Lord, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing
When was the last time you were seriously ill? How close or distant did you feel to God? How did your illness affect your prayer life?
Disease is the great equalizer. At most, it reminds us we are mortal; in these frail bodies of ours, we will suffer the same fate of physical death. At least, it interrupts the expectations we have for daily living. Disease gets in the way of our plans and ambitions. It denies us the strength to continue our routines and finish our projects. In either case, disease can change our attitudes. We can feel close to God or we can reject God. Disease is a challenge to our faith as well as our existence.
Psalm 30 is a thanksgiving hymn for healing from illness. It was composed as a personal song, but was soon adapted for communal use with the re-dedication of the Temple (30:1). (Scholars debate whether this psalm was used for the rebuilding of the Temple after the return from the Exile in 515 B.C., or the re-dedication by the Maccabees in 161 B.C.)
A Psalm. A Song for the Dedication of the Temple. By David.
1 I will extol you, YHWH, for you have raised me up,
and have not made my foes to rejoice over me.
2 YHWH my God, I cried to you,
and you have healed me.
3 YHWH, you have brought up my soul from Sheol.
You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
World English Bible
30:1-3 praised God for personal recovery. In 30:1, God denied adversaries the chance to rejoice over the fate of the author during his illness; these “adversaries” could be personal enemies or malevolent spirits who, the ancient Jews believed, were the cause of the disease. In 30:3, the author thanked God for delivering him from a near-death experience.
4 Sing praise to YHWH, you saints of his.
Give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment.
His favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may stay for the night,
but joy comes in the morning.
30:4-5 directed the community to praise God for his deliverance. These verses paralleled the personal experience found in 30:3. The author implied analogies of darkness and light (30:5b) with life and death (30:3); both analogies depended upon God’s anger and mercy.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 You, YHWH, when you favored me, made my mountain stand strong;
but when you hid your face, I was troubled.
8 I cried to you, YHWH.
To YHWH I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit?
Shall the dust praise you?
Shall it declare your truth?
10 Hear, YHWH, and have mercy on me.
YHWH, be my helper.”
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing for me.
You have removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with gladness,
12 To the end that my heart may sing praise to you, and not be silent.
YHWH my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
30:6-12 returned to a personal experience. In 30:7-11, the author prayed a desperate prayer for healing. He blamed his condition upon his complacent, almost flip, attitude in spite of God’s blessings. (Some scholars think 30:7-8a is corrupt or incomplete). When God “turned his face” (withdrew his blessing), the author fell into illness. His prayer contained a interesting line of logic: What use is the author’s death? Only the living can praise the Living God!
The psalm ended with a song of praise for God’s healing. His activity in the author’s life turned public lament into celebration; his thanksgiving would be ongoing. (Notice the extremes of sadness and happiness that are common in Semitic cultures.)
Psalm 30 reminds us to thank God for his blessing, especially after physical illness. Recovery can be seen as God’s mercy and kindness. After all, health is a gift. We should treat it as such. We should not be so focused on our daily routines that we forget the gift and its Giver.
Take some time to pray Psalm 30. Think of the times you were ill. Use the psalm as a way to thank God for his kindness toward you.