Psalm 130

A Prayer For Forgiveness

1 Out of the depths I have cried to you, YHWH.
2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my petitions.
3 If you, Yah, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you, therefore you are feared.
5 I wait for YHWH. My soul waits. I hope in his word.
6 My soul longs for the Lord more than watchmen long for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
7 Israel, hope in YHWH, for with YHWH there is loving kindness. With him is abundant redemption.
8 He will redeem Israel from all their sins.

World English Version

When do you seek forgiveness? Why do you seek it?

One definition of arrogance is never seeking forgiveness. The arrogant person thinks he or she is above it all. Of course, none of us are God; we just like to play God. Seeking forgiveness is the way we step back from the arrogance of our self-centered universe and see ourselves as we truly are.

Psalm 130 asks for forgiveness. It is a penitent psalm that reaches out to God in hope. Some scholars believe the hymn was a prayer to prepare the worship community to enter the Temple; in other words, the psalm acted as a ritual of spiritual cleansing, much like the washing rituals during the time of Jesus prepared a Jew for communal meals (see John 2:1-12, for example).

The psalm can be divided into three parts: the petition for forgiveness (130:1-4), the call for attentive waiting (130:5-6), and a reminder to the nation of God's covenant (130:7-8). The petition is the most personal part of the psalm, even more personal many of the other preparation psalms (Psalms 15 and 24). The attitude of the petitioner was not despair but distance. The image in 130:1 put the petitioner 'in the depths (of a valley),' whereas YHWH was understood to dwell on the mountaintop (overlooking the depths); the landscape of Palestine with its below sea-level valleys and jutting mountain ranges made the contrast of place dramatic. Yet, even on the mountaintop, YHWH could hear the voice of a sinner so far away. Notice, it is the power of forgiveness that evoked awe (fear of the Lord in 130:4), not divine justice (130:3).

In 130:4-5, the subject shifted from petition to anticipation. The psalmist waited for the presence of the Lord; he anticipated the arrival of YHWH, just as a watchman looked to the arrival of the king at night.

130:5-6 moved the hymn from the personal to the corporate; the subject was not the petitioner but the nation. Israel was to hope in YHWH because of his covenant (i.e., loving kindness). But, the subject (repeated twice in 130:7b, then 130:8) looped back to the petition of 130:4; just as the petitioner asked for forgiveness, so the nation will be pardoned.

At some point in life, we need to step back from our egos to make things right with others. Forgiveness is the means we use to reestablish relationships. When we ask God for forgiveness, we are seeking a fresh start, a new balance. Unlike the uncertainty with human relations, we can be confident that God will hear out plea, accept our humble hearts, and give us a spirit of yearning for his presence.

How have you prayed for forgiveness? How has God heard your prayer?