Instead of trying to write all I have learned about Psalm 30 in one post, I will start out with a few questions:
- What is this Psalm about? Is it about recovery from illness? Or community dedication?
- When is this Psalm read in prayers? Does it differ for Ashkenazim and Sephardim?
- What does the modern Hebrew word for pail have to do with this psalm?
- What is Sheol?
- Is dancing a sign of recovery?
In this post, I will deal with the first question. Online, one can find a variety of translations: here’s the Mechon-Mamre link for the Hebrew and the 1917 English translation. The one I prefer is the translation of the psalm by Nahum Sarna:
1 A psalm of David. A song for the dedication of the House.
2 I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up, and not let my enemies rejoice over me.
3 O LORD, my God, I cried out to You, and You healed me;
4 O LORD, You brought me up from Sheol; preserved me from going down into the pit.
5 O You faithful of the Lord, sing to Him and praise His holy name.
6 For He is angry but a moment, and when He is pleased there is life.
One may lie down weeping at nightfall; but at dawn there are shouts of joy.
7 When I was troubled I thought: ‘I shall never be shaken.’
8 For You, O LORD, when You were pleased, made [me] firm as a might mountain.
When You hid your face, I was terrified.
9 I called to You, O LORD, to my Lord I made appeal,
10 “What is to be gained from my death, from my ascent into the Pit?
Can dust praise You? Can it declare Your faithfulness?
11 Hear, O LORD, and have mercy on me; LORD, be Thou my help!”
12 You turned my lament into dancing; you undid my sackcloth, and girded me with joy;
13 that [my] whole being might sing hymns to You endlessly;
O LORD my God, I will praise You forever.
Upon reading this at surface, this appears to be a psalm about someone who has recovered from a terrible illness.
“O LORD my God, I cried unto Thee, and Thou didst heal me”
However, if you look at the first line:
A psalm of David. A song for the dedication of the House.
Literally, the line really says:
“A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House; of David.”
But Sarna moves the words around so the line makes more sense.
Why would this be a song of recovery at a Dedication of the House? According to Nahum Sarna in On the Book of Psalms:
The implied sickness was understood as a metaphor for national calamity, and the remarkable recovery was construed in terms of a great experience of national deliverance followed by the joyous rededication of the Temple at which the people voiced its eternal gratitude to God.
Sarna suggests that at some point “a Song at the Dedication of the House” was added to “A Psalm of David” in order to commemorate some event, possibly the dedication of the Second Temple or the purification of the Temple in 164 BCE following the victory of Judah Maccabee over the Syro-Greeks.
But personally, I did like this Psalm as one of recovery, so in my next post on this topic, I will address the theme of illness and recovery as seen in this Psalm.