Derision of the Devil (Phil Johnson)

Psalm 130   |   Sunday, February 15, 2015   |   Code: 2015-02-15-PJ

Our text this morning is Psalm 130, one of the most

beloved and most important of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent.

It's more personal than most of the psalms in this group. It

doesn't sound like a chorus written for group singing. It

speaks with an individual voice (in first person singular).

Psalm 130.

What you hear right away in this psalm is a desperate plea

for help. The opening verses convey a tone of deep

loneliness and discouragement. This is a lamentation and a

plea for help from someone who is mired in the gloom of

guilt and deep depression. He feels like he is drowning in the

depths of a bottomless ocean and lost in utter darkness.

And here's what really intrigues me about this psalm: This

is the prayer of a believer. These are the words of someone

who knows the Lord. It is the song of a redeemed man in a

time of troubleCand it's trouble of his own making, which

makes his burden even more difficult to bear. This is clearly

not a cry for salvation from a lost soulClike the thief on the

cross, or the tax collector in the parable of Luke 18, who

"would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast,

saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'" The desperate tone

Colossians 3:3 2

of this psalm's opening verse sounds similar to that, but this

is a prayer for mercy from a believer who is seeing with

fresh eyes just how thoroughly sinful he is.

It doesn't really become clear until the second half of the

psalm that this plea for mercy is coming from the heart of a

person who knows the Lord. But it soon becomes clear that

he understands how willing God is to forgive sinners. Still,

he doesn't take God's grace for granted. He can't cavalierly

dismiss his own conscience when it smites him with a sense

of guilt and shame. He doesn't try to comfort himself with an

appeal to the doctrine of eternal security.

Every now and then I run into little pockets of people who

teach that since we are justified by faith and promised full

and free pardon for all our sinsCpast, present, and futureCwe

don't need to confess our sins or seek God's forgiveness

again. (Even though Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us each

day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins"Cthese guys seem

to think they know better.) Behind my office door I have a

"heresy" bookshelf where I keep books that I need to refer to

occasionally but would never recommend. There's a stack of

books there by authors who say Christians should never ask

God for forgiveness. That's an act of unbelief, they say, since

God has already granted us forgiveness. Here's an excerpt

from an author who teaches that. He says:

God wants us to have confidence before Him, and to be more

aware of our righteousness and His grace than of our

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shortcomings & mistakes. . . . How can we have boldness

before God if we have to grovel on our knees and plead

for the forgiveness of our sins every time we pray?

The psalmist sees things differently. He is going to make

it clear that he already trusts the Lord for full forgiveness. He

knows (v. 4) that "with [the Lord] there is forgiveness." He

ends this psalm with a triumphant expression of bold

confidence: "He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities."

But at the moment, the psalmist is utterly appalled and

depressed by his sin. That's what has him in the depths. He

feels his guilt. He knows deliberate disobedience is out of

place in the life of one who has been redeemed. After all

(v.4), one of the fruits of forgiveness is supposed to be a

reverential fear of God. But sin is the exact opposite of godly

fear. So the psalmist has not been acting like a believer

should act. His sense of holy confidence before God has been

shaken. And in a case such as this, those fears and emotions

are perfectly appropriate. This psalm is his response to God,

and it's a good one.

Spurgeon says,

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. Prayer [out of

the depths] gives [glory to God in the highest].

Psalm 130. Here is the psalm:

Colossians 3:3 4

A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O


2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the

voice of my pleas for mercy!

3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who

could stand?

4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be


5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I


6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the

morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is

steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.

8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

There's a note of something we have heard before in the

tone of this psalm. It reminds me of the prayer of Jonah, in

Jonah 2. That was literally a prayer "out of the

depths"Cperhaps coming from a lower depth (further below

sea level) than anyone had ever prayed before. I suppose in a

modern submarine you could reach a lower depth than

Jonah's and still be able to pray, but normally, prayer out of

the depths is a miraculous thing.

Think about this, and it will encourage you, I think: It

wouldn't be possible for us to pray at all when we're in the

depths if the Lord did not sovereignly protect and preserve

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us. Whether we're talking about depths of misery or literally

the lower parts of the ocean, deep places normally engulf and

put to silence anything that sinks into them. Jonah, for

example, could not have prayed without the Lord's

enablement. He would have drowned and his voice would

have been silenced forever. But the fish that swallowed

Jonah was a means of preservation and safety and correction

rather than an instrument of divine wrath or judgment. So

virtually all of Jonah 2 is a prayer sent up from out of the

depths. Listen to the opening words of Jonah's prayer:

Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the


2 saying, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and

he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you

heard my voice.

