Psalm 130

Psalm 130
by Pastor Mark Hudson

Psalm 130, though a short Psalm, has been an important Psalm in music, as well as Catholic and Reformation theology.  This song of ascent begins on a low note and end on a high note.  Maybe the perfect Psalm of ascent.  This is a much richer Psalm then it may first appear.

This is called a penitential psalm; one of seven: 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 143.  This may have been especially appropriate for the pilgrims coming to God’s city, both confessing their sins and praising God for His forgiveness.  This Psalm is a model of how believers confess their sins.

Medieval Catholicism used this as a prayer for souls in purgatory.  But as the ancient writer Solomon Gezner, a Lutheran, reminds us this is not the true meaning and use of the Psalms since there is no mention of death or someone dying in Ps 130.

Luther loved the Psalms and wrote a hymn called  “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee” (LSB 607).  Here are the first and last stanzas.

1    From depths of woe I cry to Thee,
In trial and tribulation;
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me,
Lord, hear my supplication.
If Thou rememb’rest ev’ry sin,
Who then could heaven ever win
Or stand before Thy presence.

Last stanza:

5    Though great our sins, yet greater still
Is God’s abundant favor;
His hand of mercy never will
Abandon us, nor waver.
Our shepherd good and true is He,
Who will at last His Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow.

Luther called Ps 130 a Pauline Psalm since the Psalm echoed the teaching of the Apostle Paul.  During the  Diet of Augsburg, in 1530, Luther forbidden to attend this meeting or Diet out of fear of his life.  He was hidden away in a castle writing and studying.  Since he was not given safe conduct, he stayed at Coburg, wrote Exhortation to All Clergy Assembled at Augsburg and learned that his Father passed away.  While writing and studhing, Luther sank into depression and often endure migraines.  One night, during a migraine he fainted.  Upon coming to, Luther said to his friends, “Come, Let us sing Psalm 130, out of derision of the devil.”

Bach produce a cantata based on Psalm 130 (BWV 131).  John Rutter included Psalm 130 as the second movement in his requiem which starts out with the lowest pitch on the cello.  I Will Wait for You  a Getty song we sing is also based on Psalm 130.  In the scholarly world, John Owen loved this Psalm.  Owen only wrote two verse by verse commentaries on books or chapters in the Bible.  A massive 7 volume on Hebrews and a 325 page exposition on Ps 130.

First, here is a good way to look at the structure which Rev. Phil Johnson proposes.  While most may use different terms this division of the Psalm is easily recognizable.

1-2    cry to God

3-4    confession of guilt

5-6    crescendo of gladness

7-8    chorus about the gospel   (Phil Johnson)

1-2    cry to God


The beginning of this is similar to Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2 of the same book.  This Psalms is often referred to as De Profundis which is the Latin for “out of the depths” where the author is decrying his desperation.  In fact, next to Ps. 22, this is one of the most desperate line in all the Psalms.  Note his helplessness.  He is in the depths not shallows.  He is beyond self-help.

Sin is a deep descent into trouble.  Sin is always promising pleasure but it sucks us in deeper and deeper until we can’t get out.  Sin is like swimming in a gravel pit.  The water is nice until you want to get out.  The banks are not shallow but give way as you try to climb out until you realize, you can’t just get out without outside assistance. Notice also that he is not asking for justice but mercy.

In verses, 3-4 the unknown Psalmist confesses his guilt.  There is no cry of vindication or justice but only confession.  Maybe this is one of the reasons, so many can relate to this Psalm.

Then in verses 5-6, this redeemed sinner waits for God.  Yes, his whole self, his soul, waits for God.  But not apathetically.  This person “can’t wait” we might say.  If you were on watch through the night, doing all you can to stay awake, to keep fellow soldiers or citizens safe, you waited anxiously for the morning when you could go off shift and go to sleep.  Can you imagine how the time from 2, 3, or 4:00 AM would crawl?  He has a strong confidence in God’s word as he waits for the Lord Himself.

Then vs. 7-8 is bursting forth with hope, forgiveness, love, and redemption.  The author is pointing to a time when God will not just set aside our sins but will fully forgive us in Christ.  For all believers, we call out to hope in the Lord.  He is full or love and mercy.

Our dear heavenly Father.  You are so dear to us yet we are more dear to You than we can ever imagine in this life.  We also confess our sins to You but we do so with genuine heartfelt repentance and hope.  For with You is covenantal love and plenteous redemption.  You will and have redeemed all those who believe in Your Son.  We will always wait for You.  We will ever praise Your glorious Name.  For the sake of Your Son.  Amen.