Psalm 130 Translation and comment

A song of ascents or degrees

From the deep waters I cry to you Yahweh;

Listen to my voice, Lord!

Pay attention to the voice of my pleading!

If you Yah, kept a close watch on wickedness

Lord, who could withstand you?

But with you there is forgiveness

That you may be feared.

I wait for Yahweh, my soul waits

And in his promise I have put my hope.

My soul, for the Lord,

More than the watchers wait for the dawn

Oh more than the watchers wait for the dawn.

Put your hope in Yahweh, Israel

For Yahweh’s love is loyal

And his liberation is lavish.

He will redeem Israel from all her debts.

Ah yes, this most beautiful and passionate of psalms carries its author’s faith across the centuries. The “depths” were always for Israel the watery deep of Genesis chapter 1: the person is in danger of annihilation. The psalmist allows the thought that this may be what he has deserved for his sins but counters it with the faith that Yahweh offers forgiveness. He is too great to give punishment; so he/she must be feared.

Then the psalmist gives us his heart, or rather in his language, his soul. He “waits for” the Lord, because the Lord has given a word, a promise of liberation. In Hebrew to wait and to watch are the one verb. Marvellously the psalmist thinks of those whose job is to watch for the dawn, when the dangers of darkness are over and life can begin again. At this point he omits the verb “to wait” simply writing, “my soul for the Lord.” I never realised that I (secular Christian that I am!) might long for the Lord and his saving justice, until I read these words, but then I did. – The saving justice so much needed by the people of Ukraine as I write these words. The saving justice so needed by Pastor Gabor Ivanyi and his confessing church in Budapest, evicted from its premises yesterday by the armed thugs of President Orban. Oh more than than the watchers wait for the dawn. The psalmist knows that when liberation comes, it has to be lavish.

And of course liberation is promised, but the genius of this psalm is to give words to the terrible wordless yearning for help of those who flounder in the deep waters into which human beings can fall.

In the final line, the Hebrew can mean sin or the consequences of sin. I take it to mean the latter.

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