A song of ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
(Psalm 130:1-8 NIV)
In this psalm, David cries out to God for mercy and forgiveness as he goes through the journey of life. Like a lot of psalms, we don’t know the specific background as to when or why David wrote these words.
David begins with the words “out of the depths”, using verbal imagery of being a drowning man urgently in need of rescue. David calls out to the only One who can rescue him from his calamity – the Lord. This is not a silent prayer – David is literally, audibly calling out to God, crying out as a child for their father’s or mother’s help.
From verse 3, we see that David’s predicament may be of his own doing, as David confesses his sinfulness before the Lord. David knows that he is not in righteous standing before God, and knows that he does not deserve God’s mercy and rescue. But in the same confession, David knows that his only hope is in the Lord, the only One who can forgive his sin and restore him to righteousness so he can serve the Lord again.
In verses 5 – 6, David quiets his soul and waits on the Lord. David puts his hope in the Lord, not an empty “I hope it doesn’t rain today” hope, but his full trust that God is sovereign and will keep His promises to rescue those who call out to Him. David waits expectantly, as the watchmen on the city walls look forward to the rising of the sun each morning. Just as David cannot will the sun to come up each morning, David knows that he cannot will God to show up and rescue him. But David can, and does, rest in God’s promises to watch over him and come to his aid as God had fulfilled His promises to his ancestors and to him many times before.
Notice that David uses the setting of the night to describe his current situation. Have you ever been up with a sick child or sat beside a gravely ill loved one in the hospital as the night passed? Seconds seem like minutes, minutes seem like hours, and hours seem like days, don’t they? 16th-century mystic St. John of the Cross wrote an untitled poem that has become known as “The Dark Night of the Soul”, where he describes the movement from sinfulness to union with the Lord. It is this same passing of time that David refers to, knowing that God will come in His time, just as the sun rises in the east each morning.
So what is David’s conclusion? How does he end this psalm?
King David, in his quiet confidence and reliance on God, tells all his weary subjects to put their hope and trust in the Lord, to confess their sins before the Lord, and God will rescue them from their sins and provide full redemption and restoration of their relationship to Himself. God loves Israel, and will restore them to fellowship with Himself when they come humbly before Him and repent. God is not looking for acts of piety, for sacrifices and money donated and social justice for the downtrodden. Those are all good things, but God is concerned about the inner life of David and the Israelites, about their desire to be in a restored relationship with Him as their one and only God. Only when the inner life is ordered and set right before God do any of the outward actions count as righteousness before the Lord.
What was true for King David and ancient Israel is true for us as well. May we recognize when we are drowning in our own self-sufficiency, when we need to confess our sins and admit that we cannot save ourselves.
May we cry out to the Lord and put our hope in Him alone – not in our own power, not in our own resources, not in government, not in science, or medicine, or any other human endeavor, but in God alone. There is nothing wrong with all those other things, but they all take a back seat to our trust and hope in the Lord and in His promises, and being rightly related to Him first and foremost.
May we then wait patiently for Him, as we wait for and trust in the Lord to bring the sunrise each morning.