Shiur #26: Psalm 30 - "I Will Extol You, O Lord, For You Have Lifted Me Up" (Part IV)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

SEFER TEHILLIM

 

Lecture 26: PSALM 30 -

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

(part IV)

 

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.

 

IV.          THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE FIRST AND SECOND HALVES OF THE PSALM

 

            Is it possible to point to linguistic and conceptual connections between the three parts of the psalm? To put it differently: Does the account of the time of trouble in the second half of the psalm correspond to the description of the trouble in the first half, so that we can conclude that we are dealing with the very same trouble? And does the account of the deliverance and the thanksgiving in the psalm's conclusion correspond both to the description of the trouble in the second half and to the description of the deliverance and the thanksgiving in the first half, so that we can conclude that all three sections of the psalm revolve around the same event that serves as the backdrop of the psalm in its entirety?

 

            In this section, we shall deal with the connection between the two halves of the psalm.

 

1) In stanza 2 in the first half, it says: "O Lord, my God, I cried out to You." In the second half, the psalmist's cry is spelled out in detail, and is cited in stanzas 9-12: "I cried to You, O Lord,       and to the Lord I made supplicationHear, O Lord, and be gracious to me…."

 

2) In the description of the rescue in stanza 3, the psalmist states:

 

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

You kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.

 

In his prayer in the second half (stanzas 10-11), the psalmist argues:

 

What profit is there in my blood,

when I go down to the pit?

Shall the dust give thanks to You?

Shall it declare Your truth?

 

            It is clear that both places describe the same danger in which the psalmist was found, a danger of imminent death. Both places make use of the root yod-resh-dalet, "go down": "that I should not go down to the pit (bor)" – "when I go down to the pit (shachat)." And the words "bor" and "shachat" parallel each other in Scripture (Tehilim 7:16):

 

He has dug a pit (bor) and hollowed it,

And has fallen into the pit (shachat) that he has made.

 

            It turns out that going down to the "bor" and going down to "shachat" are one and the same thing.[1]

 

3) One last connection between the two halves that we shall discuss is that the same word is found in both of them: the word "ratzon" with a pronominal suffix indicating belonging to God. This word appears in stanza 5 in the first half and in stanza 8 in the second half. These two stanzas are clearly connected by way of chiastic parallelism, as follows:

 

For He remains a moment in His anger,

a lifetime in His favor (bi-retzono).

 

O Lord, by Your favor (bi-retzonkha) You made my mountain stand strong.

 

You hid your face, and I was dismayed.

 

 

            This chiastic parallelism stems from the fact that God's "ratzon" discussed in our psalm (in the sense of a "shining face"[2]) is shown to the psalmist at two different stages of his life: The first, before trouble arrives, and the trouble that comes after that turns that "favor" into anger and leads to dismay – stanza 8; and the second, after the rescue, when that favor cancels God's anger at the time of trouble and gives the psalmist "life." God's favor bestowed at the second stage is greater than that of the first stage, for the first one was "favor" that came to an end, whereas the second is favor that continues "a lifetime," as opposed to "for a moment." What is more, during the first stage the psalmist did not recognize God's favor, whereas during the second stage, he recognizes it and even thanks God for it.

 

            We can portray this in the following table:

 

Before the trouble

During the trouble

Following the trouble

O Lord, by Your favor You made my mountain stand strong.

 

 

 

You hid your face, and I was dismayed.

For He remains a moment in His anger.[3]

 

 

 

A lifetime in His favor.

 

V.        THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE PSALM'S CONCLUSION AND ITS TWO HALVES

 

            Let us now consider the psalm's conclusion (stanzas 13-14) and the connections between it and the two halves of the psalm.

 

1)            The words in the psalm's conclusion, "I will give thanks to You (odeka) forever (le-olam)," are connected to the second half: During his period of prosperity, the psalmist felt that "I will never (le-olam) stumble," but when trouble came upon him, he pleaded before God, "Shall the dust give thanks (ha-yodekha) to You?" After God saves him, he fulfills the obligation that he implicitly accepted upon himself in the prayer that he offered during his time of trouble, and he thanks God, and this thanksgiving will continue forever. In this way he repairs the statement that he had made during his period of prosperity, "I will never stumble," a statement that is the very opposite of expressing gratitude to God.

