There are times in all of our lives where finding our hope in Christ seems like a fruitless endeavor—or at best, a wrestling match where you can never quite grasp the hope you so desperately long for. Your prayers crumble under the weight of your guilt, and you don’t know how to climb out of the hole you find yourself in.
That’s where the psalmist begins Psalm 130.
Psalm 130 is a Psalm of Ascent; one ascending from the depths of despair to a joyful confidence in the God of the gospel. The Psalms of Ascent were likely sung by pilgrims journeying up to worship in Jerusalem at annual festivals.1 As God’s people traversed the dirt roads and winding paths to the city, these psalms would fill their lips and act as prayers to tune their hearts for hope-filled worship.
May the following reflection on Psalm 130 work a similar thing in your heart.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (Psalm 130:1-2)
Psalm 130 opens with a desperate cry for the Lord to have mercy. The psalmist is aware that his sin has created a deep chasm between him and God, and longs for the Lord to turn His ear toward him and show mercy. This deep and heartfelt cry for help contrasts with a heart calloused toward sin, a downcast heart more focused on it’s own powerlessness for change than on God’s abundant mercy to forgive and cleanse. This cry knows God is the only hope.
Crying from the depths can feel like your insides are turning outward and your entire being groans audibly for the Lord to show favor and grace in your distress. Instead of remaining in despair by dwelling on personal failures, the psalmist looks upward.
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:3-4)
No one could stand before God if He marked our iniquities – that is the point the psalmist makes in verse 3. God designed it that way. But in Him there is forgiveness; by the shed blood of Christ on our behalf, the chasm between us and God caused by sin can be closed.
Why do you think God offers us forgiveness? You might think so He would be loved, or shown merciful – and surely those ring true. But the psalmist takes another route: “that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4, emphasis mine).
What does forgiveness have to do with fearing God?
If our problem is offending a holy God because of our sin, then sin must not only be forgiven, but we must repent and do whatever we can to stop sinning; our hearts must change to no longer desire sin.
It is not enough to cling to God’s grace and live in sin so grace abounds (Romans 6:1). Knowing forgiveness in Christ at a heart level leads us to fear God and hate sin; for the fear of the Lord is hatred toward sin (Proverbs 8:13). Hating sin and beholding God’s kindness shown in sending Christ to the cross in our place causes us to fear God and turn from sin. God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
This psalm documents the psalmist preaching the gospel to himself; reminding himself of God’s abundant and undeserved mercy in Christ toward repentant sinners, which leads not only to a fear of God, but also a joyful hope in Him. And that is how the psalmist’s prayer continues.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. (Psalm 130:5-6)
In the original Hebrew, the words wait and hope overlap meaning, and are often times synonymous (and the parallelism in verse 5 confirms this). The last four verses of this psalm mention hoping or waiting five times, proving it to be a major theme of the psalm’s second half.
Hoping in the Lord rests on Who He is and what He has done–in this case, on forgiving. Hope flows from the fount of knowing and fearing the One who is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Instead of rightly condemning us, God condemned Christ in our place, so that we could be left spotless and clean in His sight.
We hope in God, because in Christ, He is for us (Romans 8:31). He has brought us from the domain of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son. He’s on our side.
Hope in God calls us to forsake all of other hopes: hope in our performance, hope in our abilities, hope in our families and friends, hope in future prospects for a good life, hope in what we do for God.
We wait for the Lord and hope in His Word because His Word confirms His character to us. The promises of His Word reveal that we can (and must!) hope in Him. This hope will start to dawn for us as a watchman awaits the sunrise, seeing a glimmer of light at the break of dawn and increasing more and more each moment he waits.
Our hope will be more than that of the watchmen–for our hope rests not in everyday occurrences like the sun rising, something that is enjoyed by all men, righteous and wicked.
No, our hope rests in the grace poured out to those in Christ. Hope of acceptance by a holy God, a new life here on earth, and eternal life enjoying God’s presence in heaven.
Hope will start to dawn in your life as the gospel takes root in your heart.
One thing this psalm proves is that hope will start to dawn in your life as the gospel takes root in your heart. And hope so great cannot stay contained: it must flow outward.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130:7-8)
The psalmist’s renewed hope in gospel promises flows into public exhortations for God’s people to hope in Him. I can see the psalmist crying joyfully from the depths of his heart, “With the Lord there is steadfast love!” “With Him is plentiful redemption!”
Do you share the psalmist’s hope? Does hope in the God of the gospel turn your groans of anguish to shouts of joy (compare verses 1-2 with verses 7-8)? Do you rejoice that God will redeem you–and all His people–from your iniquities?
My encouragement to you is to make this psalm your heartfelt prayer. Let these truths pour out from your lips in joyful song to the One who redeems us from our iniquity by becoming iniquity for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
That amazing truth should cause your heart to ascend from the depths of despair to firmly grasp gospel hope in prayer.
1The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Ed. F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. 3rd ed. rev. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.