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Resurrection Drama: Psalm 18 Paraphrased
* God the Son endangered, the ropes of death ensnared him, squeezed his breath away. A tsunami of destruction crashed upon his head. He couldn’t breathe. Hell’s net pulled him tighter, under. Death held its vise-like grip. There was no way for him to escape. In gasping anguish he cried out loud; he called to his Father for help.
“Papa! Help me! Save me! Death must not win forever!”
God in his holy temple heard his Son’s voice; the pleading cry of desperation reached the Father’s ear. Though his Son lay buried, three days in the grave, Almighty Papa roared and pierced the sky to save.
The earth reeled and rocked; foundations of mountains trembled. The royal Papa’s anger shook, an earth-quaking gush of love. Smoke rose from his nostrils; devouring fire consumed, glowing coals of flame no dragon ever produced.
God bowed the heavens descending, thick darkness under his feet. He rode a cherub and flew swiftly on wings of wind. Almighty Papa in darkness cloaked, a canopy surrounds him. Thick clouds dark with water cover his form from view. Bursting through this darkness, his brightness once concealed, with flashes of fire and brimstone, his golden light breaks through. He thunders in the heavens, blasting out his voice, hailstones and coals announcing–Papa on the move.
Scattering forth his arrows, flashing out his lightnings, God routed the enemy, death…(and here the Son breaks in…)
“The channels of the sea you exposed, the foundations of the world laid bare. You rebuked them, O Lord, my Father, when your nostrils blasted your breath.”
“Did you see all this, my people? Were you watching? Did you see? When he came from on high and took me and pulled me from the waves? He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated and surrounded. They were too mighty for me, confronting, that one single day. But he, the LORD my Papa came through. To this broad place he brought me. He heard my cry and rescued, because he delights in me.”
*This poem draws heavily from the English Standard Version of Psalm 18:4-19
Previously published with a different title at: Psalm 18: Original Paraphrase-Papa Roars and Rescues – justonesmallvoice.com and https://onesmallvoice.net/2019/12/09/psalm-18-papa-roars-and-rescues/
While Psalm 28 states the fact of Christ’s resurrection, Psalm 30 prophetically records Christ’s retelling after-the-fact and his rejoicing over this happy outcome.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. 3 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 ESV)
11 Thou hast turned my mourning into joy for me: thou hast rent off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; 12 that my glory may sing praise to thee, and I may not be pierced with sorrow. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever. (Psalm 30 LXE) Note: “pierced with sorrow” reflects a single word in Greek for “pierced” or “pricked.” In both Testaments, it is nearly always used in this metaphorical sense with the concept of sorrow, which is not part of the word itself.
Structure of Psalm 30
It’s good for the reader to remember that the Psalter is a book of ancient Near Eastern poetry. The poetic and literary conventions were a bit different back then. However, if the Christian reader keeps the basic fact of the prophet David’s being a voice of Christ foremost in thought, then the more often she reads Psalms, the easier it becomes to understand the abbreviated, minimalized structure inherent in its poetry. Certain word choices within the poem also underlie its resurrection theme.
Since Psalm 30 is relatively short, I will use some space here to print it out fully and fill in words in places where a narrator’s explanatory voice would prove helpful. As always, it is good to consult more than one translation.
29(30) For the end, a Psalm and Song [literally, a psalm of a song] at the dedication of the house of David.1 I will exalt thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and not caused mine enemies to rejoice over me.2 O Lord my God, I cried to thee, and thou didst heal me.3 O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from Hades, thou hast delivered me from among them that go down to the pit.4 Sing to the Lord, ye his saints, and give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.5 For anger is in his wrath, but life in his favour: weeping shall tarry for the evening, but joy shall be in the morning.6 And I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved.7 O Lord, in thy good pleasure thou didst add strength to my beauty: but thou didst turn away thy face, and I was troubled.8 To thee, O Lord, will I cry; and to my God will I make supplication.9 What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to destruction? Shall the dust give praise to thee? or shall it declare thy truth?10 The Lord heard, and had compassion upon me; the Lord is become my helper.11 Thou hast turned my mourning into joy for me: thou hast rent off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;12 that my glory may sing praise to thee, and I may not be pierced with sorrow. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.–Available at https://ebible.org/eng-Brenton/PSA029.htm. Accessed August 16, 2019.
- The speaker addresses the Lord his God: verses 1 through 3.
