Category: Worship


The Gospel in Psalm 130

July 19, 2015

 

Introduction

Psa. 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Based on the text of this Psalm, it seems appropriate to begin with some questions. How many transgressions of all the principles and commandments and precepts that are found in Scripture did you violate last week? What would the list look like if all of your sins, up to this moment in time, had been recorded? How would you like to appear before God and see such a list displayed before Him?

The truth is, you don’t know how many times you’ve violated the holiness of God just since you opened your eyes this morning. Even if we attempted to record all of our sinful thoughts and words and actions for just a day, we would miss most of them. We don’t go through life thinking in terms of cataloging our sins—and for good reason. We don’t have to live like that. But that shouldn’t stop us from considering how often we violate God’s standard and that shouldn’t stop us from meditating, at times, on all the ways in which we sin against God. Such times of reflection can be most beneficial, as we are about to see as we turn our attention to Psa. 130.

This obviously is a prayer offered by a worshiper of God; it is a prayer expressing anguish, to a degree, and relief as the writer acknowledges certain facts about God. These facts, as they are recalled, provide him with a much needed encouragement and corrected perspective on whatever it was that drove him to describe himself as being in the “depths.”

I would note that the first truth that stands out is this writer’s apparent conviction that the LORD establishes the standard by which we are judged, the standard by which our lives are measured. This critical truth comes after the writer’s introductory remarks in which he expresses his distress and his desire that the LORD would hear his supplications. In v. 3, the writer asks a question that carries such momentous implications that I fear we will not be able to grasp them all. The writer of this Psalm asks: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Before I talk about the most sobering aspects of this question, I want you to notice that the writer automatically assumes that it is the LORD’s place to decide what is and what is not an iniquity; he assumes that the LORD is the One who sets the standard to which all are held.

The writer does not suggest that if the LORD were to be the One with the authority or right to mark iniquities, we might find ourselves in trouble; he assumes that the LORD is the One whose nature is such that He determines that which constitutes acceptable thinking, speaking, and conduct. This fact, in itself, declares to us something vital concerning God’s nature—His nature is the standard of morality. Whatever God is, that is what it means to be morally upright; whatever contradicts what God is, that is what it means to be morally corrupt and fallen.

With this tremendously important assumption operating, the writer asks his question: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” If God, whose nature is the standard of judgment in this universe, were to “mark iniquities,” no one would survive, the writer asserts. Let me define two words at this point before we continue. First, the word translated “mark” (shamar) means “to keep” as it to preserve something for an indefinite period of time. Second, the word “iniquities” (avon) means “perversity, depravity, sin.” Now, look again at the question: “If You, LORD, should keep or preserve a record of sins or acts of perversity or thoughts of depravity, O Lord, who could stand?”

I already noted that the writer operates with the assumption that the LORD has the authority to determine the standard by which we are judged. Another assumption, which is obviously held by this writer, is that we are a people characterized by that which qualifies as iniquity. He doesn’t speak as though iniquity is a rare thing; he speaks as though everyone on this earth is characterized by enough iniquity to render them worthy of destruction were the LORD ever to decide to call them to account. This Psalm tells us that God sets the standard and it tells us that He is not like us; we are different from God because we are characterized by various elements that are contrary to His nature; therefore, we deserve judgment—that is a clear message from this writer.

We deserve judgment because we commit violation after violation of God’s standard, and yet we do not perish. Why is this? It is because the LORD is pleased not to mark our iniquities, and He is pleased not to keep a list of our sins current right up to this present moment in time is a running count of accusations against us. He is pleased not to call us to account for our transgressions. Now the writer has revealed a truth about God that should leave us astounded —we are creatures of depravity, but the LORD chooses not to hold our sins against us. He chooses not to mark our iniquities. If we could simply comprehend this one primary point, we would have an understanding of the gospel that would change us forever; we would understand the power of the gospel, the beauty of the gospel, and the comfort of the gospel. The LORD does not mark our iniquities because “there is forgiveness with [Him], that [He] may be feared.” (v. 4)

