The Jews journeyed to Jerusalem for several feasts every year—each having a special significance. As they traveled and approached the city and especially the temple, their purpose in drawing near grew clearer and clearer. This developed not only from their proximity to their ancient capital but also due to their practice of singing psalms as they approached, songs designed to remind them of their identity, of their need, and of their purpose in coming to worship in the temple on that occasion. While obedience to the Law—especially following their captivity in Babylon—motivated and directed them, the focus and content of the psalms shows that other concerns also drove them. The third feast commanded, the Feast of Ingathering, began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Ex. 23:16); however, the LORD designated a solemn Sabbath just five days before this on the tenth (Lev. 16:29-33), Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Reflection on this day and its meaning permeates Psalm 130 thereby giving it a deeper meaning and tone.
Depression and despair, regular themes in the psalms, take on greater gravity when placed in a spiritual context. Guilt—properly felt due to sin—is serious cause indeed. And experienced fully, it produces a separation and loneliness like no other (Isa. 59:1-2), making the opening cry of the psalm even more forlorn: “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD” (Psa. 130:1). Sinful man needs a holy God—desperately. It is essential that man knows it, realizes it, feels it. Sadly, many feel their guilt and ignore it, feel their guilt and dismiss it, or feel their guilt and misinterpret it. But those who recognize it as the offspring of sin, turn to the LORD as He desires and seek pardon for it (Psa. 130:2). The Lord knows our sins—every one. But He is also longsuffering and does not act on them immediately due to His loving forbearance (Psa. 130:3). The LORD wants to forgive; He longs to forgive. Therefore, He has created a plan to forgive. And this should produce a deep reverence in all who realize the extent to which He is willing to go to have a relationship with us (Psa. 130:4). He does not need us as slaves or anything else, but He still wants us as His children. What a marvelous thought! “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Rom. 8:15). The relationship God desires is personal, spiritual, and character driven. He has given His Word and offered promises to create hope in those who read and gain faith with the design that the message within will create a spiritual longing for the LORD in return (Psa. 130:5). However, spiritual longing for the LORD should surpass some casual interest but turn into a grand expectation rooted in the full consideration of His character and thus building a confident expectation that assures all of the certainty of the fulfillment of every promise (Psa. 130:6). Having then gained full assurance of the great extent of the LORD’s desire to forgive, the psalmist called on all of Israel to adopt the same confidence. The answer to all matters of guilt and the sin that created it depend on an understanding and expectation of the depth of mercy bestowed upon man by the Yahweh (Psa. 130:7). Because He has reached out His hand in mercy rather than striking out in anger, He has placed His character and love on display, supplying the purchase price necessary to provide redemption in the face of despair. In doing so, He does not address only a fraction of trespasses practiced or remove a portion of sins committed but the whole, addressing and redeeming Israel from “all his iniquities” (Psa. 130:8).
Spiritually-minded people seeking God’s forgiveness today should marvel still at His longsuffering (2 Pet. 3:9) and be drawn to turn their hearts back to God in faith (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 11:6). However, God’s plan today, rooted in the atonement made possible through the sacrifice of His Son (1 Jn. 2:1-2; Heb. 7:26-27), demands more than simple prayer but rather convicted repentance (Acts 17:30), confessed allegiance (Matt. 10:32-33), and committed obedience (Acts 22:16; Heb. 5:8-9), thus calling on the name of the LORD (Acts 2:16-38). We must never take forgiveness lightly, for what it cost God or what it requires of us. But once received, we should sing about it often, with words similar to the psalmist’s.