<A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David.>
1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
This is a Psalm of praise but as Rolf Jacobson also can state it is a Psalm about praise. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 298) Psalm thirty with its poetic polarities looks at what a life of praise might look like and how one’s experience of God’s deliverance can lead to a life where one’s soul can praise and not be silent. The Psalm also moves beyond the individual Psalmists praise to the community’s experience of the deliverance of God and the attribution of the Psalm as a song at the dedication of the temple can let us wonder how the words originally written by one speaker now gets echoed to the faithful ones through their testimony and becomes reflective of a communal faith at the dedication of a place of worship. Praise leads the person not to remain silent, to proclaim their life before the gathered community and ultimately to dedicate a place where God’s name can be praised.
The superscription which lists the Psalm as being used in the dedication of a temple has two possibilities in ancient Israelite and Jewish writings: the dedication of the second temple in 515 BCE (as described in Ezra 6) or the rededication of the temple after the Maccabean revolt in 165 BCE after it had been defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes (which Hanukah and the books of Maccabees talk about). (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 289) In either case the community has come out of a time where the LORD appeared to hide his face and remove the protection from the people and yet ultimately the people stand in the position of being renewed and redeemed from either captivity or persecution. In using these words in the position of praising God with the dedication of a new (or renewed) temple the people take the experience of the Psalmist and the words of praise and relate them to the experience of the Jewish community as they emerge from the shadow of oppression and the threat of death.
The Psalm itself bursts with praise from the writer’s experience of redemption. From the very beginning the poet show how their LORD saved them from the point of death. The language is full of images reflecting a struggle for life against the possibility of death. Being drawn up, brought up from Sheol, having one’s life restored from among those who have gone down to the Pit: these are all ways of representing the near-death experience that the Psalmist trusts that God has redeemed them from. So, the Psalmist feels compelled not only to tell and praise but to command others to praise and give thanks as well. In sharing their experience and song they begin to teach the community how to sing praises to the LORD and to give thanks to his holy name.
In the center of the psalm is the testimony of a life that has forgotten praise and which became comfortable in its complacency. The Psalmist, like many in our own time, made security their idol and they began to trust in their own strength rather than the LORD who had provided for them. They began to believe that they would never be moved. Yet, this is where the LORD hides the protecting and benevolent face of God. To many people who believe God only brings prosperity and blessing this may indeed feel like what Martin Luther would call ‘the alien work of God’: the actions of condemnation, judgment or punishment. Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer could say in a 1944 letter to Eberhard Bethge,
Thus our coming of age leads us to a truer recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as those who manage their lives without God. The same God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15: 34!) (DBW 8:479)
The Psalmist describes the descent into the Godforsaken place that leads them to pleading for life. The Psalms come from a time before the Jewish people would even begin thinking of a resurrection and so the ending of life is the ending of praise. Death silences the songs of the faithful but even at the edge of the abyss the faithful can cry out. They know that God’s anger will pass, that joy will come in the morning. That God can and will act to bring life out of death, hope out of despair, turn mourning into dancing and brokenness into healing.
So, the Psalmist and the community that can echo these words learn to praise and not be silent. They participate in a faith in a redeeming God who delivers the faithful ones in their time of trouble. Having participated in the renewal of life after the brush with death, persecution or destruction they learn that it is because of the LORD that they shall never be moved. As St. Paul could echo this idea in a later time, talking to the early followers of Jesus, ‘that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our LORD.” (Romans 8.38f.) And as the faithful gather together in the places dedicated to praising and giving thanks to God forever as the old song says, “How can they keep from singing.”