Shiur #25: Psalm 30 - "I Will Extol You, O Lord, For You Have Lifted Me Up" (Part III)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

SEFER TEHILLIM

 

 

Lecture 25: PSALM 30 -

"I will extol you, O Lord, for you have lifted me up"

(part III)

 

Rav Elchanan Samet

 

 

              (1)     A Psalm. A song at the dedication of the house. Of David.

1            (2)     I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up,

                        and You have not made my enemies rejoice over me.

2            (3)     O Lord, my God, I cried out to You,

                        and You healed me.

              (4)     O Lord, You brought me up from She'ol.

                        You kept me alive,

                        that I should not go down to the pit.

4            (5)     Sing praise to the Lord, O you His pious sons,

                        and give thanks to the remembrance of His holiness.

5            (6)     For He remains a moment in His anger,

                        a lifetime in His favor.

6                      In the evening one goes to sleep weeping,

                        but in the morning there is joy.

7            (7)     But I said in my prosperity,

                        I will never stumble.

8            (8)     O Lord, by Your favor You made my mountain stand

                        strong

                        You hid your face, and I was dismayed.

9            (9)     I cried to You, O Lord,

                        and to the Lord I made supplication.

10          (10)   What profit is there in my blood,

                        when I go down to the pit?

11                   Shall the dust give thanks to You?

                        Shall it declare Your truth?

12          (11)   Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me.

                        O Lord, be my helper.

13          (12)   You turned for me my mourning into dancing.

                        You loosened my sackcloth and girded me with

                        gladness.

14          (13)   Therefore glory will sing praise to You, and I will

                        not be silent.

                        O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

 

III.          THE UNIQUE STRUCTURE OF OUR PSALM

 

What is unique about this psalm in comparison to other thanksgiving psalms in the book of Tehilim and elsewhere? In order to answer this question, we must understand the structure of our psalm.

 

The first three stanzas of the psalm constitute a prayer of thanksgiving for the deliverance that God brought the psalmist. In all three stanzas, the psalmist turns to God in the second person, and in all three of them he turns to Him by calling upon His name: "I will extol You, O Lord"; "O Lord, my God"; "O Lord." These three stanzas also describe the nature of the deliverance, and thus there is also an allusion or even an explicit reference to the nature of the trouble:

 

 

 

Deliverance

Trouble

Stanza 1

"You have lifted me up"

He had been in the depths

"And You have not made my enemies rejoice over me"

His enemies had hoped for his downfall

Stanza 2

"And You healed me"

He had been ill/in a crisis

Stanza 3

"O Lord, You brought me up from the She'ol"

He had been in mortal danger

"You kept me alive, that I should not go down into the pit"

 

            In stanza 4 there is a clear change in the nature of the thanksgiving: the psalmist now turns to God's pious ones; he addresses them in second person, and God is now referred to in the third person.

 

            We are not dealing here with a lowering of the level of thanksgiving. On the contrary, the thanksgiving expands from the individual to the wider community – God's pious ones – and this community is called upon to sing praise and give thanks to God for His rescue of the psalmist.

 

            Stanzas 5-6 serve as a rationale for the psalmist's turning to God's pious ones in stanza 4, and therefore stanza 5 opens with the word "ki," "for, because." Since stanzas 5-6 are a continuation of what the psalmist says to the pious ones, God continues to be addressed in the third person – "in His anger… in His favor."

 

            It stands to reason that stanzas 5-6 also describe the psalmist's deliverance. What is added here is that the serious danger in which he had been found was very short ("a moment," one night), that God in His favor saved him already "in the morning,"[1] and that this deliverance was "life/for a lifetime." That is to say, it involved leaving mortal danger for life (as in stanza 3), but it was also deliverance for a lifetime (as opposed to "a moment").

 

            Even though stanzas 5-6 deal with the psalmist's deliverance, he does not formulate his words in the first person. He does not say: "For He remained a moment in His anger with me, and gave me life in His favor. In the evening I went to sleep weeping, but in the morning I got up in joy," or something like this. The reason is that these words are directed to God's pious ones, and therefore the psalmist formulates the account of his personal rescue in such a way that includes a general conclusion regarding the nature of God – that He is abundant in love and quickly appeased. In this way, the psalmist's personal thanksgiving serves as the foundation for a universal religious teaching. The pious ones sing praise and give thanks not only for the personal good fortune of their colleague the psalmist, but for God's universal goodness that was revealed to them through him.

 

            The common denominator in stanzas 1-6 is that they all express the psalmist's thanksgiving to God for having rescued him from his troubles, but this thanksgiving expands from the first unit of stanzas (1-3) to the second unit (stanzas 4-6), both with respect to the number of people offering thanks (from the individual to the community) and with respect to the scope of the thanksgiving (from the individual rescue to the universal good).

