This psalm is another in the series titled A Song of Ascents. Psalm 130 begins with a personal testimony of God’s rescue from the depths of guilt. From there, the author ascends step by step to a place where he can give confidence to others in their trust in God.
Because Psalm 130 is marked by an awareness of sin and a powerful assurance of forgiveness, tradition numbers it among the seven penitential psalms (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).
“Luther, when he was buffeted by the devil at Coburg, and in great affliction, said to those about him, Come, let us sing that psalm, ‘Out of the depths,’ etc., in derision of the devil…. And surely this psalm is a treasury of great comfort to all in distress.” (John Trapp)
“On the afternoon of that same day [which his heart was strangely warmed and he truly trusted in Jesus for salvation] John Wesley attended a vesper service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, in the course of which Psalm 130 was sung as an anthem. Wesley was greatly moved by the anthem, and it became one of the means God used to open his heart to the gospel of salvation.” (James Montgomery Boice)
A. Crying out to the God who helps and forgives.
1. (1-2) A cry from the depths.
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.
a. Out of the depths I have cried to You: Previously in the psalms there have been cries from the depths of the earth (Psalm 71:20) or the depths of the grave (Psalm 86:13). Once again, from a place of deep and overwhelming danger, the psalmist cries out to Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel.
i. People experience depths of poverty, sorrow, confusion, and pain. Yet the depth that the psalmist cried from here was the depth of the awareness and guilt of sin (Psalm 130:3). Many have been spiritually drowned in these depths.
ii. “Self-help is no answer to the depths of distress, however useful it may be in the shallows of self-pity.” (Kidner)
iii. “In this Psalm we hear of the pearl of redemption, verses 7 and 8: perhaps the sweet singer would never have found that precious thing had he not been cast into the depths. ‘Pearls lie deep.’” (Spurgeon)
b. Lord, hear my voice: Translators use the same word Lord to translate both the name Yahweh in the first line of this psalm, and Adonai in the second line. Each word is a title or name for the God of the Bible, the Creator of heaven and earth. Here, the psalmist called out to Adonai, His master and ruler, asking Him to hear his voice, knowing that for God to hear His people is to help His people.
i. “As Jehovah marks [God’s] unchangeable faithfulness to his promises of delivering his people, so Adonai marks his Lordship over all hindrances in the way of his delivering them.” (Fausset, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. “Twice he here nameth the Lord, as desirous to take hold of him with both his hands.” (Trapp)
c. Let Your ears be attentive: The plea to God is emphasized using repetition as a poetic tool.
i. “It is better for our prayer to be heard than answered. If the Lord were to make an absolute promise to answer all our requests, it might be rather a curse than a blessing.” (Spurgeon)
2. (3-4) The great forgiveness of God.
If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.
a. If You, LORD, should mark iniquities: In asking for God to help, the psalmist also understood that he had no confident reason to ask or to be heard by God apart from His great forgiveness. Without this graciousness, no one could stand before Yahweh Adonai (You, LORD…O Lord).
i. Should mark iniquities: “The word rendered above ‘mark’ is literally keep or watch, as in Psalm 130:6, and here seems to mean to take account of, or retain in remembrance, in order to punish.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Tis true, the Lord marks all iniquity to know it, but he doth not mark any iniquity in his children to condemn them for it: so the meaning of the Psalm is, that if the Lord should mark sin with a strict and severe eye, as a judge, to charge it upon the person sinning, no man could bear it.” (Caryl, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. “If thou shouldst set down every deviation in thought, word, and deed from thy holy law; and if thou shouldst call us into judgment for all our infidelities, both of heart and life; O Lord, who could stand? Who could stand such a trial, and who could stand acquitted in the judgment?” (Clarke)
iv. Who could stand? “To stand is a judicial phrase, and notes a man’s being absolved or justified, upon an equal trial, as Psalm 1:5,Romans 14:4, where it is opposed to falling.” (Poole)
b. But there is forgiveness with You: Years of previous relationship with God had taught the psalmist that there is, in fact, forgiveness with God. When we are hit hard with our awareness of sin, it can be hard to believe, but it is true: there is forgiveness with God.
