Psalm 130: The Joy of Forgiveness: Part I
Hope and Trust
In the context of the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 130 stands out because it focuses on the joy of forgiveness and hope and trust in the Lord. The Israelites had been far from home. Now in God’s providence, some Israelites were returning to their homeland. They had been absent for a long time and they returned to find no temple, no ark, and no king. Only a few priests returned and had only the Torah. Many had stayed behind in Babylon in spite of the decree by king Cyrus of Persia to “let my people go” (a play on Yahweh’s message to Pharaoh). They had not known the joy of forgiveness, hope, and trust in Yahweh before they were exiled and in exile. They did not know the joy of forgiveness because they failed to hope and trust Yahweh. The psalmist wanted the people to know the joy of forgiveness, hope, and trust upon their return.
Life after exile had begun. The Israelites left without knowing the joy of forgiveness because their hope and trust was not totally in Yahweh. Upon returning, the group encountered the city and temple but they were anything but spectacular. There was no joy in forgiveness, hope, and trust. Yet Yahweh, the Scatterer and Gatherer, was bringing His people back to the Promised Land as a fulfillment of His covenantal promise to David (2 Samuel 5-7). Yahweh would establish Mount Zion as the focal point of the people’s worship and His presence. Yahweh, trustworthy, mighty, and merciful, brought His people to Zion and to Himself by divine directive (Psalm 132:8-9; Numbers 10:35-36).Unrepentant sin was the reason for the exile. He wanted them to know the joy of forgiveness, hope, and trust.
However, the people, from their perspective, had little reason to rejoice. The glory of Israel had fallen (see Ichabod in 1 Samuel 4:21). But Yahweh provided the Psalms of Ascent (120-134) and two groups of Hallelu-Yah Psalms in book V (135-137 and 146-150). These proclaim Yahweh is King. This was a non-negotiable fact. He always has and always will be. Circumstances don’t negate that fact. For many, if not most of them and people in every age, that truth was a theological mountain that seemed impossible to climb and believe based on their experiences and feelings. They could see anything but glory and they felt defeated. What was Yahweh doing? Does He know who we are? It sounds much like Job!
Psalm 130 stands out as one of the few psalms throughout the Psalter which is a plea for forgiveness by the penitent sinner. The psalmist wanted the people to know the joy of forgiveness. The Triune God gives forgiveness and with it joy. The so-called Penitential Psalms are scattered throughout the Psalter. The plea is more prevalent in the earlier books. Book I includes Psalms 6, 32, 38-41; book II includes Psalms 51, 65; book III includes Psalms 76, 85; book IV includes Psalms 103, 106; and book V contains only one psalm: Psalm 130. Books IV and V contain only few Psalms (3) that focus on the subject of forgiveness
In one sense it seems peculiar that the organizer of the Psalter focused on forgiveness in the earlier books and less so in the later books. I use the term peculiar because the latter two books of the Psalter address very troubling times for the people of Israel. Remember that the theme of book IV is life in exile and a maturation of the people regarding Yahweh’s covenant promise via the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. The maturation was slow and did not come for many. They were a rebellious people even on return. The theme of book V is life after a return from exile. It contains an encouragement to praise Yahweh as they looked to the consummation of the kingdom in the midst of Jerusalem that had lost its glory.
These themes are best understood from the standpoint of a remnant of God’s weary and burdened people. They could reflect back on the exile as God’s justice to His lost, rebellious child Israel (Exodus 4:22-24). However, Israel was now gathered and brought back to the Promised Land. Israel’s sin or sins had been dealt with or had they? The organizer of the Psalter thought it best to place Psalm 130 in book V perhaps as a reminder that Yahweh the Deliverer would pay the ransom price for Israel’s freedom.
