Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Psalm 130: Mercy Found in the Depths

"But with You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared" (Psalm 130:4).

Psalm 130, a penitential psalm, has been one of the most loved psalms throughout all of church history. Great composers have set it to music. Great preachers and theologians have written on it. Like so many of the psalms, Psalm 130 gives us words to use when we are in deep distress.

The psalmist begins in the depths, near to death, near to sheol and the grave. He feels the weight of his sinfulness, and he calls to God, “Lord, hear my voice.” He continues his address to God in verses 3 and 4, saying that if God kept a record of our sins, none of us could stand before Him. But God forgives our sins, he says, and therefore God is feared.

This surprises us as modern Christians. We would understand it if he wrote that God is a God of wrath, and therefore He is feared. We would understand it if he wrote that God forgives sins, and therefore He is loved. But when the psalmist says that God is feared precisely because He forgives sins, that surprises us.

The psalmist, though, is amazed and humbled by God’s forgiveness. He is overwhelmed by the fact that God, who is infinite and all-powerful, would stoop to forgive his sins. His response is to fear God more than ever before.

There are two ways to “fear God.” Both involve true trembling at His greatness, but they run in opposite directions. There is the fear that is mixed with hatred, so that we flee from God. But there is also the fear that is mixed with love, so that we shyly and tremblingly seek to draw near to Him despite His great majesty.

The psalmist talks to himself in verses 5–6. He tells his soul to wait on God. Things are hard right now here in the depths, he says, but God is faithful. The psalmist tells himself to trust in God’s Word, for it promises that the dawn of redemption will come.

Then in closing the psalmist speaks to the congregation in verses 7–8. He tells Israel to hope in the Lord, because the Lord loves them and will redeem them. He tells them to hope in the coming Messiah, who will deliver Israel and the world from all their sins. Just so, we can look for the Messiah’s return and the fullness of our redemption in the resurrection.

This is a psalm that has been memorized by many of the church’s great saints. If you have never memorized it, copy it out today and start working on it.