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Psalm 30

 

A psalm. A song. For the dedication of the temple. Of David.

 

1I will exalt You, O LORD,

for You lifted me out of the depths

and did not let my enemies gloat over me.

2O LORD my God, I called to You for help

and You healed me.

3O LORD, You brought me up from the grave;

You spared me from going down into the pit.

 

4Sing to the LORD, You saints of His;

praise His holy name.

5For His anger lasts only a moment,

but His favor lasts a lifetime;

weeping may remain for a night,

but rejoicing comes in the morning.

 

6When I felt secure, I said, "I shall never be shaken."

7O LORD, when You favored me,

You made my mountain stand firm;

but when You hid Your face,

I was dismayed.

 

8To 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?

10Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me;

O LORD, be my help."

 

11You turned my wailing into dancing;

You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

12that my heart may sing to You and not be silent.

 

O LORD my God, I will give You thanks forever.

 

The occasion for this psalm, as specified in the inscription, is "For the dedication of the temple". The background for this event is as follows: After a time of many military successes, David's pride got the best of him. He decided that he would conduct a census of the people of Israel in order to glory in the greatness of his kingdom. We are told specifically that "Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel" (I Chron. 21:1). David was warned by the general of his army Joab that this would be displeasing to God, but David overruled him and had him conduct the census (see I Chron. 21:3-5). To discipline David for his act of pride, the Lord gave David a choice of three punishments: "Three years of famine, three months of being swept away by [his] enemies, with their swords overtaking [him], or three days of the sword of the LORD--days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel" (I Chron. 21:12). David chose the three days of plague. In the middle of the three days, the Lord "was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, `Enough! Withdraw your hand!'" (I Chron. 21:15). At that moment, "the angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite" (I Chron. 21:15), with sword in hand, ready to strike the city of Jerusalem with the plague. As David "looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem", he prayed to God: "Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? O LORD my God, let your hand fall upon me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people" (I Chron. 21:16-17). In response, God told David (through the prophet Gad) to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David purchased the site from Araunah, built the altar as the Lord commanded, and "sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings" (I Chron. 21:26). The Lord accepted his sacrifices, and answered David "with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offerings" (I Chron. 21:26). Also, though the three days of plague were not complete, "the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath" (I Chron. 21:27). David responded to the grace of God by offering sacrifices. It is at this time (I believe) that David wrote this psalm.

In the psalm, David first praises the Lord for blessing him in his life (vs. 1-3), praises Him for His grace in His discipline of us (vs. 4-5), recalls the sinful attitude of pride that led him into sin (vs. 6-7), recalls his prayer of mercy (vs. 8-10), and then rejoices in its being answered (vs. 11-12).

 

 


 

Praise for God's Blessings

 

1I will exalt You, O LORD,

for You lifted me out of the depths

and did not let my enemies gloat over me.

2O LORD my God, I called to You for help

and You healed me.

3O LORD, You brought me up from the grave;

You spared me from going down into the pit.

 

David begins by praising the Lord for blessing him throughout his life. The root of David's sin in this situation was pride. Despite the warning of Joab, David chose to count his people that he may know the extent of the kingdom that he ruled. David at that time had just completed a series of military victories and was feeling very powerful. He looked out at his kingdom, and must have thought something like, "Look at this wonderful, vast kingdom that I have made." His counting of the people was a way to feed his pride, letting him know how many thousands of people that he ruled. What he wasn't remembering at the time was that God made him what he was. God took this runt of the eight sons of Jesse, this lowly shepherd, and turned him into a king. God was behind all of David's triumphs: over Goliath, over the Philistines, over the Moabites, over the Arameans, etc., etc., etc.

Now, after God's judgment on Israel for David's pride, after less than three days of God's hand being against him, David realized again that God was behind all his successes. So he says: "I will exalt You, O LORD for You lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me" (vs. 1). Notice the poetry here. David says: "I will exalt You...for You lifted me"; or to paraphrase, "I will lift praise to You, for You lifted me". David would have been nothing without God. Realizing this again, he "exalts" the Lord, giving Him the highest praise.

David is especially grateful that the Lord "did not let [his] enemies gloat over [him]" (vs. 1). Recall that the Lord let David choose between three judgments for his sin of pride. One of the choices was "three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you" (I Chron. 21:12). This would have been an appropriate judgment on David's pride, for it was David's military victories that led to his pride. But God, in His grace, gave David other choices. David appreciated this, because he under no circumstances wanted to fall into the hands of his enemies. In choosing the judgment, David said: "Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for His mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men" (I Chron. 21:13).

David continues in his prayer of thanks for past blessings: "O LORD my God, I called to You for help and You healed me. O LORD, You brought me up from the grave; You spared me from going down into the pit" (vs. 2-3). Quite possibly, David was referring here to the forgiveness of God after his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Certainly, if anyone could be described as "going down into the pit", David could at that time.

 


God's Grace Through His Discipline

 

4Sing to the LORD, You saints of His;

praise His holy name.

