July 25 – Psalm 130


In our psalms devotional we’re encouraging folks to try memorizing Psalm 130; it’s short enough that they could have it memorized by the end of the week. If folks in your group have been giving memorization a shot, feel free to give them opportunity to rehearse it, or discuss how memorizing it has been meaningful for them.

At the top of Psalm 130 you’ll see it described as a “song of ascents.” These songs (Psalms 120-134) were sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem for various festivals. As we mentioned in week 2, Jerusalem was built on top of a mountain, so people traveling to Jerusalem inevitably started from a lower elevation and ascended to the city.  Imagine that joyful sound—in ancient Israel people typically made this sort of journey in large family groups, so echoing all through the valleys leading up to Jerusalem there were clusters of men, women, and children singing these songs. Plus, these pilgrimages were often made on foot, and when you’ve got younger and older members of your family all traveling somewhere, you rarely travel fast. The Psalms of Ascent capture this sort of hopeful, patient progression towards the place of worship.

This psalm is also one of the seven Repentance Psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143 are the others). We don’t know what occasion made the psalmist write this psalm, but as we’ve seen in other psalms, the lack of specific details makes it incredibly useful for us. A couple of features in this cry for forgiveness will help us understand how to utter our own. In verses 1-2 the psalmist cries out to the Lord. You only cry to someone who you think will hear you, and you only cry for mercy to someone you think can help. Even in the depths the psalmist believes “my help comes from the Lord.”(Ps. 121:2)  Then, in verses 3-4, the psalmist gets rid of any attempt at self-help; it’ll provide no answers here because “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?”(v.3) That phrase “mark iniquities” carries an image of a record book; if God were to open up a book filled with all the things done and left undone by a person, no one on earth could stand before him and be declared guiltless. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.(Rom. 3:23) 

What the psalmist has come to is a point of humility. They’ve been emptied of any pretense towards self-satisfaction, and we too should similarly become self-dissatisfied (maybe you are already). But this emptying isn’t sufficient unless we are filled with the faith that helps us cry, “Father, forgive me!” And as much as the starting point of this psalm is guilt, the end point is a place of confidence: “With the LORD there is steadfast love and with him is plentiful redemption, and he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” God himself will deliver his people from their sins, and in Jesus we see this promise fulfilled through God’s “plentiful redemption.” In Jesus’s death we see every reassurance that God is willing to take the penalty of our sin upon himself, to be marked for our iniquities, and in so doing accomplishing all that was necessary to forgive us.(Eph. 1:7)

Thinking back to the pilgrimage imagery, Psalm 130 itself captures a similar movement of ascent. It starts in the depths and raises a cry for mercy, slowly climbing out of despair towards assurance that “with the Lord there is…plentiful redemption.” In this assurance the psalmist finds the resolve to wait patiently for the Lord. This should draw your attention to verses 5-6: “I wait for the Lord…my soul waits…more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” The image here is achingly beautiful. In an ancient city, watchmen stood guard at the city gates in shifts through all hours of the day and night. As you can imagine, the night shifts were the most terrifying. Would an enemy try to breach the city while everyone was sleeping? Would some danger lunge out of the dark? What the watchmen on the wall waited for in the cold, sinister hours of the night was the sign of their relief: daybreak. And one of the splendid features of this imagery is the dependability—there’s never a day without a dawn.

Questions for Discussion

• Can someone read Psalm 130 for us? (If someone has been memorizing it with the devotional, they could recite it for the group.)

• What stood out to you from this psalm?

• How do you think the psalmist feels towards the Lord in this psalm?

• How could this psalm help us understand repentance?

• Take a moment to read 1 John 1:5-10. How does Psalm 130 relate to the offer of forgiveness in Jesus?

• What would it mean for you to wait for the Lord “more than watchmen for the morning”?

• Putting this psalm into practice, what’s one way you think you could be quiet and still with God in the next few days?