In our studies in the psalms, we’ve reached Psalm 30. If you have your Bible open in front of you, you’ll see that this psalm has a title. Not every psalm has a title; and when a psalm has a title, very often all the title says is that the psalm is a psalm of David. However, from time to time, we have a longer title. When there’s a longer title, it might tell us something about the historical background to the psalm. For instance, the title of Psalm 51 tells us that it was written when the prophet Nathan confronted David about his adultery with Bathsheba. And that title fits the content of the psalm, because in Psalm 51 David asked the Lord for mercy and for forgiveness. ‘Wash away all my iniquity’, he wrote, ‘and cleanse me from my sin.’ So, sometimes the title of the psalm tells us something about the historical background or the inspiration for the psalm.
Psalm 30 has a title; and the title tells us that this was written for the dedication of the temple. Now, this puzzles the Bible scholars, because you’ll remember that David did not build the temple in Jerusalem. It was built by his son, Solomon. So, he could hardly have written a psalm to mark the completion of the temple, could he? Unless, of course, he wrote it before the temple was completed and with instructions that it should be used at the temple’s dedication. And that makes sense, because King David made all kinds of preparations for the construction of the temple; and we can easily imagine that one of the preparations he made was the writing of this psalm to be used when the temple was finally built and dedicated.
However, another thing which puzzles the Bible scholars is that the psalm itself apparently has nothing to do with the temple. You’d think that a psalm written for the dedication of the temple would at least mention the temple. But it doesn’t. So, what has this psalm got to do with the temple in Jerusalem? Well, we’ll come back to that later.
But for now, as we turn to study the psalm together, I should point out that it’s a psalm of praise to the Lord, who had delivered his servant from the grave. And it can be divided up into five parts. First, in verses 1 to 3, he praises the Lord who delivered him from the grave. Second, in verses 4 and 5, he calls on the Lord’s people to praise the Lord with him. Third, in verses 6 and 7, he refers to how he sinned against the Lord and how the Lord disciplined him. Fourth, in verses 8 to 10, he recalls how he cried to the Lord for mercy. And fifth, in verses 11 and 12, he once again praises the Lord who delivered him from the grave. So, let’s study the psalm together.
Verses 1 to 3
And as I’ve said, in verses 1 to 3, he praises the Lord who delivered him from the grave. ‘I will exalt you’, the psalm begins, ‘for you lifted me out of the depths.’ The word translated ‘exalt’ is related to a word which means ‘to be high’. So, exalting the Lord means we’re lifting him up and we’re placing him above every other thing. And the psalmist wanted to exalt and lift up the Lord, because the Lord had lifted him out of the depths. We’re now to think of a bucket which was at the bottom of a well, but someone has lifted it up and drawn it out of the well. So, the psalmist felt that he had descended down into the grave, but the Lord has lifted him out of it and drawn him up. No wonder he wants to praise the Lord and to lift him up above all others, because the Lord has been so good to him, rescuing him from death. And by rescuing him like that, the Lord has prevented his enemies from gloating over him. And we can imagine what would have happened, if he had died. All of his enemies, all who hated him, would have been glad and would have rejoiced. They were no doubt looking forward to his death. But the Lord saved him.
In verse 2 he refers to the Lord as ‘the Lord my God’. Lord is in capital letters, which means the psalmist was using God’s special covenant name. And at the heart of God’s covenant with his people was his promise to be their God. And so, the psalmist refers to him as ‘the Lord my God’. The Lord is ‘his God’ because the Lord has bound himself to his people with an oath; and he’s sworn that he would always be their God. And so, they can always trust in him and rely on him for help. When they’re in trouble, who can they turn to? Well, they can turn to the Lord, because he has promised to be their God and to help them. And so, the psalmist called to the Lord for help. And, of course, the Lord has promised to be our God and the God of all who trust in his Son. Through faith, we become members of his people; and he becomes our God. And so, we too can trust in him for the help we need.
And look: the Lord healed the psalmist. The Lord brought him up from the grave and the Lord spared him from going down into the pit. And he’s referring here to the pit of death. So, it seems that the psalmist had been unwell. In fact, he was so unwell, he almost died. He was at death’s door. He was face to face with the grave. But then he called to the Lord and the Lord healed him and spared him from death.
As I’ve said, no wonder he wants to praise the Lord and to lift him up above all others, because the Lord had been merciful to him and had lifted him from the grave.
Verses 5 and 5
He turns to the Lord’s people, his saints. And he calls on them to sing to the Lord and to praise his holy name.
Incidentally, people have asked whether I can add music to these recordings; or whether I can post links to music on the internet for you to listen to. And certainly, I’ve seen my colleagues sing online themselves; or they’re added recordings of musicians and singers to their videos. But here’s the thing: listening to someone else praise the Lord is not the same as praising the Lord ourselves. We can listen to others praise the Lord and some of us find that edifying and helpful. But it’s not the same as praising the Lord together. The psalmist called on God’s people to sing to the Lord themselves and to praise his holy name themselves. And so, in these days, when we have to remain at home. we ought to cry to the Lord, because — for the time being — we’re unable to meet together to sing to the Lord and to praise his holy name. And we ought to plead with the Lord to be merciful to us and to allow us once again to meet together for public worship, when we’ll be able to join our voices to sing to the Lord and to praise his holy name.