i. There is forgiveness with You: “You may not find forgiveness with other people. Your husband or your wife may not forgive you, if you have wronged him or her. Your children may not forgive you. Your coworkers may not forgive you. You may not even be able to forgive yourself. There is one who will, and that one is God. Write down where you can see and reflect on it often: Our God is a forgiving God.” (Boice)
ii. There is forgiveness with You: “And when God once speaks forgiveness, it can never be unspoken. Fear and doubt and misgiving may question, but cannot revoke it.” (Meyer)
iii. “The word rendered ‘forgiveness’…. literally means cutting off, and so suggests the merciful surgery by which the cancerous tumour is taken out of the soul.” (Maclaren)
iv. “When Luther was in great trouble of soul, he was comforted by one who said to him, ‘Dost thou not believe thy Creed?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Luther, ‘I believe the Creed.’ ‘Well, then,’ rejoined the other, ‘one article in it is, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.’” Luther’s heart was lightened at once by the remembrance of the words in this psalm, ‘there is forgiveness.’ It may be that you have sinned many times and grievously; but ‘there is forgiveness.’ Though a child of God, you have gone far astray from him; but ‘there is forgiveness.’ You have backslidden sadly and horribly; but ‘there is forgiveness.’ The devil comes and howls at you, and tells you that your doom is sealed, and your damnation is sure; but ‘there is forgiveness.’ Oh, blessed sentence!” (Spurgeon)
c. That You may be feared: One of the great purposes of God’s great forgiveness is to build a sense of gratitude and reverence in those He forgives. His pardon should lead to purity and His forgiveness to an appropriate fear of displeasing the One who has been so gracious.
i. “Those who have been forgiven are softened and humbled and overwhelmed by God’s mercy, and they determine never [again] to sin against such a great and fearful goodness. They do sin, but in their deepest hearts they do not want to, and when they do they hurry back to God for deliverance.” (Boice)
ii. “It was a Welshman in the midst of the wonderful revival of 1905 who rendered verse Psalm 130:4, ‘There is forgiveness with Thee – enough to frighten us!’ which if not accurate translation is fine exposition.” (Morgan)
iii. “God’s lovingkindness is so great and so wonderful, that the apprehension of it fills the soul with such a sense of His love that it is frightened. Frightened, that is, not at God, but at sin.” (Morgan)
iv. “He is feared, not only because of his great judgment and harshness, but also because of his great love in forgiving. The godly respond with godly fear and love.” (VanGemeren)
v. “The hammer of the law may break the icy heart of man with terrors and horrors, and yet it may remain ice still, unchanged; but when the fire of love kindly thaweth its ice, it is changed and dissolved into water – it is no longer ice, but of another nature.” (Swinnock, cited in Spurgeon)
B. Wise speaking to self and Savior.
1. (5-6) Speaking to the soul.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.
a. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits: Having made his cry from the depths to God (Psalm 130:1-2), the singer then determined to wait upon God and the rescue He would bring.
b. In His word I do hope: The waiting was not passive or inactive. The psalmist used the time to actively set his hope upon God’s promises, revealed in His word.
c. My soul waits for the Lord: Here, using the word Adonai, the psalmist again expressed his trust in Yahweh Adonai (the LORD…the Lord). This phrasing used both Yahweh, the name for the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and Adonai, the normal name for a master or lord.
d. More than those who watch for the morning: The poet used a vivid image to express his patient anticipation in waiting on God. We see a watchman in the darkness of the early morning, scanning the horizon for the first sign of the dawn. The watchman doesn’t doubt that morning will come, but only wonders when, and watches for it diligently. So it was for the singer who watched for God and the help God promised to bring.
i. Some think those who watch were military guards, others think they were priests waiting for dawn so the morning sacrifices could be started for the day. It doesn’t really matter if the watchmen were military or priestly; they waited for the morning with certain expectation that it would come.
ii. “With equal earnestness have the faithful since looked out for the dawning of that last morning, which is to abolish sin, and put an end to sorrow.” (Horne)
2. (7-8) Speaking to the people of God.
O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.
a. O Israel, hope in the LORD: With this verse the phrasing turns from the personal to the public. What the psalmist learned in waiting upon God and trusting Him from the depths is now put to use as he calls upon Israel to put their hope in Yahweh Adonai.
i. Hope in the LORD: The psalmist put his faith and hope in the Lord Himself, not in the mercy or redemption God would bring. He looked to the Giver before the gift.
ii. “Cease looking for the water, and look for the well. You will more readily see the Savior than see salvation, for he is lifted up, even he who is God, and beside him there is none else. You will more easily fix your eye on Jesus than upon justification, sanctification, or any other separate blessing.” (Spurgeon)
b. For with the LORD there is mercy: What he learned in his personal life, he can put to application for the whole nation. When God’s people humbly look to Him, there is mercy and abundant redemption for both the individual and the community.
i. Abundant redemption: “Are our sins great? with God there is mercy, matchless mercy. Are our sins many? with God is plenteous redemption, multa redemptio; he will multiply pardons as we multiply sins, Isaiah 55:7.” (Trapp)
c. He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities: This is the confident conclusion to the psalm, demonstrating trust that God will indeed bring the redemption and rescue to both the individual and the nation overwhelmed in the depths of their sin. What God has demonstrated in the private life, He will also perform for the community that cries out to Him.
i. “Nothing could be further from the shut-in gloom and uncertainty of ‘the depths’ than this. The singer is now liberated from himself to turn to his people and to hold out hopes that are far from tentative.” (Kidner)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org