Forgiveness—that is the explanation. We are characterized by iniquities, but the LORD doesn’t hold on to those transgressions and He doesn’t bring them against us time after time because He forgives us. It’s not that we learn to do better and it’s not that God cares less about His holy character as time goes by and it’s not that our offenses are any less offensive the tenth time we commit them as opposed to the first time. The answer is forgiveness. God forgives us, which means, as the writer’s word structure indicates, that forgiveness is the very opposite of marking iniquities. Knowing that God forgives, the writer states, leads us to fear Him. He uses a Hebrew term (yare) that refers to the deep reverence we have when we stand in awe of something. This word is used extensively in the Old Testament to describe a proper attitude toward God. This fear is not that He will harm us, the fear is reverence, respect, standing in all of the magnificent God of the Bible. To meditate on the forgiveness of God leads to this worshipful attitude; it is an attitude of humility and thanksgiving.

The only way for you to understand the richness of your salvation is to first grasp the enormity of your sin. This is the idea here in our text. The enormity of our sin is revealed when the writer says, in essence, that if we had to answer for our conduct, we would perish; the richness of our salvation is revealed when he says that, instead of being called to account for our sins, God forgives us—which explains, by the way, what forgiveness is; it is relating to the offending party without regard for his sins. Here I must make something absolutely clear; what I want to make absolutely clear is how this kind of situation can exist. I want to make clear how it is that God forgives the guilty.

If anyone ever had a doubt regarding the presence of the gospel in the Old Testament, here is a prime example of how the Old Testament reveals the nature of redemption without speaking as directly about Christ as is the case after the incarnation. We know why the LORD doesn’t mark our iniquities; it is because He forgives us. But we also know that God’s holy nature makes it impossible for Him simply to overlook transgressions. The kind of statement found in this Psalm would have led any pious mind to thoughts about what was taught in the Levitical system, namely, that sins are forgiven on the basis of a substitutionary atonement. If there is forgiveness with God, as this writer says, it is because something has been done about our sins—and that “something” is that God has provided Another to bear the consequences of our iniquities.

As I said before, we do not escape answering for our transgressions because God forgets about them or because He knows that we are “doing our best.” We escape because our Savior takes our place. That is the underlying truth of this portion of Psa. 130. Here is a brief, but truthful reminder of what God had been promising for ages; and the writer of this Psalm relates in a simple fashion the reality of redemption.

This Psalm tells us that God determines the standard to which we are held, that He does not count our transgressions against us even though we violate His standard, and that in the place of destruction God provides forgiveness. Consequently, as the writer goes on to teach, God becomes the focus of his hope (cf. v. 5). Because he knows what the LORD has done, because He knows that the LORD forgives and restores, the writer found great comfort for his soul as he faced hardships. We’ll see in a moment the manner in which he describes this hope, but for now the important point is that the way in which God treats His people makes Him the object of their trust and hope.

This Psalm is a wonderful assertion of some of the primary truths of the gospel. Sinners who are condemned and deserving of destruction are forgiven by the very God against whom they have committed innumerable acts of transgression. Imagine the God who would operate in this manner! Imagine His love and His mercy and His patience.

Clearly, as we’ve seen in many of the other Psalms in this current series, this Psalm tells us that these were people who quickly and confidently turned to the LORD in times of distress. Routinely, these Psalms have given testimony to the fact that the worshipers sought guidance, comfort and confidence from the LORD in the many adverse circumstances they encountered. In this case, the writer describes himself as crying to the LORD “out of the depths.” (v. 1) Whenever this word (“depths”) is used in the Old Testament, it normally refers to the deepest parts of the ocean. Figuratively, therefore, it is used to express a state of great anguish and despair.

