A psalm for times of weeping
"A Psalm. A song at the dedication of the house of David." (verse 1)
In many of David's psalms, we are left to speculate as to the timing and inspiration of its writing, but not so here. David clearly identifies the occasion for which this song was originally composed: the dedication ceremony of his house. In 2 Samuel 5:11, the story of David's house, built in the newly conquered fort of Jerusalem, is given. The king of Tyre hears of David's newly acquired throne and recent victory, and sends all the materials needed to construct a beautiful cedar palace.
In the following verse it says, "And David perceived that the LORD had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel's sake." After so many years of holding onto the promise of a throne, David all at once realizes that he has arrived at the fulfillment of that promise. At the completion of his palace, he celebrated God's faithfulness to him in bringing him through the years of exile and hardship, giving him the promised throne, and bringing him into the city of God, the mountain of Zion.
"I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried out to You, and You healed me. O LORD, You brought my soul up from the grave; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit." (verses 1-3)
David has spent years in constant fear for his life, as enemies foreign and domestic, sought to destroy him. He also battled with times of sickness, as evidenced throughout the psalms. It appears that at the time of this writing, he had recently had an illness brought on as a chastening measure of God to his exalted pride. As he dedicates his house, foremost and fresh in his mind is the recent mercy of God upon him, reflective of all the many years of His mercy and patience.
David is now "lifted up", as opposed to bowed down in sickness or humiliation. Often when an important man would become ill, news would travel quickly to his enemies, who rejoiced at the possibility of such an easy removal of an old foe. When restored to health, David praises God for not giving such foes an opportunity to celebrate.
David "cried out" to God and God healed him. In his weakened state, David turns from his self sufficient pride and leans wholly upon the mercy and help of his God. God is so merciful to us that when we start walking in our own strength, He will sometimes lovingly remove the source of our confidence in the flesh, that we may learn instead to depend on His strength.
David says, "You have kept me alive," clearly attributing the power of life and death to God, who indeed does hold such power. He can give life and He can take life. He can even restore lost life, as we read of in other places in the Bible. The "grave" and "pit" David speaks of are references to Sheol, the place of souls. Sheol was divided into two parts at that time: "Abraham's bosom," also called "paradise" by Jesus, and "hell."
Those who, like Abraham, trusted in the mercy of God and the promise of a Messiah, waited for Him in paradise, while those who rejected God waited for judgment in hell. As David most certainly awaited the Messiah, who would be his offspring, he speaks of paradise. Yet he is clearly not ready to go there. He feels he has yet much to accomplish in this life, and he does. God preserved his life, and healed him of his sickness.
"Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favour is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." (verses 4-5)
David now involves the multitudes gathered for the dedication with a call to join in the praise. He call on them to sings praises and give thanks as they remember God's holy name, that is, His proven character of righteousness and mercy in His dealings with His people. As evidenced in his own life, David reminds them that God's "anger is but for a moment, His favour is for life," meaning that God chastens those He loves, but that such times of discipline are short lived, and soon replaced by blessing. David was experiencing just that.
After many weary years of hardship, the long "night" of weeping, David has awakened to a new day, bright with hope, joyful in the fulfilment of precious promises. If you are going through a season of pain, take heart; God is but allowing it for a time to mould and shape you into a vessel fit for His use. He will bring you into seasons of joy in due time, if you hold on in hope. Look for morning through your tears; it is coming.
"Now in my prosperity I said, 'I shall never be moved.' LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong; You hid Your face, and I was troubled." (verses 6-7)
It would appear that during David's conquests, both of his throne and the royal city, he struggled with pride. Looking to the strength of his own body, his own army, and his stronghold on Zion, David boasts that nothing can hurt him now. He quickly corrects himself by citing the true cause for his strength: the LORD's favour.
David's "mountain" is both real and figurative. Zion was a mountain fortress at this time in history, considered impenetrable, until David did so. David's personal strength was renowned, having slaughtered thousands upon thousands of enemies with what, at times, appeared to be superhuman strength. His military ability is what ignited King Saul's jealousy in the first place. And David's followers, likewise, were as famous for their loyalty to him as they were their superhuman military abilities. A brief survey of 2 Samuel 23 gives you an idea of the quality of the men who followed David and were known as his "mighty men." David credits God for all these areas of strength.
In our lives, there are areas in which we are "strong"; areas in which we seem to naturally flourish.
We must remember, like David, that the LORD is the One who has made us strong in those areas and give Him the glory by using our strengths for His glory.
God hates pride. It says in multiple places in scripture, "The LORD resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). When David exalted himself in his own strength, God looked away. David, a man whose life pattern was to seek after God, quickly felt the absence of God's pleasure. His sickness seems to have been his wake-up call. There have been times that I have been so caught up in a way of thinking or living that God has mercifully gotten my attention through something I could not ignore. I would rather He break the serenity of a walk over a cliff with a shout than to let me peacefully fall to my death.
"I cried out to You, O LORD; and to the LORD I made supplication: 'What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your truth? Hear, O LORD, and have mercy on me; LORD, be my helper!'" (verses 8-10)
David, severely sick, is reflecting on his life and what truly matters. He says to God "What profit?... will the dust praise You... will it declare Your truth?" In essence, if I die, can I bear fruit, can I write worship, can I speak your truths to the people You've given me to shepherd? David remembers that he is God's servant, first and foremost, and not the other way around.
His life has a purpose, and that purpose is not to serve himself and his own pride. He calls upon the Lord to have mercy and forgive him; He reminds God that He gave David a calling, and that he has not finished it yet.
David's whole tone is one of humility and faith. He knows he has sinned and deserves his punishment, but he is confident enough in the merciful character of God to petition Him for mercy. Our God is indeed merciful, and in Hebrews 4:16, we are admonished, "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." God desires to show mercy to all who come to Him in faith.
"You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever." (verses 11-12)
God indeed showed mercy to David. Healed and renewed in his purpose and calling to shepherd the people God had given him, David rejoices. The night of weeping is over. He is no longer mourning a life cut short, but is so elated that he cannot help but to dance in joy before the LORD. Sometimes, words are just not enough. David felt he must worship with his whole body. Can you picture the scene? Dancing at the dedication ceremony! This was not unusual for David, however; when David later brought the ark into it's new home on mount Zion, he danced passionately before the LORD. David was uninhibited in his praise.
We sometimes need to be reminded that whether we are tame or outgoing in our worship style on this earth, we will all be passionate before the throne of God, and there are times even in this life that it is only right to abandon all self consciousness and worship the Lord fervently. If God has answered a prayer or worked a deliverance in your life, don't hold back; praise Him like you've never done before. Even if your church doesn't dance, who says you can't dance in your own kitchen, front yard, or street? What if people see? Then tell them why you are dancing. Give God the glory!
Sackcloth was a rough fabric, used for feed sacks, that was turned into a garment of mourning in times of distress. People throughout scripture, both pagan and Jewish, would put on sackcloth when repentant before God. It was an outward sign of humility. David says that God has taken off his sackcloth and replaced it with a garment of gladness, or festival wear. It says in James 4:10, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."
David had lifted himself up in pride and been humbled by sickness. He in turn had humbled himself before God, and God had lifted him up, giving him life and with it, a throne that He promised would one day be occupied by the Messiah, born of David's lineage.
David sites the reason for his God-given recovery, "to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever." David was healed for a purpose: praise. We too were redeemed for a purpose: that our lives would glorify God. May we live each day in light of our redemption, not wasting our time, but using it for the glory of God. So be it.