down into the pit.
4 Sing to the LORD, you saints of his;
praise his holy name.
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.
6 When I felt secure, I said,
“I will never be shaken.”
7 O LORD, when you favored me,
you made my mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy:
9 “What gain is there in my destruction,
in my going down into the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me;
O LORD, be my help.”
11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.
The title first informs us of this psalm’s genre. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure what the difference was between a “psalm” and a “song.” The Hebrew word “psalm” (mizmôr) is a noun based on a verb “to sing” (zāmar). Both words indicate a musical setting for the psalm.
The difficulty continues with what appears to be a functional title, though it might be interpreted as a title telling how the psalm was used: “for the dedication of the temple.” It is not immediately obvious how this title relates to the psalm’s content, so we will not force our interpretation of the psalm to artificially conform with it (see chapter two).
David is cited as the author. Once again, there is no reason to doubt that David wrote it, but we will not allow our historical curiosity to distract us into a fruitless debate concerning the event in David’s life which motivated the composition of Psalm 30.
Since thanksgivings are so similar to hymns, it is not surprising that Psalm 30 begins with a strong statement of praise. The psalmist makes clear his intention from the very start when he says, “I will exalt you, O Lord.”
His declaration of praise leads him to cite reasons. He first states it figuratively, though English translations usually don’t make the metaphor obvious. David praises God because God lifted him out of the depths. The verb (dālāh) elsewhere literally means to lift a bucket up from a well. The verb evokes an image in our minds. The psalmist had fallen into a well and the Lord helped him up.
This saving act of God silenced the psalmist’s enemies (v. 1). The “enemies” play as prominent a role in the thanksgivings as in the laments. Here they rejoice over the psalmist’s suffering. Verses 2 and 3 make clear how God saved the psalmist. He had been ill, so ill that he almost died. God had healed him from his physical distress.
To truly understand Psalm 30 we must apply it to our own lives. Do we rejoice when God heals us from sickness and disease? Or do we pray for his help and then conveniently forget him when he answers?
The psalmist doesn’t forget God’s goodness. He not only thanks God, but he directs the people of God to praise him. The “sharing times” that occur in modern church services and fellowship groups are too often an excuse to praise ourselves. The psalmist is a model for “sharing” as he directs the attention of the congregation away from himself and toward God.
Further, the psalmist asks God’s saints to praise him. When we hear the word saints, we tend to think of dead believers. The word here translated “saints” (ḥasidim) is related to a Hebrew word with which we have already become acquainted (ḥesed), which I have suggested translates as “covenant lovingkindness.” Thus, these saints are those who are in a covenant relationship, a personal relationship, with God.
As a result of his personal experience of God’s grace, David expresses a general truth about God in verse 5. It is memorable, at least in part, because of its antithetical structure (see chapter seven). Notice how he contrasts God’s anger and his favor. Remember too that the psalmist has recently felt God’s curse and now enjoys his blessing:
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. (v. 5)
As part of his testimony to God, the psalmist recounts the situation which led to his need. He’s not bashful to share his sin. His sin is pride or self-confidence according to verses 6 and 7. He had put his strength in his own power when he said “I will never be shaken.” Then God “hid his face.” After becoming ill, the psalmist knew that it was God who was the cause of both his prosperity and his health.
He became ill, threatened with death. He quotes his complaint to God in verse 9. As Christians we have a hard time relating to the psalmist’s line of argument. He seems to barter with God for his life. “You let me live, and you’ll have one more mouth to praise you.” Why doesn’t he trust in the resurrection?
One matter is clear. The psalmist is again brutally honest with himself and, more importantly, with God. He wants to live, and he is not going to hide behind pious, but empty, phrases.
Further, we must remember that God has revealed more and more truth to his people as time has progressed. Theologians refer to this as progressive revelation. For example, while the truth concerning the triune God is implicitly found in the Old Testament, it isn’t clearly revealed until the New Testament. Similarly, there is not a great deal of clear teaching in the Old Testament about the resurrection of the dead. The clear teaching concerning heaven awaits the New Testament. The Old Testament knows of continued existence after death but in a shadowy place known as Sheol. The psalmist was uncertain whether he could praise God from Sheol.
In any case, God heard the psalmist’s prayer and answered it. As a result grief becomes joy (v. 11). The psalmist expresses his eternal thanks to God (v. 12).
We have already hinted at an appropriate use of this psalm and other thanksgiving psalms among the people of God since Jesus’ coming: to create in us a heart of thanks toward God. We have, after all, much to be thankful for to God. I would be so bold as to say that we have more to be thankful to God for than the ancient Israelites had.
We have, after all, a clear vision of the salvation which God bought for us on the cross. We have been saved from that ultimate evil—death—and can read in the Gospels how God accomplished our deliverance by offering his Son on the cross. Jesus Christ is the one who “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10). How can we neglect to render our thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ?
Longman, T., III. (1988). How to Read the Psalms (pp. 143–149). IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press.