Psalm 130

December 19th, 2013

This dramatic psalm has been a favorite even among those with no professed belief in God. It has been set to music many times and lurks thematically behind many pieces of art. I imagine it is because it sums up very well an experience of living on the edge, the experience of hanging on by one’s very fingertips. The writer has gone as low as it is possible to go, not morally, we feel, but simply by the calamitous pressure of events. Every human being surely has moments like these. The more unfortunate have whole passages of time when they are “going through the wars,” as we say in England. For this reason, when we read the anguished plea, “Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord! / Lord, hear my voice!” (verses 1-2), we might feel our hearts echo the same words.

However, the very next thing the writer says carries a word of hope, just like the dove returning with the olive branch after the Flood gave hope to Noah and his family that the calamitous waters of destruction would, somehow, recede (Genesis 8:10). God is asked to “be attentive” to what the writer is saying, surely an unnecessary reminder to an all-knowing God. Yet, in our anxiety, we are sometimes tempted to think that God doesn’t know what’s happening to us, or worse, doesn’t care. How wrong we are! Firstly, God’s love for us is unutterable, perfect, and sacrificial. Secondly, we mean simply everything to God and we are always heard.

So the writer feels that he can dare to call upon God; he may also suspect that in some way the lines are down and something or other, some personal sin, is preventing his prayers from being heard. This is perhaps what lies behind the reflections of verses 3-4. After all, God being supreme holiness and goodness, how does one dare approach in prayer? It is like the moth approaching the all-consuming flame. This is a more intense problem for Judaism since “keeping the covenant,” personal holiness through obedience to God’s commands, was and is a matter of personal responsibility. The Christian view is completely different. We acknowledge that, of our own strength, we are simply not capable of aspiring to live Christ’s life. Christ had to freely offer himself on the cross to bring us into a new righteousness, not earned but received through faith. Paradoxically, through the gift of Christ, to continue the moth metaphor, we can not only enter the all-consuming fire of God’s holiness but we can actually be at home there. Nevertheless, we are not, thereby, while in this life, exempt from temptation and sin. Sin does indeed bring down the lines of communication with God even if, because we are in Christ irrevocably, it cannot separate us from his love. Sin always performs a kind of spoiling action. It cannot destroy, but it can certainly hamper and degrade. We must do all that we humanly can to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30); that is, by being attentive to our thoughts and actions, preventing a wrong turn into behavior or opinions that are Christ-denying. For this reason, the central part of the prayer Jesus taught us is a confession. We clear away the rubbish of our still-being-redeemed nature, naming it and rejecting it, asking for Christ’s forgiveness so that indeed God’s kingdom may come in our lives.

The third stanza of this psalm is about waiting. We are to imagine the watchman on the city walls, enveloped in the night of a pre-industrial world, straining his eyes to catch the first fingers of dawn. Human beings, especially modern ones it seems to me, are not too good at waiting. We want to get it done, to get a move on! Sometimes we even dare to include God in this impatience. “Come on, God. We have a great project here. Do your stuff!” As if the Creator of heaven and earth is on our payroll! But waiting is a profound spiritual discipline. Waiting in faith as the wise young women waited, lamps primed and burning, for the arrival of the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). Waiting, spiritually speaking, is an acknowledgment that Christ, rather than our own egos, is Lord of our lives and that God’s timing is different from our own. With God, time is fruitfulness, the moment of ripeness, not the frantic and self-serving time of diaries and deadlines. This is the fruitfulness of the last stanza: God’s abundant, endless love, redemption, and hope. Certainly worth waiting for!

For Reflection

Am I willing to accept the discipline of waiting on God?


Heavenly Lord, you always hear me. You always love me and you will always come to those who wait in faith. Glory to you, our God. Amen.

excerpt from My Strength and My Song: A Year With the Psalms by Simon Peter Iredale. Copyright©2013 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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