Treasury of David
TITLE. A Song of Degrees. It would be hard to see any upward step from the preceding to the present Psalm, and therefore it is possible that the steps or ascents are in the song itself. Certainly it does rise rapidly out of the depths of anguish, to the heights of assurance. It follows well upon 129—when we have overcome the trials which arise from man we are the better prepared to meet those sharper sorrows which arise out of our matters towards God. He who has borne the scourges of the wicked, is trained in all patience to wait the dealings of the Holy Lord. We name this the DE PROFUNDIS PSALM. "Out of the depths" is the leading word of it: out of those depths we cry, wait, watch, and hope. In this Psalm we hear of the pearl of redemption, Perhaps the sweet singer would never have found that precious thing had he not been cast into the depths. "Pearls lie deep."
DIVISION. The first two verses reveal an intense desire.
The next two verses are a humble confession of repentance and faith.
Verses 5-6 waiting watchfulness is declared and resolved upon.
Verses 7-8 a joyful expectation, both for himself and all Israel, finds expression.
Verse 1. Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O LORD. This is the Psalmist's statement and plea—he had never ceased to pray even when brought into the lowest state. The depths usually silence all they engulf, but they could not close the mouth of this servant of the Lord. On the contrary, it was in the abyss itself that he cried unto Jehovah. Beneath the floods prayer lived and struggled; yes, above the roar of the billows rose the cry of faith.
It little matters where we are if we can pray; but prayer is never more real and acceptable than when it rises out of the worst places. Deep places beget deep devotion. Depths of earnestness are stirred by depths of tribulation. Diamonds sparkle most amid the darkness. The more distressed we are, the more excellent is the faith which trusts bravely in the Lord, and therefore appeals to him, and to him alone.
Godly men may be in the depths of temporal and spiritual trouble; but in such cases they look only to their God, and they stir themselves up to be more instant and earnest in prayer than at other times. The depth of their distress moves the depths of their being; and from the bottom of their hearts an exceeding great and bitter cry rises unto the one living and true God.
David had often been in the deep, and as often had he pleaded with Jehovah, his God, in whose hand are all deep places. He prayed, and remembered that he had prayed, and pleaded that he had prayed; hoping before long to receive an answer. It would be dreadful to look back on trouble and feel forced to own that we did not cry unto the Lord in it; but it is most comforting to know that whatever we did not do, or could not do—yet we did pray, even in our worst times. He who prays in the depth, will not sink out of his depth. He who cries out of the depths, shall soon sing in the heights.
Verse 2. Lord, hear my voice. It is all we ask; but nothing less will content us. If the Lord will but hear us we will leave it to his superior wisdom to decide whether he will answer us or not. It is better for our prayer to be heard, than answered. If the Lord were to make an absolute promise to answer all our requests, it might be rather a curse than a blessing, for it would be casting the responsibility of our lives upon ourselves, and we would be placed in a very anxious position: but now the Lord hears our desires, and that is enough; we only wish him to grant them if his infinite wisdom sees that it would be for our good and for his glory.
Note that the Psalmist spoke audibly in prayer. This is not at all needful, but it is exceedingly helpful; for the use of the voice assists the thoughts. Still, there is a voice in silent supplication, a voice in our weeping, a voice in that sorrow which cannot find a tongue—that voice the Lord will hear if its cry is meant for his ear.
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. The Psalmist's cry is a beggar's petition; he begs the great King and Lord to lend an ear to it. He has supplicated many times, but always with one voice, or for one purpose; and he begs to be noticed in the one matter which he has pressed with so much importunity. He would have the King hearken, consider, remember, and weigh his request. He is confused, and his prayer may therefore be broken, and difficult to understand; he begs therefore that his Lord will give the more earnest and compassionate heed to the voice of his many and painful pleadings.
When we have already prayed over our troubles, it is well to pray over our prayers. If we can find no more words, let us entreat the Lord to hear those petitions which we have already presented. If we have faithfully obeyed the precept by praying without ceasing—we may be confident that the Lord will faithfully fulfill the promise by helping us without fail. Though the Psalmist was under a painful sense of sin, and so was in the depth—his faith pleaded in the teeth of conscious unworthiness; for well he knew that the Lord's keeping his promise depends upon his own character and not upon that of his erring creatures.
Verse 3. If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand. If JAH, the all seeing, should in strict justice, call every man to account for every want of conformity to righteousness, where would any one of us be? Truly, he does record all our transgressions; but as yet he does not act upon the record, but lays it aside until another day. If men were to be judged upon no system but that of works, who among us could answer for himself at the Lord's bar, and hope to stand clear and accepted?
This verse shows that the Psalmist was under a sense of sin, and felt it imperative upon him not only to cry as a suppliant but to confess as a sinner. Here he owns that he cannot stand before the great King in his own righteousness, and he is so struck with a sense of the holiness of God, and the rectitude of the law that he is convinced that no man of mortal race can answer for himself before a Judge so perfect, concerning a law so divine.
Well does he cry, "O Lord, who shall stand?" None can do so. There is none that does good; no, not one. Iniquities are matters which are not according to equity—what a multitude we have of these!
Jehovah, who sees all, and is also our Adonai, or Lord, will assuredly bring us into judgment concerning those thoughts, and words, and works which are not in exact conformity to his law. Were it not for the Lord Jesus, could we hope to stand? Dare we meet him in the dread day of account on the footing of law and equity? What a mercy it is that we need not do so, for the next verse sets forth another way of acceptance to which we flee.