Psalm 130 is part of the Psalms of Ascent which highlight the joy and beauty of being in the presence of Yahweh. Sin separates and destroys access to Yahweh’s presence. Moving to Zion had a dual purpose: it pointed to physical Israel and the Temple. Unfortunately, Israel had grown to trust the physical and not the spiritual. They acknowledged their physical bondage but were disillusioned with their “new home.” They failed to acknowledge their spiritual bondage and the joy of forgiveness that follows this illumination. The return to the Promised Land actually pointed to a greater spiritual truth. God was their Father, Deliverer, and Covenant-Keeper. They were to rejoice. Moreover, the return from the exile pointed to the greater David and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Thus, believers on this side of the cross are to rejoice knowing the joy of forgiveness, hope and trust as given in Psalm 130
Jesus spoke clearly regarding the new age in Luke 4:18-22. Jesus came to set His people free – again? Yes! The people even denied their physical bondage let alone their spiritual bondage (John 8:33). Simultaneously, Jesus is the Redeemer and the King! God’s people are never to forget that God is Redeemer-King who is reigning now (Hebrews 2:8-9). This perspective was vital to the welfare of the people then and now and its foundation is the glory of God. Believers today must not mistake circumstances as a sign of God’s failure. He is the God of circumstances.
1. Consider the atmosphere and environment as the people returned from the exile.
a. How did the psalmist motivate the people to think vertically?
b. What picture of God does he present?
2. How was that picture of God to bless Israel on her return from exile? How does it bless you?
3. Redemptive history centers on a plan, a Person, and a program. How do the Psalms of Ascent address each?
Psalm 130: The Joy of Forgiveness: Part II
Hope and Trust
Psalm 130 is most noted for its focus on the joy of forgiveness. It has been called Luther’s “Pauline Psalm” because Luther loved the truth given in verses 4: forgiveness is by grace apart from human works. Both Paul and Luther had been in bondage to personal lawkeeping. Therefore they knew nothing of the joy of forgiveness, hope, and trust.
However, the psalm is the only psalm in book V that focuses on redemption and forgiveness. Times were hard for Israel as she returned to the Promised Land. The surroundings were paltry. The glory had departed from Israel. The organizer of the Psalter placed Psalm 130 in book V for a reason. As you move through the Psalm consider some possible reasons for that fact.
v.1: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord
The Hebrew word for depths is an emblem of distress as if being caught in dangerous and deep waters which are especially important to the Israelites who were land locked. It can refer to depth of judgment or depth of praise. Of what depths does the psalmist refer? He and Israel are in distress and in trouble. What is the trouble? The psalmist appears to be anguished over sin – his and the people’s. They had been spanked and chastisement and sent into exile for unconfessed and unrepentant sin. Moreover, their attitude had been something such as this: I have Yahweh and I am OK. The condition that Israel is in relates to a failure of self-acknowledgement. Israel did not herself and did not Yahweh. She thought she knew both! The psalmist knew Israel and himself as a sinner. More importantly God knows the psalmist and Israel as sinners. The psalmist also knows the good news: God is the great Deliverer, Redeemer, and Forgiver. That conclusion is based on the psalm itself which speaks of a record of sin (verse 3), forgiveness (verse 4), and redemption (verses 7-8).
v.2: O Lord, hear my voice; let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy;
Psalm 130 is characterized by the psalmist’s gracious cry to his gracious God. He asks for, expects, and is confident that God would give a gracious response to his prayers for himself and the nation (see Daniel 9; Ezra 9; and Nehemiah 9).
v.3: if you, O Lord kept a record of sins – O Lord who could stand?
v.4: but with you there is forgiveness – therefore you are feared.
The psalmist knew that he and Israel were the problem because of sin. He knew God did not keep a record of sins. Or does He? The statement is interesting. On the one hand, the Bible teaches that God does not keep a record of sin: out of sight, out of reach, out of existence, and out of mind (Psalm 51; Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 38:17; 43:25; 44:22; Jeremiah 31:34; Micah 7;19-20; Acts 3:19).
It best to understand forgiveness and its joy from God’s perspective. There is judicial forgiveness which is something God grants and gives as the just Judge and He does only once. The concept refers to the doctrine of justification. The believer has been forgiven in Christ which is a one-time event. The word used here translated as forgiveness is a common word that refers only to God’s action. It includes the idea of sacrifice, atonement, pardon, and forgiveness. It refers back to the Levitical system which pointed to the true Lamb of God.