 

It turns out then that the psalm's conclusion includes a repair of what is stated in the second half, both on the objective plain, in that the trouble turned into relief after God heard the psalmist's prayers, and on the subjective plain, in the psalmist's new consciousness and in his response of thanksgiving for his rescue.

 

1)             The word that closes the psalm, "odeka," "I will give thanks to You," is also connected to the psalmist's turning to God's pious ones in the first half. First, a word with the same root is also found in the psalmist's address to the pious:

 

Sing praise to the Lord, O you His pious ones,

and give thanks (hodu) to the remembrance of His holiness.

 

            Thus, the verb, "le-hodot," "to give thanks," runs through all three sections of the psalm and justifies our defining the psalm as a psalm of thanksgiving.

 

            So too the verb, "le-zamer," "to sing praise," is found in both the psalm's conclusion and in the first half of the psalm. In both places – in stanza 4 and in stanza 14 – there is a parallelism between "singing praise" and "giving thanks":

 

Stanza 4

Stanza 14

Sing praise to the Lord, O you His pious ones,

 

Therefore glory will sing praise to You, and I will not be silent.

and give thanks to the remembrance of His holiness.

 

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

 

 

2)            The word that closes the psalm, "odeka," "I will give thanks to You," is also connected to the word that opens the psalm, "aromimkha," "I will extol You." These two words parallel each other in the reverse order in a verse found in the conclusion to a chapter of Hallel (118:28):

 

Psalm 118

Psalm 30

You are my God and I give You thanks.

I will extol You, O Lord…

You are my God and I extol You.

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

 

            This parallelism between the framework of our psalm and the verse found at the conclusion of the chapters of Hallel also proves that our psalm is a short "Hallel."

 

VI.       THE CONCLUSION OF THE PSALM – THE CLIMAX OF THE THANKSGIVING PSALM

 

            Does the psalm's conclusion come merely to take us back to the first half of the psalm (in order to surround the second half with verses of thanksgiving), or does it also advance and develop what is stated in the first half?

 

            Let us pay attention to the fact that each of the two stanzas of the psalm's conclusion parallels a different part of the first half:

 

1)            Stanza 13, "You turned for me my mourning into dancing / You loosened my sackcloth and girded me with gladness" parallels stanzas 1-3: In both places the deliverance is described as being the opposite of the trouble. There is, however, a difference between stanza 13 and stanzas 1-3: In the psalm's opening stanzas the deliverance is described in terms of a cancellation of the trouble: "You have lifted me up"; "and You healed me"; "You brought me up… that I should not go down into the pit." In stanza 13, on the other hand, the deliverance is described in terms of "dancing" and "gladness." That is to say, the petitioner's emotional state after his rescue is more elevated than before he had been struck by his trouble, and even better than that described in stanzas 1-3.

 

This advance in relation to stanzas 1-3 finds expression in two words that appear in both stanza 1 and stanza 13:

 

Stanza 1

Stanza 13

"my enemies over me ('li')"

"for me ('li') into dancing"

"and you have not made my enemies rejoice ('simachta') over me"

"and girded me with gladness ('simcha')"

 

 

            In stanza 1 the psalmist offers thanks for withholding joy from his enemies, whereas in stanza 13 he offers thanks to God for having girded him with gladness, i.e., for having dressed him in a garment of joy (instead of the sackcloth that he wore during his time of trouble). In this way "my enemies over me" turned into "dancing for me."

 

2)            Stanza 14, "Therefore glory will sing praise to You, and I will not be silent/ O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to You forever," parallels the second half of the first section, i.e., stanzas 4-6. We already noted in section V2 the close linguistic connection between stanzas 14 and 4 – in both of them we find the parallel between "singing praise" and "giving thanks."

