Our text this morning is Psalm 130, one of the most
beloved and most important of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent.
It's more personal than most of the psalms in this group. It
doesn't sound like a chorus written for group singing. It
speaks with an individual voice (in first person singular).
What you hear right away in this psalm is a desperate plea
for help. The opening verses convey a tone of deep
loneliness and discouragement. This is a lamentation and a
plea for help from someone who is mired in the gloom of
guilt and deep depression. He feels like he is drowning in the
depths of a bottomless ocean and lost in utter darkness.
And here's what really intrigues me about this psalm: This
is the prayer of a believer. These are the words of someone
who knows the Lord. It is the song of a redeemed man in a
time of troubleCand it's trouble of his own making, which
makes his burden even more difficult to bear. This is clearly
not a cry for salvation from a lost soulClike the thief on the
cross, or the tax collector in the parable of Luke 18, who
"would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast,
saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'" The desperate tone
Colossians 3:3 2
of this psalm's opening verse sounds similar to that, but this
is a prayer for mercy from a believer who is seeing with
fresh eyes just how thoroughly sinful he is.
It doesn't really become clear until the second half of the
psalm that this plea for mercy is coming from the heart of a
person who knows the Lord. But it soon becomes clear that
he understands how willing God is to forgive sinners. Still,
he doesn't take God's grace for granted. He can't cavalierly
dismiss his own conscience when it smites him with a sense
of guilt and shame. He doesn't try to comfort himself with an
appeal to the doctrine of eternal security.
Every now and then I run into little pockets of people who
teach that since we are justified by faith and promised full
and free pardon for all our sinsCpast, present, and futureCwe
don't need to confess our sins or seek God's forgiveness
again. (Even though Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us each
day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins"Cthese guys seem
to think they know better.) Behind my office door I have a
"heresy" bookshelf where I keep books that I need to refer to
occasionally but would never recommend. There's a stack of
books there by authors who say Christians should never ask
God for forgiveness. That's an act of unbelief, they say, since
God has already granted us forgiveness. Here's an excerpt
from an author who teaches that. He says:
God wants us to have confidence before Him, and to be more
aware of our righteousness and His grace than of our
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shortcomings & mistakes. . . . How can we have boldness
before God if we have to grovel on our knees and plead
for the forgiveness of our sins every time we pray?
The psalmist sees things differently. He is going to make
it clear that he already trusts the Lord for full forgiveness. He
knows (v. 4) that "with [the Lord] there is forgiveness." He
ends this psalm with a triumphant expression of bold
confidence: "He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities."
But at the moment, the psalmist is utterly appalled and
depressed by his sin. That's what has him in the depths. He
feels his guilt. He knows deliberate disobedience is out of
place in the life of one who has been redeemed. After all
(v.4), one of the fruits of forgiveness is supposed to be a
reverential fear of God. But sin is the exact opposite of godly
fear. So the psalmist has not been acting like a believer
should act. His sense of holy confidence before God has been
shaken. And in a case such as this, those fears and emotions
are perfectly appropriate. This psalm is his response to God,
and it's a good one.
Prayer is never more real and acceptable than when it rises
out of the worst places. Deep places beget deep devotion.
Depths of earnestness are stirred by depths of tribulation.
Diamonds sparkle most amid the darkness. Prayer [out of
the depths] gives [glory to God in the highest].
Psalm 130. Here is the psalm:
Colossians 3:3 4
A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O
2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the
voice of my pleas for mercy!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who
4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I
6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the
morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is
steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
There's a note of something we have heard before in the
tone of this psalm. It reminds me of the prayer of Jonah, in
Jonah 2. That was literally a prayer "out of the
depths"Cperhaps coming from a lower depth (further below
sea level) than anyone had ever prayed before. I suppose in a
modern submarine you could reach a lower depth than
Jonah's and still be able to pray, but normally, prayer out of
the depths is a miraculous thing.
Think about this, and it will encourage you, I think: It
wouldn't be possible for us to pray at all when we're in the
depths if the Lord did not sovereignly protect and preserve
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us. Whether we're talking about depths of misery or literally
the lower parts of the ocean, deep places normally engulf and
put to silence anything that sinks into them. Jonah, for
example, could not have prayed without the Lord's
enablement. He would have drowned and his voice would
have been silenced forever. But the fish that swallowed
Jonah was a means of preservation and safety and correction
rather than an instrument of divine wrath or judgment. So
virtually all of Jonah 2 is a prayer sent up from out of the
depths. Listen to the opening words of Jonah's prayer:
Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the
2 saying, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and
he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you
heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your
billows passed over me.