Although the writer doesn’t provide specific details concerning his situation, we do have some indication of what was bothering him. After expressing such anguish, he begins speaking of iniquities. It is possible, therefore, that the writer was deeply troubled by his transgressions or those of the nation. For some reason, sin and forgiveness were on his mind when he wrote this song. Rightly, as I noted, he turns to the LORD and pours out his distress in those few words found in vv. 1 and 2. This writer is in a position where only the LORD can help him and it is to the LORD that he directs his cry for assistance.

Those who, along with this writer, worshiped the LORD at this point in history knew the fundamental truth that God is the one to whom we turn in times of distress, especially if that distress is caused by the contemplation of our sin. Where else can we turn to find relief for our troubled soul when, upon the contemplation of our depravity, we find ourselves near despair? The very act of meditating on one’s fallen state quickly leads to the conclusion that there is no help to be found in self—self is the problem! We are sinners and when sinners think soberly on their condition, they certainly do not conclude that deliverance from condemnation and the torment of guilt is to be found in their own devices. It is to the LORD and to Him only that we turn in such moments and it is that perspective that is recorded in this Psalm.

This apparent deliberation on his condition led this writer to a sobering conclusion: “If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (v. 2) Realizing, even to a slight degree, how unfit he was to stand before the LORD, this writer confesses the truth that if the LORD were to require an accounting from him for his transgressions, he would be doomed. And, in fact, the way he states the question makes it obvious that he held this same opinion about all of his countrymen. If the LORD were to keep track of our sins, he says, and then require a reckoning from us, we would be lost. We could not possibly stand before the LORD were He to produce a list of our sins.

Imagine knowing that the LORD was, in fact, marking iniquities, was keeping a record and would demand an accounting. This would be enough to unravel any pious person, or any person who truly wanted to walk before Jehovah in faith. But just as such disturbing thoughts occurred to this writer, he adds that astounding statement in v. 4: “But there is forgiveness with You…”

These worshipers were not free of sin and they were not free of guilt before the LORD, but He was not relating to them based on their sin because with Jehovah there is forgiveness. With Him, there is a remedy for sin—because there is forgiveness with the LORD. What a change of perspectives! If the LORD should mark iniquities, these worshipers knew that they could not endure before Him, but the LORD did not keep a record of their sin in order to bring it against them. Instead, He offered them forgiveness; instead, the LORD, the holy One, the offended One, made a provision for their deliverance.

It’s no wonder that the writer goes on to express how he eagerly waited for the LORD (vv. 5 and 6). As he considered his sin and the fact that the LORD forgave him, he wanted nothing more than to be with the LORD who loved him so. The truth of God’s forgiveness was the hope to which this man held as he made his way through life. It was communion with God that brought this man joy and comfort.

The word translated “wait” (qavah) is interesting (cf. v. 5). It’s a term that refers to remaining or abiding in a specific state as you anticipate something beneficial. When the writer says that he waited for the LORD, he doesn’t mean he was expecting the LORD to show up at some point. He means that he was resting in the LORD. And from that perspective, he was anticipating a time of communion with God, perhaps through worship or perhaps through his departure from this life into the presence of God.

In this frame of mind, the writer could urge his fellow-worshipers to “hope in the LORD.” (v. 7) He could assure them that they served a God who is known for His lovingkindness. In Him, the writer declares, there is “abundant redemption.” He presents a picture of the LORD that is completely uplifting and perfectly suited for those who were on their way to worship Jehovah.

At some point, this writer was made aware of his transgressions or something caused him to pause and think about the fact that he was a sinner and his sins were committed against a God of purity and holiness. And as he was going through this thought process, he realized that he deserved destruction. But there he was—alive and well and able to worship the LORD. The contemplation of his sin led, of course, to the contemplation of God’s forgiveness of his sin. Those two realities—his sin and God’s forgiveness of his sin—overwhelmed him and he had to exclaim praise for the LORD.

If God marked your iniquities, if He kept a record of your sins and called you to account, would you be able to stand? If God took note of your transgressions and preserved a list of them, would you be able to appear before Him with confidence? You know the answer to those questions. Our problem is that we don’t face these kinds of questions often enough. We rarely consider the implications of such a question as: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Meditation on such questions leads inevitably to the conclusion that God forgives—otherwise, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have a life and we wouldn’t know the LORD. Meditation on what God has done for sinners is where God-honoring worship begins.