 

The psalm's closing stanza, however, advances what was stated in the parallel stanza in the first half. In our verse, as in several other places in the book of Tehilim, the word "kavod" is used in the sense of "nafshi," namely, one's soul, one's person. This is the way the term was understood by the medieval commentators (Ibn Ezra, Radak, and Meiri). The word "kavod" is used in this sense in several verses in the book of Tehilim.[4] The question, however, arises: Whose "person/soul" "will sing and not be silent"?

 

According to the Ibn Ezra: "Therefore anybody who has kavod will offer thanks to You and sing Your praises. This means: an intelligent soul."[5] The Radak, however, explains: "Kavod – this is the soul… I know that my soul will remain after me, and sing praise to You forever, and not be silent."

 

The truth is that there is no need to decide between these two commentators: the word "kavod" without any pronominal suffix means "my kavod" and also "the kavod of every person." Thus, there is an expansion with respect to the call in stanza 4, "Sing praise to the Lord, O you His pious ones": the singers of praise in the psalm's conclusion are the psalmist himself and any person with "an intelligent soul."

 

In the second clause of stanza 14, "I will give thanks to You forever," it is clear that the thanksgiving is that of the psalmist himself, but there is no constriction with respect to what had been stated in stanza 4, where he says to the pious ones, "and give thanks to the remembrance of His holiness." First of all, attention should be paid to the fact that the verb "le-hodot" is not used in the first half for the psalmist's personal thanksgiving. There we find only the verb "aromimkha," "I will extol You." In the second half it says "ha-yodekha," "shall it give thanks to You," and though this implies a personal commitment on the part of the petitioner to offer thanks to God, this is stated in a vague manner, with no personal statement (it does not say: "Shall I give thanks to You when I am dust?"). This important word is found only in the psalm's conclusion, thus connecting the three sections of the psalm, with a personal statement of the petitioner.

 

Second, the psalmist's thanksgiving is not the same as the thanksgiving of the pious ones: they offer thanks for the deliverance of their colleague, apparently when they assemble in his honor, when he conducts a thanksgiving service together with a large congregation (perhaps when he offers a thanksgiving sacrifice). The petitioner himself, however, accepts upon himself at the end of the psalm that his thanksgiving will continue "forever." He will remember his deliverance for his entire life, and always thank God for it (something that, of course, cannot be expected from other people).

 

It turns out then that the psalm's conclusion brings the thanksgiving psalm to heights that were totally absent in the first half.

 

(To be continued.)

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] "Shachat" is equivalent to "shocheh" = "bor" = "pit," and both terms are used in Scripture in the figurative sense of "grave." In Tehilim 55:24, the two words appear together in the sense of "grave": "But You, O God, shall bring them down ('toridem') into the pit of destruction ('be'er shachat')" ("be'er" = "bor", as in Bereishit 14:10, and as in four places in Scripture the word "bor" is spelled with an alef, like be'er).

[2] That this is the meaning of the word "ratzon" in the two verses under discussion follows from the chiastic parallelism between the two: In stanza 5: "in His anger" / "in His favor"; in stanza 8: "by Your favor" / "You hid your face." The word is used in this sense in many places in Scripture (see, for example, Yeshayahu 60:10).

[3] A comparison between the two stanzas suggests that there is a connection between God's "hiding of His face" and his "momentary" anger. Such a connection is indeed evident in Yeshayahu 54:7-8: "For a small moment have I foresaken you… in the overflowing of wrath I hid My face from you for a moment" (the end of the verse, "but with everlasting ['olam'] faithful love will I have mercy on you," is similar to what is stated in our psalm, "a lifetime ['chayyim'] in his favor." Regarding this comparison see Moshe Zeidel, Chikrei Mikra, in the chapter entitled, "Makbilot bein Sefer Yeshayahu le-Sefer Tehilim," pp. 75-76.

[4] The Meiri cites the verse in Tehilim 16:9: "Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory ('kevodi') rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure." See also: 7:6; 57:9; 62:8; 108:2.

[5] A similar interpretation was suggested by R. Yeshayahu.