3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your

billows passed over me.

Here in our text the psalmist prays, "Out of the depths I cry to

you, O LORD!" And just like the story of Jonah, it's clear from

the full context of our psalm that the Psalmist is in despair

because of some sin (or sins) he has committed. The guilt of

his failure is weighing heavily on him, and that is what has

thrust him into the depths of despair. Perhaps it is a habit he

has failed to mortify completely, or a sin so shameful that it

Colossians 3:3 6

belies his profession of faith in God. His assurance has been

shaken by it, and this prayer is his plea to God.

We know the issue is sin, because (verse 2), he is praying

for "mercy." The Hebrew text literally says, "Let your ears be

attentive to the voice of my supplication." And that word

"supplication" speaks of an earnest prayer for grace and

favor. The context here makes clear that he knows he is

seeking forgiveness, so the ESV gets the proper sense of it:

"Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!"

The psalmist is feeling the disgrace and despair that sin

brings. He acknowledges that he is guilty (v. 4): "If you, O

LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?"Cor to

paraphrase: "Lord, if you were counting my sins with an eye

toward judgment, I would be doomed a hundred times over."

This is a man in trouble, and the trouble is of his own

making. It is the fruit of his own sin. He's keenly aware of

that, and he's feeling the weight of his guiltCguilt like a

massive concrete sarcophagus, dragging him deeper into the

depths. The psalmist here is having the very same kind of

thoughts that provoked the apostle Paul in Romans 7 to say:

when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,

23 but I see in my members another law waging war

against the law of my mind and making me captive to the

law of sin that dwells in my members.

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24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this

body of death?

Sounds like the same mood as the psalmist in our psalm,

right? In fact, those two passages make an interesting

comparison and contrast. As the apostle Paul ponders his

sin, he exclaims about what a wretched man he is. As the

psalmist ponders his sin, he exclaims about how remarkable

the Lord's redemption is. And you know what? They are both

right. Both of those are perfectly valid perspectives. And

both Paul and the psalmist clearly see both sides. It is

obvious from the psalm that the psalm-writer deeply senses

his own wretchedness. That feeling of wretchedness is what

has him in the depths. It is also apparent in Romans 7 that

Paul rejoices and rests in the Lord's redemption, because

immediately after lamenting how wretched he is, Paul says,

"Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"Cand then

he goes on to write an entire chapter about life in the Spirit

and the security of the one who trusts in the Lord.

But what both passages reveal is that it is perfectly

normalCand for any thoughtful believer, it's even a common

and inescapable responseCthat when we are sensitive to sin

and aware of our own fallenness (especially in the aftermath

of some egregious spiritual failure), we should sense a

degree of sorrow, and shame, and self-doubt. If you respond

to your own sin with nonchalance or indifference, you ought

to question your salvation. If your sin shatters your

Colossians 3:3 8

self-confidence and plunges you into the depthsCmaking

you feel like Jonah that you are in the very "belly of Sheol,"

here's a psalm that shows the way out.

Psalm 130 is one of seven penitential psalmsCpsalms of

repentance. Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143 all are

prayers for relief when we are weighed down by sin. Since

the time of the church fathers, those seven psalms have stood

out as models of how believers should confess their sin. And

it's fitting that the pilgrim psalms should include a psalm of


Unfortunately, medieval Catholicism ripped this psalm

out of context, and to this day, in Roman Catholic liturgy

Psalm 130 is used as a prayer for the souls of people in

purgatory. There's even an app for the Iphone called

"Catholic Meditations on Purgatory," and the promo for that

app says this: "Central to the app is Psalm 130, "De

Profundis," a traditional penitential psalm." De profundis, of

course, is Latin for "out of the depths," the opening words of

the psalm. Catholic priests intone the psalm in Latin as a

prayer for the dead.

I came across this 450-year-old comment by Solomon

Gesner, an early Lutheran commentator who lived one

generation after Luther. Gesner wrote a commentary on the

Psalms titled, Disquisitions on the Psalter. Here's what he

says about psalm 130:

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[This psalm] has been perverted to the most disgraceful

abuse in the Popedom . . . that it should be mumbled in

the lowest voice by slow bellies, in the sepulchral vigils

for their liberation of souls from purgatory: as if [the

Psalmist] were here treating of the dead, when he has not

even spoken a word about them . . . But leaving the

buffooneries of the Papists we will rather consider the true

meaning and use of the Psalm. . . .

