Psalm 30
Expositor's Bible Commentary
A Psalm and Song at the dedication of the house of David. I will extol thee, O LORD; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.
Psalm 30:1-12THE title of this psalm is apparently a composite, the usual "Psalm of David" having been enlarged by the awkward insertion of "A Song at the Dedication of the House," which probably indicates its later liturgical use and not its first destination. Its occasion was evidently a deliverance from grave peril; and, whilst its tone is strikingly inappropriate if it had been composed for the inauguration of temple, tabernacle, or palace, one can understand how the venerable words, which praised Jehovah for swift deliverance from impending destruction, would be felt to fit the circumstances and emotions of the time when the Temple, profaned by the mad acts of Antiochus Epiphanes, was purified and the ceremonial worship restored. Never had Israel seemed nearer going down to the pit; never had deliverance come more suddenly and completely. The intrusive title is best explained as dating from that time and indicating the use then found for the song.

It is an outpouring of thankfulness, and mainly a leaf from the psalmist’s autobiography, interrupted only by a call to all who share Jehovah’s favour to help the single voice to praise Him (Psalm 30:4-5). The familiar arrangement in pairs of verses is slightly broken twice, Psalm 30:1-3 being linked together as a kind of prelude and Psalm 30:8-10 as a repetition of the singer’s prayer. His praise breaks the barrier of silence and rushes out in a flood. The very first word tells of his exuberant thankfulness, and stands in striking relation to God’s act which evokes it. Jehovah has raised him from the very sides of the pit, and therefore what shall he do but exalt Jehovah by praise and commemoration of His deeds? The song runs over in varying expressions for the one deliverance, which is designated as lifting up, disappointment of the malignant joy of enemies, healing, rescue from Sheol and the company who descend thither, by restoration to life. Possibly the prose fact was recovery from sickness, but the metaphor of healing is so frequent that the literal use of the word here is questionable. As Calvin remarks, sackcloth (Psalm 30:11) is not a sick man’s garb. These glad repetitions of the one thought in various forms indicate how deeply moved the singer was, and how lovingly he brooded over his deliverance. A heart truly penetrated with thankfulness delights to turn its blessings round and round, and see how prismatic lights play on their facets. as on revolving diamonds. The same warmth of feeling, which glows in the reiterated celebration of deliverance, impels to the frequent direct mention of Jehovah. Each verse has that name set on it as a seal, and the central one of the three (Psalm 30:2), not content with it only, grasps Him as "my God," manifested as such with renewed and deepened tenderness by the recent fact that "I cried loudly, unto Thee, and Thou healedst me." The best result of God’s goodness is a firmer assurance of a personal relation to Him. "This is an enclosure of a common without damage: to make God mine own, to find that all that God says is spoken to me" (Donne). The stress of these three verses lies on the reiterated contemplation of God’s fresh act of mercy and on the reiterated. invocation of His name, which is not vain repetition, but represents distinct acts of consciousness, drawing near to delight the soul in thoughts of Him. The psalmist’s vow of praise and former cry for help could not be left out of view, since the one was the condition and the other the issue of deliverance, but they are slightly touched. Such claiming of God for one’s own and such absorbing gaze on Him are the intended results of His deeds, the crown of devotion, and the repose of the soul.

