Summary: Year C Third Sunday of Easter--April 29th, 2001. Psalm 30
Year C Third Sunday of Easter--April 29th, 2001. Psalm 30
Title: “Praising God is a ministry.”
This is a very old psalm whose origins are lost in antiquity. The Heading or Title attached to it “A Psalm. Dedication song for the house. Of David.” indicates as does the Talmud that it was used at the Feast of Hanukkah, the re-dedication of the Temple in 164 BC under the Macabees. Surely it is much older than that. It was sung in a cultic setting, a thank offering service, although there are no allusions to the sacrificial gift giving. Its terms and references are general enough to be appropriate for all kinds of situations and so is quite suitable for private prayer of thanksgiving. The psalmist speaks specifically of being rescued from a deadly illness. However, that had become a stock image for just about any serious life crisis, not necessarily limited to physical maladies. The psalmist now sings the praises of God, his deliverer, and invites the congregation to join him in his joy and, perhaps, to identify with this patterned process of God’s rescuing his faithful ones from the “pits” of life.
The structure of this psalm is typical of thanksgiving psalms; verses two to four, praise Yahweh, the rescuer; verses five and six, invite the other worshippers to join in; verses seven to thirteen, describe in more detail the reasons for the thankful praise and end with a resolution to praise Yahweh forever. This is classified as a song of thanksgiving, but since thanks is a specific form of praise, it is really impossible and unnecessary to distinguish between them. Praise and thanks amount to the same thing.
Verse two, I praise you, Lord, for you raise me up: The Hebrew word translated as “praise” here comes from the Hebrew root, rum, which means “rise up, be high.” The idea is that the presence of God “rises up” in the consciousness of a person and that person acknowledges this “heightened consciousness.” Praising God, then, is being in a state of altered and heightened consciousness. God is always present, but being aware of it prompts praise and thanks. The psalmist says the reason for this is his awareness that God has “raised me up.” The Hebrew word (d-l-h) used is the same as that used to draw a bucket up from a well or a pit. Thus, humans can exalt or extol God only by realizing that he is the source or cause of their own being raised up from the depths, pits, and Sheol.
“My enemies,” these are those who misinterpreted the psalmist’s illness or other misfortune, as a divine punishment for sin and who rejoiced that he had been “found out” or “drawn out,” exposed, “raised up” for public scrutiny.
In verse three, “you healed me,” generally speaking, the Israelites believed sin brought sickness and other grieves. Even though, strictly speaking, it was never actually taught that a person’s specific illness was caused by his or her own specific sin, it was easy to generalize and fall into that way of thinking. Many did, among them the psalmist’s “enemies.”
In verse four, “Sheol…pit,” The experience of illness or any other misfortune, is tantamount to being in Sheol, the netherworld or non-world, without God’s presence, the “pits,” a living hell, and so, healing can be described in terms of deliverance from hell, Sheol, the pits. Sheol here stands not so much for a geographical place as a state of mind- weakness, “Disease, misery, forsakenness.”
In verse five, “you faithful,” The Hebrew reads hasidiim, those who keep hesed, covenant loyalty. The psalmist is referring to those present in the liturgical assembly. Individual praising and thanking always must expand to first invite and then include others. One’s own praise and thanks are too inadequate to meet or match the beneficence of God.
In verse six, “divine anger lasts but a moment,” sin results in divine “anger.” One cannot be in sin and able to live in awareness of God’s presence. One is cut off. Weeping is the human reaction to that. If it causes repentance, then, like the temporary darkness, it is replaced by dawn and rejoicing, a change of fortune. Divine “anger” is short-lived and for the purpose of teaching the wayward. Compared to the extent of divine “favor” it is quite transitory.
In verses seven through nine, the psalmist reviews his own downfall. Using a “That was then, this is now” pattern, he admits to the sin of self-confidence or arrogance. While everything was going well, described as shalom, the psalmist thought it was because of his own achievements and forgot it was because of God. Praising himself, not God, he says to himself, “I shall not be shaken forever.” At the end of the psalm he will praise God forever. When God turned away, disaster struck and he was brought to his senses. In the pits, where self-confidence is shattered by awareness of mortality and finitude, he could only look up and ask to be “raised up” by the one at the other end of the bucket and rope.