And from there he writes his commentary on psalm 130.

Speaking of Lutherans, this psalm has always figured

large in Lutheran worship. Martin Luther himself loved

Psalm 130. He rejected the use of this psalm as a prayer for

the dead and embraced it as a perfect expression of his own

struggle with the fruits of human fallenness. Luther even

wrote a hymn based on it. In German, it's called Aus Tiefer

Not. I don't know why we don't sing this hymn anymore. It's

a great one. Here's the first stanza of the English translation:

From the depths of woe I raise to Thee, a voice of


Lord, turn a gracious ear to me, And hear my supplication.

If Thou iniquities dost mark, Our secret sins and misdeeds


O who shall stand before Thee?

Luther constantly went to Psalm 130 in times of trouble and

depression. He referred to it as a Pauline psalm, because it

Colossians 3:3 10

echoes so many of the same doctrinal themes that reverberate

through Paul's epistles.

In 1530, Protestantism was on trial at the Diet of

Augsburg. That was an imperial meeting convened by the

rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. Luther was forbidden to

attend by his liege lord, the Duke of SaxonyCbecause the

Duke was afraid Luther would be imprisoned or burnt as a

heretic by Roman Catholic authorities. So Luther spent six

months holed up in the castle of Coburg, translating the

Bible into German.

Cut off from fresh air and exercise, Luther (who was

prone to melancholy), suffered from depression and

migraines so severe that one night he fainted. When he

regained consciousness, Luther said to his friends, "Come,

let us sing that Psalm, 'Out of the depths' . . . in derision of

the devil." He said he believed the message of that psalm

would severely hurt the devil's feelings.

A hundred ninety-four years later, another Lutheran,

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a Cantata based on Luther's

hymn version of this psalm. In our generation, an Anglican

composer, John Rutter, made Psalm 130 the second

movement of his Requiem. So the musical pedigree of this

psalm is long and rich.

John Owen, the great Puritan theologian, in all his

voluminous writings, wrote only two works of

verse-by-verse exposition. One was a massive seven-volume

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commentary on the book of Hebrews. The other was a

325-page exposition of Psalm 130.

For John Owen, this psalm marked a major turning point

in his life and ministry. He says he ministered for several

years without fully grasping what it meant to have access to

God through Christ. Then, Owen says,

The Lord was pleased to visit me with sore affliction,

whereby I was brought to the mouth of the grave, and

under which my soul was oppressed with horror and

darkness; but God graciously relieved my spirit by a

powerful application of Psalm 130:4, "But there is

forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared."

Evidently, Owen was describing an experience fairly early

in his ministry when he had a crisis of confidence. He lost

his assurance. He came to a point of despair in the midst of

some affliction where he doubted his salvation. I gather some

sin or spiritual lapse of his own was at the root of it, and

that's why this particular psalm showed him the way out.

Because that is the whole point of the psalm: it shows the

way up out of personal defeat and discouragement back into

the bright light of full assurance.

If you're someone who is easily shaken by your own

failures, so that you have difficulty finding settled assurance,

you ought to memorize this psalm. You can recite the words

of this text in derision of the devil every time the accuser

Colossians 3:3 12

points to some inconsistency or transgression in your life and

tries to tell you your faith is in vain.

Now look at the structure of the psalm. It divides evenly

into four strophes of two verses each, and each section has a

different tone. Each stanza is brighter than the last. So the

Psalm moves us from the depths to the heights by degrees.

It's a perfect psalm for an uphill journey. Although it starts

on a depressing note, it ends with one of the most uplifting

choruses in this whole collection.

Here's the breakdown: Verses 1-2 are a cry to God; verses

3-4 are a confession of guilt; verses 5-6 are a crescendo of

gladness; and verses 7-8 are a chorus about the gospel. In the

first two verses the psalmist is pleading. The next two verses

find him trusting. Verses 5-6 are all about waiting. And in

verses 7-8, the theme is hoping.

