Psalm 30 – Praise and Prayer on the Other Side of the Pit

Bible opened to Psalm 30 with Alter Eco dark velvet chocolate on zebra plate

Today’s passage: Psalm 30

Today’s chocolate: Alter Eco Dark Velvet organic chocolate

It seems like for every psalm in which David, faced with death, prays to God for deliverance, there’s a psalm in which David has been rescued and is praising God from the other side of the pit. To put it into Brueggemann’s terms, for every psalm of disorientation, there’s a psalm of new orientation. And to be honest, I prefer psalms of new orientation to psalms of mere orientation. Generally, worship isn’t compelling to me unless it comes from a place of having been through the valley of the shadow of death.

And David’s been there. Most of this psalm consists of joyful praise and gratitude for God’s deliverance, but David doesn’t hesitate to remember his darkest moments: “O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit” (3). Sheol is the place of the dead, dreary and bleak; God has rescued David from the very edge of the abyss.

In Sheol, no one can hear you scream. In fact, in Sheol, you can’t make any sound at all. That’s why, interestingly enough, David recounts trying to negotiate with God in his desperation on the razor’s edge:

To You, O Lord, I called,
And to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me;
O Lord, be my helper” (8-10).

Think about his words for a moment. Here, David engages in exactly the sort of bargaining that we widely consider an immature prayer, almost an attempt to bribe God with promises of praise. Moreover, if God wants it to, the dust will praise him. Consider Jesus at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. When the Pharisees command him to tell the crowds of his cheering disciples to shut up, he responds, “I tell you, if these [people] become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40). And compare that to John the Baptist’s words: “I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). God is omnipotent, and he doesn’t need us around in order to praise him; he can make whatever worshipers he wants.

But this is a psalm of new orientation, and David’s not in the same place that he was when he tried to strike a deal with God. He doesn’t explicitly state it, but it may be that David recognizes his old prayers as weak, and recognizes God as charitable in answering them even though he didn’t have to. What do you think? Does David consider a “bargaining prayer,” an attempt to incentivize God to do what you want, a good or acceptable form of prayer? Or would he say that he has grown as a person and has found more mature ways of relating to God? Drop a comment, let me know your thoughts.

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5 thoughts on “Psalm 30 – Praise and Prayer on the Other Side of the Pit

  1. Good question. I don’t know if it is good in terms of making it our normative mode of prayer, but through the Bible from Abraham onwards, appealing to God’s glory being manifested through granting specific prayers (esp. For deliverance) seems nit to be uncommon. But I think it is miles away from a prayer like, “God, please help me win the lottery and I promise I will publicly give you all the credit.” I think the motivation of the one praying makes all the difference: Do we truly desire that our God’s name will be great among the nations and his saving power more widely known and embraced…or are we trying to get out of a jam and merely throwing him a bone? #mytwocents

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      1. Now that’s just nitpicking. ;)

        Seriously, though, you make a good point. As with so many things, it’s a heart thing: prayer that’s merely focused on using God as a means to get what we want vs. prayer that’s actually communicating with God and wanting him to be glorified. And given that both space and time separate me from David’s heart, I can’t really know for sure where he was at during and after the events in this psalm. I just know that our motives are often a mix–and hopefully we grow. :)

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  2. Another perspective: David may be simply making a statement, “God, I won’t make it (praise you) if you don’t do something.”

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    1. Man, look at you people taking David’s side! ;) But you’re right. David’s asking a rhetorical question, and he leaves it to us to infer what his point is. And I can’t dispute that if David had died then and there, we wouldn’t have gotten this psalm.

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