When the writer of this Psalm thought on such things, he was moved to fear the LORD. How about you? We don’t hear much talk about fearing the LORD these days. To fear the LORD means that you relate to Him as God, as a holy and righteous God. It means that we look to Him with thankful hearts realizing that He is the One who saves us and who watches over us. To fear the LORD is to stand in awe of Him.

These kinds of thoughts come much more easily when we keep before us the fact that God has forgiven us. It was that truth that caused the writer to find hope in spite of his sins. He knew that God had provided for his forgiveness. As I said before, the gospel is portrayed in Psa. 130. There is the undeniable teaching of atonement in this Psalm. There is recognition of sin and there is recognition of forgiveness—the two key elements in redemption.

Therefore, we cannot study this Psalm without being directed to Christ. There is no way to read this Psalm and even begin to have the slightest understanding of it without turning our eyes to Christ. It is impossible for us to think about our transgression and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they have been forgiven without turning our minds to Christ. He is the explanation for sins forgiven. The Messiah is the explanation for this writer’s conclusion that, although he was a man of iniquity, there was forgiveness with the LORD. Amen.

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Psalm 148

A Meditation for the Lord’s Day

In the Book of Psalms, there is a category of Psalms known as the “Hallelujah Psalms.” This term comes from the use of the Hebrew word halel in each of these . This word means “praise, glory, most, celebrate, and shine.” In its various grammatical constructions, this word is rendered “to be praised, to be made praiseworthy, to be commended.”

The most well-known of these Hallelujah Psalms is the collection that ends the book of Psalms, that is, 146 through 150. Each of these five Psalms begins and ends with “Praise the LORD.” Writers have referred to this collection of Psalms as the “Hallalujah Chorus” to this book of praises, that is, the whole book of Psalms.

Let’s consider Psa. 148:

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! 2 Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! 3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! 4 Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created. 6 He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, Sea monsters and all deeps; 8 Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word; 9 Mountains and all hills; Fruit trees and all cedars; 10 Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged fowl; 11 Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; 12 Both young men and virgins; Old men and children. 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. 14 And He has lifted up a horn for His people, Praise for all His godly ones; Even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the LORD!

The writer calls for praise for the LORD from the heavens and the heights, from His angels, from the sun and moon, and all stars of light. He commanded, and they were created. Further, God has established them forever by a decree that will not pass away. God’s making and sustaining of creation are to be the basis of praise from the very things made and sustained.

In verses 7-10, the writer provides another list of sources from which God should be praised. Praise should come from the earth, sea monsters, from fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind, mountains and hills, fruit trees and all cedars, from all beasts, creeping things and winged foul. Once again, all of creation is exhorted to praise its Creator in light of His power to make them and maintain them.

The writer concludes this Psalm of praise with reference to man. In verse 11, he calls upon the kings of the earth and all people to praise the LORD. Princes and all judges are included. With these references, the writer indicates that even those with great authority among men are obligated to recognize a greater authority, which is the LORD.

Mentioned next are young men and virgins, old men and children. At no stage of life, does the obligation to praise God cease. From the beginning of life to its end, we are to praise the LORD for His greatness. Children are to be instructed in the praise of God, both by word and deed. They learn about this universal beauty through the teaching and example of adults.

Young man and virgins, who have entered the most active part of life where the tendency is to think primarily of self and plans for the future, are reminded that before all else they have a responsibility to praise the LORD. All listed are exhorted to praise the name of the LORD because His name alone is exalted and, as has been stated previously, His glory is above earth and heaven. And He is to be praised, as well, for His rescue of His people.

As noted, this Psalm ends with that wonderful declaration “Praise the LORD.” Let us, therefore, enter His presence with gladness and humble thanksgiving so that we might join the ranks of those who have gathered to Praise the LORD.