Psalm 130 is one of the fifteen “Songs of Ascent” and its author is unknown. This psalm is the deeply anguished and moving prayer to God of one wrestling with sinful guilt. Yet the writer’s focus does not linger there; instead, the forgiveness of God is the subject. Notice how honest he speaks and how lucidly he contrasts his guilt with the Lord’s mercy. There is no person who cannot discover him- or herself in these words. (You may wish to follow along in your Bible.)
VERSE 1 (NRSV)
“Out of the depths… ”
The author suffers a mental agony. He references a place of anguish, of soul affliction and emotional dejection, of sinful guilt. It should make us feel unpleasant when we sinfully falter in some way. Christ has removed the condemnation of sin; however, condemnation is different from the conviction of the Holy Spirit upon our consciences. Conviction does not censure and leads to healing.
“…I cry to you, O Lord.”
Yet the writer knows enough to call on God. In fact, he grasps that it’s his privilege to do so, which is something many people don’t comprehend. They don’t realize that God awaits their beckoning call for his aid. Unfortunately, some hold a wrong image of God that renders him so lofty and holy that he refuses to help sinners. The good news is that he lifts sinners up to sit with him in “the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6).
“Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!”
This is his prayer, for audience with God—or better that God would respond to his pleas. And what are they? That he be relieved of his burden of guilt. Think of the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 2:27) pushing through the crowd and Blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:48) calling louder to Jesus when told to be quiet. So is the tone of this verse, of one who will not do without relief, like a mother who would sacrifice her very life to get help for her baby.
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities…”
The phrase is an allusion to watchmen guarding a city and their regimental style—“If you were to observe all my wrongdoing…” I am humbled by the fact that God is able to perfectly assess every aspect of me.
“…Lord, who could stand?”
He continues by implying that there were probably vices residing in his heart that even he never realized were true about him. More sobering is the fact that God had the power to bring them to light. It strengthens his plea to the merciful God for deliverance.
“But there is forgiveness with you…”
It is all the reason why he dares approach God. He understands that the Lord is a forgiving God. Albert Barnes says, “When we come before God, the ground of our hope is not that we can justify ourselves; not that we can prove we have not sinned; not that we can explain our sins away; not that we can offer an apology for them; it is only in a frank and full confession, and in a hope that God will forgive them. He who does not come in this manner can have no hope of acceptance with God.”
“…so that you may be revered.”
It is a marvelous concept here. The glory of God is his salvific nature. He is unlike the gods of mythical lore who destroy at the mite of wickedness. Instead, God takes what was of disrepute and causes it to match his own splendor. Forgiveness wins him honor, not lose it. It causes others to reverence him and so makes them his worshippers.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits…”
I wait because I’m entirely dependent on his agency. He must act. “Whom have I in heaven but you?” is how Asaph puts it in Ps. 73:25. So he waits with all his heart, or his “whole being” (NIV). This is a man with a need only God can satisfy. It’s one thing to trust God in trial when there is recourse to standbys; it’s another thing to be in a position where the answer must be from the Lord.
“…and in his word I hope.”
Or, I trust in his promise that his pardon awaits. This is the essence of his crying out to God in Verse 1. He knew to call on God because he had heard of his mercy and believed his reputation. Either he could leave God’s offer of grace on the table and be consumed by his guilt or take God up on what he promised.
“My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”
The image is once again of a guard upon the city walls in anticipation of the morning light. An enemy is aided by darkness and makes the watchman’s job harder. But the guard is able to rest slightly when the morning arrives since he can see better. So the psalmist explains that he waits for God’s intervention like the watchman awaits the dawn. Then, he repeats himself, as one whose mind dwells on the fact.
“O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love…”
Or, do not despair. It is as if the psalmist has found relief and now encourages his people to trust God as he did. Do not despair because the Lord is kind. The one who dared to draw near to God found him to be true to his promise and relieved himself of his burden.
“…and with him is great power to redeem.”
His forgiveness and mercy are inexhaustible. They are copious, plentiful in supply. So let not the sinner feel that he’s too far gone.
“It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.”
The Lord is the only one able to deliver from sin and condemnation.
More: Lectio Divina: Psalm 126