- The speaker addresses the Lord’s saints: verses 4 through 10.
- Within the address to the saints, the speaker records how his condition changed from prosperity (vs 6) to tragedy (vs 7), how he proposed in his heart to call upon the Lord (vs 8), the words of his prayer (vs 9), and the final outcome (vs 10).
- The speaker addresses the Lord: verses 11-12.
- John 1:1-18 is a Christian condensation of the book of Genesis.
- Jesus often called himself the “Son of Man,” or “Son of Anthropos,” rather than any number of other names he might have chosen. (See, for example, Matthew 12:40, Mark 10:45, Luke 6:5, and John 1:51.) By choosing this name, he indicates that he came to bring salvation to the entire human race.
- Jesus claimed the Old Testament spoke prophetically of himself (Luke 24:26-27).
- With reference to something Jesus spoke or did, the Gospel writers repeatedly made statements such as, “as it is written,” and that what a certain prophet or Scripture foretold, “might be fulfilled.”
- Jesus in his public ministry made many references to the Law.
- The New Testament quotes from Psalms close to 100 times, most of these with regard to Jesus’s ministry.
- The authors of the letters base the bulk of their evangelism upon the words, actions, and events of the life of Christ, and they weave these pieces of factual recent history into theological arguments bound together by the Scripture of the Old Testament. They constantly sought to prove how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Messianic promises.
- “for the end”: This phrase is found in the superscript, which is not part of the biblical text. The words before the first verse of any psalm have been added by ancient text editors. “For the end” in Greek is “εἰς τὸ τέλος”, roughly pronounced eess-toe-tell-os, (Psalm 29:1 BGT). I have come to observe that this phrase in itself refers to Christ, since he is the “end” or goal, of our faith. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Further, Christ himself stated on the cross, “It is finished.” In Greek, this is “τετέλεσται”, pronounced teh-tell-ess-tay (John 19:30 BGT). This Greek word is a verb that means, “to bring to a close, to finish, to end.” (Thayer’s Lexicon)
- “at the dedication of the house of David”: Jesus referred to his body as the “temple,” or dwelling place, i.e., house, of God. (See John 2:19-22 and Mark 14:58)
- “thou hast lifted me up” (vs 1): As explained above, the Greek verb could be used either of the crucifixion (John 12:32, which is a different Greek verb but is translated “lifted up” in English) or the resurrection, in the sense of to be lifted, or drawn up from under, as though someone were beneath and pushing up; or in the sense of pulling someone up from under something. We say that someone or something “lifted my spirits.”
- “not caused my enemies to rejoice over me” (vs 1): My favorite media depiction of Christ’s resurrection is from an old BBC animated production of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this particular film version, as they considered the dead Lion Aslan, the scary, animated beasts who opposed him were very nearly throwing a party to celebrate his death. Aslan was Lewis’s symbol for Christ. We can imagine the celebration in Satan’s realm had Christ remained in his grave.
- “I cried to thee, and thou didst heal me” (vs 2): Christ did indeed cry out to God, so much so, that he sweat as it were great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He also cried from the cross itself, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In the second clause, the Greek word “heal” is the same word used in Septuagint Isaiah 53:5. It refers to both physical healing and spiritual healing from sin. These together form a complete salvation. Christ was healed physically from death. He was spiritually healed from sin, as the sacrificial lamb of God upon whom was laid the sins of the world. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV)
- “thou hast brought up my soul from Hades, thou hast delivered me from among them that go down to the pit” (vs 3): This verse most definitely speaks of death and dying. Most English translations acknowledge this. The NET writes, “O LORD, you pulled me up from Sheol; you rescued me from among those descending into the grave.”
- “ye his saints” (vs 4): “Saints” is a favorite word for God’s people in the Psalter, in Daniel, and in the New Testament. When reading a psalm in which the events of the speaker’s life strongly evoke the events of Christ’s life, and when this speaker turns in his speech to directly address the people of God as his “saints,” a careful reader should sit up with ears alert. The translation version here can make a difference. Brenton, The Orthodox Study Bible, the ESV, KJV, and NKJV translate the Scripture with the word “saints,” while the NIV, NET, and CJB, say either “faithful ones,” or “faithful followers.” NETS translates the Greek word as his “devout.”
- “thou didst turn away thy face, and I was troubled” (vs 7): As mentioned above, Jesus in his passion perceived that God had turned away and even abandoned him.
