The Psalms: Out of Exile

I will exalt you, Lord,
    for you lifted me out of the depths
    and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
    and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

When I felt secure, I said,
    “I will never be shaken.”
Lord, when you favored me,
    you made my royal mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
    I was dismayed.

To you, Lord, I called;
    to the Lord I cried for mercy:
“What is gained if I am silenced,
    if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
    Lord, be my help.”

You turned my wailing into dancing;
    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

– Psalm 30

The introduction to this Psalm is a bit curious. The inscription literally reads, ‘For the dedication of the house’. The most natural reading is to take that as a reference, as the NIV does, to the Temple, the House of the Lord. The thing is though at the time of David, the Temple hadn’t been built!

It has been suggested that maybe the Psalm was used at the dedication of the Temple in the sixth century at the time of Zechariah and Haggai when the people had returned from exile in Babylon.

Such a setting would certainly make sense of verse 6. Read prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and it becomes very clear that Judah was just like the individual described there, complacent and self-satisfied. The experience of the exile was devastating and called into serious question the ongoing relationship between God and his people. Had he abandoned them? No, but they had abandoned him. The prophets saw the terrible pain of the exile as God discipling his people for their idolatry and their immorality (those two frequently go hand in hand) but that was not the end of the story. Beyond their faithlessness, God was faithful (2 Timothy 2:13).

You can imagine how appropriate this Psalm would have been on the lips of the returnees as they celebrated that God had heard their cry for mercy and rescued them.

The theme of exile also features in the New Testament. Each one of us is in exile, each one of us is a prodigal, far from home, far from where we belong, far from the Father who loves us, far from being the people we were created to be.  The Good News though is that God’s favour lasts a lifetime (and more!) and that in Christ he has climbed down into the pit to be with us and to rescue us so that we too might join in the song of praise, that we might dance and sing for joy.