Verse 4. But there is forgiveness with you. Blessed BUT. Free, full, sovereign pardon is in the hand of the great King: it is his prerogative to forgive, and he delights to exercise it. Because his nature is mercy, and because he has provided a sacrifice for sin, therefore forgiveness is with him for all that come to him confessing their sins. The power of pardon is permanently resident with God: he has forgiveness ready to his hand at this instant.
"That you may be feared." This is the fruitful root of piety. None fear the Lord like those who have experienced his forgiving love. Gratitude for pardon produces far more fear and reverence of God than all the dread which is inspired by punishment. If the Lord were to execute justice upon all, there would be none left to fear him; if all were under apprehension of his deserved wrath, despair would harden them against fearing him: it is grace which leads the way to a holy regard of God, and a fear of grieving him.
Verse 5. I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait. Expecting him to come to me in love, I quietly wait for his appearing; I wait upon him in service, and for him in faith. For God I wait and for him only: if he will manifest himself I shall have nothing more to wait for; but until he shall appear for my help I must wait on, hoping even in the depths.
This waiting of my is no mere formal act, my very soul is in it, "my soul does wait." I wait and I wait—mark the repetition! "My soul waits", and then again, "My soul waits"; to make sure work of the waiting.
It is well to deal with the Lord intensely. Such repetitions are the reverse of vain repetitions. If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for him. He is worth waiting for.
The waiting itself is beneficial to us: it tries faith, exercises patience, trains submission, and endears the blessing when it comes. The Lord's people have always been a waiting people. They waited for the First Advent, and now they wait for the Second. They waited for a sense of pardon, and now they wait for perfect sanctification. They waited in the depths, and they are not now wearied with waiting in a happier condition. They have cried and they do wait; probably their past prayer sustains their present patience.
And in his word do I hope. This is the source, strength, and sweetness of waiting. Those who do not hope cannot wait; but if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. God's word is a true word, but at times it tarries; if ours is true faith it will wait the Lord's time. A word from the Lord is as bread to the soul of the believer; and, refreshed thereby, it holds out through the night of sorrow expecting the dawn of deliverance and delight.
Waiting, we study the word, believe the word, hope in the word, and live on the word; and all because it is "his word,"—the word of him who never speaks in vain. Jehovah's word is a firm ground for a waiting soul to rest upon.
Verse 6. My soul waits for the Lord morn than those who watch for the morning. Men who guard a city, and women who wait by the sick, long for daylight. Worshipers tarrying for the morning sacrifice, the kindling of the incense and the lighting of the lamps, mingle fervent prayers with their holy vigils, and pine for the hour when the lamb shall smoke upon the altar.
David, however, waited more than these, waited longer, waited more longingly, waited more expectantly. He was not afraid of the great Adonai before whom none can stand in their own righteousness, for he had put on the righteousness of faith, and therefore longed for gracious audience with the Holy One.
God was no more dreaded by him than light is dreaded by those engaged in a lawful calling. He pined and yearned after his God. I say, more than those who watch for the morning. The figure was not strong enough, though one can hardly think of anything more vigorous: he felt that his own eagerness was unique and unrivaled.
Oh to be thus hungry and thirsty after God! Our version spoils the abruptness of the language; the original runs thus, "My soul for the Lord more than those watching for the morning—watching for the morning." This is a fine poetical repeat. We long for the favor of the Lord more than weary sentinels long for the morning light, which will release them from their tedious watch. Indeed this is true. He who has once rejoiced in communion with God is sorely tried by the hidings of his face, and grows faint with strong desire for the Lord's appearing,
"When will you come unto me, Lord?
Until you do appear,
I count each moment for a day,
Each minute for a year."
Verse 7. Let Israel hope in the LORD. Jehovah is Israel's God; therefore, let Israel hope in him. What one Israelite does he wishes all Israel to do. That man has a just right to exhort others, who is himself setting the example. Israel of old waited upon Jehovah and wrestled all the night long, and at last he went his way succored by the Hope of Israel: the like shall happen to all his seed.
God has great things in store for his people, they ought to have large expectations.
For with the LORD there is mercy. This is in his very nature, and by the light of nature it may be seen. But we have also the light of grace, and therefore we see still more of his mercy. With us there is sin; but hope is ours, because "with the Lord there is mercy." Our comfort lies not in that which is with us, but in that which is with our God. Let us look out of self and its poverty—to Jehovah and his riches of mercy.
And with him is plenteous redemption. He can and will redeem all his people out of their many and great troubles; nay, their redemption is already wrought out and laid up with him, so that he can at any time give his waiting ones the full benefit thereof.
The attribute of mercy, and the fact of redemption, are two most sufficient reasons for hoping in Jehovah; and the fact that there is no mercy or deliverance elsewhere should effectually wean the soul from all idolatry. Are not these deep things of God a grand comfort for those who are crying out of the depths? Is it not better to be in the deeps with David, hoping in God's mercy, than up on the mountaintops, boasting in our own imagined righteousness?
Verse 8. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities. Our iniquities are our worst dangers. If saved from these, we are saved altogether; but there is no salvation from them except by redemption. What a blessing that this is here promised in terms which remove it out of the region of question. The Lord shall certainly redeem his believing people from all their sins.
Well may the redemption be plenteous since it concerns all Israel and all iniquities! Truly, our Psalm has ascended to a great height in this verse: this is no cry out of the depths, but a chorale in the heights. Redemption is the top of covenant blessings. When it shall be experienced by all Israel, the latter day glory shall have come, and the Lord's people shall say, "Now, Lord, what do we wait for?"
Is not this a clear prophecy of the coming of our Lord Jesus the first time? and may we not now regard it as the promise of his second and more glorious coming for the redemption of the body? For this our soul does wait: yes, our heart and our flesh cry out for it with joyful expectation.