Psalms of Ascent: Psalm 130

gawlerbapPsalms of Ascent

Psalm 130 Good morning and welcome to the first Sunday of 2018! First week gone and our family have already celebrated 2 birthdays!!

Psalm 130, although one of the 15 Psalms of Ascent (120-134), is also noted as a repenting Psalm (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).  Pope Innocent III ordered that the repenting Psalms be prayed while kneeling each day of the Lenten season, or at least every Friday.   It was to serve as a reminder of how vast the gap is between God’s goodness and humanity’s sin.  It was also a reminder that with God there is forgiveness and deliverance.   A precis of this psalm could read as: Praying, hoping, waiting for God’s help, the psalmist’s attitude is one of eager trust. He implores Israel to trust as he does, for the Lord will save his people from the mess their sins have brought them to.

Have you ever felt like you were in over your head with something, as if in deep water? Certainly, it seems the psalmist felt this way! If you’ve been in the surf and been “dumped”, overpowered by a wave, you can perhaps gain an understanding of how the psalmist was possibly feeling. However, while we can’t know what exactly had been the psalmist’s dilemma at the time of writing, Scripture does not tell us, it does appear that although the Hebrew word used for “the depths” refers to the depths of the seas, specifically, being caught in dangerous and deep waters, the phrase is probably used here in a figurative way and refers to troubles, trials, misfortunes.  A little story attached to this Psalm is that John Wesley was deeply moved by it.  One afternoon in St Paul’s Cathedral, he heard this Psalm read and it touched him.  That same evening, Wesley was converted at a London meeting house in 1738. The cry of the psalmist, it seems, was also Wesley’s cry.   How will it speak to us?

It’s a rather dramatic beginning—HELP!

The psalmist is in dire straits, though as mentioned earlier, we are not given the particular nature of his troubles, his distress.  Would it help us if we knew?  Is there a reason for this omission?  I think a fair comment would be that the psalms “are meant to be used in a multitude of situations”.  For whatever the reason, from his place of despair the psalmist calls out to God— Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!  He pleads with God to answer his prayer.

O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

Sin has a habit of sitting on us like a heavy weight and dragging us to the depths.  We might not immediately recognise it, but sin weighs us down.  But you know what … we too can cry out to God from the depths of our despair, disappointments, guilt, suffering, no matter what the cause.  We can, because God made us for the heights, not depths.  When we are in the depths we can cry out to the Lord—though we probably often forget to do this—but He never forgets us, and He does not give up on us.

Hint 1: keep crying out to God in your crisis.

Moving to verses 3 & 4 it appears the psalmist is attributing his current suffering to sin: If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

The word “mark” as used here is “to observe and keep a record”.  So, the psalmist is aware of sin in his life.  Have you thought about the awareness of sin in today’s world?  It’s as though we’ve deleted the word sin from our vocabulary.  Do we think about it in our own lives?  If we live our lives—even part of our lives—with little awareness of God, the huge risk is that because we abolish God, our awareness of sin is also abolished because sin is defined only in relationship to God.  Anne Graham Lotz, in answering a question in an interview replied: For years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?

Do we realise how desperate our condition is when we are apart from God?  God’s fury is real and impending.  The psalmist appeals to God’s record of forgiveness.  No one could survive if God remembered sins.  The Message translates what Paul wrote in Romans 3:10-12 as: There’s nobody living right, not even one, nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God. They’ve all taken the wrong turn; they’ve all wandered down blind alleys. No one’s living right; I can’t find a single one.  The fact that we humans still exists means God forgives.