And we progress from contrition to humility to hopeCand

each mood provides fuel for the next. His contrition humbles

him; his humility provokes him to wait; and while he is

waiting, he finds hope. And as we will see, it's not a vague,

wishful hope. It is a settled rest in the knowledge that "with

the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful

redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities."

So let's look at these stanzas one at a time. First is:

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1. A CRY TO GOD (1-2)

Next to the famous opening line of Psalm 22 ("My God, my

God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from

saving me, from the words of my groaning?"), this may be the

most forlorn and desperate line in all the psalms: "Out of the

depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your

ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!"

This is the song of a redeemed man in trouble, and as

we've said, it is trouble of his own making. He has been

brought low, and he knows it was by his own fault, so his

prayer is a prayer for mercy. This is not (like Psalms 120 and

129) the plea of someone afflicted by wicked enemies. It's

not like Psalm 17, which starts out, "Hear a just cause, O

LORD; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of


This is a cry from someone who knows he has brought

trouble on himself by his sin. It is his own guilt that has

brought him into the depths of depression, desperation, and

disconsolation. He is greatly burdened by itCand there is a

note of helplessness in the plea. Whatever self-confidence

got him into this predicament is shot. He has reached the end

of himself.

He is like the Prodigal Son. Luke 15:16-17 says of the

Prodigal Son, "He was longing to be fed with the pods that the

pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. But . . . he came to

himself"Cmeaning "he came to his senses."

Colossians 3:3 14

But when we have to be brought to our senses by the

consequences of our own sin, it's a pretty dismal awakening.

No soul could ever sink into a darker or more distressing

depth than the pit of sin. The descent usually starts slowly,

gradually, almost imperceptibly. Sin looks enticing,

pleasurable, and there seems so little danger if we just dip a

toe in it. That feels so good, why not go wading ankle deep?

That's no big deal, we think. But sin is a thick, sucking

quicksand bordered by steep, slippery banks. And we don't

even begin to sense the danger until we are already in over

our heads.

Sin always promises pleasures. Scripture even

acknowledges that there are "fleeting pleasures [that can be

derived from] sin." But the aftermath of sin is nothing but

gloom and sorrowCand "the wages of sin is death." The

solicitation to sin always points to those "fleeting pleasures."

It's an appeal to the flesh. In the words of James 1:14-15:

"Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his

own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin,

and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." That is what

Scripture calls "the deceitfulness of sin."

The psalmist has fallen into some sin, and he is now sunk

deep in itCwell over his head. Whatever pleasure he was

promised at first is now gone, and all he is left with is

horrible shame, the relentless voice of a troubled conscience,

and a savage sense of regret. He is in the dark depths of

Derision of the Devil 15

gloom and guiltCweighed down by the knowledge that his

despair is the fruit of his own folly. He feels the dishonor of

it. He thinks he has alienated himself from God. Jonah

described the very same feeling in his prayer from inside the

fish. Jonah 2:4: "Then I said, 'I am driven away from your

sight.'" It feels like he is on the very doorstep of hell. It

seems like there is no way up.

And if you have ever reached that point in your own

experience, you understand how God, who sits on high, can

seem remote and unreachable from such a depth. That's what

prompts the plea of verse 2: "O Lord, hear my voice! Let your

ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!" There's a

desperate urgency there that even two exclamation marks

can't convey.

God is not really remote. As David says in Psalm 39,

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the

uttermost parts of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right

hand shall hold me.

11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the

light about me be night,"

12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright

as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

Now notice the nature of the psalmist's plea in our psalm.

It's not a plea of innocence. He is not pleading his own case.

Colossians 3:3 16

He's not protesting that he doesn't deserve to be brought so

low. This is an appeal to the Lord for mercy. He speaks of it

in the plural: "my pleas for mercy." "Supplications"Cplural. It

is as if he is begging, imploring the Lord with repeated

petitions for clemency, though he knows he has no righteous

claim to forgiveness.

This is not at all like those other psalms where the

psalmist beseeches God to overthrow some enemy or make

right some horrible injustice. This time it's mercy he wants,

not justice. There's a clearly implied confession of guilt in


And stanza 2 takes up that theme. Stay with me here,

especially if you like to take down the outline. Here it is:

Those first two verses are a cry to God. Verses 2-3 are:


As he contemplates his guilt (set against the backdrop of a

holy God whose righteousness rules out any and every

imperfection) the psalmist realizes the utter hopelessness of

trying to remedy his own sin or measure up to the divine


And he realizes he's not alone. All humanity is in the same


The average person foolishly sees that as a reason for

self-confidence. They think, Well, I'm not as bad as most

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people. I'll be OK. God will overlook all but the very worst

sins. If I do my best, God will surely accept that.