Here in our text the psalmist prays, "Out of the depths I cry to
you, O LORD!" And just like the story of Jonah, it's clear from
the full context of our psalm that the Psalmist is in despair
because of some sin (or sins) he has committed. The guilt of
his failure is weighing heavily on him, and that is what has
thrust him into the depths of despair. Perhaps it is a habit he
has failed to mortify completely, or a sin so shameful that it
Colossians 3:3 6
belies his profession of faith in God. His assurance has been
shaken by it, and this prayer is his plea to God.
We know the issue is sin, because (verse 2), he is praying
for "mercy." The Hebrew text literally says, "Let your ears be
attentive to the voice of my supplication." And that word
"supplication" speaks of an earnest prayer for grace and
favor. The context here makes clear that he knows he is
seeking forgiveness, so the ESV gets the proper sense of it:
"Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!"
The psalmist is feeling the disgrace and despair that sin
brings. He acknowledges that he is guilty (v. 4): "If you, O
LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?"Cor to
paraphrase: "Lord, if you were counting my sins with an eye
toward judgment, I would be doomed a hundred times over."
This is a man in trouble, and the trouble is of his own
making. It is the fruit of his own sin. He's keenly aware of
that, and he's feeling the weight of his guiltCguilt like a
massive concrete sarcophagus, dragging him deeper into the
depths. The psalmist here is having the very same kind of
thoughts that provoked the apostle Paul in Romans 7 to say:
when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
23 but I see in my members another law waging war
against the law of my mind and making me captive to the
law of sin that dwells in my members.
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24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this
body of death?
Sounds like the same mood as the psalmist in our psalm,
right? In fact, those two passages make an interesting
comparison and contrast. As the apostle Paul ponders his
sin, he exclaims about what a wretched man he is. As the
psalmist ponders his sin, he exclaims about how remarkable
the Lord's redemption is. And you know what? They are both
right. Both of those are perfectly valid perspectives. And
both Paul and the psalmist clearly see both sides. It is
obvious from the psalm that the psalm-writer deeply senses
his own wretchedness. That feeling of wretchedness is what
has him in the depths. It is also apparent in Romans 7 that
Paul rejoices and rests in the Lord's redemption, because
immediately after lamenting how wretched he is, Paul says,
"Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"Cand then
he goes on to write an entire chapter about life in the Spirit
and the security of the one who trusts in the Lord.
But what both passages reveal is that it is perfectly
normalCand for any thoughtful believer, it's even a common
and inescapable responseCthat when we are sensitive to sin
and aware of our own fallenness (especially in the aftermath
of some egregious spiritual failure), we should sense a
degree of sorrow, and shame, and self-doubt. If you respond
to your own sin with nonchalance or indifference, you ought
to question your salvation. If your sin shatters your
Colossians 3:3 8
self-confidence and plunges you into the depthsCmaking
you feel like Jonah that you are in the very "belly of Sheol,"
here's a psalm that shows the way out.
Psalm 130 is one of seven penitential psalmsCpsalms of
repentance. Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143 all are
prayers for relief when we are weighed down by sin. Since
the time of the church fathers, those seven psalms have stood
out as models of how believers should confess their sin. And
it's fitting that the pilgrim psalms should include a psalm of
Unfortunately, medieval Catholicism ripped this psalm
out of context, and to this day, in Roman Catholic liturgy
Psalm 130 is used as a prayer for the souls of people in
purgatory. There's even an app for the Iphone called
"Catholic Meditations on Purgatory," and the promo for that
app says this: "Central to the app is Psalm 130, "De
Profundis," a traditional penitential psalm." De profundis, of
course, is Latin for "out of the depths," the opening words of
the psalm. Catholic priests intone the psalm in Latin as a
prayer for the dead.
I came across this 450-year-old comment by Solomon
Gesner, an early Lutheran commentator who lived one
generation after Luther. Gesner wrote a commentary on the
Psalms titled, Disquisitions on the Psalter. Here's what he
says about psalm 130:
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[This psalm] has been perverted to the most disgraceful
abuse in the Popedom . . . that it should be mumbled in
the lowest voice by slow bellies, in the sepulchral vigils
for their liberation of souls from purgatory: as if [the
Psalmist] were here treating of the dead, when he has not
even spoken a word about them . . . But leaving the
buffooneries of the Papists we will rather consider the true
meaning and use of the Psalm. . . .
