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Psalm 130 Biblical Commentary:
In the first four verses, the psalmist addresses Yahweh. In the last four verses, he addresses Israel.
A Song of Ascents.
This is one of 15 psalms (120-134) that begin with this superscription. These psalms may have been sung by pilgrims ascending the road to Jerusalem (which was on a mountain) for the three great festivals: Passover, the Feast of Weeks (which we know as Pentecost), and the Feast of Tabernacles.
Or Levites may have sung them as they ascended the fifteen steps to the temple.
PSALM 130:1-2. OUT OF THE DEPTHS
1 Out of the depths I have cried to you, Yahweh.
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my petitions.
“Out of the depths (Hebrew: ma‘amaggiym) I have cried to you, Yahweh” (v. 1). The word ma‘amaggiym is used for deep mud that mires one’s feet (Psalm 69:2) and deep waters that overwhelm the sailor and his cargo (Ezekiel 27:34).
Those images are helpful here, because the psalmist is writing, not about mud or water, but about something (we know not what) that has overwhelmed him––even as deep water overwhelms.
- Perhaps the thing that has engulfed the psalmist is a direct outgrowth of his sins (v. 3).
- Or some kind of personal or financial ruin.
- Or threats from enemies.
- Or depression that overwhelmed the psalmist with darkness and gloom.
It matters not the circumstances that prompted the psalmist’s anguish. We have all found ourselves in the abyss of despair at some point, and can empathize with the psalmist’s despair. The preacher can use this to good effect if he/she can help the congregation to feel the psalmist’s despair. They have known despair, and can find strength in the psalmist’s plea for help––and his hope––and, at the end, his assurance.
“Lord, hear (Hebrew: sama) my voice.
Let your ears be attentive (Hebrew: qassab) to the voice of my petitions” (v. 2). The psalmist’s initial plea is simply that Yahweh might listen to him. He first asks Yahweh to hear (sama) his voice, and then expresses his plea more vividly by asking Yahweh to “let (Yahweh’s) ears be attentive (qassab) to (the psalmist’s) petitions.”
In this instance, sama (hear) means more than just hearing. It has the added dimension of taking seriously what is heard––and responding to what is asked.
The word qassab means attentive, and evokes the idea of being responsive or caring. The psalmist is asking Yahweh not only to hear his pleas, but to care and respond.
The psalmist asks Yahweh to care enough to turn his ear in the psalmist’s direction so that Yahweh might hear better.
PSALM 130:3-4. THERE IS FORGIVENESS WITH YOU
3 If you, Yah, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
therefore you are feared.
“If you, Yah (Hebrew: yah), kept a record of (Hebrew: samar) sins” (v. 3a). The Hebrew word yah is an abbreviated form of Yahweh (the name of God, often translated “the Lord.”) It is found twice in Exodus (15:2; 17:16), once in Isaiah (38:11), and a number of times in the Psalms.
The word samar (keep a record of) has a number of meanings. The ones most applicable here are to watch, keep, preserve, or pay close attention. The psalmist is saying that, if Yahweh keeps a close watch on our sins, if he preserves them and pays close attention to them, we don’t have a chance.
We can appreciate the psalmist’s sentiment. What a nightmare it would be to die and find ourselves standing before God, whose thick book recounted in eloquent detail our sins from birth to death. How hopeless we would feel if we had to listen to a full reading of that record.
“Lord, who could stand?” (Hebrew: ‘amad) (v. 3). The word ‘amar (stand) means to stand or endure. We would be wholly defenseless if God kept such a record. We would wither and die under the heat of his judgment. We could not endure.
“But there is forgiveness with you” (v. 4a). The good news is:
“Though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow.
Though they be red like crimson,
they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
The good news is:
“God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish,
but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“therefore you are feared” (Hebrew: yare) (v. 4b). The word yare (feared) means feared, respected, or reverenced. Reverenced would be a better choice for this verse.
PSALM 130:5-6. MY SOUL LONGS FOR THE LORD
5 I wait for Yahweh.
My soul waits.
I hope in his word.
6 My soul longs for the Lord more than watchmen long for the morning;
more than watchmen for the morning.
“I wait (Hebrew: qawah) for Yahweh” (v. 5a). The word qawah means wait for or look for or hope for.
