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Deliverance From the Pit

Psalm 30

A Psalm of David. A Song at the dedication of the Temple.
I will extol thee, O LORD, for thou hast drawn me up, and hast not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to thee for help, and thou hast healed me. O LORD, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For 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.
As for me, I said in my prosperity, "I shall never be moved." By thy favor, O LORD, thou hadst established me as a strong mountain; thou didst hide thy face, I was dismayed.
To thee, O LORD, I cried; and to the LORD I made supplication: "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise thee? Will it tell of thy faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be thou my helper!"
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, that my soul may praise thee and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.
(RSV)



Theme: God's child thanks His Father for delivering him from covenant wrath against sin.

Read: 1 Chron. 21
Text: Psalm 30

Songs: (from Book of Praise, Ango-Genevan Psalter) Hy 60:1,2 (opening)
Ps 30:1,2,3 (after law)
Ps 30:4,5,6,7 (after offertory)
Ps 40:1 (after sermon)
Hy 60:3,4,5 (closing)
Date: Preached by Rev. Richard Pot, May 3, 1998
Location: Canadian Reformed Church of Orangeville, Ontario

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

The Psalms are a very much loved part of Scripture. In some people's Bibles you can see exactly where the pages are worn, and you can almost pick out the pages which make up the book of Psalms. Now of course, God has given us His whole Word from Genesis to Revelation. And we have to use that whole Word. Not just the book of Psalms. And yet there are many beautiful things about the Psalms.

For it's true that the Psalms have been much loved by the church. And there are good reasons for that. For the Psalms are very rich. First of all, the psalms are very individual. They're not abstract. They don't just deal with matters of theological discussion - no, they deal with real life. The practical situation of individuals. We read about David struggling and confessing personal sins. We read of individual cries of despair and depression. Very personal.

And not only the psalms very individual, personal, but they also cover a very broad range of experience. There are times of sorrow and joy. Despair and deliverance. Confession and thankfulness. The full range of human emotions, it seems, we find in the psalms, we hear in the voices of the psalmists.

And yet at the same time, even though the psalms are very personal, often very individual, they are also very communal. They speak about individuals that are members of God's people. Individuals who are covenant children of the Lord, and are in a covenant relationship with their God and Father along with their brothers and sisters.

And it's precisely this that makes the psalms so relevant to us today. For we too are members of God's people. Just as God dealt with the sinners and saints of old in His covenant wrath, His covenant love in their individual lives, so does He deal with us in our individual lives!

No wonder the psalms are so loved. Here in the Psalms, we have a picture of how God deals with His covenant people in their individual lives, how He deals with them in a covenantal way. Yes, here we have a picture of how God deals with us! Yes, God is concerned with each and every one of us. Whether we're experiencing times of joy or sorrow. Whether we're in the pits, or on cloud 9. Wherever we're at, God deals with us as a faithful covenant God in the broad expanse of our human experience.

We also find something of that in Psalm 30. Psalm 30 is a psalm of David. And this psalm speaks about David crying out to the Lord, it speaks about mourning and sackcloth, and going down to the Pit. But it speaks also of David extolling the Lord, it speaks about joy and dancing. But what this Psalm is really about is about David's God. About your God, my God. About how this God deals with David His child, you His child, me His child. About how this God deals with us so mercifully, that all we can do is stand back in amazement and praise Him, yes thank Him. Thankfulness is the key idea in this psalm, and so I proclaim to you God's Word with the theme:

God's child thanks His Father for delivering him from covenant wrath against sin. 1. His sin and misery.
2. His deliverance.
3. His thankfulness
1. His sin and misery.

King David went through some tough times in his life. Some real downs. And from what we can gather from this psalm, the circumstances he was in was no exception. This was one of those bad times. In verse 2 he says that he had cried to the Lord for help. And the word used there "cry for help" isn't a word used for somebody tapping you gently on the street, and asking you politely "Excuse me sir, can you help me?" No, this is a desperate cry for help. It's the same word to describe Job crying out during his sufferings. Remember Job - the man there in the ash-heap, he lost his wealth, and his health, his family, and his friends - the works - that's the kind of person who "cries out for help." It's the same word used to describe Jonah crying out - there he was, in the belly of that great fish. Yes, these are the kinds of people who cry out. Crying out for help is what you do when your world caves in on you, when everything goes wrong, and you don't know where to turn anymore.

That's the way things were for David. Things were pretty bad for him. He speaks about his soul going to Sheol, about going down to the Pit. That's the word that's used to describe his situation - can you imagine being in a Pit. Way down there? Dark, slimy. No way you can get out. There you are, stuck. Helpless. Perhaps you don't need to imagine. Perhaps you've experienced that same feeling of absolute helplessness, not just of being down in the dumps, but being in the Pit, in the dust, ready for the end.

