As we look at what is happening in our world, we may be compelled to cry out to God for mercy. And we should! God is a God of mercy.
In Psalm 130, a basic personal need for mercy is expressed by the Psalmist.
Although we may be thinking about the present crisis of individuals in Ukraine, it is good to realize that God’s mercy is available to you and me when we are in the depths spiritually and circumstantially.
This beautiful Psalm is found in the Psalms of Ascent that many scholars believe were used when the Jewish pilgrims made their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is in a series of Psalms called The Great Hallel. It is often classified as a penitential Psalm along with a few others, and we will see why that is the case. You may be interested in knowing that Martin Luther thought of this Psalm as a ‘Pauline Psalm’ for reasons we will see.
There definitely is a change in the Psalm when you reach verse seven. The Psalm has been the prayer and testimony of an individual from verse one through verse six, and then in verse seven, the Psalm is an exhortation to others. It moves from being intensely personal to a call for all God’s people to hope in the Lord.
I wonder, though, as we read the Psalm, what speaks to you. The Holy Spirit indeed may have already touched you with one of the various truths expressed in this Psalm. In this message, I simply want to share what the Lord has said to me through this Psalm, especially about His Mercy.
If you read this Psalm in the NASV or the ESV, you would not have read the word “mercy” in Verse 7. In the NASV, in verse 7 you would have read the word, “lovingkindness.” In the ESV, you would have read the words, “steadfast love.” The NIV reads, “unfailing love.” All of these are helpful, and they assist in understanding what is a key truth in this Psalm. For with the Lord, there is mercy, lovingkindness, steadfast love, unfailing love, (HSD), (ELEOS). This is one of the truths that holds this Psalm together and is proclaimed by it.
I want to view this Psalm in relation to this truth, and I’m staying with the word “mercy.” I know that there is much more in this Psalm, but, I believe we can pray this Psalm with meaning and integrity as we consider the truth that “There is Mercy with the Lord.” Not only is there mercy, we can experience mercy, but we must seek mercy. Indeed, without the mercy of the Lord, we are hopeless and helpless when we find ourselves or put ourselves in the depths of need and despair.
Whether this is a pre- or post-exilic Psalm, which Bible students have discussed and debated, is really not that important as you hear this cry of the Psalmist. The Psalmist is personally sensing distance from God and speaks of himself as being in the depths. What are the depths? I think we know what they are almost instinctively, but it is worth thinking about the depths for a moment. The depths seem to refer to the personal experience and the circumstances that surround that experience of an individual who senses that his sin has distanced him from God. Not only so, but the crier is also in the midst of circumstances, possibly due to the direct discipline of God, that are hard to bear. Like the Psalmist, we may find ourselves “in the depths” in this world in some spiritual, psychological, and personal sense. But we need to be more specific and focused in our understanding and application of these words.
The best picture I can think of that will help us understand an “in the depths” is the experience of Jonah. We hear Jonah’s cry from the depths in Jonah chapter 2. God was attentive to Jonah’s cry and brought him back to where he was supposed to be in the will of God. But, why did Jonah cry out to God? Well, you might say it was because he was really “in the depths,” in the belly of the fish. Right you are! But, why was Jonah in the belly of the fish? How did he find himself in the depths? It was his disobedience, and his attempt to flee from the presence of the Lord. Actually, the resulting consequence of Jonah’s sin was that he ended up in the depths, even at his own directive to the pagan men on the ship to throw him overboard. Ironically, Jonah knew where he belonged! And it was after his cry to the Lord, seeking deliverance, that he indeed was delivered and thrown back into the Lord’s service. Jonah’s experience of the depths was due to his rejection of the will of God for his life, his sin of disobedience, and his running from the Lord. And because of these spiritual issues, he found himself in circumstances from which he needed to be delivered.
The Psalmist cried out of the depths –Are we in the depths? Are we sensing our own sin or the weight of circumstances that are a result of our sin? Harsh justice would say that we need to stay where we are when we are in the depths. Someone might say, “There is no point in crying out to God now. It is too late.” Actually, one day for those who reject the mercy of God completely, there will be a day when it is too late. Only judgment remains for them. But, that is not the “story” of this Psalm.
We hear the Psalmist pleading for a hearing from the Lord. Indeed, as the ESV translates it, he is pleading for mercy (2). He would agree with Jonah who stated that those who regard worthless idols, “forsake their own mercy” (2:7). Our Lord is the only one who will hear and can do anything about our depths experience. There is no point in seeking help from anyone else than the true God. No one else can deliver us out of the real depths we find ourselves in due to sin. This is true initially as a person turns from sin and self and seeks the salvation of the Lord in Christ through His redemption at Calvary’s cross. But, the believer in Christ can find himself in the depths as well and needs to seek the Lord early for His mercy, forgiveness, and indeed abundant redemption (as we will see).
