FROM OUT OF WHAT KIND OF “depths” is the psalmist crying in Psalm 130:1? In other psalms the sheer despair of the expression is bound up with treasonous “friends” and overt persecution (Ps. 69), or with illness and homesickness (Pss. 6, 42). In this case, however, what has plunged the psalmist into “the depths” is sin and guilt: “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3).
First, this accent on the misery of guilt and the need for forgiveness from God serves as a welcome foil to some of the psalms that ask for vindication on the grounds that the psalmist is fundamentally just or righteous (see meditations of April 10 and 24). Such claims could scarcely be taken absolutely; genuinely righteous people invariably become more aware of their personal guilt and need for forgiveness than those who have become so foul and hard they cannot detect their own shame.
Second, the connection between forgiveness and fear is striking: “But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Ps. 130:4). Perhaps this pair of lines hints that assurance of sins forgiven was at this stage in redemptive history not as robust as it would become this side of the cross. More importantly, the “fear of the Lord” is portrayed as not only the outcome of forgiveness, but one of its goals. It confirms that “fear of the Lord” has less to do with slavish, servile terror (which surely should be decreased by forgiveness, not increased) than with holy reverence. Even so, this reverence has a component of honest fear. When sinners begin to see the magnitude of their sin, and experience the joy of forgiveness, at their best they glimpse what might have been the case had they not been forgiven. Forgiveness engenders relief; ironically, it also engenders sober reflection that settles into reverence and godly fear, for sin can never be taken lightly again, and forgiveness never lightly received.
Third, the psalmist understands that what he needs is not forgiveness in the abstract, but forgiveness from God — for what he wants and needs is reconciliation with God, restored fellowship with God. He waits for the Lord and trusts his promises (Ps. 130:5). He waits like a watchman waits for the dawn through the most frightening hours but with the assurance that the dawn’s breaking is inevitable (Ps. 130:6).
Fourth, what is most precious about this psalm is that even though the culmination of redemption’s plan is still centuries away, the focus is not on the mechanism but on God. “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Ps. 130:7-8).