But that’s really an aside. In verses 4 and 5, the psalmist calls on God’s people to praise the Lord, because the Lord’s anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime. Well, as we’ll discover in a moment, the reason the psalmist almost died was because the Lord was angry with him. And the Lord was angry with him, because of his sin. However, the Lord’s anger towards the psalmist was short-lived. It was brief. It was only for a moment, whereas his favour, his kindness towards the psalmist, lasts a lifetime.
Think of children and their parents. The parents have to discipline their children when they misbehave; and the children don’t like it, do they? And perhaps they become resentful, because it seems so unfair to them; it seems to them that their parents are being mean. ‘Why do you have to treat me like this?’ Well, the parents have to treat them like this, because it’s important for parents to discipline unruly and disobedient children, so that the children will learn to do what’s right and good. But as well as that, the parents only discipline their children for a short while, compared to the kindness they show to their children every day of their lives, giving them one good thing after another to enjoy and supplying them with all they need and more besides.
The Lord fills our lives with good things every day. And every day he provides for us and cares for us; and every day we benefit from his kindness. And if he needs to discipline us, it may be unpleasant. No one likes to be disciplined. But, of course, it’s for our good, because he disciplines us so that we’ll turn from our sin and learn to do what’s right and good. He disciplines us to keep us on the narrow way that leads to life and to prevent us from going astray.
And then, it’s only for a brief time, isn’t it? Compared to a lifetime of kindness from the Lord, his discipline is for a brief moment only. Weeping may remain for a night, the psalmist says in verse 5, but rejoicing comes in the morning. Our sorrow and sadness because of the Lord’s discipline soon gives way to joy.
Do you know how long the Lord’s discipline lasts? Do you know how long his anger towards his people lasts? I’ll tell you how long it lasts. It lasts only so long as it’s necessary. And no longer than that. There’s a line in Isaiah 30 which I love. The chapter begins with a woe:
‘Woe to the obstinate children’, declares the Lord.
He’s referring to the people of Israel who had turned away from him and who refused to repent. And so, the Lord warned them about how he was going to discipline them for their sin. And then, in verse 18 — and this is the line I love — the prophet says:
yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you.
Do you see? He had to discipline his stubborn people, yet he was longing for the time, he was waiting for the time, when he could once again show them his grace and his willingness to pardon them, if only they would confess their sin and turn from it.
I wonder? Might the Lord be disciplining you for some unconfessed sin? Is there some sin which you need to confess to him? Is there some sin you need to turn from in repentance? The Lord longs to be gracious to his people and to show us all over again his willingness to pardon us, no matter what we have done wrong. And he’s able to pardon us, because of Christ our Saviour, who bore the punishment we deserve so that all who believe in him may receive forgiveness from God.
Verses 6 and 7
In the first part of the psalm, the psalmist praised the Lord for delivering him from the grave. In the second part, he called on the Lord’s people to praise the Lord with him. And in the third part — verses 6 and 7 — he refers to how he sinned against the Lord and how the Lord disciplined him. So, look with me at those verses.
He says in verse 6:
When I felt secure, I said, ‘I shall never be shaken’.
What was his sin?It was a kind of pride, wasn’t it? A sense of self-sufficiency and self-confidence. According to verse 7, the Lord, in his favour, made his mountain stand firm. In other words, the Lord had been good to him and had established him firmly. Since the psalm was written by David, he could be referring to Mount Zion and to the city of Jerusalem. In that case, God enabled him to defeat his enemies; and the Lord had settled him securely in Jerusalem. However, instead of giving thanks to the Lord and attributing his success to the Lord, he had become proud and self-confident and had said that by his own power and wisdom he had made his life secure. Instead of acknowledging his dependence on the Lord, he had come to believe that he did not need the Lord.
But look now at the end of verse 7: the Lord, for a moment, hid his face from the psalmist. And in that moment, the psalmist was dismayed. Another translation says:
And I was shattered.
You’re out in the garden, and the sun is shining. And you’re enjoying the sunshine and the warmth and being outdoors. But then, a cloud covers the sun, and the afternoon becomes dark, and you begin to feel cold, and all the pleasure you were feeling has gone. Well, because of the psalmist’s pride and self-sufficiency, the Lord turned away from him and withdrew his favour. And, as we learned from the beginning of the psalm, the psalmist became ill; so ill that he was on the verge of dying.
Verses 8 to 10
He acknowledged his sin and how the Lord had to discipline him. And then, in verses 8 to 10, he recalls how he cried to the Lord for mercy:
To you, O Lord, I called;
to the Lord, I cried for mercy.