There was David in that terrible situation. And what did he do - he prayed to the Lord - we read that prayer in verse 8 - 10, he prayed, no, he cried out, he implored, he begged the Lord, and this is what he said: "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? … Hear O LORD and be gracious to me! O LORD, be thou my helper!" Those are the words of David in this terrible situation. Terrible it was, and the Lord was the only one he could turn to.

Now how did this situation come about? There's David sitting there, as it were, in the Pit. He's in the Pits. Why was that? Well, the Psalm gives some very obvious clues about that. See, sometimes believers are dragged down into the Pit because of the fault of others. Because of circumstances - perhaps the mistakes of others, or perhaps simply because of God's hand in their lives in a way that they didn't expect, they end up in miserable situations, situations of absolute crisis and distress.

Now that's not the case with David here. The fact that he was down there in the Pit, as it were, we get the impression that it was his own fault. Verse 5 speaks about God's anger, for example. When is it that God gets angry? - God gets angry when there's sin. When there's disobedience. David's distress - that's the distinct impression we get - David's distress is on account of his sins, somehow. This going down to the Pit, to Sheol, that's presented as some kind of punishment, a punishment that really David had deserved.

And that's why he speaks about weeping in verse 5. That's why he speaks about mourning in verse 11. Mourning - that's a word commonly to refer to the mourning rites where there's death. But it's also used to refer to mourning over sin. Mourning, grief, sorrow over one's sin, disobedience. See - there's David. He's heading for the Pit, and he realizes that it's his own fault, his own sins have caused it. And so there is humbleness. Wearing sackcloth, verse 11. That's like a rough hessian bag. Goats hair. Instead of wearing kingly garments, royal robes, David's wearing an old sack. And when the king is wearing a sack, when anyone is wearing a sack, then you knew that they were mourning because of sin, in repentance.

So what had happened? Why had happened to make the king of Israel exchange royal robes for rags? We would say: swap his suit for sackcloth? He's heading for the Pit, but it seems to be his own fault - what had happened? Now it's true that some of the psalms are very general. There are no details about when they were written, we don't know anything about the specific context of the psalm. Sometimes we don't even know who wrote the psalm. And in those cases, God did not reveal the context of the psalm so that we might understand it in a general way, without tying it down to one specific incident or circumstances. But there are other psalms where God has revealed specific information about the context of the psalm. And when that's the case, then we have to observe that very carefully. For if God has revealed that information to us, then we have to note it well - we must pay attention to that if we want to understand the psalm carefully.

And that's the case with Psalm 30. We know quite a few details about the context. Notice the title - these are authoritative parts of Scripture, just as the psalm itself - notice the title, it says: "A Psalm of David." That's the first piece of information - Psalm 30 is a psalm of king David. But then it also says this: "A Song at the dedication of the temple." Literally it says: "A song at the dedication of the house."

So this psalm isn't a general psalm about deliverance from trouble. We've concluded several things: We've concluded that David was in trouble. And he was in trouble because of God's wrath because of sin. And now we add to that the fact that the psalm itself says that it was on the occasion of the dedication of the temple. Now it's true that when the temple was dedicated after it had been built by Solomon, then David was already dead. But is that the first we read about the dedication of God's house? No, it's not. We read about that already in 1 Chronicles 21. The chapter we read earlier. See, after numbering the people, and seeing that punishment with the plague. Where did that terrible plague stop? - it stopped at the threshing floor of Ornan. And then David buys this land, that very place where the plague stops. He makes sacrifices. And then this is what he says: 22:1 "Here shall be the house of the LORD God and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel." Says David: This is going to be the temple. God's house, it's going to be here, I dedicate it to the Lord. And then after that, in chapter 22, we read how David begins to help Solomon make preparations for the building of the temple. It's the dedication of the temple.

Now let's look at Psalm 30 with this in mind, and then we'll understand just why David was in the pits and how he'd got there. Remember that David had wanted to build God's house, but the Lord had said: No, that's the task of Solomon, your son. But now what happens after that? David wants to number the people. That was wrong. That was wrong because David did that in pride - he didn't do it for the wrong reasons. Says 1Chr 21:7 "But God was displeased with this thing, and he smote Israel." And then David has to make that terrible choice - and so it is that pestilence begins to strike down the people of Israel - 70,000 men dead (v14). That's more than 4 times the number of all the members in the Canadian Reformed Churches. All dead. Punishment.