And from there he writes his commentary on psalm 130.
Speaking of Lutherans, this psalm has always figured
large in Lutheran worship. Martin Luther himself loved
Psalm 130. He rejected the use of this psalm as a prayer for
the dead and embraced it as a perfect expression of his own
struggle with the fruits of human fallenness. Luther even
wrote a hymn based on it. In German, it's called Aus Tiefer
Not. I don't know why we don't sing this hymn anymore. It's
a great one. Here's the first stanza of the English translation:
From the depths of woe I raise to Thee, a voice of
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me, And hear my supplication.
If Thou iniquities dost mark, Our secret sins and misdeeds
O who shall stand before Thee?
Luther constantly went to Psalm 130 in times of trouble and
depression. He referred to it as a Pauline psalm, because it
Colossians 3:3 10
echoes so many of the same doctrinal themes that reverberate
through Paul's epistles.
In 1530, Protestantism was on trial at the Diet of
Augsburg. That was an imperial meeting convened by the
rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. Luther was forbidden to
attend by his liege lord, the Duke of SaxonyCbecause the
Duke was afraid Luther would be imprisoned or burnt as a
heretic by Roman Catholic authorities. So Luther spent six
months holed up in the castle of Coburg, translating the
Bible into German.
Cut off from fresh air and exercise, Luther (who was
prone to melancholy), suffered from depression and
migraines so severe that one night he fainted. When he
regained consciousness, Luther said to his friends, "Come,
let us sing that Psalm, 'Out of the depths' . . . in derision of
the devil." He said he believed the message of that psalm
would severely hurt the devil's feelings.
A hundred ninety-four years later, another Lutheran,
Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a Cantata based on Luther's
hymn version of this psalm. In our generation, an Anglican
composer, John Rutter, made Psalm 130 the second
movement of his Requiem. So the musical pedigree of this
psalm is long and rich.
John Owen, the great Puritan theologian, in all his
voluminous writings, wrote only two works of
verse-by-verse exposition. One was a massive seven-volume
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commentary on the book of Hebrews. The other was a
325-page exposition of Psalm 130.
For John Owen, this psalm marked a major turning point
in his life and ministry. He says he ministered for several
years without fully grasping what it meant to have access to
God through Christ. Then, Owen says,
The Lord was pleased to visit me with sore affliction,
whereby I was brought to the mouth of the grave, and
under which my soul was oppressed with horror and
darkness; but God graciously relieved my spirit by a
powerful application of Psalm 130:4, "But there is
forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared."
Evidently, Owen was describing an experience fairly early
in his ministry when he had a crisis of confidence. He lost
his assurance. He came to a point of despair in the midst of
some affliction where he doubted his salvation. I gather some
sin or spiritual lapse of his own was at the root of it, and
that's why this particular psalm showed him the way out.
Because that is the whole point of the psalm: it shows the
way up out of personal defeat and discouragement back into
the bright light of full assurance.
If you're someone who is easily shaken by your own
failures, so that you have difficulty finding settled assurance,
you ought to memorize this psalm. You can recite the words
of this text in derision of the devil every time the accuser
Colossians 3:3 12
points to some inconsistency or transgression in your life and
tries to tell you your faith is in vain.
Now look at the structure of the psalm. It divides evenly
into four strophes of two verses each, and each section has a
different tone. Each stanza is brighter than the last. So the
Psalm moves us from the depths to the heights by degrees.
It's a perfect psalm for an uphill journey. Although it starts
on a depressing note, it ends with one of the most uplifting
choruses in this whole collection.
Here's the breakdown: Verses 1-2 are a cry to God; verses
3-4 are a confession of guilt; verses 5-6 are a crescendo of
gladness; and verses 7-8 are a chorus about the gospel. In the
first two verses the psalmist is pleading. The next two verses
find him trusting. Verses 5-6 are all about waiting. And in
verses 7-8, the theme is hoping.
