The psalm opens and closes on a note of thanksgiving (vv. 1, 12; and see 4 and 11).
The emphasis is on praise to the Lord for rescuing David from a dangerous and difficult situation that included sickness (v. 2), being near death (vv. 3, 9), God’s anger (v. 5), weeping (vv. 5, 11), and emotional turmoil (v. 7). But the trial also involved the nation, for David addressed them in verses 4–5. Apparently this was a national crisis that David had helped to precipitate because he disobeyed the will of God. It came at a time when he was enjoying ease and security and was proud of himself and his kingdom (vv. 6–7). According to the superscription, David wrote this psalm for “the dedication of the house.” The word “house” can be translated “palace,” referring to David’s house, or “temple,” referring to the Lord’s house. If it’s the first, then perhaps 2 Samuel 5 describes the historical setting, when David captured Mt. Zion and made Jerusalem his capital city. (Note “my mountain” in Ps. 30:7.) All Israel had crowned David king, he had won great victories over the Philistines, and he had built had himself a palace. He knew that his kingdom was established and exalted by the Lord (5:12). This context has all the ingredients necessary to make David proud and thus invite the chastening of the Lord.
However, if “house” refers to the temple of the Lord, then we must look to 1 Chronicles 21:1–22:1 and 2 Samuel 24 for the context. This is the record of the national plague David caused when he arrogantly numbered the people and 70,000 people died. This caused David great distress (2 Sam. 24:10, 14), and he put on sackcloth and begged God for mercy for the people (1 Chron. 21:16; see Ps. 30:11). David purchased a plot of ground from Ornan and dedicated it to be the site for the temple (1 Chron. 22:1), and he began to use the plot as his own personal place of worship. This second explanation seems to cover the facts better. In either case, the message of the psalm is clear: the Lord forgave David and gave him the blessing of a new beginning. “The victorious Christian life,” wrote the noted Scottish preacher George Morrison, “is a series of new beginnings.” That definition beautifully fits this psalm.
A New Victory—From Death to Life (vv. 1–3)
David experienced three problems: the sinking mire beneath him that would take him down to the pit, the enemies around him who wanted him to die, and the distress within him that was like a painful sickness—and the Lord delivered him from all three! Because of his disobedience, David was in the depths, and the Lord had to lift him up. (See 18:4–6; 69:1–2, 14–15; 71:20; 88:6; 130:1–3; Lam. 3:55; and Jonah 2:2.) The “grave” or the “pit” refers to sheol, the realm of the departed spirits. (The Greek equivalent is hades.) But instead of allowing David to go down, God lifted him out and brought him up. God had done this for David before (18:16).
David’s foes would have been glad to see him die (13:4; 25:2; 41:11), but the Lord saved David’s life and silenced their taunts. The “healing” mentioned in verse 2 may not have involved actual physical sickness, because the word is also used to describe not only forgiveness and spiritual restoration (41:4; Isa. 6:10; 53:5; Hos. 6:1 and 7:1) but also deliverance from mental and emotional distress (Jer. 8:21–22; 14:19; Lam. 2:13). It was David’s pride that had brought the plague to the land, and he felt the pain of this deeply, so much so that he thought his convicted conscience and broken heart would kill him. But God heard his pleas and brought him from death to life.
A New Day—From Night to Morning (vv. 4–5)
The psalm is not only David’s personal expression of praise and thanksgiving, but it was also used by the congregation in worship; and here David addressed them. “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (34:3). Personal worship that doesn’t enrich our corporate worship may become selfish and lead to more pride! The contrasts in verse 5 are the motivation for David’s praise: from God’s anger to God’s favor; from chastening for only a moment to a lifetime of His grace (Isa. 54:7–8); from a night of weeping to a morning of joy. For David, this was the dawning of a new day after a painful time of suffering in darkness. Each morning, God’s mercies are new (Lam. 3:22–23), and God’s special help often arrives in the morning. “God will help her when morning dawns” (46:5; NASB; and see 59:16; 143:8). The resurrection of Jesus Christ brought the dawning of a new day for all who trust in Him (Matt. 28:1). Weeping comes as a guest, but God’s gracious favor is with us for a lifetime. (See 2 Cor. 4.) As Jesus explained to His disciples, God doesn’t replace sorrow with joy; He transforms sorrow into joy (John 16:20–22). The same baby that causes the mother pain also brings the mother joy.
A New Heart—From Pride to Humility (vv. 6–10)
This is where the story really began, for it was David’s pride that made it necessary for the Lord to chasten him. “Prosperity” means “careless ease, a carefree self-assurance because things are going so well.” This is frequently the attitude of the unconverted (10:6; 73:12; Luke 12:16–21), but it is a constant temptation to believers also (read Deut. 8). One reason the Lord permits trials is that we might not get comfortable in our faith and stop growing. “I was at ease,” said Job, “but He shattered me, and He has grasped me by the neck and shaken me to pieces: He has also set me up as His target” (Job 16:12, NASB). Prosperity without humility can lead to adversity. David’s mountain (kingdom, as in Jer. 51:25) seemed strong, but the Lord showed David how weak he was.
When God’s face is shining upon us (Num. 6:23–27), then we enjoy His rich blessings; but when we rebel, He may hide His face, and this causes trouble (see 10:11; 13:1; 27:9; 88:14; Deut. 31:17–18; 32:20). The Hebrew word translated “troubled” describes “intense agony, terror, anguish.” It’s used in 1 Samuel 28:21 to describe King Saul’s feelings in the house of the witch. Knowing he had sinned, David kept crying out to the Lord for mercy and even debated with Him. “Am I more useful to you in the grave than I am alive on earth? Can the dead praise you and serve you?” (See 88:7–12; 115:17; Isa. 38:18–19.) David was a great king with a strong kingdom, but he was only dust, one short breath away from the grave. He humbled himself and confessed his sin, and the Lord mercifully forgave him and restored him.
A New Song—From Mourning to Rejoicing (vv. 11–12)
Seven times in the psalm David wrote “You have” (vv. 1–3, 7, 11), bearing witness to the strong and gracious hand of the Lord working on his behalf. Even God’s chastening of David was an expression of His love (Heb. 12:1–11). Once David knew he was forgiven and accepted, he moved from the funeral to the feast. He took off the sackcloth of sadness and put on the garments of gladness. In Scripture, a dramatic alteration of one’s life was often marked by a change of clothing (Gen. 35:2; 41:14; 45:22; Ex. 19:10, 14; 2 Sam. 12:20; Luke 15:22). “My glory” means “my heart, my soul.” David was singing to the Lord from the depths of his being. He realized that he would be singing praises to God forever (v. 12), so he wanted to start getting ready now! Every difficult experience of life—and David had many of them—is an opportunity to have a “pity party” or attend a rehearsal for singing in the choirs of heaven! We have a lifetime of grace (v. 5) to prepare us for an eternity of glory.