But He wont. Unless you are absolutely perfect (and trust

me: you're not), your "best" will not be good enough to earn

God's approval. Jesus said, "You . . . must be perfect [How

perfect?] As your heavenly Father is perfect." That's Matthew

5:48, and it comes in a context where Jesus had already said

(v. 20): "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes

and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Of

all the rigorous denominations who ever claimed to follow

Scripture to the letter, they were the most religious, most

meticulously painstaking in their observation of legal

minutiae. And Jesus said they weren't fit for heaven.

The psalmist gets that. Verse 3: "If you, O LORD, should

mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" To paraphrase: If

the Lord kept a careful record of sins, no one would be able

to stand before Him.

Here's the problem for unbelievers: The Lord does keep a

meticulous record of sins. Not one transgression ever escapes

His omniscient notice. Scripture says even all our secret sins

will one day be exposed, and "on the day of judgment people

will give account for every careless word they speak." That's

what Jesus Himself said in Matthew 12:36. "Every idle word

that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day

of judgment." Luke 12:2-3: "Nothing is covered up that will not

be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore

Colossians 3:3 18

whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light,

and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be

proclaimed on the housetops." God sees and hears and knows

everything. Hebrews 4:13: "And no creature is hidden from his

sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom

we must give account."

Furthermore, Ecclesiastes 12:14: "God will bring every

deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or

evil." And in Exodus 23:7, God says, "I will not acquit the


The psalmist is well aware of all that. He knows that God

does keep a record of sin, and because God is righteous,

(Psalm 1:5) "the wicked will not stand in the judgment."

But here's our first clue that this psalm is from the heart of

a genuine believer. He also knows that God has promised to

blot out the record of sins on behalf of all who come to Him

in repentant faith. Isaiah 43:25, God speaking, says: "I, I am

he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will

not remember your sins." A chapter later in Isaiah 44:22, He

says, "I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and

your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you."

Isaiah 1:18: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as

white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall

become like wool." Jeremiah 31:34: "I will forgive their iniquity,

and I will remember their sin no more."

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And my favorite of all these promises, Micah 7:19: "He

will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities

underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea."

He pulls the believer up out of the depths, but He leaves the

guilt there.

The promise is not that God will literally forget what we

have done. Omniscience is one of the attributes of deity, and

He doesn't divest Himself of it. You see an example of this at

the end of David's life. David was forgiven for his sin with

Bathsheba and his treachery against her husband Uriah. And

yet there's an epitaph in 1 Kings 15 describing David's

faithful life, and it mentions "the matter of Uriah the Hittite" as

an egregious exception to an otherwise faithful life. God did

not literally forget that it happened; but He graciously passed

over the guilt of it, imputing that guilt to Christ, who died to

pay the penalty of the sins of His people. Thus God

eliminated David's guilt foreverCblotting it out of His


That's how forgiveness always works. God does not

simply overlook sin or pretend it never happened. He erases

the guilt by bearing sin's penalty Himself in the person of

Christ, our perfect substitute. Christ thus paid the price of sin

in fullCsatisfying the demands of justice, pacifying the wrath

of God against sin, and blotting out our guilt. So God can be

faithful to His gracious promise of mercy and yet not

compromise His impeccable justice.

Colossians 3:3 20

It is perfect justice, because every sin is ultimately paid

forCone way or the other. Christ died for the sins of those

who trust Him. Unrepentant sinners will reap the wages of

their own sin throughout eternity.

The psalmist had no understanding of how Christ would

offer one sacrifice for sins forever. That mystery was hidden

until Christ revealed it. But the psalmist knew by faith that

God is both faithful and just. In fact, this whole psalm is a

perfect illustration of that familiar promise in 1 John 1:9: "If

we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins

and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Whatever the limitations of his understanding, the

psalmist knew enough to claim the promise of forgiveness.

He knew from the Old Testament Scriptures that God is

"good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call

upon [Him]." He had access to many promises in Scripture

where sinners are told they can find mercy by turning to the

Lord. Isaiah 55:7: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the

unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that

he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will

abundantly pardon." Isaiah 43:25 (God speaking, says): "I, I

am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I

will not remember your sins." Numbers 14:18: "The LORD is

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity

and transgression." Psalm 86:5: "You, O Lord, are good and

forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you."

