Psalm 130: From The Depths To The Heights

Who’s your favorite Old Testament hero? Joseph? Daniel? David? Jonah? We tend to remember them because of a particular exploit or something spectacular that happened to them or through them. But often we don’t remember or don’t even realize that they spent years in dire circumstances before God even moved to use them or fulfill his promises. They all have in common the reality that God cast them all down into depths of affliction for which they had to cry out to God for help and deliverance. I every case they did not receive instant deliverance, but had to wait and hope for what eventually came. 

I’ve been there. I remember when we were first married and had our first baby there was a time when we were in dire straights. I thought we were following God’s will, but everything was crumbling around us. We were without money or food and we needed God to move. One morning I walked out into the desert and just cried out to God in tears. I said “Lord I know you could destroy me for any one of a thousand reasons, but I’m pleading to you for mercy!” I hadn’t been rebelling against God. Quite the contrary, I had been trying to obey, but I knew that at my best I deserved God’s judgement. Within a week God sent a miraculous gift that instilled faith in my heart, and that faith and provision have continued to this day. I was in the depths and the only thing I could do was cry out to God and wait on him. 

Many of you are in or have been in that same place in your lives and you needed what only God could provide. In Psalm 130 we have a cry coming from the heart of the psalmist in that kind of position. He desperately needs help and he’s aware only God can give it. He does four things; he cries out to God, he’s convinced of his need and God’s mercy, he’s committed to waiting on God, and he’s confident that God will indeed move. 

First, of course, we must cry out from our “depths”. The word for depths is often used in scripture for the depths of the sea. Deepest darkness...suffocating pressure. Its a mental darkness that seems to go deeper and deeper. From sorrow to darkness to depression to despair. Ps. 42:7 uses the imagery of waves pounding one after another. Just when you think you can get a breath another wave comes and pushes you under again. You don’t feel you can get your breath. This is a cry of desperation. You are aware if God doesn’t move and do something your in big trouble. This is urgent. Emergency! 911! it’s interesting though...what the psalmist asks for is not some great answer (though I’m sure he wants it!), but he wants to be heard. This, in reality, is exactly what we really want...to be heard (vs. 2). If we know that God hears us then we can leave the answer to him and trust he will indeed answer. Never let the depths silence the cry. Jonah cried out to God when he was sinking in the ocean with “seaweed wrapped around his head” and God answered....he sent a fish. Great...a fish. Not quite what he had hoped for I’m sure, but salvation nevertheless. A smelly, yucky salvation, but it gave him the opportunity to continue to cry out to God. Sometimes our deliverance might not look quite like what we anticipated, but it is God’s provision. 

Next we see the psalmist convinced of both his need and God’s mercy. He is aware that if God wanted to keep a list of wrongs done there is none of us who could stand. We would all be guilty all the time. The psalmist is pleading with an intense awareness of God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. If this God were to hold us accountable for sins and demand our righteousness live up to his, we would be hopeless. Now comes one of the most important words in the Bible...”but”. “But with you there is forgiveness that you may be feared”. What hope. The thing you and I need the most is the primary thing God is giving...forgiveness!. Then he makes this unusual statement that it produces fear. This seems like a strange place for that. The Hebrew word for fear here means to reverence him as an avenger, but it also means to tremble with joy. This ‘reverence with joy’ is an amazing concept. Have you ever been in a position where you thought you were likely to die but made it through unscathed? I have. I was full of fear that things could have gone so bad, and yet the joyful relief that I made it out safely. Trembling with joy! This is what the psalmist is convinced of here. He has escaped sure judgement and death and received forgiveness. This is why we don’t back off teaching the doctrine of sin. When we see the reality of sin in our lives and the judgement they deserve, and then realize that God has chosen to treat us different than our sin deserves, we have a far greater appreciation for God’s grace. Grace truly abounds even in the face of our sinfulness. This brings both reverence (the fear of the Lord) and joy. 

The next thing we see the psalmist doing is expressing this deep commitment to wait on God. Three times in one verse he says he will wait on the Lord. Waiting is a fact of life in the Kingdom. This side of eternity it is our calling. The things that are most important, most fruitful, most essential, most lasting are the things we have little or no control over. This is why trust is so essential, and trust is fundamental to waiting. God does not lead us along, tease us or toy with us. He does not mock our weakness and need. He always does what is appropriate to the moment. Paul Tripp calls him a “dissatisfied Messiah”. He won’t quit or relent until every promise is fulfilled. He will fight until every enemy is beneath his feet! He will comfort, encourage, exhort and rebuke. He will continue to open our hearts to truth. He will lead us on a right path. He will be with us thru the dark times...Sound familiar? This is the essence of Ps. 23. And the psalmist gives us the focus of our waiting; The Lord! We are waiting on Him. So often we can slip into waiting on our expectations. We focus on what we think we’re waiting for: for a change in circumstances, for vindication, other people. This is frustrating because for the most part we cannot control these things. Take Abraham for instance. Talk about being out of control. Abraham had received a promise from God that he would give him a son by Sarah. Paul tells us in Rom. 4 that (25 years later, I might add!) Abraham believed God, trusted him and waited on him in spite of the fact that it was now physically impossible. Yet Abraham was willing to look at his circumstances squarely in the face, while believing that God was greater than his circumstances and was “...persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.” So he waited. Twenty five years he waited. Not for circumstances, but for the Lord. Like a watchman on the city wall desperately waiting for morning to come so we should wait. But the great thing about dawn is that it ALWAYS comes! The Israelites of the psalmist’s day were waiting and the waiting pictured here might well have been the people waiting for the priest to come out after the sacrifice of atonement to come out and proclaim it done and forgiveness given. This sacrifice for atonement was then taken outside the city and burned up completely. What they didn’t realize was that what they were really waiting for was the ultimate sacrifice...the “once for all” sacrifice who would give his life on the cross. He would be taken “outside the city” (Heb. 13:12-13) and all our sin would be placed on Him and “burned up” so to speak and the proclamation of forgiveness shouted in the heavenly’s, “It is finished”! All this to those who would believe in Jesus finished work on their behalf. This is our only hope. 

Finally the psalmist exudes confidence in the hope we have in God. He goes from the depths to the heights. He brings this command to the congregation; Hope in the Lord! (vs. 8). And that hope is based in three things. First God’s steadfast love. Something that is at the very essence of His nature. We must look away from ourselves and our poverty and fix our gaze on the Lord, the essence of love. Secondly to His plentiful redemption. Plentiful redemption! The amount of his redemption is in accord with the plenteousness of our sin. In referring to ‘full redemption’, the singer is encouraging us that this redemption is not only forgiveness of sins but deliverance from adversities. When the sacrifice was burned up it was totally consumed. When our sin was placed on Jesus he died to it. It was consumed totally so to speak. There was nothing left of our sin, past, present, and future. This is where our hope lies; in his plentiful redemption. And finally that he will redeem us from ALL our iniquities. Not part, or for a limited amount of time, but all for all time. 

What was David and all the other psalmists waiting for and hoping for? Ultimately they were waiting on the coming of the Lord Jesus. What are we waiting for? Nothing. He’s here. It’s done. We’re forgiven. Your cry has already been heard in the most profound way it could have been: The Cross and resurrection! Now you are free to bring your cry to him from the depths, convinced of His mercy, and committed to wait on Him. You can have confidence in your hope in the Lord because of the finality of the gospel.