The theology and the pedagogy of this psalm are different depending on how one fills in the identity and circumstance of the complainant and of those rejoicing. This common observation is one of the great advantages of the Psalter. Its persistent ambiguity invites a wide variety of applications to people in all manner of circumstance, as the various commentators recognize.
The general point of the poem combats the experience of abandonment seen in Pss. 13 and 22 by proposing that God pays attention and is compassionate to those who cry for help and are faithful. The theodicy question is never far from those who suffer. The psalmist celebrates physical and spiritual resurrection in which those whose time of trial has passed look back on their misery to see God’s steady hand at work in their lives.
To enjoy God’s eventual favor, however, one must be patient—a lesson that pertains not only to individuals but also to whole communities, as the Jewish commentators’ association of this psalm with the rescue of the Jewish people in the book of Esther makes clear. A Christian version of corporate rescue appears in Samuel John Stone’s hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” which employs Ps. 30:5b in the third stanza:
Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed;
Yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
Embedded deep in this poem is a report of the kind of spiritual maturation that Calvin seeks for his readers. In my reordered version of the poem, the speaker starts out as one who thinks he will never stumble, only to uncover his own weakness when he does. Perhaps from the perspective of Christian piety, the turning point is when the speaker realizes that he cannot pull himself out of the pit into which he has fallen and that only divine mercy can pull him out.