But there is also fatherly forgiveness that is ongoing. God’s children are perfect in Christ but in themselves. Therefore they are to acknowledge their sins as a child to a father. Israel was the Triune God’s first born son (Exodus 4:22-24). Discipline is Fatherly concern who for confession and repentance (Hebrews 12:5-12).
The psalmist gives the desire for forgiveness as one motivation to fear the Lord. God’s promise- keeping as given in Psalm 119:38 is another motivation to fear the Lord. Only God is to be feared (Ps. 76:6, 11). The psalmist links fear of the Lord with sacrifice, atonement, pardon, and forgiveness. Since fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom/knowledge, wise people fear the Lord and are awed and humbled by His forgiveness (Proverbs1:7). Confession and repentance are to be the believer’s friend! Fools fail to fear and worship God. Rather, they are self-focused and engage in self worship. They refuse to repent. They fail to acknowledge that they have anything to confess.
How is it possible for the all-knowing God to “lose sight of one’s sins”? God remembers everything, most especially the Son’s active obedience (His perfect law keeping) and His passive obedience (remaining on the cross as the perfect Sacrifice). As Judge, God will not hold the believer guilty for being in Adam and for personal sins because the believer’s guilt and condemnation has been placed on Jesus’ record. God keeps His word – Romans 8:32-34. He remembers this transaction which is a source of encouragement for the believer (Romans 8:1). That is truly good news. The saints of the Old Testament were to know this truth and glory in it. The psalmist was doing that. It motivated them to pray and to pray earnestly acknowledging the lessons taught by the Levitical sacrificial system.
v.5: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word, I put my hope;
v.6: my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning – more than watchmen wait for the morning;
The psalmist turns from the theme of forgiveness to trust. God is trustworthy. He has proven Himself throughout the ages and most notably to Israel. Therefore the psalmist urged the people to follow His lead. The people had trusted themselves by trusting objects and people. They were idolaters, self-worshippers, in a world they had tried to create. The psalmist linked God’s forgiveness of Israel with Israel’s trust of God. Waiting and trusting are different sides of the same coin. The psalmist is looking forward to being in God’s presence. He longs for God. God is worthy. Waiting is expressed actively. David expressed waiting and trusting in Psalm 34:8 when he wrote that all should come and taste and see that God is good. The concept of being in the presence of God is not limited to temple worship. Rather 24/7, the psalmist encouraged the people to look beyond the circumstances to the God of them.
v.7: O Israel put your hope in the Lord for with the Lord is trustworthy; and with Him there is redemption;
v.8: He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
The psalmist closed Psalm 130 on a corporate note. He called all Israel to follow his lead. In these two passages the psalmist focused Psalm 130 on redemption with its joy of forgiveness and hope and trust in Yahweh. In verse 4, he wrote that God was to be feared because He was the Forgiver. Now he points to God’s trustworthiness as a reason to wait and hope. Previously, the psalmist linked forgiveness with sacrifice, atonement, and redemption. Now he linked redemption with God’s trustworthiness and Israel’s trust of God in lieu of self. How much the psalmist looked ahead we are not told. Paul picked up this theme in Romans 3:21-28. A portion of Israel had returned to Zion and there were in disarray. Yet, the King reigned. The psalmist emphasized great theological truths to sustain and motivate Israel.
Today, and in every generation, the Church needs to be reminded of Christ as the one to be trusted. Psalm 130 stands out as beacon to call believers to the joy of forgiveness and trust and hope in Only then will there by joy in forgiveness as a result of hope and trust in Him. Christ is both King and Forgiver. His personal lawkeeping is the key to understanding the joy of forgiveness. Christ’s perfect lawkeeping prior to the cross enabled Him to be the perfect Sacrifice, the Atoner who made Atonement, and a personal Redeemer. Only through Him by the Holy Spirit will there joy in forgiveness. Those who know the truth of God and of themselves are wise and will be set free (John 8:31-32). Those who do not are fools and will be forever in bondage.
1. What is your view of redemption?
2. What three elements are involved in forgiveness?
3. How does the psalmist relate redemption to kingship?