True thankfulness is expansive, and joy craves for sympathy. So the psalmist invites other voices to join his song, since he is sure that others there are who have shared his experience. It has been but one instance of a universal law. He is not the only one whom Jehovah has treated with lovingkindness, and he would fain hear a chorus supporting his solo. Therefore he calls upon "the favoured of God" to swell the praise with harp and voice and to give thanks to His "holy memorial," i.e., the name by which His deeds of grace are commemorated. The ground of their praise is the psalmist’s own case generalised. A tiny mirror may reflect the sun, and the humblest person’s history, devoutly pondered, will yield insight into. God’s widest dealings. This, then, is what the psalmist had learned in suffering, and wishes to teach in song: that sorrow is transient and joy perennial. A cheerful optimism should be the fruit of experience, and especially of sorrowful experience. The antitheses in Psalm 30:5 are obvious. In the first part of the verse "anger" and "favour" are plainly, contrasted, and it is natural to suppose that "a moment" and "life" are so too. The rendering, then, is, "A moment passes: in His anger, a life [i.e., a lifetime] in His favour." Sorrow is brief; blessings are long. Thunderstorms occupy but a small part of summer. There is usually less sickness than health in a life. But memory and anticipation beat out sorrow thin, so as to cover a great space. A little solid matter, diffused by currents, will discolour miles of a stream. Unfortunately we have better memories for trouble than for blessing, and the smart of the rose’s prickles lasts longer in the flesh than its fragrance in the nostril or its hue in the eye. But the relation of ideas here is not merely that of contrast. May we not say that just as the "moment" is included in the "life," so the "anger" is in the "favour"? Probably that application of the thought was not present to the psalmist, but it is an Old Testament belief that "whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth," and God’s anger is the aversion of holy love to its moral opposite. Hence comes the truth that varying and sometimes opposite Divine methods have one motive and one purpose, as the same motion of the earth brings summer and winter in turn. Since the desire of God is to make men partakers of His holiness, the root of chastisement is love, and hours of sorrow are not interruptions of the continuous favour which fills the life.

A like double antithesis moulds the beautiful image of the last clause. Night and morning are contrasted, as are weeping and joy; and the latter contrast is more striking, if it be observed that "joy" is literally a "joyful shout," raised by the voice that had been breaking into audible weeping. The verb used means to lodge for a night, and thus the whole is a picture of two guests, the one coming, sombre-robed, in the hour befitting her, the other, bright-garmented, taking the place of the former, when all things are dewy and sunny, in the morning. The thought may either be that of the substitution of joy for sorrow, or of the transformation of sorrow into joy. No grief lasts in its first bitterness. Recuperative forces begin to tell by slow degrees. "The low beginnings of content" appear. The sharpest cutting edge is partially blunted by time and what it brings. Tender green drapes every ruin. Sorrow is transformed into something not undeserving of the name of joy. Griefs accepted change their nature. "Your sorrow shall be turned into joy." The man who in the darkness took in the dark guest to sit by his fireside finds in the morning that she is transfigured, and her name is Gladness. Rich vintages are gathered on the crumbling lava of the quiescent volcano. Even for irremediable losses and immedicable griefs, the psalmist’s prophecy is true, only that for these "the morning" is beyond earth’s dim dawns, and breaks when this night which we call life, and which is wearing thin, is past. In the level light of that sunrise, every raindrop becomes a rainbow, and every sorrow rightly-that is. submissively-borne shall be represented by a special and particular joy.

But the thrilling sense of recent deliverance runs in too strong a current to be long turned aside, even by the thought of others’ praise; and the personal element recurs in Psalm 30:6, and persists till the close. This latter part falls into three well-marked minor divisions: the confession of self-confidence, bred of ease and shattered by chastisement, in Psalm 30:6-7; the prayer of the man startled into renewed dependence in Psalm 30:8-10; and the closing reiterated commemoration of mercies received and vow of thankful praise, which echoes the first part, in Psalm 30:11-12.