 

            When we reach stanza 7 we sense a major change:

 

But I said in my prosperity:

I will never stumble.

 

            When did the psalmist enjoy prosperity? When did he say to himself "I will never stumble"?

 

            The answer is clear: this took place in the distant past, before he was beset by his troubles. This verse gives voice to sort of a confession: Before misfortune arrived, when I was prospering, I failed to connect my prosperity to God's lovingkindness towards me. Rather, I thought that this is the nature of the world – that my prosperity is governed by the law of inertia – and therefore, "I will never stumble."[2]

 

            It turns out then that in stanza 7 the timeframe changes, and we move from the period following the rescue – the time of offering thanks – to the past, even the distant past, that preceded the psalmist's troubles. That is to say, in stanza 7 the psalmist begins to reconstruct the past. Does this continue also in the coming stanzas?

 

            The answer to this question is yes: in stanza 8 the psalmist continues to reconstruct the past, only that now he shifts to the more recent past. This is the past when his prosperity ended and he learned the hard way that it was only by way of Divine favor that he had enjoyed prosperity and stability. But the moment that God's favor – His shining countenance – was replaced by anger – the hiding of His face, he was beset by trouble, and instead of the arrogant confidence of the period of the psalmist's prosperity – "I was dismayed." This is the way to understand stanza 8:

 

O Lord, [now I know that] by Your favor You made my mountain stand strong [during my prosperity]

[Because when] You hid your face – [at that time] I was dismayed.

 

            At what point along the time line were stanzas 7-8 voiced? They seem to be have uttered during the period of the psalmist's troubles, and they reflect a reckoning that he had made with his soul and a lesson that he had learned from his troubles. Does this complete the psalm's reconstruction of the past? No, for stanza 9 continues to reconstruct that same past during which the psalmist had been beset by troubles:

 

I cried ("ekra") to You, O Lord, and to the Lord I made supplication ("etchanan").

 

            The meaning of the future tense ("ekra," "etchanan") in this stanza is that this is what I am doing now: Now, during the time of my misfortune, I cry to you and make supplication. This follows from the wording of the verse itself, and from the continuation in the coming stanzas. From the verse itself – "crying" and "supplication" do not fit in with the period following the rescue, for after the rescue, the psalmist's prayer is worded with joyous terms: "I will extol You," "Sing praises… give thanks." The psalmist himself had testified (in stanza 2) to the nature of his prayer during the period of his troubles: "I cried out ("shivati") to You," similar to what we find in stanza 9: "I cried ("ekra") to You, O Lord, and to the Lord I made supplication ("etchanan")." The difference between stanza 2 and stanza 9 is that stanza 2 is formulated from the perspective of the time of rescue: "I cried out to You, and You healed me," whereas stanza 9 is formulated from the perspective of the time of trouble: when "You hid Your face, and I was dismayed," then "I cried to You, O Lord, and to the Lord I made supplication."

 

            That stanza 9 is a reconstruction of the past, the time of trouble, is also evident from the continuation: The coming stanzas are citations of the psalmist's cries and supplications: "What profit is there in my blood… Shall the dust give thanks to You…," and it is obvious that these words were uttered at a time that the psalmist felt that he was close to death – as he had described his misfortune in stanza 3.

 

Until where does the prayer offered by the psalmist during his time of trouble continue? The answer is that this prayer continues until the end of stanza 12:

 

Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me. O Lord, be my helper.

 

            This stanza "closes" the previous words of prayer – the arguments presented in stanzas 10-11 – and parallels stanza 9 with which the prayer had opened: "And to the Lord I made supplication ('etchanan')" – "Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me ('ve-chaneni')."

 

            It turns out then that stanzas 7-12 describe the past, the period during which the psalmist was in trouble, before he was rescued. Were we to isolate these stanzas from the first part of the psalm, and read them by themselves, we would justly conclude that this is a psalm of supplication uttered by one from whom God has hidden His face, so that he is in mortal danger, and prays now for his deliverance. For these stanzas do not give the slightest hint that the situation that they describe has already changed.

 

            It is only the proximity of these stanzas to the first part of the psalm, stanzas 1-6, that teaches us that the psalmist has already been rescued, and that in stanzas 7-12 he is reconstructing his time of trouble and returning to it in a way that allows him to relive the past and return to it, as it were, in his consciousness.

 

            Thus far, our analysis of the psalm has revealed the two major sections of the psalm – its two halves. In the first half – the thanksgiving – there are six stanzas included in five verses, with 37 words; and so too in the second half – the supplication – there are six stanzas included in five verses, with 38 words.

 

            Each half is divided into two sub-sections. The first half: stanzas 1-3 constitute a prayer of thanksgiving to God; stanzas 4-6 are a call to the pious to give thanks to God. The second half: stanzas 7-8 constitute a "reckoning of the soul" in the wake of the psalmist's troubles; stanzas 9-12 are a prayer for deliverance.