“My soul (Hebrew: nepes) waits” (Hebrew: qawah) (v. 5b). This repeats the thought of this verse’s first line, but with an important addition––the word nepes (soul or life). That word adds a winsome feel––a yearning. The psalmist’s waiting stems from the depths of his being––his soul––his life.
Listening to the psalmist reminds me of the father of the prodigal son. The father’s eyes had searched the road for a glimpse of his son. When his son finally approached, the father saw him from a distance and RAN to greet him––RAN, not walked. Overwhelmed with compassion, the father threw his arms around his son and welcomed him home (Luke 15:20).
The psalmist is like that––waiting, looking, hoping––examining the turn of every leaf in the hope that the motion will signal the Lord’s appearance.
“I hope (Hebrew: yahal) in his word” (v. 5c). The word yahal also means wait, but is often used in the psalms for waiting hopefully––waiting in faith (33:18; 38:15; 42:5).
God’s word is POWERFUL. In the creation, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). By his word, God created an expanse, gathered the waters together in one place, brought forth vegetation, put lights in the sky, and created animals and humans (Genesis 1:6-27).
God’s word is TRUSTWORTHY. If the psalmist needs something to guide him––a north star that will lead him home––God’s word can do that.
God’s word is REDEMPTIVE. If a person has strayed from the fold, God’s purpose is not to punish but to bring him back to the safety of the flock.
“My soul longs for the Lord
more than watchmen long for the morning;
more than watchmen for the morning” (v. 6). Although I served many years as an army chaplain, I didn’t have to pull guard duty. I did, however, talk to young soldiers who did that. It was some of the most difficult duty that a soldier was required to pull. It was solitary. Quiet. Lonely. The soldier would spend hours trying to see things that were seldom there––but that posed terrible danger if they were. It was hard to stay awake––hard to stay focused. Sometimes it was terrifying.
When the morning light appeared, the soldier could see. The light ushered in a day of relative safety. With daybreak there would be a changing of the guard, so the soldier who had been straining to see through darkness would be free to eat and sleep.
Just imagine how that guard, through the hours of darkness, would yearn to see light appearing over the horizon.
The psalmist says that he has experienced that kind of painful yearning as he waited for the Lord.
PSALM 130:7-8. WITH YAHWEH THERE IS REDEMPTION
7 Israel, hope in Yahweh,
for with Yahweh there is loving kindness.
With him is abundant redemption.
8 He will redeem Israel from all their sins.
“Israel, hope in Yahweh,
for with Yahweh there is loving kindness” (Hebrew: hesed) (v. 7a). The psalmist, who has expressed his personal hope in Yahweh, now calls Israel to share that hope. He reminds Israel that, with Yahweh, there is (1) loving kindness and (2) redemption.
The word hesed means loving, kind, and merciful. One of the chief characteristics of God is that his love is enduring. He established a covenant with Abram and Abram’s descendants, and remained Israel’s covenant God through thick and thin. When they sinned he punished them, but not to destroy them but to redeem them. His love never faltered.
“With him is abundant redemption” (Hebrew pedut) (v. 7b). The word pedut means ransom or redemption. Redemption involves bringing liberty to a captive, usually through the payment of a price (a ransom). While pedut could mean deliverance from any adversity, it especially brings to mind the Exodus––redemption from slavery and movement toward the Promised Land.
“He will redeem (Hebrew: padah) Israel from all their sins” (v. 8). The verb padah means ransom, redeem, or deliver, and is related to the noun, pedut (see the comments on verse 7b above).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Anderson, A.A., The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms 73-150 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
Broyles, Craig C., New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999
Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984)
Clifford, Richard J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003)
DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy; Jacobson, Rolf A.; Tanner, Beth Laneel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)
Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)
Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150, Vol. 14b (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Limburg, James, Westminster Bible Companion: Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000
Mays, James Luther, Interpretation: Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994)
McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Ross, Allen P., A Commentary on the Psalms, 90-150, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2016)
Tate, Marvin E., Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word Books, 1990)
Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006)
DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS & LEXICONS:
Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)
Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)
Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)
Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)
Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)
Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006)
Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)
Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009)
VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)
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Copyright 2018, Richard Niell Donovan