“If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope.” Psalm 130:3–5

Sincere repentance may retain its intensity for a moment but, as with all human endeavor, the good start is squandered by distraction, laziness, and “the next thing.” What was once white hot devotion forged in trial, fades in the quenching waters of lust and life.

Psalm 130 is one of the seven penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143). It is also post-exilic in that it has thematic components that sound like Nehemiah 1. Because it is a psalm of ascents, it is comfortably understood as a psalm written by a godly man, serious in his worship of Jehovah, and concerned to keep his heart focused on repentance. Not only is it an extremely personal psalm but it is also a nationwide call to the faithful to redouble their effort to walk with God.

The general theme of the psalm is “Jehovah forgives,” and balances three ideas: continuing consequence of sin, confession of guilt, and confidence in God. A simple outline for the psalm could be: My Need (verses 1f), My Fearful Thought (verse 3), My Fondest Hope (verse 4), My Faith in Action (verses 5f), and My Life’s Message (verses 7f).

The psalmist begins with an urgent expression of his need. “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.” His cry goes up before the presence of Jehovah (the covenant-keeping God), and then he keeps on praying. The verb is in the perfect tense which means “to have cried” and “will cry.” Where the psalmist sees himself is down in the depths. This is a word which is very rich in Old Testament meaning.

David writes in Psalm 40:2, “He also brought me up out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.” Again in Psalm 69:2 and 14 he writes, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me?…?. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink?…?.” Then, in Isaiah 51:10, God’s seminal care of His own is described: “Are You not the One who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that made the depths of the sea a road for the redeemed to cross over?” The psalmist knows there is only one hope for his sinful soul’s need and the covenant-keeping God is worthy of his hope. MacLaren says, “If out of the depths we cry, we shall cry ourselves out of the depths.”

Verse 2 serves as a transition from an upward cry for help to an inward focus on the psalmist’s sense of unworthiness. He uses “Lord,” the term for Master: Adonai. The verse seems to have a tone of doubt, as is always the case of a saint who focuses on his own resources, efforts, and history.

From “my need,” the psalmist moves on to “my fearful thought.” Verse 3 reads, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand.” To mark is to keep account. What a fearful thing it is to consider the truth that God does, indeed, keep account of sin! Before the Holy God no sinner can stand (survive, endure) on his own. God calls people to account for their sin. This fact never escapes the spiritually-minded man, even though he is forgiven by the grace of God! It is this default setting of humility and conscious dependence upon God’s mercy that prepares the saint to consider the meaning of verse 4.

From my fearful thought to my fondest hope: “But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” Essentially, the psalmist is saying, “Yours is the power to forgive, not to be presumed upon.” His statement reveals a true-hearted craving for pardon from God so that he may be spared. In keeping with other Scriptures (Nehemiah 9:17, Isaiah 55:7), Daniel 9:9 states, “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. We have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His laws?…?.” An “old Welshman” is quoted as praying, “O Lord, we thank Thee that there is forgiveness with Thee?…?enough to frighten us.” Repentance is always best kept fresh by refocusing on the biblical view of our need and the biblical view of God’s matchless grace.

With a fresh, awe-inspiring audience with God under his belt, the psalmist puts faith into action with a complete resignation of his soul into the hands of God. Faith always has an object upon which it rests. Four times the author says he waits on the LORD. Verse 5 underscores his heartfelt faith effectively saying, “In astonished awe, I await His word.” He is echoing the words of Jeremiah from Lamentations 3:25f: “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”

If you want to keep your repentance fresh, begin each day by rekindling an appreciation for God’s favor extended to undeserving you! Trust and obey.