Together With A Joyful Song
1. The Osaka Nozomi Church's worship hall was built on the soil of the Okamachi neighborhood. The first service held here was the first Lord's Day in July 1993. Today we are celebrating exactly the fourth year since that first day. Today what is given to us is Psalm 30 from the Word of God, which we just read. In the superscription of the psalm the following is recorded: "Praise. A Song Of The Temple Dedication. A Poem Of David." This is a song that Israel sung at the Festival of Dedication (a temple festival). Before delving into the specific contents of the poem, let's briefly touch upon this temple dedication festival.
Why An Individual Song At The Festival Of The Temple Dedication?
2. As for the background to this festival there was great suffering which the Jewish people had experienced. In 167 B.C.E. religious oppression started against the Jews led by a Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes. The ruling authorities prohibited the Jews from performing circumcision on their own sons, from observing the Sabbath and from other matters of strict importance. In addition, they forced Jews to take part in heathen festivals and to eat pork, which was completely unholy and forbidden. The people who opposed these measures were executed one and all by the state. Also, it got to the point where they sacrificed to the god Zeus at the temple in Jerusalem and held pagan parties there. It was truly a crisis for the Jewish race. Then, after that, a rebellion centered around the Hasmonean family arose. Finally, they overcame their sufferings and gained freedom through a miraculous victory. The Jews cleansed the temple from its desecration and once again made offerings to the Lord. Psalm 30 was sung at that celebration.
3. But, as we try to read the specific contents of this poem, what is being sung about is the very individual experience of one single person. It is a poem about a person offering up thanksgiving to God after he had been healed from serious illness and near death. This is deeply interesting. How is it they used a song of individual thanksgiving even though they were singing about their rescue from the experience of terrible hardships as a single race of people on the brink of a crisis of annihilation? This means that they never considered separating the experience of the race on its social level from the experience of the individual. In short, they did not divide the circumstances of the individual from the circumstances of the world. To start with, we must give attention to this perspective.
4. We all experienced a tremendous shock over a third year student at the junior high [age 14] who is a suspect in a brutal murder the other day. In particular, one of the motives for the murder was revenge against the school, so the problem of modern education was again hotly debated. There was a lot of debating about what kind of systems should be used and even debating about debating methods, but for the most part most people felt a feeling of strangulation from hopelessness. We must think carefully about why people felt that way. Many people talk about the problems of sin in society but do not even try to talk about the serious problem of sin that equally lies within their own hearts and lives. Many people are anxious about the decline of our nation, but do not even try to face the reality that they and no one but themselves are heading for personal destruction. Many people, who think about the end of the world, do not necessarily even attempt to think about "I'm nothing but a being who is heading toward an end." So, there's a problem here, isn't there? How could a person, who does not have a hope that can penetrate the problem of personal sin, possibly have any hope in a world sunken down in this sin? How could a person, who is not living in hope of a sure and personal salvation for himself, possibly see any hope for the salvation of the world? How could a person, who is completely without meaning in his own personal existence and standing in this world, talk about the meaning of the word's existence and being? Originally, one was not able to separate the problems of an individual and the problems of the total body of society.
5. What we are reading today is about an extremely individual experience. So, the people, who used this song concerning this extremely individual experience in a nationalistic festival, are a people who know that this is an appeal for God to gaze upon a single human being as well as a complete race of people, or one entire nation, or even more it is also an appeal for God to look at the world. Having laid out the above context, I would like to go into the contents of this poem.
From Trials To Praise
6. First off, let's please read from verse 2 to 6 [KJV verses 1-5]. O Lord, I exalt you. You did not make my enemies happy when you pulled me up. My God, O Lord, I cried out seeking you and you healed me. O Lord, you pulled out my soul from the realm of the dead, you caused me to obtain life having escaped going down to the grave. O people, who are living in the mercy of the master, sing a song of praise to the Lord. Declare his holy name and offer up thanksgiving. Though he is angry, it is short; he wants to grant life. To him passing the night in weeping he will let him receive the morning together with a joyful song. (Psalm 30:2-6 [KJV 1-5]). This poet experienced a serious illness and came face up to death. He cries out to God out of the midst of that deep darkness. So, God granted him healing. We do not necessarily have a need to think that he was healed from this illness in a miraculous way. The important part is that he surmounted his trial and arrived at being able to praise the Lord. No, it is not just that he summons his fellow countrymen who are in the Lord to praise the Lord in unison; as he looks at this major event, he shares the joy of telling the known blessing and he encourages them to look to the Lord together.
7. The experience of this poet's trial is not unrelated to our own. Some of us have probably had a healing from a serious illness, or have surely received help in overcoming some of the various difficulties in life. So, in looking at trials, how one praises the Lord is up to each person. That is, whether a person comes to praise the Lord after passing through a trial is up to the individual person. In some cases, people think "when the danger is past, God is forgotten" and they wind up with the attitude "things are just okay now, you know." There will be some cases of people who feel that days of hard trials have only become time spent purely in vain. This poet was not that kind of person. For him, being healed from an illness was a great blessing, and more than that, what he had obtained was magnificent. He himself was transformed. His very life became filled with real life. It was because while in the midst of hard trials he did not pass his time just bemoaning his own situation or in cursing away. What did he do? He kept an eye on the relationship he had with God. He thoroughly tackled the big issue of his personal relationship with God. It is important for troubles to pass, but it is truly more important what we keep our eye on in times of trouble and how we spend that time. Well, what did he think about in his time of trouble and how did he tackle this problem? As he looks back to that particular time, he relates what he had experienced from verse 7 on. With that, let's read the second half of this poem.