In Psalm 30:6 the psalmist’s foolish confidence is emphatically contrasted with the truth won by experience and stated in Psalm 30:5. "The law of God’s dealings is so, but I-I thought so and so." The word rendered "prosperity" may be taken as meaning also security. The passage from the one idea to the other is easy, inasmuch as calm days lull men to sleep, and make it hard to believe that "tomorrow shall" not "be as this day." Even devout hearts are apt to count upon the continuance of present good. "Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God." The bottom of the crater of Vesuvius had once great trees growing, the produce of centuries of quiescence. It would be difficult to think, when looking at them, that they would ever be torn up and whirled aloft in flame by a new outburst. While continual peril and change may not foster remembrance of God, continuous peace is but too apt to lull to forgetfulness of Him. The psalmist was beguiled by comfort into saying precisely what "the wicked said in his heart". {Psalm 10:6} How different may be the meaning of the same words on different lips! The mad arrogance of the godless man’s confidence, the error of the good man rocked to sleep by prosperity and the warranted confidence of a trustful soul are all expressed by the same words; but the last has an addition which changes the whole: "Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." The end of the first man’s boast can only be destruction; that of the third’s faith will certainly be "pleasures for evermore"; that of the second’s lapse from dependence is recorded in Psalm 30:7. The sudden crash of his false security is graphically reproduced by the abrupt clauses without connecting particles. It was the "favour" already celebrated which gave the stability which had been abused. Its effect is described in terms of which, the general meaning is clear, though the exact rendering is doubtful. "Thou hast [or hadst] established strength to my mountain is harsh, and the proposed emendation (Hupfeld, Cheyne, etc.), "hast set me on strong mountains," requires the addition to the text of the pronoun. In either case, we have a natural metaphor for prosperity. The emphasis ties on the recognition that it was God’s work, a truth which the psalmist had forgotten and had to be taught by the sudden withdrawal of God’s countenance, on which followed his own immediate passage from careless security to agitation and alarm. The word "troubled" is that used for Saul’s conflicting emotions and despair in the witch’s house at Endor, and for the agitation of Joseph’s brethren when they heard that the man who had their lives in his hand was their wronged brother. Thus alarmed and filled with distracting thoughts was the psalmist. "Thou didst hide Thy face," describes his calamities in their source. When the sun goes in, an immediate gloom wraps the land, and the birds cease to sing. But the "trouble" was preferable to "security," for it drove to God. Any tempest which does that is better than calm which beguiles from Him; and, since all His storms are meant to "drive us to His breast," they come from His "favour."

The approach to God is told in Psalm 30:8-10, of which the two latter are a quotation of the prayer then wrung from the psalmist. The ground of this appeal for deliverance from a danger threatening life is as in Hezekiah’s prayer, {Isaiah 38:18-19} and reflects the same conception of the state of the dead as Psalm 6:5. If the suppliant dies, his voice will be missed from the chorus which sings God’s praise on earth. "The dust" (i.e., the grave) is a region of silence. Here, where life yielded daily proofs of God’s "truth" (i.e., faithfulness), it could be extolled, but there dumb tongues could bring Him no "profit" of praise. The boldness of the thought that God is in some sense advantaged by men’s magnifying of His faithfulness, the cheerless gaze into the dark realm, and the implication that to live is desired not only for the sake of life’s joys, but in order to show forth God’s dealings, are all remarkable. The tone of the prayer indicates the imperfect view of the future life which shadows many psalms, and could only be completed by the historical facts of the Resurrection and Ascension.

Concern for the honour of the Old Testament revelation may, in this matter, be stretched to invalidate the distinctive glory of the New, which has "brought life and immortality to light":

With quick transition, corresponding to the swiftness of the answer to prayer, the closing pair of verses tells of the instantaneous change which that answer wrought. As in the earlier metaphor weeping was transformed into joy, here mourning is turned into dancing, and God’s hand unties the cord which loosely bound the sackcloth robe, and arrays the mourner in festival attire. The same conception of the sweetness of grateful praise to the ear of God which was presented in the prayer recurs here, where the purpose of God’s gifts is regarded as being man’s praise. The thought may be construed so as to be repulsive, but its true force is to present God as desiring hearts’ love and trust, and as "seeking such to worship Him," because therein they will find supreme and abiding bliss. "My glory," that wonderful personal being, which in its lowest debasement retains glimmering reflections caught from God, is never so truly glory as when it "sings praise to Thee," and never so blessed as when, through a longer "forever" than the psalmist saw stretching before him, it "gives thanks unto Thee."

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