Commentary on Psalm 30
“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
These are welcome words in the Easter season, and it is no wonder that Augustine described Psalm 30 as “a Psalm of the joy of the Resurrection, and the change, the renewing of the body to an immortal state, and not only of the Lord, but also of the whole Church.”1 This Psalm is indeed both.
Overview of Psalm 30
Psalm 30 is a classic example of a thanksgiving Psalm. It begins with a commitment to praise and prayer (vv.1-2), names the deliverance acts of YHWH (v. 3), invites others to praise and gives reason why (vv. 4-5). The second half recalls a past season of well-being and challenging changes (vv.6-7), prayer (v. 8), YHWH’s deliverance, (v. 11), and the reason for continued praise.2
The origin of this Psalm is unknown, thus whether it was originally intended as an individual Psalm or a communal Psalm is also unknown. Whatever the original intent, it has functioned as both: celebrating the healing of an individual, the dedication of David’s Temple, the dedication of a house, or the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). Like many prayers of thanksgiving, Psalm 30 has been used in very general ways and very specific ways.
Personal and corporate praise
The psalmist begins by personally extolling YHWH because YHWH has delivered from all foes (v. 1). When the individual cried out to God, God provided help in the form of healing, whether physical, mental, or otherwise (v. 2). Whatever the healing, it was significant enough to be compared to death, or even be an actual death. YHWH did more than simply “preserve” the suppliant (v. 3).
The psalmist invites the whole community to join in this prayer of thanksgiving (v. 4), suggesting that praise and thanksgiving are not one time acts, but the way of those whose lives have been drawn out of death and darkness (v. 5). What is important to the individual is also important to the community, and vice versa, the psalmist implicitly suggests.
The second half of the Psalm (vv. 6-10) repeats the story told in the first half as the psalmist’s individual prayer resumes to reflect, once again, former distress and deliverance. The Psalmist, shaken by something (v. 6-7), asked for the mercy of YHWH (vv. 8, 10), and even questioned the act of praise in calamity (v. 9), yet YHWH reversed mourning and weeping and turned them into joy (v. 11). The only logical response is to reaffirm the decision to praise and offer thanksgiving (v. 12).
Preaching the Psalm
As a Psalm of Easter, this Psalm is “an affirmation of both God’s life-giving power and life as God’s good gift.”3 This can be taken into the pulpit with the Gospel, Epistle, and Old Testament reading appointed for today. In Psalm 30, “the psalmist’s deliverance is not so much from physical sickness to physical health as it is from a deadly misunderstanding of human security to a lively awareness of God’s presence in all of life.” Surely, this is what all of us need in some way or another this Easter season.
Once we move individually to a more acute and “lively awareness of God’s presence in all of life,” then we, too can offer our thanksgivings in the same way that this Psalm calls us to no matter where we find ourselves: in the pit or on high, in joy or in lament, in light or in darkness. Then, like the Psalmist, we can call the company of the church and even the world to join in our song of thanksgiving and to offer our whole life as an act of praise “even into the morning, when there will be the exultation of the resurrection, which has shone forth by anticipation in the morning resurrection of the Lord.”4
1 Augustine of Hippo, Exposition on the Book of Psalms, Vol. 8 of A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, edited by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989). http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-08/TOC.htm (accessed January 16, 2016).
2 John Goldingay, “Psalm 30,” in Psalms, Volume 1: 1-41, ed. Tremper Longman, III, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 424.
3 J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 4:797.
4 Augustine of Hippo.