And he reasons with the Lord, doesn’t he? That’s what he’s doing in verse 9, where he asks: What would the Lord gain by his destruction? What would the Lord gain if he went down to the pit of death? What would the Lord gain by letting him die? — because the dust cannot praise the Lord. He means, of course, those who die and who go down to the dust cannot praise the Lord. They cannot proclaim God’s faithfulness, because they’re dead. But, if the Lord will be merciful to him, and will save him, then he’ll be able to praise the Lord and declare the Lord’s faithfulness once again. And so, hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me; and be my help.
Verses 10 and 11
That’s how he prayed, whenever the Lord hid his face from the psalmist and whenever he was ill and on the verge of death. And the Lord heard him and the Lord lifted him out of the depths and he brought him up from the grave and he spared him from going down to the pit of death. And so, the Lord turned his wailing into dancing; and the Lord removed his sackcloth and clothed him with joy. And because of the Lord’s kindness to him, he declares that he will sing to the Lord and will give thanks to the Lord for ever.
I mentioned the psalm’s title at the beginning. This psalm was written for the dedication of the temple, but the psalm doesn’t mention the temple. Not even once. So, what’s the connection with the temple?
Let me try to explain the connection.
The psalm tells us that God’s anger towards his sinful people lasts only a moment and his favour lasts a lifetime. God’s anger is provoked by sin, isn’t it? We’re taught that all through the Bible. But in Old Testament times, God told his people to bring a sacrifice up to the temple in Jerusalem and to offer it on the altar. The animal would be slaughtered and the priest would pour the blood out before the presence of the Lord; and the Lord would see the blood and he would turn from his anger and pardon his people.
But all of those Old Testament sacrifices which were offered on the altar in the temple in Jerusalem were designed by God to make do and to fill in until the time came when his one and only Son would offer himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins. The Lord Jesus laid down his life to free us from condemnation. He shed his blood to cleanse us from our guilt. And so now, when believers confess their sins to God, the Lord our God is willing and able to turn from his anger and to pardon us for the sake of Christ who died for us.
That’s the connection with the temple. The temple in Old Testament times was the place where sacrifices were offered to receive forgiveness from the Lord. And those Old Testament sacrifices point us to Christ the Saviour who loved us and who gave up his life for us and for all who believe so that we might receive forgiveness from God.
Do you need forgiveness from God? Of course you do, because you’re a sinner. We’re all sinners and we sin against the Lord continually. And so, you should go to God in prayer to confess your sins. And you should ask him to forgive you for the sake of Christ the Saviour who died for sinners. And you should ask the Lord to fill you with his Spirit to help you to walk humbly before him all the days of your life.
Before we finish, let me point out how this psalm points to Christ our Saviour in another way. Think back, for a moment, to Psalm 16. In Psalm 16, the psalmist said that the Lord did not abandon him, the psalmist, to the grave; and the Lord did not let the psalmist see decay. And in Acts 2, the Apostle Peter quoted from Psalm 16 and he explained that when David wrote those words, he wasn’t referring to himself, but he was referring to the Lord Jesus. He wasn’t referring to himself, because David died and his body decayed in the grave. And so, he was referring to the Lord Jesus, who died, but who was raised from the dead to live for ever. That’s how the Apostle Peter interpreted Psalm 16.
And we can say the same thing about this psalm, Psalm 30. David said in verse 3 that the Lord brought him up from the grave; and the Lord spared him from going down to the pit. Well, David died, didn’t he? And he was buried and his body is still lying in a pit, in a grave. However, David was writing as a prophet to foretell how God the Father would one day lift the Lord Jesus up from the depths; and how one day he would bring the Lord Jesus up from the grave; and how one day he would spare the Lord Jesus from going down to the pit. The Lord Jesus died, and his body was laid in the tomb. But God the Father raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place.
You’re maybe thinking that this psalm can’t be about the Lord Jesus, because the Lord Jesus never sinned; he never did anything wrong. And that’s true: he never did anything wrong; and he didn’t deserve to die on the cross or to suffer God’s anger. Nevertheless, the Son of God came to earth as one of us; and though he himself never sinned, he suffered and died for our sins. He took the blame for us and he experienced the wrath of God for our sins. But then, after he died, and after he was buried, his Father raised him from the dead to live for ever and for ever in the glory of heaven above.
When David wrote about his deliverance from illness and from the grave, he foretold how the Lord Jesus would be raised from the dead to live for ever. And here’s the thing: whoever believes in him will likewise be raised from the dead to live for ever. This is the hope that God gives to you, so long as you trust in Christ the Saviour. And so, if you’re a believer — if you trust in the Lord Jesus — then you don’t need to be worried about anything, because even if the worst thing happens to you, and you die, and your body is laid in the grave, you know that the day will come when the Lord your God will raise your body from the grave and you will live with him for ever in glory. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, death has been swallowed up in victory, because just as Christ was raised up victorious over death, so all who believe in him will be raised up victorious over death. And like the psalmist, you’ll be able to give thanks to the Lord for ever. You’ll be able to give thanks to the Lord for ever, because you’ll live for ever in the new and better world to come.