Studying Psalm 130 surprised me. For years I thought it was simply about watching and waiting for God to act when I was in trouble--“more than watchmen wait for the morning.” I pictured guards on an ancient city wall, scanning the murky darkness for any signs of an enemy, wanting their long, wearying watch to end. But I don’t see Psalm 130 that way anymore. Instead, Psalm 130 is a wonderful Old Testament anticipation of New Testament redemption. It looks beyond the system of animal sacrifices to the finished work of “redemption” accomplished by Christ on the cross. Luther called this a “Pauline Psalm” (along with Psalms 32, 51, and 142) because of its emphasis, like the apostle Paul’s teaching, on God’s grace in forgiveness apart from human works. The ex-monk’s preaching of “salvation by grace” led to the Protestant movement, which spurned the legalisms and unbiblical rituals that had crept into the historic church.
Psalm 130 is the sixth of seven penitential psalms (the others are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143) in which the writer speaks of his sinful nature and need of forgiveness. It’s also the eleventh of fifteen psalms of “ascents,” sung by faithful pilgrims ascending the rugged Judean hills to festivals in
It’s also the only one that literally starts at a spiritual low point: “Out of
the depths I cry to you, O LORD. O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be
attentive to my cry for mercy” (vv. 1-2).
Eugene Peterson paraphrased this intense emotion in today’s language
like this: “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life!” (The Message). The writer
is desperate. It’s not enemies lurking just beyond the walls of his life. The
enemy is within: his sin. The eight verses of Psalm 130, in dealing with the
sin problem, look beyond the Old Testament sacrificial system to God’s
“unfailing love” in sending His sinless Son to die for our sins. Jerusalem
RECORDS OF SINSTwo four-drawer files flank my desk, full of files of articles, research, speeches, sample copies and research material. Despite the labeled folders, I’m not sure what’s there any more. Time to clean! In his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Joshua Harris told of a vision—“in that place between wakefulness and dreams”—in which he was in a room with endless index-card files. The cards, bearing his own handwriting, described what he’d read, lies he’d told, friends he’d betrayed, and so on. Pulling out a card about “lustful thoughts,” he shuddered at the details, sick that such moments were recorded. He tried to pull the negative cards out to destroy them, but they wouldn’t budge. Feeling defeated and distraught, he noticed one file labeled, “People I Shared the Gospel With.” He opened it to a handful of cards.
That’s when the tears came—deep sobbing that threw him to his knees. He wanted this room locked up where nobody could see it. Then He saw Jesus, who walked up to the wall of files, and signed His name in blood-red ink over the untold millions of accusing cards. Jesus signed all in an instant, put His hand on the sinner’s shoulder, and said, “It is finished.” The person in the parable left with Jesus, to write new “life cards.”
This could be one way to picture Psalm 130:3-4:If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
Never could we stand before God with our mammoth pile of sins. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:10-12, citing Psalms 14 and 53:
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
But with Him there is forgiveness (Psalm 130:4): “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
WAITING WITH HOPESo what is the psalmist waiting for? What is the long, dark night he hopes will end soon, so much so that he repeats, “more than the watchmen wait for the morning, more than the watchmen wait for the morning”? It’s not forgiveness. That is granted upon confession. He isn’t waiting for his problems to go away. The problem is his sin problem. When his sins are forgiven, he realizes sin broke his fellowship with God. He is waiting for feelings to follow the fact of reconciliation. He is waiting in faith for intimacy with God to be rebuilt. And it can be, through a life changed through the help of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Scripture.
He also realizes he’s not the only one with a sin problem who needs God’s forgiveness. He wants his fellow Israelites to know about this, too. After centuries of practicing animal sacrifices to “get right” with God, he yearns for them to go beyond the ritual to the reality of a relationship with the living God. The scripture says:“With the LORD is unfailing love” (v. 7b). He doesn’t sit in Heaven with walls of “bad stuff” files. He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins in our place. It’s sacrificial
“With him is full redemption” (v. 7c). He doesn’t merely shorten the list of burdensome offenses. It’s completely forgiven.
“He himself will redeem
|I post scripture in my work area, including|
this one that was so appropriate to Psalm 130.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23).
So here it is, tucked into a song that pilgrims chanted en route to the temple, the heart of animal sacrifice. Their offerings of lambs, goats or birds couldn’t give them full assurance of being right with God. There was always the nagging question: did I offer enough to cover all the wrongs I did?
Whether they realized it or not, Psalm 130 provides the answer: “with him [God] there is full redemption” (v. 7). Sometimes we have to hit the depths, bottom out, crash from our sins, before we can look up, into the face of our Redeemer.
Next: Psalm 133