And when David sees that, then he realizes what he's done. Psalm 30 speaks about God's anger on account of sin - well in 1 Chron 21:8 David very clearly knew just why it was that this terrible punishment was there: "I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing." V17 "It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly." And so he says in verse 8: "But now, I pray thee, take away the iniquity of thy servant." David realizes that it's his pride that has caused this terrible act of God's wrath. Psalm 30:6 "As for me, I said in my prosperity, `I shall never be moved.' " Says David, I credited it all to myself. I thought that I had it made. I thought that I'd arrived, that I'd put it together myself. I forgot, I forgot that it was all a gift of grace, I forgot, verse 7 that "By thy favor, O LORD, thou hadst established me as a strong mountain."

Yes, now we understand why the king is wandering around in sackcloth, tears of grief in his eyes. 1 Chron 21 also speaks about that: When David and the elders see that angel of the Lord with that drawn sword, they fell on their faces - and what were they clothed in? - v16 they were "clothed in sackcloth." Now we understand why David cries to the Lord - 1 Chron 21 speaks about that too - David builds an altar, he calls upon the Lord (v26).

Sometimes that can happen to us. That because of our sins, we find ourselves down there in the pit. We're bursting with self-confidence. We think we've got it made, that we've made it ourselves, we forget that it was the Lord's favour, that He was the one who established me as a strong mountain, as a man of high profile, a high flier at school, in business, in the family. And then suddenly down we come with a crash. That can happen. Just when we feel proud and unshakable, God's heavy hand can begin to press down on us and crush us. Our sins find us out, and before we know it, we begin to feel helpless, crushed.

Yes, we should realize that that's where our sins make us end up. Our sins put us on the path of destruction. Our sins take away the foundations of our house, they puncture the tires, and just when you were leaning back enjoying the cruise control, the car goes careening wildly off the road, heading straight for edge of the cliff. That's what sin does. Your sins and my sins. In fact, it's only pure grace that the car stays on the road at all. We should understand that our sins don't just mean that we're running with low air in the tires, or without windshield washer - no our sins mean that we're in danger of seizing the engine, of losing control, of heading straight for the pit. Our sins head us straight for the pit. A pit that's dark and gloomy. That's eternally deep, eternally miserable.

Yes, brothers and sisters, when you and I realize the terrible nature of our sins before an angry God, then we don't walk around in royal robes either - we start looking for sackcloth, we bow our heads in prayer: "Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be thou my helper!"

2. His deliverance.

God hears David's prayer. There he is at the threshing floor of Ornan. He calls upon the Lord. And the Lord answers with fire from heaven on David's altar (21:26). That happened with the other times the temple was dedicated too. The Lord answers David's prayer, and the angel stops. That terrible sword which had gone swishing through the country, taking life after life, it stops it's terrible work. The sword is placed back in the sheath.

Why does the sword stop? Why is David rescued from the Pit - why doesn't he go down to Sheol, why does his car not go crashing off the cliff in a tangled mass of metal and blood? Is it because of anything David did? No - not David! David's helpless. Look how helpless he is - the king he might be - but he can't stop that angel - there he is, weak - all he can do is pray, plead for God's mercy, begging for God's grace.

Yes, congregation, your covenant God is so merciful. Terrible in his anger. But abounding in steadfast love. On the basis of that sacrifice, He grants pardon. The destruction comes to an end. David is lifted out the Pit, as it were. Strong hands grab him, and take him out of an impossible position. Says David in verse 1 of Psalm 30 "Thou has drawn me up." There I was, at the bottom of the Pit, alone, helpless. And you came and picked me up! Just like that! Saved! Saved from wrath, from calamity! Yes, saved from sin! That's why David also says in verse 2 "Thou hast healed me!" He was in deathly distress because of sin, he had come face to face with where sin makes one end up, but God had healed him, God had saved him! Perhaps it's good for us sometimes to peer down into the Pit and realize: it's from this that God has saved me. Perhaps it's good for us sometimes to look over the edge of that cliff and realize: that's where I would have ended up, if it had not been for God.

For when there is true repentance, when there's sackcloth, where there's weeping, then your covenant Father will deal with you His child in love. Yes, get on your knees. Confess your sins. Because with God you can't talk your way out of it as you might talk your way out of a speeding ticket. There is no escape from destruction. Except…except by grace. Except by that sacrifice of David on the future site of the temple. Except by that sacrifice of God's Son.

