The Book of Psalms

Tuesday: Luther’s “Pauline Psalm”


Theme: “In the Depths”
In this week’s lessons, we see that forgiveness comes to all who genuinely repent of their sin, which leads to godly living.
Scripture: Psalm 130:1-8
The psalm begins with the writer in “the depths” or, as the Latin says, de profundis. In Hebrew, being “in the depths” refers specifically to being caught in dangerous and deep waters, a powerful image for a people who were largely land-based and not at all seafaring. This image occurs in many places in the Old Testament (for instance, Isaiah 51:10 and Ezekiel 27:34), but nowhere more powerfully than in Psalm 69:1, 2, in fact, throughout the psalm. Psalm 69 begins, 
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.”
What is it that has brought the writer of Psalm 130 into this dangerous condition? Throughout my treatment of the Songs of Ascents, I have spoken favorably of Eugene Peterson and his valuable studies of these psalms, but I need to say that, in my opinion, he misses the point completely here. He thinks the problem being discussed is suffering, and what he understands the psalm to be offering is dignity by immersing suffering in God. The answer to suffering, as he sees it, is hope through learning to wait on the Lord.1
But it is not suffering that is troubling the psalmist in this psalm; it is sin. It is why he writes about “a record of sins” in verse 3, forgiveness in verse 4, and redemption in verses 7 and 8. This is one of the first points John Owen makes in his exhaustive treatment of the psalm. (When is Owen not exhaustive?) Owen writes,
He cries out under the weight and waves of his sins. This the ensuing psalm makes evident. Desiring to be delivered from these depths out of which he cried, he deals with God wholly about mercy and forgiveness; and it is sin alone from which forgiveness is a deliverance. The doctrine also that he preached upon his delivery is that of mercy, grace and redemption, as is manifest from the close of the psalm….Sin is the disease, affliction only a symptom of it.2
Our problem today, especially in appreciating a psalm like this, is that most of us do not have much awareness of sin. We live most of our lives with very little awareness of God, and where God has been abolished, an awareness of sin is inevitably abolished also. This is because sin is defined only in relationship to God. It is “any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer to question 14). 
We need to recover a sense of sin. We need to discover how desperate our condition is apart from God. We need to know that God’s wrath is not an outmoded theological construct, but a terrible and impending reality. We need to come out of our sad fantasy world and begin to tremble before the awesome holiness of our almighty Judge. 
But suppose you are aware of your sin. Suppose you are one of those apparently rare people in our day who truly are troubled by their many great wrongs and transgressions. Suppose you are “in the depths.” Where can you turn for help? You will not find it in yourself certainly, any more than the writer of this psalm found it in himself. The only source of help for you is God, and in his mercy at that. You need to prostrate yourself before him and ask for help. In other words, your stance must be the exact opposite of that defiant cry of William Henley (1849-1903), who wrote, 
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.3
God pity any man or woman who thinks like that. If you are looking inward, you are only going to sink deeper and deeper into the black abyss until you are lost forever. What you need is God, who alone is able to pull you out, set your feet upon a rock and establish your goings (see Ps. 40:2, KJV). The psalmist knew that, which is why he called out: “O LORD, hear my voice. Let your ear be attentive to my cry for mercy” (vv. 1, 2).
1Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980), pp. 131-141. He calls this chapter “Hope.” 
2John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 6, p. 331. 
3William Ernest Henley, “To R. T. H. B” in The Harvard Classics: English Poetry, vol. 3, From Tennyson to Whitman (Norwalk, CT: The Easton Press, reprint 1994), p. 1258 
Study Questions: 

What does being in the depths mean in Hebrew? Where else does this image appear? 
What is troubling the psalmist? Why does Dr. Boice say the psalmist’s problem is not suffering? 
Identify the next step after recovering an awareness of sin. Where do you turn for help?

Application: Have you had an equivalent experience to being in the depths? How did the Lord deliver you from it? How might you be able to help others from your own experience?
Observation: The context of a psalm brings meaning to a text. Look for the relationship of the verses preceding and following to get the full understanding.
Prayer: Ask God for an awareness of sin. Repent and ask forgiveness for yours.
Key Point: If you are looking inward, you are only going to sink deeper and deeper into the black abyss until you are lost forever.

Study Questions
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