 

            We argued above in section II that every psalm of thanksgiving must include a description of the trouble from which the person offering the thanks had been rescued. For if he fails to recognize that trouble, he will be unable to appreciate his deliverance and the thanksgiving itself will be impaired. But the trouble in a thanksgiving psalm is usually described from the perspective of after the deliverance, as is the case in the first half of our psalm in stanzas 1-6.

 

            Our psalm is unique in that it does not content itself with a description of the trouble that is incidental to the words of thanksgiving, as in the first half of the psalm (stanzas 1-6). Rather, it devotes the second half of the psalm (stanzas 7-12) to the period of trouble; and in this half we return to that period, not as a past that is gone, but as a present occurring right now.

 

            Put differently: midway through the psalm, the psalmist's perspective in time changes, from one where he contemplates the events after he had been rescued, to one where he contemplates the difficult events that passed over him at the very time of their occurrence.

 

The likely reason that the psalmist does this is that the past is important to him, not only as a key to understanding the present – when he gives thanks to God for having saved him – but because this past has independent importance. In order that we might be able to understand and feel it, the psalmist takes us on a "voyage to the past," a voyage in which we experience that past as if it were taking place in the present.

 

But what is so special about this past that the psalmist found it necessary to emphasize it in such a manner that he relives it all across the second half of the psalm? We shall answer this question in section VII of this study; in this section and those that follow we will complete our discussion of the structure of the psalm.

 

It would clearly have been impossible to conclude the psalm at the end of the second half with stanza 12, "Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper." Surely our psalm is a thanksgiving psalm, and were it to end with the psalmist's desperate call in his time of trouble, we would have been left totally bewildered: Did God hear his cry? Was he saved from the danger that he was in? This confusion might have brought us to the conclusion that we are dealing with two different psalms: a psalm of thanksgiving in verses 2-6 and a psalm of supplication in verses 7-11, and then we would have wondered why these two psalms were joined together, and precisely in this order (the reverse order would have been more reasonable).

 

Our psalm, however, is entirely a psalm of thanksgiving, and stanzas 7-12 are merely a journey into the past, the whole purpose of which is to further enhance the giving of thanks. Accordingly, our psalm must conclude with verses of thanksgiving, thereby surrounding the verses of supplication with verses of thanksgiving before and after. In other words: It is only the return at the end of the psalm to the time after the rescue that justifies defining our psalm as a psalm of thanksgiving.

 

Therefore, following the end of the two halves of the psalm, a conclusion is necessary – stanzas 13-14. These two concluding stanzas return us to the time of the first half – the period after the deliverance: stanza 13 describes the rescue and the liberation from the distress of the danger and the grief connected to it. And thus it stands to reason that the psalmist's call to God in stanzas 9-12 was heard.

 

Stanza 14 brings us back to the motif of thanksgiving, which was the main motif in the first half of the psalm: "I will give thanks to You forever."

 

The structure of our psalm may be seen as follows:


 

(1)       A Psalm. A song at the dedication of the house. Of David.

The first half: Thanksgiving

The second half: Supplication

1(2)     I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up,

and You have not made my enemies rejoice over me.

7(7) But I said in my prosperity,

I will never stumble.

 

2(3)     O Lord, my God, I cried out to You,

and You healed me.

8(8) O Lord, by Your favor You made my mountain stand strong,

You hid your face, and I was dismayed.

3(4)     O Lord, You brought me up from She'ol.

You kept me alive,

That I should not go down to the pit.

9(9) I cried to You, O Lord,

and to the Lord I made supplication.

4(5)     Sing praise to the Lord, O you His pious sons,

and give thanks to the remembrance of His holiness.

10(10) What profit is there in my blood,

when I go down to the pit?

 

5(6)     For He remains a moment in His anger,

a lifetime in His favor.

11 Shall the dust give thanks to You?

Shall it declare Your truth?

6 In the evening one goes to sleep weeping,

but in the morning there is joy.

12(11) Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me.

O Lord, be my helper.

Conclusion: Thanksgiving

13(12) You turned for me my mourning into dancing.

You loosened my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.

14(13) Therefore glory will sing praise to You, and I will not be silent.

O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

 

(To be continued.)

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] It is not necessary to understand these words in their precise literal sense, but rather as a poetic expression of the psalmist's desire to magnify God's act of lovingkindness toward him: His anger towards him was very short-lived, whereas His lovingkindness and deliverance appeared very quickly in response to his prayers.

[2] These words contain self-criticism, for in Psalm 10 it is the wicked person who "says in his heart, I shall not fall; for all generations I shall not be in adversity" (v. 6).