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Connections 03.29.2020: The Lord Hears Us

Psalm 130

It’s Monday, March 16, and I’m writing this on a strange, surreal day during a strange, surreal time in the life of our country. The new coronavirus known as COVID-19, which apparently originated in China back in December 2019, has spread rapidly throughout the world over the past several months. Our area, along with many others in the country and the world, has been encouraged to practice “social distancing.” People have different ideas about what that means: some are still doing life as usual, while others are hunkering down at home. For some people, staying at home is not an option because of their jobs or other matters. For others, their livelihoods and well-being are at stake due to limited access to necessities.

I’m thankful that our family is able to hunker down. My two daughters, whose school is closed at least for this week, are sitting in our dining room working on assignments that their teachers hastily compiled when the closure decision was made Friday. My younger daughter’s thirteenth birthday party is postponed. My husband is on his way home from the Air Force base where he works, having been asked to telework from his house. I always work from home, so my schedule is the least disrupted.

It’s been easy to panic over the past week, watching the fears mount and seeing those in power rushing to make decisions that affect hundreds of thousands of people. Like the psalmist, I have cried out to the Lord. My soul is waiting for the Lord. I have spent many anxious, restless nights watching for the morning. (See vv. 1, 5-6.)

Psalm 130 is about redemption. It’s about presenting supplications to God and seeking forgiveness for iniquities (vv. 2-4). There are many people who believe this virus outbreak is a sign of God’s punishment upon our evil world. I’m not one of those people. But I do think times like these can humble us, making us more aware of our desperate need for a God whose “steadfast love” and “great power” are bigger than all of this (v. 7).

We have the opportunity during these difficult days to be selfish and self-protective. We also have the opportunity to look out for the less fortunate and the vulnerable in whatever way we can. There is redemption in shining God’s light into this darkness. How will you shine yours?

Discussion

• How has the COVID-19 situation changed in the two weeks since this article was written? Have protective measures increased? What is the state of your city, and how are you and your loved ones handling it?

• In what ways do you cry out to the Lord when you are fearful or distressed? How do you know that God’s ears are attentive to you?

• What does it mean to you to “wait for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning” (v. 6)? What level of anticipation do you have as you wait? What do you expect God to do?

• How can your hope truly be in the Lord in times of difficulty or crisis?

• What are some ways you can shine God’s light into whatever darkness your community faces?

Reference Shelf

Psalm 130

This psalm is usually read as a lament of an individual in which a suppliant cries out to Yahweh for deliverance from a present predicament. This may very well be the case, and Ps 130 is one of the traditional seven penitential psalms in Christian tradition (Pss 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). However, it is quite possible to read this psalm as a thanksgiving, an especially appropriate reading in the context of the festival participation of speakers in the Songs of Ascent (Pss 120–134). In this case read the verbs in vv. 1 and 5 (v. 6 has no verb in Hebrew and takes its tense from v. 5) in past tense: “Out of the depths I cried to you, O Lord! …I waited for the Lord…and in his word I hoped. My soul waited for the Lord.” If this is correct, the psalm recalls blessings already received. The prayer that the worshiper prayed before deliverance is in vv. 2-4. The exhortation to Israel (the congregation) in v. 7 fits poorly in a lament, but it is appropriate for a thanksgiving. Read as thanksgiving, the psalm becomes a testimony of one delivered from the depths (v. 1), although the deliverance is not explicitly stated.

However, the traditional reading of this psalm as a penitential lament has a long and moving history among people of faith. The message of the psalm is not significantly changed if it is read as lament, which vv. 2-4 are in any case. If the traditional reading is retained, vv. 5-6 become statements of confidence in the present, expressing assurance that waiting in hope and anticipation for divine action will not be disappointed.

The depths (v. 1) is a metaphor for mental and physical anguish and disaster, reflecting the waters of the cosmic deep (cf. Ps 69:2, 14-15; Isa 51:10; Ezek 27:34), but it is a metaphor suitable for any great distress, such as that in Ps 69 or of an exile living amid contempt and scorn as in Ps 123. From the depths the suppliant cried out to Yahweh. The expected answer to the rhetorical question in v. 3 is “No one”; no one has any standing before God on the basis of a sinless life. A relationship may exist, but it is based on God’s forgiveness (v. 4). The that you may be revered indicates the reverence and willingness to obey that results from the experience of God’s forgiveness. Such fear is the fruit of love; it is the “right fear” of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress that reminds us that forgiveness opens up new involvement and obligations in terms of God’s will and removes our ability to calculate the cost of our own involvement.

Such a prayer leads to the kind of relinquishment and expectant waiting that is expressed in vv. 5-6. The worshiper’s whole being was (or is) “toward God” (for the Lord, v. 6a). Like a watchman who expectantly anticipates the dawn, the worshiper waits for the word of Yahweh. We are not told that a word is received and there is a measure of unresolved tension in the psalm. As in Ps 120, we may have an implicit deliverance manifest in the context of a pilgrim able to go to Zion for festivals. In any case, the worshiper is able to exhort the congregation in vv. 7-8 to join in the “hope directed toward the Lord.” It is Yahweh who will redeem Israel from iniquity (v. 8). The hope of the speaker is pointed toward a fellowship of the forgiven, for with the Lord there is steadfast love, and…great power to redeem (v. 7).

Marvin E. Tate, “Psalms,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills and Richard F. Wilson (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995).

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (15) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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