Psalm 130 records the thoughts of a believer who goes through a remarkable transformation: from the depths of despair to proclaiming hope in the Lord to his nation.
How does this transformation happen?
This is not a psalm about a unique event or a special tragedy or an especially remarkable man accomplishing a gargantuan feat that no one can again accomplish. This is not a super-Christian battling forces of darkness with fantastic spiritual super powers.
No, instead, it is the straightforward revelation of a man's internal thoughts as they transform from deep darkness to light; of despair to hope for the future; of desperation for his own rescue to confidence that others can be rescued as well.
What we see in this psalm are the thought patterns of a mature believer; patterns we ought to emulate and repeat in our own lives.
Now, when I say "mature believer", I want to make sure you've got the same picture that I do. I don't mean someone who "has it all figured out". I definitely don't mean someone who has reached some "higher spiritual plane". All I mean is someone who has walked with the Lord for a long time and has trained his thoughts in the patterns we'll see. He falls. He fails. He's done it before and he's experienced enough to recognize it and know how to get back up again.
If we copy these patterns of thought, they will drive us to strengthen our upward confidence in the Lord and then mature us to expand our thoughts outward toward our fellow men. But, it begins where it must: our inward thoughts, thoughts directed toward ourselves.
The author of this psalm begins by revealing the state of his mind: his inward thoughts. He uses only two words to do this: "the depths".
He is in trouble
By themselves "the depths" might conjure up enough for us to imagine that he is in some kind of trouble. He's not feeling good. But, this word isn't just a word for how deep a hole might be. Everywhere else it's used in Scripture, it's used to describe deep waters and especially the depths of the sea. That's another kind of "depths" altogether.
If you've ever taken a swim you can begin to imagine the analogy he is painting. You've probably felt the slight panic to get back to the surface when you stayed under the water a little too long. You've perhaps felt the water pressure when you dove down to the deep end of the pool.
But, the swimming pool is nothing like the depths of the sea. When you get down deep, the light disappears. The sunlight fades until there is only utter blackness. If help was on the way to pull you out, you couldn't see it coming. You can't even see your hand in front of your face. You're surrounded by darkness. There are no waypoints. No landmarks to recognize. No signs to point the way of escape.
All comfort of heat vanishes the deeper you sink. Before much depth, the cold becomes unbearable.
As the waters above increase, the pressure mounts until it would easily crush you.
Then, of course, you cannot breath. In the depths of the sea you are far from the surface, far from breath. You will suffocate in a matter of minutes--certainly before you make it to the top on your own.
Darkness, cold, pressure, suffocation--it paints a desperate, hopeless, life-threatening situation. This man is in great trouble.
He admits he's in trouble
But, notice the first thought pattern we can recognize of a mature believer. It's the one important thing he does first: he admits he's in trouble. There's no denial here. There's no trying to make the situation not seem so bleak. He's in trouble he cannot escape. He knows it and he says so. This is the first thing we can note as the sign of a mature believer. The mature believer makes honest confession of his desperate need. He frankly admits his trouble and makes no attempt to hide it from himself or from the Lord.
He calls out to the Lord
The second thought pattern of a mature believer is quickly noticed next. Admitting his situation has freed him ask for help.
What would you do if you were sinking, with no one in sight to save you?
I think my first instinct would be to call out as loudly as I could for someone--anyone at all--to come rescue me!
My second oldest, Gideon, is not quite able to dress himself yet. When he gets stuck in his shirt or can't quite work the button on his pants, he has the habit of desperately calling out "Somebody! Anybody!". He doesn't care if me or Grace or even his brother (sometimes) helps him. He just needs someone to get this shirt off!
But, this is not exactly what he does here. He cries out. But he specifically calls out to only one person: the Lord. And there's no doubt who he means. He uses the name of the Lord, Yahweh. He pleads with Him to hear his voice, to hear the voice of his supplications; or, "pleas for mercy" as the ESV translates it.
It seems counterintuitive to call out for a specific person. If he's truly desperate wouldn't any help be welcome, no matter who it came from? But, this too is a thought pattern of a mature believer. He knows the One who not only can save him, but is willing to save him. There is only One such person and He is the Lord.
He is the one who will put it on the heart of your spouse to say the right kind word at the right time. Or burden a preacher with an exhortation from the Word that encourages you. Or embolden your brother to give you the strong admonition you need.
An interesting thing happens next. From a dire situation, his thoughts begin to shift. His calling out to the Lord has shifted his focus from his circumstances to the Lord Himself. He now begins to drift away from his inward thoughts and toward upward thoughts.
Notice how his thoughts are still on himself, but no longer inward. His thoughts have turned to who he is in light of his relationship to a holy God. They have turned upward.
Sin and Forgiveness
What would it be like if the Lord marked our iniquities? What if he kept a record and closely watched them? It's obvious--our case would be hopeless! We'd have no chance of standing at that judgment.
