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Psalm 130

Out of the depths

Just like today, many believers in the psalmist’s day saw God as harsh and judgmental. The psalmist corrects that error along with its opposite, that God’s grace and forgiveness license spiritual carelessness.

A song of ascents.

Out of the depths
I cry to you, Yahveh!
2 Listen to my pleas for help, Lord.
Tune your ear to my voice.
3 If you held onto our sins, Yahveh
who would be left standing, Lord?
4 But you forgive us
so that we bow in awe before you.

5 I’m waiting for Yahveh—
waiting on him, heart and soul.
I’ve put my hope in his word.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than the sentinel waits for the dawn.
More than the sentinel waits for the dawn.

7 Israel, wait for Yahveh
because his love never fails
and his redemption is abundant.
8 He will redeem his people Israel
from all their sins.

Like Jonah in the fish, the psalmist cries for God’s mercy from out of the depths, overwhelmed by their threatening chaos. She knows her sins qualify her only for divine judgment but points to the fact that she’s just like everyone else in that regard and that God’s grace doesn’t let our sins get in the way of his redemption.

We could easily think God’s readiness to forgive, not condemn, licenses us to do whatever we want since “he’ll always forgive us.” But the psalmist says it’s not that way: God forgives us to transform us, so we’ll gratefully fall in worship before him and reverently live to please him.

But for all her theological clarity, the psalmist is still in the depths. She desperately needs God, though she doesn’t tell us what that looks like—whether she’s an outcast Zacchaeus or a garden-variety sinner like Peter. She longs for the least glimmer of God’s rescue, like a sentinel longs for the least glow in the eastern sky heralding the dawn’s approach. She concludes by calling Israel to wait, even as she does, because God’s gracious invitation is wide open, his love never fails, and his redemption is more than enough to ransom the entire nation from its sins.

Lost without you, Jesus, I seek your forgiveness and rescue based on your faithfulness, not mine. Your love never fails. Your grace is more than enough to redeem all your people. I hope in your promise and wait for your redemption. Have mercy on me and redeem your people, I pray. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

If you held onto our sins, Yahveh
who would be left standing, Lord?
But you forgive us so that we bow in awe before you.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.