Psalms For Life
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Psalm 130

Out of the depths

As today, many believers in the psalmist’s day saw God as harsh and judgmental. This psalm corrects both that error and its opposite, that God’s grace licenses spiritual carelessness.

A song of ascents.

Out of the depths
I cry to you, YHWH!
2 Hear my pleas for help, Lord—
tune your ear to my voice!
3 If you held onto our sins, YHWH
who would be left standing, Lord?
4 But you forgive us
so that you may be revered.

5 I’m waiting for YHWH—
waiting for him, heart and soul.
I’ve put my hope in his word.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than sentries wait for the dawn
more than sentries wait for the dawn.

7 Israel, wait for YHWH
because his love never fails
and his redemption is abundant.
8 He will redeem his people Israel
from all their sins.

Like Jonah in the fish and the Israelites crossing the sea, the psalmist* cries for God’s mercy, overwhelmed by the depths’ threatening chaos. She knows her sins call for divine judgment, but she points to the twin facts that she’s no different from anyone else in that regard and God’s grace doesn’t let our sins get in the way of his redemption.* Indeed, that’s what his redemption is all about.

On the other hand, we could easily think God’s readiness to forgive licenses us to do whatever we like. But the psalmist says it’s not that way: God forgives us to transform us, so we’ll reverently bow in worship and live to please him. God’s grace doesn’t leave us unchanged.

But for all her theological clarity, the psalmist is still in the depths, desperately needing God. She doesn’t precisely detail what she’s up against or where her sins have put her, and her imprecision allows us to read our greatest challenges in here. She longs for the least glimmer of God’s rescue, like a sentry longs for the faintest glow in the eastern sky heralding the dawn. She concludes by calling Israel to wait, even as she does. Because God’s gracious invitation is wide open, his love never fails, and his redemption is more than enough to ransom the entire nation from all its sins.


Lost without you, Jesus, I seek your forgiveness and rescue, on the basis of your faithfulness, not mine. Your love never fails. Your grace is more than sufficient for all your people. I hope in your promise and wait for your redemption. Have mercy on me and redeem your people, I pray. Amen.

In your free moments today, pray these words:

If you held onto our sins, YHWH
who would be left standing, Lord?
But you forgive us
so that you may be revered.


* I imagine the psalmist here as a woman of faith, like Miriam, Deborah, Hanna, or the Virgin Mary (see further: Who wrote the psalms?).


Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.