Psalm 130

by Ruth Ann F.

I want to start by saying that the Psalms are not my favorite part of the Bible. I often have trouble understanding modern poetry originally written in English to an audience of which I can claim to be a part. (Casey at the Bat is the exception. That one’s pretty easy. Plus there’s a fun, if dated, Disney cartoon to go along with it.). But the Psalms were originally written millennia ago, for and by people in a very different culture, with a completely different language (which is read right to left and the vowels are little dots and dashes above or below the other letters.). So, for me at least, sometimes it’s just hard to understand what the writer of individual psalms actually means. Fortunately I think Psalm 130 is one of the easier psalms to understand (and Martin Luther wrote a song based on it. Christopher Miner wrote the music we use when we sing it in church. A lot of things are easier when there’s a song to go with it.).

Like the last couple of weeks, Psalm 130 is another Psalm of Ascent. It’s a song sung by the Jewish people as they journeyed up to Jerusalem and the temple for the annual feasts. I kind of think of these psalms as the VBS songs of the Jews. These were likely songs that everyone knew. Maybe the kids were taught them as they were growing up or maybe they just picked them up as they heard them year after year. I’m willing to bet at some point some enterprising person made up motions to go along with them to keep the kids engaged as they walked.

Psalm 130 starts with a cry to the Lord from “the depths”. I think of Jonah calling out to the Lord while he was sinking in the sea after being thrown overboard as he tried to run away from preaching redemption to the people of Ninevah. There was nothing Jonah could do to save himself. The water closed in above him, the plants wrapped around him. (Jonah 2:5). He was going to drown! But God (best words in the Bible!) sent a giant fish. And Jonah was saved, forgiven for trying to run away from God and the job he’d been given! His life was preserved (although he likely needed a bath and a change of clothes) and he returned to following God’s plan. For me, when I’m in “the depths” I’m usually out of options of things I can do myself. There’s no wikipedia article or YouTube tutorial which can help me. I’ve talked to/texted/emailed my friends and family and have tried all the things they’ve suggested. But God’s still got it in control. He’s right there with me in the depths. None of what I’m going through surprises him and he’s not going anywhere. (And he forgives me for not coming to him first.)

The Psalmist asks for God to hear his cries. We know that God is always listening. He’s never off doing something else, sleeping, worrying about someone else’s problems, dreaming up beautiful new patterns for a sunset or whatever. That’s one of the cool things about God existing outside of the time and space we’re constrained to. He can do all things at what we perceive to be the same time. God always wants to hear our cries and he always does. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that. Because God doesn’t always answer our prayers right away, we can think that maybe he hasn’t heard them. Maybe we think we have to wait for him to check his email or get the messages we’ve left on his cell. But we don’t. If God doesn’t answer our cries right away, there’s a reason. The specifics may vary but the Bible tells us that God works all things for our good and his glory. Maybe God wants us to learn something from the difficulty we’re going through. Maybe he’s teaching us to trust him more. Maybe what we’re asking for isn’t something that’s good for us and in time we’ll figure that out for ourselves and learn more from that experience and process than we would have learned had God just answered us right away. 

And that’s the point that the Psalmist gets to in verses five and six. The Psalmist talks about waiting for the Lord. But he’s not just sitting around playing games on whatever the local equivalent of a cell phone was (drawing stick figures in the dirt?). The Psalmist says that it’s in God’s work that he hopes. This isn’t the kind of hope that’s an expression of wanting a desire to be fulfilled. This is the Biblical hope that means it’s definitely going to happen. And it’s in God’s word that the Psalmist hopes. He’s got his hope staked on the promises that God lays out in his scriptures. We know that God WILL keep those promises. God can’t lie. So there’s no getting out of or going back on the things he says he will do. There is nothing more certain on which to stake our hope. And so we wait for God.

Which brings us to my favorite part of the Psalm. The Psalmist says his soul, his very being, waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning (and he says it twice, so we know it’s important!).

I’ve never been a watchman, but there have been times when I’ve waited for the morning. This verse brings to mind the times when I’ve worked the night shift while on travel for work. During these times I’m usually working in a windowless room, sometimes in a windowless building. At times it’s seemed like time was standing still. Usually there were no phone calls or emails coming in from people back home, no distractions, just the work to be done. Sometimes when I’ve needed a break, I’ve wandered down to a conference room with large windows or stepped outside for a few minutes. Partly I’ve needed a few minutes away from the work, but mostly I want to look towards the eastern sky, watching to see if there’s any faint hint of dawn on the horizon. God usually doesn’t make time stand still or go backwards, so I’ve known that dawn was coming. I’ve trusted that the sun would rise and the day would start, the guy working the day shift would arrive and I could go back to the hotel and get some sleep. I’ve never questioned if this would happen. It wasn’t even really a question of when it would happen (a luxury those early watchmen didn’t have due to not having watches…or clocks, phones, computer or anything other than the stars and the moon by which to tell the time.). It was just a matter of waiting for it to happen. Like the Psalmist, there was nothing I could ever do to make that time come any quicker. I could only wait and hope in the Lord and continue to do the tasks he had set before me. But, oh the joy when my timing was just right and I saw those first hints of the sunrise or when it was later than I expected and the sun was already well above the horizon and my shift was almost over. 

The psalmist ends with an exhortation for Israel to hope in the Lord and trust that God would forgive them all of their sins. Those ancient Jews would have known that forgiveness and redemption would come via the messiah promised to them so many times in the scriptures. As Christians, we have the privilege of knowing exactly how all of that plays out. Jesus, the Son of God, came and lived the life we should have lived and died the death we deserve because we don’t live like we should. But it didn’t end there. Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death, securing our eternal salvation and promising to come back to redeem all of creation and put everything back to the way it was meant to be. At the end of Casey at the Bat, there’s no joy in Mudville. <Spoiler Alert> Casey struck out. But even when we’re in the depths we know that God wins in the end and because we’re united to him, we get to live with him forever, in a place where, as Revelation 21 tells us, there will be no more death or mourning, crying, pain or any of the sad consequences of sin and death. Woo-hoo!