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I could go on for a long time, quoting Old Testament texts

about the Lord's eagerness to forgive. The writer of this

psalm was clearly familiar with that truth, and it became a

lifeline to him there in the depths.

Look at verse 4: "But with you there is forgiveness, that you

may be feared." I thought long and hard about that verse. At

first glance it seems paradoxical. It's clearly an inspired

thought, not the product of human wisdom. The carnal mind

would be inclined to say, "With you there is forgiveness, so I

don't need to fear." Indeed, that's the spirit behind this false

teaching that Christians never need to ask for forgiveness or

confess their sin. It's antithetical to the psalmist's attitude.

Here's what he is saying in verse 4: Only God can forgive

sin. Pardon and cleansing from sin cannot be obtained from

any other source. We can't earn forgiveness for ourselves.

Only God can grant it. There is no better reason to fear God.

We are doomed without His forgiveness.

And listen to Proverbs 8:13: "The fear of the LORD is

hatred of evil." Put that next to Psalm 36:1: "Transgression

speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God

before his eyes." This kind of fear is a holy horror at the

thought of God's displeasure. It's the spirit that lies at the

heart of true reverence for God. I hesitate to use that word

"reverence," as a definition of fear, because so many people

use it to gloss over the whole idea of fear. This is not the sort

of artificial atmospheric "reverence" we associate with

Colossians 3:3 22

high-church liturgyCdecorated with candles, incense, and

priestly vestments. It's a sanctified apprehension of God's

majesty. It causes the believer to recoil at the very notion of

trifling with God, or taking His mercy for granted, or

"turn[ing] the grace of our God into licentiousness." There's a

genuine, holy terror in the idea. You hear an echo of this

kind of fear in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans

6:1-2: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that

grace may abound? God forbid[!]"

It's not chicken-hearted or irrational fear, but it's a true

fear nonetheless. It's not the fear of superstition; it is a

legitimate, sensible spirit of overwhelming awe in the

presence of God. And this kind of fear is not incompatible

with the biblical admonition to "come boldly unto the throne

of grace."

In fact, notice the verse that immediately follows: "I wait

for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope." I'm

intrigued by the close juxtaposition of two polar opposite

dispositionsCfear and hope. The fear is rooted in the fact that

we know the gravity of our sin; we know what it really

deserves. The hope is because we have laid hold of the

promise of mercy, which we don't deserveCbut we have full

trust in the faithfulness of God.

That's exactly how the psalmist is thinking. His heart was

clearly calmed as he recited the truth of God's eagerness to

Derision of the Devil 23

forgive. There's a distinct and very sudden change in mood

with verse 5, and that gets us to stanza 3 of this psalm.

Here's our outline: He starts (verses 1-2) with a cry to

God. That gives way (verses 3-4) to a confession of guilt.

Now stanza 3, verses 5-6. We'll call it:


The theme of this stanza is waiting. Verse 5: "I wait for the

LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope." He has gone

from sheer desperation in verse 1 to an almost supernatural

optimism in verses 5-6. I almost said "patience," but there's

really nothing patient about this. He's eager. He's not

impatient in any negative sense, but it's clear that he longs to

see full redemption soon. I love the poetic imagery of verse

6: "my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the

morning, more than watchmen for the morning." He says it

twice to emphasize the urgency of his expectation. The

rhythm in the original Hebrew is elegant. A literal translation

would be: "My soul is for the Lord, More than those watching

for morning, Watching for morning!"

The picture he draws is of a watchman in the final watch

of the night. I used to be a night watchman in (of all places) a

funeral home. When you're alone and awake at night, the

morning comes much more slowly than when you're asleep

and not particularly eager to get up. These days, I'm hardly

ever eager for morning to come speedily. But when I was

Colossians 3:3 24

working that job, the wait for sunrise seemed grueling. You

don't know what expectation feels like if you have never

been in that situation.

What he's expressing here is an eagerness for the Lord to

intervene and lift him permanently out of the depths and into

perfect glory. He longs for that. Actually, it's not an event

that he hopes for, but the Lord Himself. "My soul waits for the

Lord." In the meantime, he is nurturing a sense of profound

hope. He knows redemption is coming.

Notice (v. 5): his hope is grounded in the Word of God.

