Out of the Depths

Psalm 130

Psalm 130, is a lament, of that class of psalm that seems to bring the most human dimension to this book of worship that has served Israel and the church for thousands of years. Laments are often the psalms with which we can identify the most. The laments are moments of stark, unabashed honesty before God, sometimes expressed by an individual, sometimes voiced on behalf of the community, sometimes a lament over sin, and sometimes a lament over oppression from without.

When we read them, we are often struck by their force of feeling, by their bracing honesty in the middle of intense struggle. As broken people, facing broken situations and relationships, we find great comfort in words given to us to express our need.

Whether or not we are as honest to one another about our brokenness before God, we have all most likely cried out to him out of our own depths of despair, of fear, and of frustration. Behind our polite facades, in the lives we often take great pains to keep hidden from one another, we are broken people. We struggle with the pain of unexplained sickness and death, of diseases we cannot heal and losses we cannot replace. We face cruelty in marriage, love lost, abuse inflicted, and betrayal. We feel the sting of kids who reject us and parents who hurt us. We fear losing jobs and work under the oppression of bosses who demand too much and coworkers who make it hard to go to work each day.

All of us have retreated before the chaos of too many responsibilities and burdens to bear or buckled beneath the consequences of bad choices made and the burden of guilt and shame. For many the anger and frustration at things over which we have no control is debilitating, and we collapse in the face of hurts inflicted by circumstances and by others, especially by those we love and trust.

In all these struggles and more, the laments in the Psalms help give voice to our struggle. “Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD;” our psalmist begins. “Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications” (130.1-2, NRSV)!

In many of the laments in the Psalms, David himself teaches us much about what it is to cry out of the depths. And in so doing, as scholar Dr. Reggie Kidd recognizes. “David opens the floodgates of the human heart” (Kidd, With One Voice, 60)

Listen for a moment to some of the songs of lament and the way the floodgates are opened. Consider how these words might have been yours in recent memory, or how they might well be yours even now.

Give ear to my words, O LORD;
Give heed to my sighing.
Listen to he sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray. (Ps. 5.1-2)

O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD,
For I am languishing;
O LORD, heal me, LORD, for my bones are shaking in terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O LORD—how long? (Ps. 6.1-3)

Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. (Ps. 12.1-2)

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed;”
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. (Ps. 13.1-4)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but find no rest. (Ps. 22.1-2)

My wounds grow foul and because of my foolishness.
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all day long I go around mourning.
For my loins are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.

I am utterly spent and crushed;
I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.
O LORD, all my longing is known to you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
as for the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. (Ps. 38.5-10)

As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” (Ps. 42.1-3)

My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me; and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself far from the raging wind and tempest.” (Ps. 55.4-8)

Haven’t we all, at one time or another, cried to God, “it’s simply to much to bear—if I could escape, I would?” Have we not, in our hearts, in our most honest moments with the Lord, admitted to this kind of weakness or desperation?

But there is more.

Laments are not just raw human honesty before God. If that were true, then the almost defiant and certainly demanding cry of the unbeliever who screams at a God he’s not even sure exists would be holy lament.

But they’re not just shaking a fist at God and demanding that he listen. And they’re not the petulant cries of the childish who want their own way who say “if you’re there and you answer me and fix my problem, then (and only then) will I listen to you and consider being obedient.” They are not the appeals of those looking for a divine intervention or a way out of a tight situation in lives they have otherwise lived without much interest in God. And, quite frankly, they’re not even the simply honest expressions of need, frustration, fear, or sorrow before a God we hope might be there and will come alongside.

Biblical lament, the honest expressions of pain, fear, sorrow, and brokenness with which we can all identify, is not spoken by those who know nothing of who God is, who are confident in nothing but their own pain. And it is not spoken pridefully as if deliverance is something deserved.

Laments, like the one we are considering today, are the bracingly honest expressions of those who have known God, who have known him to be faithful, who have trusted in his faithfulness and his love for them, who have at one time known him to be close, and who are counting on him to continue to be everything they’ve always known.

