The most miserable experiences in my life include being sick. I’m grateful I don’t get sick often, but when I do get something, I tend to go down hard.
I can vividly recall the semi-madness of a fever I had many years ago. As I sat bundled up in an afghan blanket, I had the feeling that the room around me was falling away from me while I sank deeper and deeper into the cozy chair I sat in. And every thought echoed loudly inside my head. Soon, my mind was a riot as new thoughts shouted at the echoing thoughts. In an out-of-body moment, I thought, “So, this is what insanity is like.”
Then, of course, there are the head colds that feel like your skull is about to explode. There are the flus where nothing can be kept down and you sweat while having the chills. There are sicknesses which just make you wish you were dead.
Psalm 30 begins with gratitude to God for the end of an illness. In a case of mutual exaltation, God lifted him up physically and David wants to lift God up in worship. There are no clues as to what the sickness was, but in a pre-medicine age, maladies which we shrug off with antibiotics and a few days in bed sometimes proved to be fatal. And I’m reminded how sparing I am in my thanks to God for healing me from my illnesses, even though I pray for relief in the midst of them.
In fact, David takes this a step further than thanking God in the comfort of his own home. He turns his recovery into an opportunity to invite all of God’s people to sing their praises to the Lord. And his experience of a sickness in the night and feeling better in the morning leads to incisive theological reflection.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning. (v. 5)
This echoes part of the second commandment:
I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Ex. 20:5-6).
There are consequences for our sins, but they pale in comparison to the love of God. The days of sickness are few compared to the days of health. The anger of God is momentary, but his favor extends for the entire span of a lifetime. But how often do we turn this upside down, emphasizing our sins and downplaying the love of God?
David acknowledges his self-secure pride got him nowhere (v. 6). In fact, it may have gotten him into the mess that had his enemies gloating over him while he was sick and possibly dying. He also ties this to his feeling that God had turned his face from him in disgust, leading to his sickness (v.7). But even as he languished on his sick bed, the Lord protected Jerusalem, the seat of David’s throne: “you made my royal mountain stand firm” (Jerusalem being located on Mt. Zion).
Returning to his prayers during his illness (vs. 8-10), David wonders how God would be served if he were to end up dying from his sickness. It’s an interesting question with an uncertain answer.
It’s a question that is worth tailoring to whatever circumstance we find ourselves in:
How would you be glorified, God, by me having to declare bankruptcy?
Would you be praised if my shaky marriage fell apart and we end up divorced?
Will your name be made great by me getting cheated out of a promotion at work?
Again, the answer is uncertain. Many bad things happen in our lives and actually end up being the source of our praise. Even here in this psalm, David’s illness and subsequent healing evoke praise. Might not his death do so in some other way as well?
Still, the point remains: This psalm invite us to jump from David to ourselves, asking us to consider not just how our circumstance affect us, but how they affect the kingdom of God.
The Psalms are the only book of the Bible that invite us to improvise on what we find written there. These ancient prayers are a great starting place for us to consider how we might pray the details of our lives in ways similar to David and the other psalmists.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened with this psalm as it was included in the Psalter.
Psalm 30’s superscription calls it “A psalm. A song. For the dedication of the temple. Of David.” That, of course, begs the question: “How did David write a psalm for the dedication of the temple when it wasn’t built during his lifetime?” It also begs a further question: “How is this psalm about getting better from being sick an appropriate song for the dedication of the temple? Wouldn’t we expect something more glorious than that? It’s a super awkward topic to include in such a ceremony.” But that assumes the dedication of the temple referred to was upon its initial completion, not a later dedication.
The history of Psalm 30 ties it to Hanukkah and the celebration that took place when the newly cleansed temple was returned to its service of worship in 164 B.C. In other words, the temple was “sick” and almost “died” under the blasphemous sacrifice of pigs to Zeus on Yahweh’s altar at the order of Antiochus IV Ephiphanes. The book of 1 Maccabees notes that none of the stones infected by the blasphemy were reused in the renovated temple — major reconstructive surgery was done to the temple.
All of this points to how appropriate Psalm 30 was for the rededication of the temple. Every word takes on new meaning when run through that context.
With most of the Scriptures, it is dangerous for our personal context to drive our reading and application. But the Psalms are uniquely poised to be used personally. Not only do they instruct us in the way of prayer, they give us voice and language to use in the praying of our circumstances we wouldn’t normally use.
The Psalms train us to think differently and to pray differently.
And so, whether we’re sick or the temple needs to be rededicated, whether our job is falling apart or our family is falling apart, whether we’re weeping over news about a friend or news about the nation, Psalm 30 gives us words to pray our sorrow into gratitude.
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (vs.11-12)
Questions to consider
• So, where are you currently “sick” in your life?
• How does your current “sickness” impact the kingdom of God?
• Where have you been repaired like the temple and need to be rededicated to the worship of God?
Praying along with Psalm 30
Thank you, Lord, for holding my life together when it threatens to explode into a million pieces. Just as you have lifted me up, so I lift you up. May your people know your healing hand and be filled with the praise of those whose lives have been rebuilt. I rededicate the temple of my life to you. Amen.