Sadly, not only do people go after their own idols rather than the Lord, many will never seek the Lord’s ear. This may be because of PRIDE. It may be because of the weight of guilt. But, the Lord chooses to be attentive to the cry of the humble who seek His mercy and His Face.
Another OT passage sheds some light, I believe on “depths experiences” that may be in the background of the Psalmist’s experience. You are familiar probably with 2 Chron. 7:14, God’s invitation to His people to pray. But note the circumstances that are referred to in the context that would cause the people of God to call out to the Lord? When they were or are in the depths. If you review chapter 6: 22-42, and note 7:13, this prayer of 7:14 is specifically to take place when God’s people sin, face defeat due to sin when blessings are withheld like rain, when famine results when there is a loss of God’s power, and when they find themselves captive. – When they find themselves in the depths –
Are we in the depths, personally, or as God’s people in this community, etc.? But, my concern is not only for those who sense they are “in the depths,” but for those who may actually be “in the depths” and don’t know it or acknowledge it. You may ask, what do you mean? Well, let me give you an example.
Years ago, I asked the man who oversaw the youth ministry in our church about recent trends. He made an interesting comment that had to do with the change of the physical location of our church, but I think it is relevant to what we are talking about: “the depths.”
He said he used to minister to people who were lost spiritually and they knew they were lost, now he says that he is seeking to reach the religious lost who don’t think they are lost, even though they are. In other words, they are in the depths, but they don’t know it. And it is harder to help someone who doesn’t know or will not admit that they have a need than to help those who know that they are “in the depths.” This reminds me of the Laodicean church in Rev. 3:14-21. It was full of people who didn’t realize that they were out of fellowship with Christ, or as the Psalmist calls it, they were in the depths, they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked –
Sometimes we may be spiritually in the depths, but due to good circumstances, we aren’t even aware of it. Things are OK, but they actually are not OK with God. And the sad reality is that the “good stuff of life” keeps us from crying out to God because we don’t even realize that we are in desperate need of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and abundant redemption.
What may be the signs of “the depths” for us as New Testament believers:
Do we need to cry out to God today? Are we in the depths?
The Psalmist knew his situation and He directed his plea to God. He sought a hearing. He sought God’s attention. And the reasons for doing this were the seriousness of his “depths” and his hope in the mercy of God. What about us?
The encouraging truth of this Psalm is that the genuine cry from the depths can be heard by a merciful God. We have access into His presence. The Lord’s ear is open to those who earnestly seek Him in the midst of their distress. If you are in distress for any reason today, the Lord God, the God of the Universe, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who has come to us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, has an open ear to those in need of Him, because of His mercy.
But, we need to move on in the text to see that:
The Psalmist moves forward from His initial plea to a purposeful question, a positive affirmation ending with a practical conclusion.
The purposeful question places us at the mercy of God. (3)
We should not give a simple answer to this question and move on. This question should cause us to take account of the real situation we face because of our sins, our iniquities.
The real situation is that our sins are worthy of God’s marking, and not only marking but marking for judgment. No one can stand on his own merit before God. But, let’s not generalize. The Psalmist speaks in this way, not for us to turn attention away from ourselves, but for each one of us to consider the Holiness and the Righteousness of God, and our plight if it were not for the mercy of God.
Do we really believe that we are at the mercy of God? God has every right to do away with us. He has every right to keep track of every wrong thought, every mixed motive, ungodly desire, every prideful attitude, every selfish act, every word that was unkind or untrue or unclean or unworthy of Christ, every sinful act, every act controlled by the flesh and for fleshly gains, every act of disobedience and half-hearted Spiritless service, every aspect of hypocrisy, every judgment with evil intent; maybe we need to mark a few “things” – sins, iniquities, to realize the importance of what the Psalmist is saying…..
Notice he is speaking to the Lord, He is implicitly honoring and recognizing the Lord’s right to mark iniquities as he asks this question. At the same time, he is asking a question that is easy to answer, is it not? Who could stand? Who will not be condemned, if God keeps a record of wrongs? Everyone would be condemned if God kept a record of our wrongs. No one would be reckoned as righteous.