So often, in the angry cries of frustrated people there are accusations to be made. The cries of pain and brokenness are more protest than honesty. The tone is more demanding than pleading. The relationship is that of an accuser trying to force the hand of the guilty into giving in.

But in the psalms of lament, the cry itself places he who cries in right relationship with almighty God. It is that raw, honest cry that so knows and trusts in God that it addresses him with confidence from the depths, where God seems suddenly very absent.

And the cry made by those who know the truth of who they are, what they have done, what they deserve, and what they must do. That cry is made by those who, in both profound humility and with the resolution of those who know no other course, lays all that they are and all that they need before their maker, even when they are where they are as a result of their own sin and what they deserve is nothing more and nothing less than God’s wrath.

Again, as Dr. Kidd describes, the psalmist “…admits the worst about who he is and what he has done, and in so doing finds greater tenderness and confidence in his relationship with God” (60).

This is what we find with the first few words of today’s psalm:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication! (130.1-2)

Notice immediately, that God is addressed personally with his own name. The plaintive cries for mercy are addressed to YHWH, the God of Abraham and Moses, the God the psalmist knows as deliverer, as faithful, the one who heard the cries of his people in bondage and brought them out of Egypt long ago.

And to YHWH, the psalmist cries “out of the depths” (130.1).

The depths are a very important image in scripture. We know intuitively, at least at one level, what it is to be “in the depths.” We know what it means to be immersed in the chaos of life to be overwhelmed, tossed about to and fro as if lost at see buffeted by waves that threaten to pull us under and drown us.

The depths for the psalmist are certainly the same. In Psalm 69, another deeply personal and passionate lament, the psalmist cries,

I sink in the deep mire, where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. (2-3)


Rescue me from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me. (14-15)

The depths in scripture are a place of darkness, of fear, and death, a hard and difficult place from which it is impossible to deliver oneself.

But there is more. The depths are also a place of judgment and wrath and a place of separation from God.

Into the depths, Pharaoh’s army was cast when they pursued God’s people. As we hear in Exodus,

Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;
his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. (15.4-5)

The psalmist declares in Psalm 88

You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me;
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. (6-7)

And in Ezekiel, a terrible passage of condemnation, God declares,

“When I make you a city laid waste, like cities that are not inhabited,
when I bring up the deep over you, and the great waves cover you,
then I will thrust you down with those who descend into the Pit,
to the people of long ago,
and I will make you live in the world below, among primeval ruins,
with those who go down to the Pit,
and so that you will not be inhabited or have a place in the land of the living.
I will bring you to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more;
though sought for, you will never be found again,”
declares the LORD God. (26.19-21)

The depths are dark, desolate, deadly. From the depths there is no return. They isolate, smother, and drown us. They are the place we find ourselves when we are overwhelmed, and they are the place we drive ourselves with our own sin.

Which is exactly why the psalmist cries out of the depths, “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, who could stand” (Ps. 130.2-3)?

No one.

And right here is the crux of the issue for the psalmist, and for us. There is much that can and will puts us in jeopardy that send us spiraling into darkness—into the depths—not the least of which is our own sin.

There are stupid things we do and have done, and stupid things others do and have done to us. We try to go it alone in life, and we make big mistakes—the first of which is trying to go it alone. We are wrapped up in our own desires and pursuits, and we fail God over and over again.

And all too often, we fail even more by not wanting to admit that things aren’t right, that we aren’t obedient as we should be, that we do not love and trust God as we ought. When it comes right down to it, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, even we who claim to be faithful, could not stand!”

This is the harsh reality of the depths.

Whether we have sunk under the waves and billows of chaos and despair due to circumstances over which we have no control, or whether we are in the pit we’ve dug for ourselves, the depths cannot be escaped. We are powerless to rescue ourselves.

But the psalmist cries out of the depths to YHWH.

Why? Because YHWH, sovereign God, is Lord of even the depths. “Can you find out the deep things of God?” God asks in Job 11.

Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven— what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol— what can you know?
Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. (11.7-9)

“Where can I go from your spirit?” David prays in Psalm 139.

…where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (7-12)

YHWH, to whom the psalmist cries out of the depths, to whom we cry out of the depths, subdued the watery chaos, the depths, when he created. He took the Israelites through the depths of the seas and drowned their enemies under the waves. He took his people through the wilderness to a new land. He heard their cries and sent his own son to save us.

Through the depths, the waters of our baptism, he saves us still.

This is God almighty, God the deliverer, known for his steadfast love, his faithfulness, his hesed. “…hope in the LORD!” our psalmist declares, “For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem” (Ps. 130.7).

And out of the depths, while the chaos still rages and overwhelms, our psalmist admits the truth of who he is, and what he needs. He throws himself on the mercy of YHWH, and waits with hope for redemption and deliverance—not because he deserves it, but because he knows YHWH to be unfailing in his love. “For great is your steadfast love toward me;” David says in Psalm 86. “You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (13).

It is to this God that our psalmist cries,

I know who I am and what I deserve.
I know where I stand before you.
And yet I know that you love me and will restore me.
And so I hope in you, and wait with my whole being for your deliverance
So that I can serve you again, as I should. (Ps. 130, my paraphrase)


Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
I wait for the LORD, my souls waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch wait for the morning,
more than those who watch wait for the morning. (Ps. 130.1-6)

And we know he didn’t wait in vain. We are invited to share his hope, his confidence in the Lord he knows as redeemer and deliverer. As with most laments in the Psalms, ours ends with a witness of praise, a praise embodied in an invitation to Israel, and to us, the new Israel to,

…hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities. (Ps. 130.7-8)

And notice that this is not a cheap praise that pats God on the back for coming alongside and helping us as we help ourselves. It’s a costly praise expressed by one who has been delivered through the depths, who knows what it means to hope in God’s steadfast love even while in darkness and to be delivered when undeserving and unable to save himself. And it’s a praise voiced to the community, that invites us all to join him, not only in praising God, but in walking with him through the depths and into his unfailing love and full redemption.

The psalmist, who has made the cry out of his brokenness to YHWH, who has thrown his whole being into hoping in the mercy and love of God, and who has been forgiven, invites us to do the same. He invites us to share in the blessing of undeserved and unreserved grace.

As Dr. Kidd describes it,

In a way that is without precedent in the ancient world, [the psalmist] shows how we can come before our Maker and admit that at our core we are not right. All we have to offer is a song from a broken spirit and a contrite heart, and we can know that if we come in this fashion we will not be torn to shreds. …the singer introduces us to the notion that there is a blessedness that awaits those—and only those—who admit that rightness is nowhere within them, who look to God alone to account it to them for no motive besides God’s own loving kindness. (61)

This is the blessing of God given to those, and only those, who begin in the depths, who know in our bones that we are not right and that only God can make us right, for no other reason than because he loves us and desires to restore us.

This is not a blessing for those who think we can make it on our own. It is not for we who want God to bless lives we mostly live without him. It is not for we who think we just need a little help along the way.

But this in itself is our source of hope, for most of us know, in our hearts, that we can’t do this ourselves. We cannot really meet life and its challenges on our own.

So when we really admit the truth of who we are before God, when we have nothing left to offer but our brokenness and our desperate desire for deliverance, when we have finally given up every other hope in ourselves, in others, in fate or our own force of will, when we confess to YHWH out of the depths, our impotence, our desperation, and our sin, he himself will redeem us.

For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem. (Ps. 130.7)

Let us pray

Out of the depths we cry to you, YHWH; Lord, hear our voices.
Let your ears be attentive to our cries for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
We wait for you, Oh Lord, with our whole being we wait, and in your word we put our hope.
We wait for you, more than watchmen wait for the morning, …more than watchmen wait for the morning.
We put our hope in you, for with you, as you have shown us through your Son, Jesus Christ, is unfailing love, and with you is full redemption.


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