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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Psalms 130

Verses 1-8

Psalms 130:1-8

IN a very emphatic sense this is a song of ascents, for it climbs steadily from the abyss of penitence to the summits of hope. It falls into two divisions of four verses each, of which the former breathes the prayer of a soul penetrated by the consciousness of sin, and the latter the peaceful expectance of one that has tasted God’s forgiving mercy. These two parts are again divided into two groups of two verses, so that there are four stages in the psalmist’s progress from the depths to the sunny heights.

In the first group we have the psalmist’s cry. He has called, and still calls. He reiterates in Psalms 130:2 the prayer that he had long offered and still presents. It is not only quotation, but is the cry of present need. What are these "depths" from which his voice sounds, as that of a man fallen into a pit and sending up a faint call? The expression does not merely refer to his creatural lowliness, nor even to his troubles, nor even to his depression of spirit. There are deeper pits than these-those into which the spirit feels itself going down, sick and giddy, when it realises its sinfulness. Unless a man has been down in that black abyss, he has scarcely cried to God as he should do. The beginning of true personal religion is the sense of personal sin. A slight conception of the gravity of that fact underlies inadequate conceptions of Christ’s nature and work, and is the mother of heresies in creed and superficialities and deadnesses in practice. A religion that sits lightly upon its professor, impelling to no acts of devotion, flashing out in no heroisms, rising to no heights of communion-that is to say, the average Christianity of great masses of so called Christians-bears proof, in its languor, that the man knows nothing about the depths, and has never cried to God from them. Further, if out of the depths we cry, we shall cry ourselves out of the depths. What can a man do who finds himself at the foot of a beetling cliff, the sea in front, the wall of rock at his back, without foothold for a mouse, between the tide at the bottom and the grass at the top? He can do but one thing: he can shout, and perhaps may be heard, and a rope may come dangling down that he can spring at and clutch. For sinful men in the miry pit the rope is already let down. and their grasping it is the same act as the psalmist’s cry. God has let down His forgiving love in Christ, and we need but the faith which accepts while it asks, and then we are swung up into the light and our feet set on a rock.

Psalms 130:3-4 are the second stage. A dark fear shadows the singer’s soul, and is swept away by a joyful assurance. The word rendered above "mark" is literally keep or watch, as in Psalms 130:6, and here seems to mean to take account of, or retain in remembrance, in order to punish. If God should take man’s sin into account in His dispositions and dealings, "O Lord, who shall stand?" No man could sustain that righteous judgment. He must go down before it like a flimsy but before a whirlwind, or a weak enemy before a fierce charge. That thought comes to the psalmist like a blast of icy air from the north, and threatens to chill his hope to death and to blow his cry back into his throat. But its very hypothetical form holds a negation concealed in it. Such an implied negative is needed in order to explain the "for" of Psalms 130:4. The singer springs, as it were, to that confidence by a rebound from the other darker thought. We must have tremblingly entertained the contrary dread possibility before we can experience the relief and gladness of its counter truth. The word rendered "forgiveness" is a late form, being found only in two other late passages. {Nehemiah 9:17; Daniel 9:9} It literally means cutting off, and so suggests the merciful surgery by which the cancerous tumour is taken out of the soul. Such forgiveness is "with God," inherent in His nature. And that forgiveness lies at the root of true godliness. No man reverences, loves, and draws near to God so rapturously and so humbly as he who has made experience of His pardoning mercy, lifting a soul from its abysses of sin and misery. Therefore the psalmist taught by what pardon has done for him in drawing him lovingly near to God, declares that its great purpose is "that Thou mayest be feared," and that not only by the recipient, but by beholders. Strangely enough, many commentators have found a difficulty in this idea, which seems sun-clear to those whose own history explains it to them. Gratz, for instance, calls it "completely unintelligible." It has been very intelligible to many a penitent who has been by pardon transformed into a reverent lover of God.

The next stage in the ascent from the depths is in Psalms 130:5-6, which breathe peaceful, patient hope. It may be doubtful whether the psalmist means to represent that attitude of expectance as prior to and securing forgiveness or as consequent upon it. The latter seems the more probable. A soul which has received God’s forgiveness is thereby led into tranquil, continuous, ever-rewarded waiting on Him, and hope of new gifts springs ever fresh in it. Such a soul sits quietly at His feet, trusting to His love, and looking for light and all else needed, to flow from Him. The singleness of the object of devout hope, the yearning which is not impatience, characterising that hope at its noblest, are beautifully painted in the simile of the watchers for morning. As they who have out watched the long night look eagerly to the flush that creeps up in the east, telling that their vigil is past, and heralding the stir and life of a new day with its wakening birds and fresh morning airs, so this singer’s eyes had turned to God and to Him only. Psalms 130:6 does not absolutely require the supplement "hopes." It may read simply "My soul is towards Jehovah"; and that translation gives still more emphatically the notion of complete turning of the whole being to God. Consciousness of sin was as a dark night; forgiveness flushed the Eastern heaven with prophetic twilight. So the psalmist waits for the light, and his soul is one aspiration towards God.

In Psalms 130:7-8 the psalmist becomes an evangelist, inviting Israel to unite in his hope, that they may share in his pardon. In the depths he was alone, and felt as if the only beings in the universe were God and himself. The consciousness of sin isolates, and the sense of forgiveness unites. Whoever has known that "with Jehovah is pardon" is impelled thereby to invite others to learn the same lesson in the same sweet way. The psalmist has a broad gospel to preach, the generalisation of his own history. He had said in Psalms 130:4 that "with Jehovah is forgiveness" (lit. the forgiveness, possibly meaning the needed forgiveness), and he thereby had animated his own hope. Now he repeats the form of expression, only that he substitutes for "forgiveness" the lovingkindness which is its spring, and the redemption which is its result; and these he presses upon his fellows as reasons and encouragements for their hope. It is "abundant redemption," or "multiplied," as the word might be rendered. "Seventy times seven"-the perfect numbers seven and ten being multiplied together and their sum increased seven-fold-make a numerical symbol for the unfailing pardons which we are to bestow; and the sum of the Divine pardon is surely greater than that of the human. God’s forgiving grace is mightier than all sins, and able to conquer them all.

"He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities"; not only from their consequences in punishment, but from their power, as well as from their guilt and their penalty. The psalmist means something a great deal deeper than deliverance from calamities which conscience declared to be the chastisement of sin. He speaks New Testament language. He was sure that God would redeem from all iniquity; but he lived in the twilight dawn, and had to watch for the morning. The sun is risen for us; but the light is the same in quality, though more in degree: "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins."

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 130". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".