This does sound like Paul, doesn’t it? There is no one righteous, no not one. Sadly, we are used to these words and can miss what they should cause us to do. We should long for the words that are to follow rather than anticipate them as our right or take them for granted. We need to remember, as John Bunyan declared, ”sin is the dare of God’s justice, the rape of His mercy, the jeer of His patience, the slight of His power, and the contempt of His love” (PH, March 2009 article [“The Changing View of Sin in America” by Victor Knowles])
This purposeful question is followed by a positive affirmation that is at the heart of this Psalm, the gospel and the Christian Life (4a). Notice the BUT - The sharp contrast. And this sharp contrast would not strike us if we did not dwell for a moment on the significance of the question in (3).
This contrast reminds me of Ps. 106:44-45 speaking of God’s mercy to His rebellious people.
It reminds me of Eph. 2:4-7 as our salvation is described.
It reminds me of 1 John 1:5-2:2, and note that the word translated “propitiation” in 1 John 2:2, it the same Greek word used to translate the term for “Forgiveness” in Psalm 130:4. Forgiveness is with the Lord. The Lord has provided forgiveness. Indeed our Lord Jesus became our forgiveness. The Lord in His mercy has made a way of forgiveness available for those who would seek it. He didn’t have to do it. It has never been automatic or cheap. Forgiveness has always been costly because of who God is. Practiced and pictured in OT times, the sacrifice had to be paid as the sinner confessed sins and identified with the substitute. And this provision was and now is in Christ, in Him, because of what He accomplished on the cross. And ultimately it is due to the mercy of God!
Do we need to receive this forgiveness afresh? Is there the need to confess our sins, and accept afresh the merciful provision of forgiveness in Christ? This is to be done personally, specifically, and meaningfully.
The practical conclusion of forgiveness being with the Lord in this Psalm is not just a quick list of sins to be forgiven, and praying a prayer without thought. No, a true understanding of God’s holiness, His mercy, and His provision of forgiveness should lead to a respect, a reverence for God that realizes that if it were not for the mercy of God we would be consumed. Seeking forgiveness should not lead to anything other than a greater appreciation for the mercy of God, that His Holiness necessitates and His love activates.
“That You may be feared.” This is the practical conclusion. (4b)
You see, the assumption is that the depths are really deep. The need is desperate, and only the Great God, the one who could judge us and be finished with us, is choosing in His mercy to forgive us. It is not our right in and of ourselves to be forgiven. It is His right to condemn, but there is forgiveness with the Lord that He may be feared.
I think we need some “fear” (in the pure sense) of God in our lives. It is needed in our churches. It is needed in our land. There is so little consciousness of any accountability at all to God. It is God who is to be acknowledged, to be honored, to be truly respected in the deepest sense, because He has chosen a way of forgiveness for us rather than letting us stay in despair, anticipating nothing but the punishment of God.
We need, though, to continue in the Psalm to see the full scope of what the Psalmist is seeking. We will be shortsighted and too narrow in our cry to God if we stop with personal immediate forgiveness. Yes, that is available, but what about “the depths?” Do they automatically disappear because we know that we can get right with God? You see, there is a bigger picture than just our own personal seeking of forgiveness. So, let’s see how the Psalmist proceeds. There are further lessons left for us here in this Psalm.
The earnest resolve of the Psalmist is revealed in these words:
“I wait… my soul waits, … I do hope. My soul waits." These are not the words of a demanding person expecting God to fix his life. No, there is a commitment on the part of the Psalmist to wait, to submissively depend upon the Lord for His action according to His Word.. Notice that at the center of this waiting and this hope is God’s word. What word is that? It could be a word of promise that the Psalmist is relying upon as he waits for God to act in his situation. On the other hand, he could actually be hoping for or waiting for a word from God, a word that will bring deliverance with it. The text does not tell us exactly, but I think Ps. 107:17-22 presents a picture. Whether you think of it as a promise that is relied upon or a future word, God’s Word is not just something that gives us information, it brings activity and transformation. So, in waiting for the Lord, the Psalmist is hoping in God’s Word, a word that brings real deliverance.
That is why we preach the Word of God today. We declare the Word, not to fill out minds with more words, but to call us to hope in God’s Word and to hope in the work of God that it unleashes or anticipates. (Word is active)
Our Psalmist not only reveals his earnest resolve but his eager anticipation (6). The watchmen are longing for the morning to come, and the Psalmist is more eagerly longing for the revealing of God’s deliverance. What a picture of single-minded dependence and desire. Nothing else really matters in the darkness of the night than the coming of the morning.