And we progress from contrition to humility to hopeCand
each mood provides fuel for the next. His contrition humbles
him; his humility provokes him to wait; and while he is
waiting, he finds hope. And as we will see, it's not a vague,
wishful hope. It is a settled rest in the knowledge that "with
the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful
redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities."
So let's look at these stanzas one at a time. First is:
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1. A CRY TO GOD (1-2)
Next to the famous opening line of Psalm 22 ("My God, my
God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from
saving me, from the words of my groaning?"), this may be the
most forlorn and desperate line in all the psalms: "Out of the
depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your
ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!"
This is the song of a redeemed man in trouble, and as
we've said, it is trouble of his own making. He has been
brought low, and he knows it was by his own fault, so his
prayer is a prayer for mercy. This is not (like Psalms 120 and
129) the plea of someone afflicted by wicked enemies. It's
not like Psalm 17, which starts out, "Hear a just cause, O
LORD; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of
This is a cry from someone who knows he has brought
trouble on himself by his sin. It is his own guilt that has
brought him into the depths of depression, desperation, and
disconsolation. He is greatly burdened by itCand there is a
note of helplessness in the plea. Whatever self-confidence
got him into this predicament is shot. He has reached the end
He is like the Prodigal Son. Luke 15:16-17 says of the
Prodigal Son, "He was longing to be fed with the pods that the
pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. But . . . he came to
himself"Cmeaning "he came to his senses."
Colossians 3:3 14
But when we have to be brought to our senses by the
consequences of our own sin, it's a pretty dismal awakening.
No soul could ever sink into a darker or more distressing
depth than the pit of sin. The descent usually starts slowly,
gradually, almost imperceptibly. Sin looks enticing,
pleasurable, and there seems so little danger if we just dip a
toe in it. That feels so good, why not go wading ankle deep?
That's no big deal, we think. But sin is a thick, sucking
quicksand bordered by steep, slippery banks. And we don't
even begin to sense the danger until we are already in over
Sin always promises pleasures. Scripture even
acknowledges that there are "fleeting pleasures [that can be
derived from] sin." But the aftermath of sin is nothing but
gloom and sorrowCand "the wages of sin is death." The
solicitation to sin always points to those "fleeting pleasures."
It's an appeal to the flesh. In the words of James 1:14-15:
"Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his
own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin,
and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." That is what
Scripture calls "the deceitfulness of sin."
The psalmist has fallen into some sin, and he is now sunk
deep in itCwell over his head. Whatever pleasure he was
promised at first is now gone, and all he is left with is
horrible shame, the relentless voice of a troubled conscience,
and a savage sense of regret. He is in the dark depths of
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gloom and guiltCweighed down by the knowledge that his
despair is the fruit of his own folly. He feels the dishonor of
it. He thinks he has alienated himself from God. Jonah
described the very same feeling in his prayer from inside the
fish. Jonah 2:4: "Then I said, 'I am driven away from your
sight.'" It feels like he is on the very doorstep of hell. It
seems like there is no way up.
And if you have ever reached that point in your own
experience, you understand how God, who sits on high, can
seem remote and unreachable from such a depth. That's what
prompts the plea of verse 2: "O Lord, hear my voice! Let your
ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!" There's a
desperate urgency there that even two exclamation marks
God is not really remote. As David says in Psalm 39,
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the
uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right
hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the
light about me be night,"
12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright
as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
Now notice the nature of the psalmist's plea in our psalm.
It's not a plea of innocence. He is not pleading his own case.
Colossians 3:3 16
He's not protesting that he doesn't deserve to be brought so
low. This is an appeal to the Lord for mercy. He speaks of it
in the plural: "my pleas for mercy." "Supplications"Cplural. It
is as if he is begging, imploring the Lord with repeated
petitions for clemency, though he knows he has no righteous
claim to forgiveness.
This is not at all like those other psalms where the
psalmist beseeches God to overthrow some enemy or make
right some horrible injustice. This time it's mercy he wants,
not justice. There's a clearly implied confession of guilt in
And stanza 2 takes up that theme. Stay with me here,
especially if you like to take down the outline. Here it is:
Those first two verses are a cry to God. Verses 2-3 are:
2. A CONFESSION OF GUILT (3-4)
As he contemplates his guilt (set against the backdrop of a
holy God whose righteousness rules out any and every
imperfection) the psalmist realizes the utter hopelessness of
trying to remedy his own sin or measure up to the divine
And he realizes he's not alone. All humanity is in the same
The average person foolishly sees that as a reason for
self-confidence. They think, Well, I'm not as bad as most
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people. I'll be OK. God will overlook all but the very worst
sins. If I do my best, God will surely accept that.