Think of the things this reveals about his view of God in relation to himself:
- First, he knows he has sinned and does not hide it
- He knows his sin is serious, and it has fearful consequences
- He also knows the Lord knows these sins
- Beyond this, he knows he ought to be rightfully accountable to the Lord for these sins
- But, he also believes that the Lord does not keep a record of these sins
- More than that, he knows it's not a matter of the Lord misplacing the official sin record, but the marks are gone because there is forgiveness with the Lord
- As a result of this forgiveness, he fears the Lord
So, we can notice the third and fourth thought patterns of a mature believer.
First, he knows he is a sinner, forgiven by a loving God. This is how he stands, even though he has sinned. This is both a humbling admission and a strengthening encouragement and they are in a kind of balance. Thinking only of ourselves as sinners neglects the truth of God's work to forgive us. Thinking only of the forgiveness we have in the Lord neglects the truth of our sinfulness that necessitated His work in the first place.
Second, rather than a license to sin, this forgiveness leads him to fall fearfully before the Lord in humble worship. Perhaps, like me, you don't normally associate God's forgiveness with fearing Him. I, for one, am much more likely to associate it with relief or gratefulness or happiness.
But the connection is perhaps closer than we think. When we acknowledge that God is the one who forgives our sin, at the same time, we're acknowledging that He has the authority and the power to do so. The natural reaction to such a thought is to fear, follow and worship such a God who wields such power over us, but choses instead to forgive us.
The forgiveness of the Lord also frees a man to leave the things behind him (his sins, weaknesses and failures) and press on in the work of the Lord. In other words, it leads to a greater desire to follow the Lord. As we follow Him, we know Him better. As we know Him better, we can only fear Him more. This certainly seemed to be Paul's mindset in Philippians 3:
12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.
Notice the connection and progression from leaving what lays behind to striving for the upward call to keeping an attitude of holy living.
Waiting and Hoping
Earlier, in verses 1-2, the psalmist honestly admits his circumstances and this leads him to action: to call out to the Lord for rescue. Here too, having turned his thoughts upward to the Lord's forgiveness of his sins, he now takes action. He trains his thoughts on waiting for the Lord and hoping in His word.
There are at least two things to notice in these two verses. First, the repetition and second, the comparison to the watchmen.
It's interesting how he repeats, to himself, how he will wait for the Lord. It's almost as if he needs more than one reminder to wait for Him. Perhaps he is retraining his thoughts away from fearfulness and despair to an expectant, waiting hopefulness.
Keep in mind that we have no indication that his circumstances have changed at all. But his thinking is brightening considerably. His concentration is no longer on his circumstances, but on the Lord who certainly will rescue him.
Second, we should ask ourselves what the waiting of a watchman for the morning is like. Even for a new watchman, on his first day on the job, I can't imagine he has any question or uncertainty about the morning coming! There is a confidence that the sun will rise and the watch will end.
The fifth thought pattern of a mature believer now emerges. He trains his thoughts to confidently hope in the Lord, waiting on His rescue, no matter the circumstances.
As before, now another interesting things happens. As he moves away from inward thinking to upward thinking, he grows in his confidence to trust the Lord as he remembers the lovingkindness of the Lord. In that confidence his thoughts now turn completely away from himself and outward, towards his fellow countrymen.
Now, the mood of the psalmist has completely changed from where he started. Far from crying out in desperation for help, he is now calling out to his countrymen to hope in the Lord!
I think we can notice two more thought patterns of the psalmist to emulate.
Seeing the needs of others
The first is a sense of responsibility to share his confidence in the Lord with others. His thinking has been so transformed that, though we still have no indication that he has been rescued, he sees the need of his fellow man for the same trusting hope in the Lord. His own issues are no longer the only ones he sees. Others are in similar circumstances, similar "depths". So, he calls on them to hope based on two characteristics of the Lord: His lovingkindness and his abundant redemption.
Confidence in the future
The second is a confidence in the future actions of the Lord.
How does he know that God will redeem Israel from all his iniquities?
I think the answer is relatively simple. He has seen the past actions of the Lord in his life. He has observed the character of the Lord worked out in his own life. Having drawn closer to the Lord, he knows Him better and can look out into the future, confident that the Lord will do the same then as He has done in the past.
To summarize this psalm, I think we could say this. The mature believer is not someone who has reached a higher plane of Christian living, never finding himself in the depths, but always thinking upward and outward. I'm confident that every believer finds himself in the depths at some time or another and most likely even quite regularly.
Remember, the one writing this psalm, who I see as a very mature believer, is one who has fallen! But remember what Proverbs 24:16 says:
16 For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.
Rising again is what the mature believer does. But how? That is what this Psalm spells out for us.
The mature believer is the one whose has learned certain patterns of thought to a consistent way of thinking that does one simple thing: it always turns him to the Lord for rescue. This then enables him to grow his thoughts from necessary introspection (those inward thoughts), upward, to the joy of the reality of his relationship with the Lord. It also emboldens him to reach outward to share with those around him the bounty of hope and lovingkindness available in the Lord.