Psalm 130

Psalm 130 contains a simple but profound message. In the midst of a desperate prayer for salvation the psalmist hits upon the most fundamental fact of life. He cries out from the depths of despair, guilt and torment and yet he acknowledges that God is right to keep a record of our sins and to hold them against us. And indeed no one who remains in this plight cannot stand in the end. Such a person will suffer an eternal curse under the just anger of God. But this is not the way God has planned for mankind. Here the adversative ‘but’ is worth emphasising. This could be the case and God could justly hold our sins against us, but he has freely and mercifully forgiven us, if indeed we shall receive this forgiveness in repentance and faith from him. In the light of the New Testament we see that this forgiveness if offered through the atoning death of Jesus Christ who is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (prefigured in the Old Testament sacrifices). Because of this says vs. 4b God is to be feared. This might seem very strange to us that forgiveness should lead to fear. Is not the peaceful father-child relationship with God the culmination of biblical redemption? What place does fear play in this? If there is ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ what is there to be afraid of? Can we not now come ‘boldly before the throne of grace’? Through the blood of Christ that cleanses us from sin we may now indeed come boldly before the throne of grace; we now have access before God into a relationship of unparalleled intimacy. Before trusting in Christ we certainly had good reason to fear God since apart from Christ we were still under his wrath. But now Jesus has taken God’s wrath away from us. Does this forgiveness in Christ therefore make the fear of the Lord defunct? Clearly this psalm teaches the opposite. The experience of forgiveness leads to the experience of the fear of God. How is this so? It is simply because forgiveness gives us direct access into the immediate presence of God. The very encounter with the infinite majesty of God that we have through Christ is the source of godly fear. The fear of the Lord is the experience of intimacy with transcendence. This in itself is a paradox since transcendence by definition involves being ‘far above’ and yet through Christ we are bought into a blissful and paradoxical tension of knowing the unknowable and relating intimately to the transcendent God.

Through this profound reflection upon the forgiveness of God the psalmist declares that he is going to wait upon the LORD (an active expression of trust) and that he is putting his hope in God’s word, that is, in God’s promise of redemption and blessing (vs. 5). Both the intensity and the assuredness of the psalmist’s expectation are beautifully expressed in the statement that he is waiting ‘more than the watchman waits for the morning.’ The night watch was a fearful time to wait through for the Jewish soldier. He might at any time be targeted by the enemy seeking to raid the city with a surprise attack. But as the watchman waited for the morning he was not waiting upon something that was uncertain. The sun always rises for the night watchmen and likewise God’s blessing always comes to those who wait patiently and expectantly.

The final section of the psalm is a call on the people of God to trust in God for their redemption. The redemption of God is ‘full redemption,’ that is, he will, in the end, save his people completely from their sins. For the Christian redemption is indeed a present experience but it is still very much in the future. The New Testament emphasises this in many places and it is easy to forget. Full redemption comes with the return of Christ and God wants us to look earnestly for this event ‘ ‘lift up your heads for your redemption is drawing near’ (Luke 21:28). We can tend to want everything now but the emphasis in scripture is upon then and indeed God may allow us to feel the curse of this life for a season so as to make us anticipate and long for the coming of Christ. This attitude of anticipation is hope and scripture teaches. That hope is born out of suffering (Rom.5:3,4). The object of Christian joy is also said to be the hope of Glory (Rom.5:2). This hope of glory comes from feeling the imperfections and frustrations of this present life (Rom.7:14ff). This is very much the case in this psalm. As the psalmist suffers in the depths his eyes are set firmly upon the hope of salvation from God. The prayer is both individual and corporate. Here the psalmist prays also on behalf of the people of Israel in the firm and assured hope that God ‘himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.’

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