But He wont. Unless you are absolutely perfect (and trust
me: you're not), your "best" will not be good enough to earn
God's approval. Jesus said, "You . . . must be perfect [How
perfect?] As your heavenly Father is perfect." That's Matthew
5:48, and it comes in a context where Jesus had already said
(v. 20): "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes
and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Of
all the rigorous denominations who ever claimed to follow
Scripture to the letter, they were the most religious, most
meticulously painstaking in their observation of legal
minutiae. And Jesus said they weren't fit for heaven.
The psalmist gets that. Verse 3: "If you, O LORD, should
mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" To paraphrase: If
the Lord kept a careful record of sins, no one would be able
to stand before Him.
Here's the problem for unbelievers: The Lord does keep a
meticulous record of sins. Not one transgression ever escapes
His omniscient notice. Scripture says even all our secret sins
will one day be exposed, and "on the day of judgment people
will give account for every careless word they speak." That's
what Jesus Himself said in Matthew 12:36. "Every idle word
that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day
of judgment." Luke 12:2-3: "Nothing is covered up that will not
be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore
Colossians 3:3 18
whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light,
and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be
proclaimed on the housetops." God sees and hears and knows
everything. Hebrews 4:13: "And no creature is hidden from his
sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom
we must give account."
Furthermore, Ecclesiastes 12:14: "God will bring every
deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or
evil." And in Exodus 23:7, God says, "I will not acquit the
The psalmist is well aware of all that. He knows that God
does keep a record of sin, and because God is righteous,
(Psalm 1:5) "the wicked will not stand in the judgment."
But here's our first clue that this psalm is from the heart of
a genuine believer. He also knows that God has promised to
blot out the record of sins on behalf of all who come to Him
in repentant faith. Isaiah 43:25, God speaking, says: "I, I am
he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will
not remember your sins." A chapter later in Isaiah 44:22, He
says, "I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and
your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you."
Isaiah 1:18: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as
white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall
become like wool." Jeremiah 31:34: "I will forgive their iniquity,
and I will remember their sin no more."
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And my favorite of all these promises, Micah 7:19: "He
will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities
underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea."
He pulls the believer up out of the depths, but He leaves the
The promise is not that God will literally forget what we
have done. Omniscience is one of the attributes of deity, and
He doesn't divest Himself of it. You see an example of this at
the end of David's life. David was forgiven for his sin with
Bathsheba and his treachery against her husband Uriah. And
yet there's an epitaph in 1 Kings 15 describing David's
faithful life, and it mentions "the matter of Uriah the Hittite" as
an egregious exception to an otherwise faithful life. God did
not literally forget that it happened; but He graciously passed
over the guilt of it, imputing that guilt to Christ, who died to
pay the penalty of the sins of His people. Thus God
eliminated David's guilt foreverCblotting it out of His
That's how forgiveness always works. God does not
simply overlook sin or pretend it never happened. He erases
the guilt by bearing sin's penalty Himself in the person of
Christ, our perfect substitute. Christ thus paid the price of sin
in fullCsatisfying the demands of justice, pacifying the wrath
of God against sin, and blotting out our guilt. So God can be
faithful to His gracious promise of mercy and yet not
compromise His impeccable justice.
Colossians 3:3 20
It is perfect justice, because every sin is ultimately paid
forCone way or the other. Christ died for the sins of those
who trust Him. Unrepentant sinners will reap the wages of
their own sin throughout eternity.
The psalmist had no understanding of how Christ would
offer one sacrifice for sins forever. That mystery was hidden
until Christ revealed it. But the psalmist knew by faith that
God is both faithful and just. In fact, this whole psalm is a
perfect illustration of that familiar promise in 1 John 1:9: "If
we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Whatever the limitations of his understanding, the
psalmist knew enough to claim the promise of forgiveness.
He knew from the Old Testament Scriptures that God is
"good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call
upon [Him]." He had access to many promises in Scripture
where sinners are told they can find mercy by turning to the
Lord. Isaiah 55:7: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the
unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that
he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will
abundantly pardon." Isaiah 43:25 (God speaking, says): "I, I
am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I
will not remember your sins." Numbers 14:18: "The LORD is
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity
and transgression." Psalm 86:5: "You, O Lord, are good and
forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you."
