Today, I look at Nahum Sarna’s take on Psalm 30 from his On the Book of Psalms
When most Christians think of healing, they think of Jesus who healed lepers, and others. But healing from disease also appears in the Elijah cycle and other Hebrew Bible stories.
The 30th Psalm is a thanksgiving hymn for a healing.
O Lord my God,
I cried out to you and you healed me.
O Lord, you pulled me up from Sheol;
you rescued me from among those descending into the grave.
Psalm 30:2-3 The NET Bible
This may seem like an overly individualistic theme for a song in Israel’s collection of public worship prayers. But a lot of psalms are like that. They express both a very personal prayer and are yet meant for public singing, chanting, or recitation. This is explicit here. The psalm acknowledges that God has saved the author from a life-threatening illness.
Sing to the Lord, you faithful followers of his;
give thanks to his holy name.
v. 4 The NET Bible
Sarna said that what appears to be a private event is not something you can separate from the life of the community.
In many Christian congregations I am familiar with, there is a place for Joys and Concerns–a time during the worship service when private events become the concern of the whole community. Often this includes prayer for healing and thanksgiving for healing.
This reflects my personal and family experience. Since I have been writing this blog my wife, has recovered from two serious cancers following surgery and chemo-therapy. Even more dramatically, my sister-in-law has been cured of inoperable, stage four cancer. In both cases, communities of faith praying for healing took on a major role.
So in the Hebrew Bible the community of faith both prayed for healing and lifted its collective voice in prayer following the healing.
The 30th Psalm is about the transformation of mourning into praise, the change from despair to hope-filled song. Verses 8-9 tell how the psalmist cried out to God, how he argued that he could not praise God if he were dust. Since that was his plea, now that he is healed, he cannot keep silent, but must lift up his voice in praise.
I have heard people say that for me to praise God because someone close to me has been blessed is to insult all those who have not been healed, all those who have succumbed to disease. Of course, people of faith know that all are mortal, that we all eventually succumb. Most practicing Jews and Christians look for ultimate healing beyond death. The resurrection is the ultimate healing.
But the idea that people who have experienced divine healing should keep quiet on account of others who die, seems wrong. It seems to me to deny gratitude where gratitude is surely due. The Book of Psalms has its place for lament, but it also has its place for dancing with joy.
In the heading of Psalm 30, it says that it was used at the dedication of the Temple. This seems odd given the content. At some point this Psalm got used in a new way. Sarna said that a possible occasion for this was the dedication of the second Temple (Ezra 6:15-18). Or, alternatively, it might have been used 164 B.C.E. after the Maccabean victory (1 Maccabees 4:36-59).
The congregation no longer took the Psalm literally, but used it as a general thanksgiving.
The Psalms are adaptable. If you have experienced healing, physical or otherwise, or if someone close to you has; then praying this Psalm can help you give voice to your sense of gratitude.