That is the only secure place for our hopes to be

anchoredCnot in the philosophies of the worldly-wise, or the

wild prophecies of charismatic charlatans, or military might,

or political clout, or any of the other things people typically

anchor their hopes in. All those things change constantly and

they will ultimately pass away. But the Word of God stands,

unchanged and unchanging, eternally. Luke 16:17: "It is

easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the

Law to become void." First Peter 1:24-25: "All flesh is like

grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers,

and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever."

Furthermore, God has "magnified [His] word above [His]

name." "Scripture cannot be broken." Hope in the Word of

God is as sure as the immutable character of our glorious


Derision of the Devil 25

The earnest expectation described in this stanza is

something every genuine believer can relate to. It's the realm

in which true believers live, "waiting for our blessed hope, the

appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus

Christ." (That's Titus 2:13). "Our citizenship is in heaven, and

from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians

3:20). And according to 2 Peter 3:12, an eager expectation of

the Lord's return defines "what sort of people [we ought] to be

in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the

coming of the day of God." In fact, according to Romans 8:19,

"[all] creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the

sons of God."

Everything about that hopeful longing should energize

and stimulate our sanctification. It encourages us and stirs us

up "to love and good works . . . and all the more as [we] see the

Day drawing near."

By now the psalmist is so full of hope that his heart is

gladdened and his tongue is loosed and he closes the psalm

with a chorus calling all Israel to share his hope.

Notice: in the short span of these eight verses, the

psalmist has run the gamut of emotionsCfrom the depths to

the heights. The only circumstance that has changed is that

he has laid hold of God's mercy by faith.

It's a perfect illustration of how the gospel brings us up

"out of [a] horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and [sets our] feet

upon a rock." That's what is celebrated in the final stanza.

Colossians 3:3 26

So to review: stanza 1 is a cry to God; stanza 2 is a

confession of guilt; stanza 3 is a crescendo of gladness. Now

the closing stanza:


I love the confidence in these two closing verses. And

notice the sudden shift in perspective. The previous stanzas

were peppered with first-person singular pronouns "I cry";

"hear my voice . . . my pleas for mercy!" "I wait . . . my soul

waits . . . I hope." His attention turns now outward: "O Israel,

hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and

with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from

all his iniquities."

Notice what he celebrates. He mentions two things: the

Lord's "steadfast love." That's the root of gospel truth. And

"plentiful redemption." That's what God's steadfast love

procures for His people.

I like that expression "plentiful redemption." That's what he

was praying for in verses 1-2. By faith he has laid hold of it,

and he wants the whole nation to join him in celebration.

For those who may worry that their sins are greater than

the grace of GodCnot so. "With him is plentiful redemption."

That echoes Isaiah 55:7: "He will abundantly pardon." We

worship "a God [who is] merciful and gracious, slow to anger

and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." His grace is

greater than all our sin.

Derision of the Devil 27

"And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities." There's a

prophetic sense in that promise, of course. It looks forward to

a time when national Israel will be grafted back into the olive

branch, and in the words of Paul from Romans 11:26: "And

[so] all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will

come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.'"

But the psalmist's main point here is not to lay out a

prophetic chart outlining the future. He is urging his spiritual

brethren, the true people of God, the real offspring of

Abraham, to "hope in the LORD!" His point simply is that

God's promise of full and final redemption will eventually

come to full fruition.

In the meantime, we hope. And you understand, I think,

that when the Bible speaks of hope it's talking about

forward-looking, settled, confident faith. It's not a maybe or

an uncertain wish, but a secure promise. In this case, it is the

promise of full redemption: "He will redeem Israel from all his

iniquities." Not only from the guilt and punishment and

consequences of sin; this is a hope for full, final redemption

from sin's power and dominionCand even more than that, we

look forward to an eternity of pure freedom from the very

existence of sin.

Meanwhile, we hope in the Lord, knowing that because of

His "steadfast love, and . . . plentiful redemption," we don't

have to languish in the depths. If our hope is anchored in

God's Word; if we long for Him "more than watchmen for the

Colossians 3:3 28

morning"; if we have laid hold of His forgiveness by

repentant faith, then Scripture says He has "blessed us in

Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." He

has "raised us up with him and seated us with him in the

heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he

might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness

toward us in Christ Jesus." Live in that light. Reckon it to be

true. "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."