The Meaning Of Hardships And Trials
8. In a tranquil time I declared, "From now till eternity I will never be shaken." O Lord, in accordance with your will you caused me to stand on a mountain stronghold. But when you hid your face I collapsed in fear immediately. O Lord, I am calling on you. I beg the Lord for mercy. What profit would there be if I die and go down to the grave? Will the dust offer thanksgiving to you or will it make known your reality? O Lord, bend your ear and show me mercy please. O Lord, please become my help. You changed my weeping to dancing, you removed my sackcloth, you placed a belt of joy around me. My soul sings praises of you . You made me to not be silent any longer. My God, O Lord, I will offer up thanksgiving to you for ever and ever." -Psalm 30:7-13 He looks back to his former selfish arrogance. His home and business were secure; probably every part of his life was running smooth. That is why he said in looking back, "in accordance with your will you caused me to stand on a mountain stronghold." But at that moment arrogantly enough he didn't pay attention to that fact. This is how he really felt on his own: "From now till eternity I will never be shaken." There was a trap in the midst of his tranquility and in the middle of his stable day to day life. He probably thought I certainly won't be shaken. He was so arrogant. It is actually the Lord, who makes us to stand, who will not ever be shaken, and not him. But he had completely forgotten that.
9. It's very sad but in the real world these kinds of things happen within us also. It also happens in this society as a whole. In the midst of tranquility and prosperity there are all kinds of sources that end up separating us from the One who is the foundation. Even though the Lord caused us to stand and to walk, we wind up thinking that it's our own personal strength and achievements. So, frequently we ignorantly say, "I will never be shaken from now till eternity."
10. However, the Lord was not in the position of abandoning the heart of this poet. Because the Lord loved him, the Lord was not going to leave him inside his ingratitude and self- overestimation of his abilities. What would the Lord do? He hid his face. In concrete terms, this was indeed the experience of sickness upon this poet. The Lord is hiding his face from him and gives him some pressure. He collapses in fear. Then, he comes to realize the truth. The self that said, "I will never be shaken," was made to realize how truly he had such a frail and fragile state of being. He fully inwardly perceived that if the Lord hides his face and removes his hand, then he would only be a person that would instantly crumble and perish.
11. Consequently, he called on the name of the Lord. He begged for mercy with the Lord. He came back to the Lord in his distress and fears. So, he sought to be alive. He sought to continue having an existence on this earth. This situation became a turning point in his life because this event lead him to re-ask the reasons for his existence.
12. "What in the world does a person, who asks to continue living, try to life for?" He who kept asking this question had come to feel one thing for sure. Up to now he had lived for himself and only himself. But, now there's a change. If he would be allowed to keep living, now he would live for God. He would live for God's glory. He would live to praise God and proclaim God's truth. He, who thought after such a fashion, begins to appeal to God. "What profit would there be if I die and go down to the grave? Will the dust offer thanksgiving to you or will it make known your reality?" When the word "profit" is said here, certainly it is in reference to the "profit" of God. In short, in the event of my death, it does not become profit for God. He is being kept alive on this earth for the purpose of the "profit" of God. This he now knew.
13. I think there is a significance to testing which every one of us ought to grasp hold of. Namely, we know that we do not stand in our own strength, we are made to live through God. And we know that in being kept alive it is for a reason. Namely, we exist for the glory of God, so that we praise God, and we also know that we are made to live in order to make known the truth of God. We need to know that we are existing for God.
14. In this way then, God changed his mourning to dancing and girded him with joy. This poet, who was changed by God, calls out looking towards God, "My God, O Lord, I will offer up thanksgiving to you for ever and ever."
15. Finally, please look once more at verse 6. "Though he is angry, it is short; he wants to grant life. To him passing the night in weeping he will let him receive the morning together with a joyful song." He speaks about this point with conviction. Certainly God was angry. But, underneath that anger what was flowing was true life itself; it was the will of God who is full of good will. If he knows that, he understands that with God, "To him passing the night in weeping he will let him receive the morning together with a joyful song." Even though presently there is the darkness of night which he spends with the company of his tears, the morning which he will meet with a joyful song is definitely coming. It's for sure that morning will come. So, when we say "morning is coming," I think there should be one more point we retain in our hearts. In our daily living while still in this world it is a major blessing to meet the morning with joy. He welcomed the morning with joy in view of his healing from the illness. However, he eventually did die. If one holds a perspective of only this world, then he does not have a complete resolution of his problems. Therefore, let's be able to say that the morning of joy that we will welcome in the end is that time when we are resurrected to the world of eternal life. There may still be more things that do not get resolved on this earth or which we cannot understand. However, the morning of eternity is coming. On that morning, it will be made clear in as much as we no longer will need to ask the meaning of painful nights. If so, then the important thing is, right now, to return to the Lord in repentance. Wherever there is no hope whether as a single person, or the entire society or one not right with the Lord: in turning your eyes to the Lord, in continuing in expectancy of the joyful morning, whatever state you may be in, we ought to be living this present time now with value and significance.