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I could go on for a long time, quoting Old Testament texts
about the Lord's eagerness to forgive. The writer of this
psalm was clearly familiar with that truth, and it became a
lifeline to him there in the depths.
Look at verse 4: "But with you there is forgiveness, that you
may be feared." I thought long and hard about that verse. At
first glance it seems paradoxical. It's clearly an inspired
thought, not the product of human wisdom. The carnal mind
would be inclined to say, "With you there is forgiveness, so I
don't need to fear." Indeed, that's the spirit behind this false
teaching that Christians never need to ask for forgiveness or
confess their sin. It's antithetical to the psalmist's attitude.
Here's what he is saying in verse 4: Only God can forgive
sin. Pardon and cleansing from sin cannot be obtained from
any other source. We can't earn forgiveness for ourselves.
Only God can grant it. There is no better reason to fear God.
We are doomed without His forgiveness.
And listen to Proverbs 8:13: "The fear of the LORD is
hatred of evil." Put that next to Psalm 36:1: "Transgression
speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God
before his eyes." This kind of fear is a holy horror at the
thought of God's displeasure. It's the spirit that lies at the
heart of true reverence for God. I hesitate to use that word
"reverence," as a definition of fear, because so many people
use it to gloss over the whole idea of fear. This is not the sort
of artificial atmospheric "reverence" we associate with
Colossians 3:3 22
high-church liturgyCdecorated with candles, incense, and
priestly vestments. It's a sanctified apprehension of God's
majesty. It causes the believer to recoil at the very notion of
trifling with God, or taking His mercy for granted, or
"turn[ing] the grace of our God into licentiousness." There's a
genuine, holy terror in the idea. You hear an echo of this
kind of fear in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans
6:1-2: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that
grace may abound? God forbid[!]"
It's not chicken-hearted or irrational fear, but it's a true
fear nonetheless. It's not the fear of superstition; it is a
legitimate, sensible spirit of overwhelming awe in the
presence of God. And this kind of fear is not incompatible
with the biblical admonition to "come boldly unto the throne
In fact, notice the verse that immediately follows: "I wait
for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope." I'm
intrigued by the close juxtaposition of two polar opposite
dispositionsCfear and hope. The fear is rooted in the fact that
we know the gravity of our sin; we know what it really
deserves. The hope is because we have laid hold of the
promise of mercy, which we don't deserveCbut we have full
trust in the faithfulness of God.
That's exactly how the psalmist is thinking. His heart was
clearly calmed as he recited the truth of God's eagerness to
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forgive. There's a distinct and very sudden change in mood
with verse 5, and that gets us to stanza 3 of this psalm.
Here's our outline: He starts (verses 1-2) with a cry to
God. That gives way (verses 3-4) to a confession of guilt.
Now stanza 3, verses 5-6. We'll call it:
3. A CRESCENDO OF GLADNESS (5-6)
The theme of this stanza is waiting. Verse 5: "I wait for the
LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope." He has gone
from sheer desperation in verse 1 to an almost supernatural
optimism in verses 5-6. I almost said "patience," but there's
really nothing patient about this. He's eager. He's not
impatient in any negative sense, but it's clear that he longs to
see full redemption soon. I love the poetic imagery of verse
6: "my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the
morning, more than watchmen for the morning." He says it
twice to emphasize the urgency of his expectation. The
rhythm in the original Hebrew is elegant. A literal translation
would be: "My soul is for the Lord, More than those watching
for morning, Watching for morning!"
The picture he draws is of a watchman in the final watch
of the night. I used to be a night watchman in (of all places) a
funeral home. When you're alone and awake at night, the
morning comes much more slowly than when you're asleep
and not particularly eager to get up. These days, I'm hardly
ever eager for morning to come speedily. But when I was
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working that job, the wait for sunrise seemed grueling. You
don't know what expectation feels like if you have never
been in that situation.
What he's expressing here is an eagerness for the Lord to
intervene and lift him permanently out of the depths and into
perfect glory. He longs for that. Actually, it's not an event
that he hopes for, but the Lord Himself. "My soul waits for the
Lord." In the meantime, he is nurturing a sense of profound
hope. He knows redemption is coming.