5For His anger lasts only a moment,

but His favor lasts a lifetime;

weeping may remain for a night,

but rejoicing comes in the morning.

 

David now exhorts us all to praise the Lord: "Sing to the LORD, You saints of His; praise His holy name" (vs. 4). Specifically, David exhorts us to praise the Lord for His grace and love through His discipline of us: "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" (vs. 5). The reason that David exhorts us all to praise the Lord for this is certainly that we have all experienced the discipline of God. In fact, the discipline of God is a sure and necessary sign that we are truly God's children, as the writer of Hebrews teaches: "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons" (Hebrews 12:7-8).

Our natural reaction to discipline is to complain, not to praise; thus, we especially need to take heed of David's exhortation here. David points out how fleeting the times of God's discipline are as compared to the times of God's blessings: "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" (vs. 5). "God sendeth afflictions to do an errand unto us; to tell us we forget God, we forget ourselves, we are too proud, too self-conceited, and such like; and when they have said as they were bid, then presently they are gone."[Footnote #4] God's discipline is for our good. He disciplines us because He loves us, just as a loving parent disciplines his children because he loves them and wants to mold their character into godliness. The writer of Hebrews again teaches: "Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:10-11). The discipline of David in this situation brought him away from the sin of pride, back to the praise of God.

 


The Danger of Prosperity

 

6When I felt secure, I said,

"I shall never be shaken."

7O LORD, when You favored me,

You made my mountain stand firm;

but when You hid Your face,

I was dismayed.

 

8To 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?

10Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me;

O LORD, be my help."

 

David now recalls the sinful attitude that led him into his sin: "When I felt secure, I said, `I shall never be shaken'" (vs. 6). We are so easily fooled. We are blessed by God with prosperity, and then we think that it was all our own doing. We feel invincible. We say with David: "I shall never be shaken." In saying this, we insult God by denying His work in our lives. Such an attitude leads to the sin of pride. We search for ways to feed our egos. We measure our own greatness by reviewing the size of our bank account, or by counting the number of people below us on the organizational chart. This attitude in David led him to take a census of how great his kingdom was. It is much easier for Satan to work on us in our prosperity. It is a difficult thing to be both prosperous and godly. "Prosperity is more pleasant than profitable to us."[Footnote #5] Concerning David's situation, the Bible specifically says: "Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel" (I Chron. 21:1). "Though prosperity may come to a good man, yet it is never without peril. Even David was not strong enough to withstand its power."[Footnote #6]

Interestingly, the census itself was not sinful. In fact, there were guidelines spelled out in the Law of God for taking a census: "When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them" (Ex. 30:12). So, a lawful census was meant to emphasize the fact that everyone owes his existence to God. This is the reason for the ransom that each person had to pay. If performed lawfully, there would be "no plague" as a result of the census. But David's census was not performed according to the law. It was not performed to glorify God, but to glorify David. God looks not only at actions, but motives; not only at the works of the hands, but at the attitudes of the heart.

David's false sense of security, his feeling that he "shall never be shaken", did not last long when God withdrew His hand of support: "O LORD, when You favored me, You made my mountain stand firm; but when You hid Your face, I was dismayed" (vs. 7). David was brought back down to earth, and realized that God was responsible for his prosperity. Then, to his credit, he turned to God in prayer: "To you, O LORD, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy" (vs. 8).

David reasons with God as he appeals to His mercy: "What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it proclaim Your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help" (vs. 10). This same argument is used a few other times in the Bible. The Sons of Korah reason: "Do You show Your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise You? Is Your love declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Destruction? Are Your wonders known in the place of darkness, or Your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?" (Ps. 88:10-12). And when Hezekiah pleads for healing from his terminal illness: "For the grave cannot praise You, death cannot sing Your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. The living, the living--they praise You, as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about Your faithfulness" (Isa. 38:18-19). As we see, it is permissible to reason with God. Many of the great prophets reason with Him in prayer. The Lord Himself once said: "Come now, let us reason together" (Isa. 1:18).


The Prayer Answered

 

11You turned my wailing into dancing;

You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

12that my heart may sing to You and not be silent.

 

O LORD my God, I will give You thanks forever.

 

Here David experiences once again what he pointed out earlier in the psalm: "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" (vs. 5). During the punishment from God for taking the census, David was in great anguish, especially since the punishment of Israel was due to his sinful pride. With the plague not fully complete (the three days had not yet passed), David "fell facedown" before the Lord, "clothed in sackcloth" (see I Chron. 21:16). God in His mercy halted the plague.

During the rest of his life, David prepared for his son Solomon to build a magnificent temple for the Lord. God had "turned [his] wailing into dancing" and "removed [his] sackcloth and clothed [him] with joy." Through the temple he planned to build, David fulfilled the last statement of the psalm: "O LORD my God, I will give You thanks forever." Though the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians (see II Chron. 36:15ff), its memory is still with us. It was rebuilt by Herod so as to be standing when Christ walked the earth. And it is still a centerpoint of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as we look towards the future when it will be rebuilt to the glory of God forever.


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