- Verses 8-10, again as mentioned above, are entirely suitable to the passion and resurrection of Christ.
- “my glory” (vs 12): The ESV uses the word “glory” 161 times in the New Testament. Many of these occurrences refer to Christ. Jesus uses the phrase, “my glory,” in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Although King David may have had a certain kind of glory, I am sure that his glory is nothing compared to that of the Son of God.
- “that my glory may sing praise to thee, and I may not be pierced with sorrow” (vs 12). The ESV states, “that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.” The Septuagint expresses greater lexical depth. Its Greek word “pierced” is another example of what could be a double meaning. First, while the Greek word used in this verb does not in itself contain the concept of sorrow, most often the Greek verb is used in a context where sorrow is connoted. The idea is that if one’s emotions are pierced with sorrow, this will lead to the person’s silence. The Septuagint word choice can carry this meaning. Additionally, Christ was, of course, literally pierced, first, by the crown of thorns upon his head, next by the nails that fixed him to the cross, and lastly, by the soldier’s spear thrust into his side. If this piercing had resulted in permanent death, that would indeed have been a most sorrowful outcome for all concerned. And, a permanent, final death would have ended in silence. As a tie-in with the first clause about “my glory,” Scripture associates Christ’s glory with his eternal existence, both as crucified-then-resurrected man and as divine God. The Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8 and James 2:1) chooses to use that glory to praise the Lord, his God. The sorrowful silence of death was defeated by the joyfully glorious resurrection unto praise.
4. A final means by which a careful reader is alerted to the crucifixion/resurrection theme of Psalm 30 is the “plot” of the psalm. The plot traces the movement in the life of the psalm’s speaker from the happiness and well-being that proceeded from God’s favor, into death, and then back from death to life, and finally to joy, praise, and thanksgiving. That the speaker turns to an audience he calls the Lord’s “saints” and commands them also to praise the Lord for his action of turning the sorrow of condemnation into the joy of life restored–the darkness of night into the light of morning– strongly favors Christ as being the protagonist. He intends that the church share the salvation God gave him by means of his resurrection victory.
After the dark Tenebrae chords of Psalm 88 and after the discordant realities of Messiah’s abased life while on earth as recorded in Psalm 89, Psalms 18 and 118 both ring out like joyful peals of Easter bells. Christ is alive! He did not die. Just as we heard from Messiah the God-man in his human form expressing in lament his petitions to his Father, in these psalms we also hear the voice of a man singing his carols of victory, salvation, and release from the grave. Below are a few highlights from each of these psalms. I encourage the reader to read both of these psalms with the vision provided by the apostolic kerygma, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We rejoice as believers, because he rejoices as one of us. His triumph was a triumph of humanity over sin and the grave.
After the dark pleadings of Psalm 88–
5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah (Psa 88:5-7 ESV)—
God replies. He was silent and absent in Psalm 88, but in Psalm 18, his response is nothing short of tremendous. And, just as Jesus pleaded his lament with great emotional overtones, God his Father replies with great emotional drama as well. Hear what the psalmist says.
4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.
14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
16 He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.
17 He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me (cf 22:8). (Psa 18:4-19 ESV)
In Psalm 118, the psalmist/resurrected Messiah sings with pure joy and loud celebration his victorious release from the grave and salvation to life. God heard and answered his prayers, and he is no longer confined alone and friendless in the dank darkness of the pit of death, as recorded in Psalm 88.
1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
… … … …
5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.
6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
… … … …
10 All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
16 the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18 The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psa 118:1-29 ESV)
Christians celebrate Easter, which they often call Resurrection Sunday, because in Christ, his victory over sin and death is their victory over sin and death. Because Christ is resurrected, by faith in him, they are resurrected. Because he lives forever, they live forever.
The Bible’s promises are so majestic and broad in scope that words fail. There are no qualifications for anyone to receive all the benefits of God’s covenant of life made with Jesus Christ and through him to all believers. The one and only requirement is a lifelong TRUST in the life, death, and resurrection of the ascended Jesus Christ of Nazareth, as both Savior and Lord. The duration of the lifelong commitment might be no more than one minute, for those who choose to believe on their deathbeds, or an entire span of multiple decades in a hard labor camp. Eternal life is so great that no one merits it and not one more than another (Matthew 20:1-16).
If you have not already done so, won’t you give Christ your allegiance (1) today?
1 For an interesting approach to the word “allegiance” as it relates to “faith,” see Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2017.