Notice (v. 5): his hope is grounded in the Word of God.
That is the only secure place for our hopes to be
anchoredCnot in the philosophies of the worldly-wise, or the
wild prophecies of charismatic charlatans, or military might,
or political clout, or any of the other things people typically
anchor their hopes in. All those things change constantly and
they will ultimately pass away. But the Word of God stands,
unchanged and unchanging, eternally. Luke 16:17: "It is
easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the
Law to become void." First Peter 1:24-25: "All flesh is like
grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers,
and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever."
Furthermore, God has "magnified [His] word above [His]
name." "Scripture cannot be broken." Hope in the Word of
God is as sure as the immutable character of our glorious
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The earnest expectation described in this stanza is
something every genuine believer can relate to. It's the realm
in which true believers live, "waiting for our blessed hope, the
appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus
Christ." (That's Titus 2:13). "Our citizenship is in heaven, and
from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians
3:20). And according to 2 Peter 3:12, an eager expectation of
the Lord's return defines "what sort of people [we ought] to be
in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the
coming of the day of God." In fact, according to Romans 8:19,
"[all] creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the
sons of God."
Everything about that hopeful longing should energize
and stimulate our sanctification. It encourages us and stirs us
up "to love and good works . . . and all the more as [we] see the
Day drawing near."
By now the psalmist is so full of hope that his heart is
gladdened and his tongue is loosed and he closes the psalm
with a chorus calling all Israel to share his hope.
Notice: in the short span of these eight verses, the
psalmist has run the gamut of emotionsCfrom the depths to
the heights. The only circumstance that has changed is that
he has laid hold of God's mercy by faith.
It's a perfect illustration of how the gospel brings us up
"out of [a] horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and [sets our] feet
upon a rock." That's what is celebrated in the final stanza.
Colossians 3:3 26
So to review: stanza 1 is a cry to God; stanza 2 is a
confession of guilt; stanza 3 is a crescendo of gladness. Now
the closing stanza:
4. A CHORUS ABOUT THE GOSPEL (7-8)
I love the confidence in these two closing verses. And
notice the sudden shift in perspective. The previous stanzas
were peppered with first-person singular pronouns "I cry";
"hear my voice . . . my pleas for mercy!" "I wait . . . my soul
waits . . . I hope." His attention turns now outward: "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."
Notice what he celebrates. He mentions two things: the
Lord's "steadfast love." That's the root of gospel truth. And
"plentiful redemption." That's what God's steadfast love
procures for His people.
I like that expression "plentiful redemption." That's what he
was praying for in verses 1-2. By faith he has laid hold of it,
and he wants the whole nation to join him in celebration.
For those who may worry that their sins are greater than
the grace of GodCnot so. "With him is plentiful redemption."
That echoes Isaiah 55:7: "He will abundantly pardon." We
worship "a God [who is] merciful and gracious, slow to anger
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." His grace is
greater than all our sin.
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"And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities." There's a
prophetic sense in that promise, of course. It looks forward to
a time when national Israel will be grafted back into the olive
branch, and in the words of Paul from Romans 11:26: "And
[so] all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will
come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.'"
But the psalmist's main point here is not to lay out a
prophetic chart outlining the future. He is urging his spiritual
brethren, the true people of God, the real offspring of
Abraham, to "hope in the LORD!" His point simply is that
God's promise of full and final redemption will eventually
come to full fruition.
In the meantime, we hope. And you understand, I think,
that when the Bible speaks of hope it's talking about
forward-looking, settled, confident faith. It's not a maybe or
an uncertain wish, but a secure promise. In this case, it is the
promise of full redemption: "He will redeem Israel from all his
iniquities." Not only from the guilt and punishment and
consequences of sin; this is a hope for full, final redemption
from sin's power and dominionCand even more than that, we
look forward to an eternity of pure freedom from the very
existence of sin.
Meanwhile, we hope in the Lord, knowing that because of
His "steadfast love, and . . . plentiful redemption," we don't
have to languish in the depths. If our hope is anchored in
God's Word; if we long for Him "more than watchmen for the
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morning"; if we have laid hold of His forgiveness by
repentant faith, then Scripture says He has "blessed us in
Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." He
has "raised us up with him and seated us with him in the
heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he
might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness
toward us in Christ Jesus." Live in that light. Reckon it to be
true. "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."