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Walking through a Psalm of Resurrection

Photo of Matt StaffordMatt Stafford | Bio

Matt Stafford

Matt is the Director of the Worship and Creative Arts Department at Ozark Christian College. A faculty member since 2004, he currently teaches in the area of creative and technical arts, music, worship leadership and the Psalms. In his more than thirty years of college ministry, his focus has been on discipleship and spiritual formation. His latest endeavor is directing the Creative Arts Academy, a summer arts camp for high school students. He also serves on the board of directors for Casas por Cristo. Matt is married to Joy and together they have two adult sons, Aaron and Ethan. His education includes a Bachelor of Theology in Old Testament from Ozark Christian College and an M.A. in TESOL and Linguistics from Ball State University.

Psalm 30 was written by David and it recounts a dramatic reversal in his life. He had apparently had some kind of near-death experience, and God miraculously healed him. He was brought back from the brink of death, and he wrote the psalm as a personal testimony that would later be used publicly at the dedication of the Temple.

In the first three verses we see evidence of David’s brush with death in these words,

“I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up . . . I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 30:1-3).

It’s clear that David thought it was all but over, but then suddenly he got a second chance at life. David fills the remainder of the psalm with pairs of opposites to communicate the dramatic reversal he had just experienced.

The first pair of opposites occurs in verse 3. “You have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down.” This pair of up and down actions reflects how the LORD brought David up from among those who would go down to the grave.

Verse 5 has four pairs of opposites. “His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

The opposite of God’s anger is his favor; the opposite of a moment is a lifetime; the opposite of weeping is joy; the opposite of night is morning.

These opposite pairs are dramatic ways of communicating the complete reversal of circumstance that happens when God acts.

Verses 6 and 7 give us our next pair of opposites. David declares, “By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain strong” (verse 7a), followed by “You hid your face; I was dismayed” (verse 7b). Showing favor and making David strong are contrasted with the hiding of God’s face and the psalmist’s dismay.

Next, David returns to the way he began this psalm, with his own personal testimony:

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (verse 11).

Sackcloth is the clothing of mourning and contrition which God has replaced with a garment of gladness and celebration.

It’s as if David went from dressing for a funeral to dancing at a wedding.

He concludes the psalm by promising, “that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” One last time, David uses the poetry of opposites to communicate reversal as he replaces silence with singing.

This psalm makes a foundational theological statement about the nature of God. David’s experience demonstrates that God is the Restorer of Life; the Giver of Favor; the Author of Reversal; the One who says, “Surprise!”

This psalm also directs us to Jesus, who declared,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Jesus spoke those words mere feet from the dead body of Lazarus. And of course, Lazarus came right back from the dead at the command of Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life. I wonder if Lazarus and those who witnessed his return to life sang this psalm as they unwrapped his moldy grave clothes, changing the tune of their songs of mourning to songs of unbridled joy!

In fact, this psalm reminds us that God’s people are a singing people. The Christian faith is unique among the faiths of the world in that the use of singing in worship is a central aspect of our gathering.

We sing because we worship a God who loves to surprise us with resurrection when all hope seems lost.

Remember it was “in the morning” when the women went to the tomb of Jesus and discovered to their surprise that God had turned their mourning into dancing, their grieving clothes into garments of celebration.

It is at the empty tomb of Jesus that we find our resurrection hope and sing our song of reversal.

(For more from Matt, check out Used with permission. )