The Thirteenth Decade of Psalms
There is no trouble like home-brewed trouble. Whenever we are learning how to eat our own cooking, or how to sleep in the beds we made, or how to get along in the troubled relationships that we troubled, the difficulty is learning how to get our arms completely around our own responsibility. That is, how to do it without despair, or rather without despairing finally and completely.
“A Song of degrees. Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: For with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:1-8).
Summary of the Text
This psalm progresses through four stages. The first is raw desire (vv. 1-2), the second confession (vv. 3-4), the third watchfulness (vv 5-6), and the last expectant hope (vv. 7-8).
The psalmist begins in the depths, and from the following context, it appears to have gotten there as the result of his own sin (v. 1). He cries out to the Lord from the depths (v. 1). He pleads with the Lord to hear him (v. 2), to be attentive to his voice. He then acknowledges that he is a sinful member of a sinful race. If God (Yah) were to catch at our faults and failings, who could stand before Him (v. 3)? But there is forgiveness with God, so that He might as a consequence be feared (v. 4). The third section is the time of waiting. He waits for the Lord, his soul waits (v. 5). He waits on the basis of the word of promise. He looks forward to seeing the Lord in the same way a night watchman yearns for the morning (v. 6). The last section is an invitation for all Israel to hope in the Lord (v. 7). The reason for this is that with the Lord there is mercy, and there is abundant redemption (v. 7). This God will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (v. 8).
Just imagine a large bowl by the right side of the throne of God. Imagine further how it would fare with you if every time you sinned—whether in thought, word, or deed—God dropped a small black stone into the bowl. How would it fare with you? If God resolved to grade you strictly, how would it go?
But for some reason there is a conditional here. The psalmist sets this up with an if. If God were to mark iniquities, who could stand? But doesn’t God actually mark them? No.
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Acts 17:30–31 (NKJV)
One of God’s attributes is His tender mercy (hesed, v. 7). God is disposed to forgive, and the cross and resurrection was His mechanism that made it possible to forgive without injustice.
So this command to repent is a command that is based on the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Notice that in our psalm, the forgiveness is based on something. It is based on redemption. In v. 8, it says He shall “redeem Israel.” And in the previous verse (v. 7), it says that in Him there is plenteous redemption. There is an abundance of this redemption—more than enough for you—but redemption remains a purchase. More on this shortly. Suffice it to say for now that redemption is not the same thing as saying “let bygones be bygones” or “boys will be boys.” No, the cross was the means by which God was able to forgive us our sins and to mark iniquities.
Before looking more closely at the nature of this redemption, let us first consider the result of it.
Notice that this prayer assumes that the result of receiving this forgiveness is fear (v. 4). “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” This is curious, because the psalm began with desperate fear, calling out to God from the depths. And the apostle John says this:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
1 John 4:18 (ESV)
There are two kinds of fear, one ungodly and the result of prior ungodliness. The other kind of fear is clean, enduring forever, a fear that is the Word of God (Ps. 19:9), and that is based on the Word. It is actually a grace of God. Let us have grace (Heb. 12:28) so that we may worship God acceptably in reverence and godly fear.
Lack of forgiveness drives one kind of crawling fear, a craven fear. Complete forgiveness drives the other kind of fear, a fear of God that is a clean and wholesome grace. A fear that is glad.
A Glad Fear, but Still Fear
Glad redemption and clean fear go well together.
“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.”
1 Peter 1:15–21 (KJV)
We were all of us locked up in the filthy dungeons of sin. If only we could get ourselves out of there, we would have been content to live in a grass hut somewhere. Out in the sunlight, that would have been relief enough. But not only did the redemption of God liberate us from that squalid dungeon, it also purchased for us a heavenly mansion (John 14:2), with Christ Himself the architect.
Now Peter outlines for us the fact that we should spend our lives in fear precisely because of the greatness of the purchase price. If we were just the devil’s cast-offs, discovered at Hell’s great yard sale, say in a box of battered twenty-five cent junkers, and God bought us for a quarter, that would have been nice enough. But think. We have been transferred out of a filthy dungeon and into an everlasting palace, and then someone takes you aside and whispers in your ear. And you say, “He paid what??!!” The blood of His Son? The only sane response would be to go weak at the knees in fear. A glad fear, but fear.
The gospel of grace has depths that we will never get to the end of.