Yes, congregation, here, with the sacrifice of God's Son, we see why it is that God pulls us out of the Pit. It's because He sent His Son into that Pit in our place. Jesus came to earth, yes, he descended into the depths, says the Bible, the depths of a world of sin and misery, the depths of the misery of hell. When he was in agony in Gethsemane. When he was mocked by enemies on the cross. When he was alone, alone even apart from His Father, crying out: "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me". Here's the anger of God against sin at it's height. Here the sword of the angel of the Lord does not return to it's sheath, it's taken out, it's used in fierce punishment, so that the suffering of one, is much greater, yes, much greater than the death of 70,000. Yes this is the pits, this is The Pit, this is Sheol, this is hell. This is the pit from which you and I have been saved. It's the Pit which you and I look down into. Standing there in our sackcloth. Perhaps we still have the mud from the bottom of the pit on our shoes and our clothes. Because that's where we were. And that's where we belonged. But God has drawn us up! He's healed us!

And when you stand outside the pit like that, will your weeping continue? Your weeping over your sins - will that carry on? No, of course not! Instead of weeping, you shout for joy! "I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast drawn me up." And you don't say those words, you don't sing those words with a dull look on your face, thinking about what you're going to do after church, no you sing them with joy! I will extol thee O Lord! And look what happens to us. Look what God does to us! Mourning changes to dancing! That sackcloth, it's taken off! God clothes us with new clothes. And these are clothes of rejoicing, of gladness! Instead of wailing and weeping, the Spirit makes us sing a new song, He makes us sing praises to Him! And so we stand there in amazement, delivered from the Pit, in sheer wonder why God would do that to us when we don't even deserve it, and so our mouths sing for joy - sing praises, we say, give thanks, we sing, verse 5: "For 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." Yes, the mourning stops. But then the night turns into day, a new day, instead of the darkness of the Pit, there's light, there's life, there's hope, there's deliverance.

3. His thankfulness.

What is the response of the believer? What is the response of the child of God, whose father has just picked him up out of a dark dirty Pit? Whose Father has taken off his sackcloth and clothed him with royal festive garments? Whose Father has given him life instead of death? As you and I stand beside the Pit, you and I are amazed by God's grace. You know what the word grace means? Grace means: "God's unmerited favour." When we look into that Pit, and try to understand why God allowed His Son to go there instead of us, why He took us out when we deserved to be in there, then you and I are face to face with the mystery of grace. God's unmerited favour. Why would He do that? Why would He save us like that? When I consciously place myself in that pit because of my sins, why would He take me out?

Well, that's grace. And when we're confronted with God's grace to us in His Son Jesus Christ, then there's only one response left for us. Thanksgiving. See it there in the last verse: "O LORD my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever." That's all you can do. As you look back at that Pit where you belonged, when you feel the hands of your Father draw you out, then give thanks is all you can do. Is that hard, that giving thanks? No, of course it's not! Was it hard for David, seeing that sword come closer and closer, seeing those people dying, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 60,000, 70,000, was it then hard for him to give thanks when suddenly that sword stops? When he's on his knees, pleading for God to stop? When he knows that that sword can rightfully keep on it's deadly course? But then with the blood of sacrifice, yes, with the blood of Christ, that that sword stops it's deadly work - was it hard for David to give thanks then? Is it hard for us to give thanks?

Of course not! Our soul isn't silent! But it is full of praise! Verse 1 "I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast drawn me up!" Verse 3 "O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit." Verse 11 "Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness." Yes Lord, thou hast made me sing - it's all about Thee, It's too wonderful for me, "O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee forever!"

Psalm 30 is a beautiful psalm. For here we see the child of God confronted with his own sin and misery. The child of God is confronted with the blackness, the emptiness, the depths of the Pit. The child of God is made to realize just where his sins make him end up. And the child of God does not like it there. Nobody likes it there. The Pit is cold, it's dark, it's not just unpleasant, it's downright terrifying. And then the child of God realizes how helpless he really is.

But then the weeping, repentant child of God is picked up. The hands of a loving Father pick him up. His tear are wiped from his eyes, his sackcloth is replaced with festal garments, his mourning turns into darkness, his darkness turns into day. Yes, here we see the child of God confronted with the joy of deliverance. Confronted with His salvation in Jesus Christ.

But the child of God doesn't stop here in Psalm 30. No, the child of God's lips begin to sing. His life begins to change! He sings praises! And he calls on his brothers and sisters, his fellow children of God to do the same: "Sing praises to the Lord, give thanks to his holy name."

Give thanks. Give thanks now. Give thanks in song after the sermon. Give thanks today, tomorrow. Yes, get used to giving thanks every day, always. As David says: "I will give thanks to thee for ever." Forever is a long time. That's how long your sins condemned you to be in the pit. Forever. That's how long Christ's blood will enable you to give thanks to God. Forever - that starts today.

Amen.


"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." - 1 Corinthians 2:2

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