W. Graham Scroggie gives this illustration:
"In 1830, on the night before August 1, when the West Indian Colonies were to get their freedom, many didn’t go to sleep. “Tens of thousands of them assembled in their places of worship” waiting for the first streaks of light over the horizon. “Some of their number were sent to the hills, from which they might obtain the first view of the coming day, and, by a signal, intimate to their brethren down in the valley the dawn of the day that was to make them men, and no longer, as they had hitherto been, mere good and chattels- men with souls that God had created to live forever. How eagerly these men must have watched for the morning!”
Friends, hope is a common word these days. But, what are we hoping in? The words of men? The only true source of hope is the Lord and His Word. The Psalmist’s hope was in the one who could hear his cry from the depths, could forgive his sins, and bring restoration and deliverance to his life.
I heard a speech of a politician. In some ways, it was a very good speech. But, he had a key phrase “Faith in the Future.”
But, what does that really mean? ………..
There is no reason to hope in the future if we do not hope in the Lord of the future.
We have faith only in the Lord and we hope in Him and His Word.
Is this our resolve today? Circumstances may be difficult. There may be many reasons to be discouraged, but because there is mercy with the Lord our resolve, our decision can be to hope in His Word. Our anticipation can be that God will bring deliverance in His time and in His way.
The Psalmist cannot contain himself in terms of this message of hope. He moves from his personal resolve and eager anticipation to his exhortation to all Israel. And in these closing verses we understand that:
These are beautiful words, wonderful words. They at least mean that there is a redemption big enough for all Israel and all the sins of Israel. In NT language, Jesus the righteous, He Himself, “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (2:2). There is a redemption, indeed a Redeemer, who is sufficient for our sins.
“My sin – O the bliss of this glorious thought, My sin – not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.” (p. 493, The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, “It is Well with my Soul” by Horatio Spafford).
But, even though this is enough for our hope and our praise, I think the phrase “abundant redemption” means more. It is in line with Paul’s words: ”where sin abounded, grace abounded more” (Romans 5:20). And this abundant redemption has to do, I believe, with the impact and the effects of sin as well – “the depths.” God will reach into the depths of the personal and broader crises that are the results of sin, and deliver God’s people, Why? Because He is a merciful God, and abundant redemption is with Him.
Friends, I believe we need abundant redemption. We need a deeper and broader work of God to really see the depths of our situation addressed. When people reject God, there are consequences. People often find themselves not only in need of forgiveness but also in need of God’s help and deliverance to overcome the consequences of sin. This could mean restoring a relationship. This could mean overcoming an addiction. This could mean finding God’s grace in the midst of some personal need or even illness. Is sin involved? We should be crying out to God. We need to be seeking His forgiveness and His reign of righteousness and restoration in our midst. (If my people…. 2 Chron. 7:14… It is abundant redemption we need.). We don’t deserve it, we can’t make it happen. We can only cry out to the God of mercy and encourage others to do so.
Maybe our distress is not due to our own sin, but just due to difficult circumstances in a sinful world. We still need to cry out to the Lord. Praise God, we can cry out to the Lord in hope, as we cry out to the God of abundant redemption.
O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is abundant redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel from all His iniquities.
I know that salvation is past, present, and future and that Paul saw the future redemption of our bodies and creation as the culmination of God’s plan of mercy. But, while we await the Lord’s merciful return, and all that is to happen, we need to seek His mercy and grace for now. His deliverance, His powerful working in our midst to free us from sin, its power, and its effects.
Our God is a God of Mercy:
This means we can cry to Him out of the depths –
Cry out to Him today if you are in need of His mercy!
There is no sin that is too bad, there is no experience that is too difficult – we can cry out to a God who has merciful ears.
This means that our sins can be forgiven –
If we seek the Lord’s forgiveness, He does not remember or “mark” our sins. Forgiveness is complete and total for those who earnestly seek God’s forgiveness, and that comes through the sacrifice of God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. This is true initially as we come in faith and receive Him and His salvation, and it is a continuous provision in Christ as we look to the Lord.
This means our hope is in His Word.
The Word of the Lord is our Hope. His Word of Forgiveness (1 John 1:5-2:2) and His Word of deliverance is our Hope. There is no other certain Word
This means that Abundant Redemption is Available.
God is not a stingy God. He does not hold back. He is generous in His mercy and in His work on our behalf. This was the prodigal son’s experience when he returned to the Father. He had hardly been seen by the Father, when the father came running to receive him, and lavish His love upon one who was not worthy (Luke 15). This is the experience of countless believers down through the centuries. It is my experience.
There is mercy with the Lord. Praise His Name for that!
Allow the Holy Spirit to enable you to respond today in the light of the mercy of the Lord.
— David O.