Then the BUT!  It’s a good but though!  The good news is that there is forgiveness in God.  Verse 4 in the ESV says: But with you there is forgiveness,—that you may be feared. The Message says: … that’s why you’re worshipped.  There is a purpose here—forgiven sinners respect God.  Forgiveness might not come with other people, you might not be able to forgive yourself, but God is the One who will forgive.  If asked, He will remove our sins as far as the east is from the west—Psalm 103:12; he will put them behind His back—Isaiah 38:17; throw them into the sea—Micah 7:19; He doesn’t hold our sin against us any more—Hebrews 10:17.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking God simply overlooks sin.  It’s not a case of—I know, I blew it, but I claimed 1 John 1:9 and it’s all good.  That seems a pretty flippant and shallow view of forgiveness to me.  If we take seriously the guilt of sin, we will take seriously the grace of forgiveness.  Our freedom from sin comes with a serious and costly transaction—it cost God His Son; Christ died on the cross for our sins.  Spurgeon said that “Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour”.  Genuine repentance is being sorry enough to do something about it. God’s forgiveness is inclusive, for now, for those who want it and it leads to godly living.  Spurgeon translated verse 4 as: There is forgiveness with Thee, that thou mayest be loved and worshipped and served.

Hint 2: keep standing on God’s salvation.

Verses 5 & 6 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

The word “hope” in verse 5 gives a sense of “patient expecting, anticipating or waiting.  The psalmist is confident and waits expectantly.  When the Lord forgives a sinner it’s something like the dawning of a new day as they move from darkness into God’s wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).  They become content to wait and see what the Lord has in store for them that day.  And so with the psalmist—he waits for the Lord.  It is personal—my soul waits.  It is intense—more intense than the watchmen on the wall.  The watchmen on the city walls were there to look through the darkness and detect any approaching danger.  They couldn’t make the dawn come any quicker but there was always great joy when the city was safely through another night.  The phrase is repeated for emphasis, to make us stop and think about this—it’s important.  Wait expectantly and with certainty—God will appear.  Just as the watchmen are alert as they wait for the sun to rise, so the psalmist is alert, expecting God’s forgiveness.

Hint 3: keep looking for the Lord to help you.

O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

The psalmist doesn’t just think about himself.  We see in these last two verses that he is concerned about others, despite how he may be feeling.  He is concerned for his community—Israel.  We can perhaps wonder if this also included his thinking about his family and immediate community.  He turns from personal dilemma to encouraging Israel to put their hope in God too.  Israel ought to put their hope in God for forgiveness and easing of suffering—God will restore the broken relationship with Israel.  Just as the psalmist showed concern for others, so God wants us to show the same concern today.  Each of us knows that there are people today being buffeted by life’s storms.  They may be struggling emotionally, spiritually, financially, or all three.  Perhaps they feel their life is in a million pieces.  These people will look for help, for love, for hope—they wait.  On the other hand, we know God; we know He loves us; we know that where He is there is hope.  Life can and does bring us heartaches.  We, as the church, must share what we know—we ought not to be waiting for others to get involved or for the problem to go away.  It’s our time to serve.

Hint 4: keep holding out hope to others.

So, how has Psalm 130 spoken to you?  I pray it encourages you to not give up.  I pray it encourages you to:

  • Keep crying out to God in your crisis;
  • Keep standing on God’s salvation;
  • Keep looking to the Lord to help you;
  • Keep holding out hope to others.

May you know the safety and comfort of being held in God’s hands. Amen. O [your name] put your hope in the lord, for with the lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 

Bibliography Alexander, Pat & David (Eds.) 2009. The Lion Handbook to the Bible. Lion Hudson plc. Oxford, England.
Anderson, A.A., 1972. Psalms (73-150). Marshall, Morgan & Scott, England.
Bailey, Gaither, 2009. Waiting.
Boice, James Montgomery, 1988. Psalms Volume 3: Psalms 107-150. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Crandall, Rick 2009. When You Wind Up Over Your Head Series.
deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Jacobson, Rolf A., & Tanner, Beth La Neel, 2014. The Book of Psalms. Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Holdsworth, Christopher 2017. Waiting in Hope Series.
Longman, Tremper III, 2014. Psalms. Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, England.
Shepherd, Steve, 2013. A Record of Sins Series.
Lotz, Anne Graham
Wiersbe, Warren, W., 2004. Be Exultant: Psalms 90-150. David C Cook, Colorado Springs, USA.
Wilcock. Michael, 2001. The Message of psalms 73-150. Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, England.

The audio for this sermon can be found here.