Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 30, 2024

Psalm 30 Commentary

The superscriptions over various psalms are not considered canonical and may represent someone’s guess at some point as to when a certain psalm may have been composed by David (or someone else).  Psalm 51 sounds like something David would have been thinking after being confronted by the prophet Nathan over his affair with Bathsheba and his killing of Uriah.  Another psalm sounds like it could have emerged from the bad business with Absalom and yet another maybe when David was being hunted by Saul.  But none of that is certain.  Even the many “Of David” superscriptions are not certain.   And the “of” could mean it was written by David, or was written in the style of David, or was dedicated to David.

In the case of Psalm 30, it is very difficult to guess what in this poem made anyone think it had to do with the dedication of the Temple.  And since that never happened until many years after David died, it is also hard to see how he wrote a psalm for the dedication of a Temple that in his life did not yet exist.  Instead what we have in Psalm 30 is a pretty straightforward psalm of thanksgiving to God for his past deliverances of the psalmist from various pits and mire even as the psalm concludes with a plea for God to keep doing that.  God’s motivation to keep saving the psalmist is curious: that way the psalmist will keep praising God whereas if he goes into the earth, praise stops.  Now that’s an interesting way to suggest to the Almighty that this is the skin he has in this particular game!  “Deliver me or you lose an important member of your praise team!”

The Old Testament is not the place to go if you are looking for post-mortem visions of dwelling in felicity in the bosom of God.  Death and the notion of Sheol are far dimmer realities.  Certainly this view shares little in common with Paul’s words in Philippians 1 that to die and go be with the Lord is a good (and perhaps a much to be preferred) prospect.

Otherwise the best known part of Psalm 30 comes in verse 5 and the line about how weeping only lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning.  That is a pretty upbeat assessment but we should not assume it is meant to vitiate the reality that there are seasons in our lives when weeping lasts quite a bit longer and many mornings come and go without much joy or rejoicing taking place.  And there are plenty of other psalms in the Hebrew Psalter that acknowledge that reality, including all the Lament psalms that have the line “How long, O Lord, how long?” or some variation on that question.

The conclusion is also pretty well known with its imagery of wailing being turned to dancing and sackcloth being swapped out for a garment of joy.  For all of us these things represent our dearest wishes a lot of the time.  When we pass through seasons of intense grief or suffering, what prospect could be finer than seeing a major turnaround come for us?

Of course pastorally when preaching on a passage like Psalm 30, there is the need to be cautious in how we speak of these things.  Those for whom no joy has come in the morning for a really long time should not get the impression from Psalm 30 or a sermon on this psalm that the reason their sorrow has been lasting for longer than a night is because they are not asking for God’s help the right way.  Or there is something lacking in their faith just generally.  As has been noted before here on the CEP website in various sermon commentary articles, celebrating answered prayers in our sermons—much less celebrating an answered prayer that might qualify as a genuine miracle—is always dodgy because for every person in the congregation who might be able to identify with answered prayers, there is another person whose prayers have not yet been answered or, worse, for whom deliverance never came before the loved one they had been praying for died.

So yes, in our preaching we give voice to those who have sentiments to express such as are found in Psalm 30.  But we do so with the pastoral caveat that it is not always so.  Deliverance like that does not always come quickly enough and sometimes it flat out does not happen at all before the thing we most dreaded actually happens and the pled-for deliverance never shows up.  And what’s more we say these things accompanied with the reassurance that we don’t know the reasons why this is so for some of our brothers and sisters in the congregation.  It is finally a mystery.  Doing this type of pastoral care from the pulpit helps the suffering feel seen along with those who are in a more celebratory season of their lives.

But still Psalm 30 stands as a reminder that our God is the Great Deliverer for his people and so when we experience the circumstances and the emotions reflected in this poem, we know who alone is the proper target for all our gratitude.   And while we do indeed rejoice with those who rejoice along with this psalmist, we also weep with those who for now much weep as we wait in hopeful expectation that a deliverance from suffering and sorrow may yet come and that at the end of the cosmic day we cling to the promise of our God in Christ wiping away every tear from every eye.

Illustration Idea

Many of us know the famous line from Julian of Norwich that “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”  What may be less known is that these were the words of Jesus spoken to Julian as part of a series of visions she received when, by all appearances, she was about to die of a grave illness that befell her at a fairly young age.  Most everyone around her were convinced Julian would die but she did not but instead, following her series of heavenly visions of Jesus in all his glory, she recovered and lived another thirty-three years in fact.  If ever we were tempted to treat her famous saying as a too-tidy gloss on the reality of suffering in this world, the actual context in which she heard these words clears that up for us pretty quickly.

Note: commentary for Psalm 130 can also be found on the CEP website:

Stan Mast:

Doug Bratt:


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