Psalm 130 – Out of the Depths

Psalm 130 is a short psalm with only 8 verses. However, these verses contain important lessons for us. For example, no matter what the circumstances, God’s power of forgiveness is available.

Here’s an English translation of the psalm broken into phrases based on the cantillation symbols.

Psalms Chapter 130

1. A song of ascents.
Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord.
2. Lord, hear my voice;
let Your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications.
3. If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4. But there is forgiveness with You,
that You may be feared.
5. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in His word I hope.
6. My soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning
watch for the morning.
7. Let Israel hope in the Lord;
for with the Lord there is loving kindness,
and with Him is bountiful redemption.
8. And He shall redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

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Overview

The Daat Mikra commentary notes that in the first 4 verses, God is addressed in the second person (you). But in the last 4 verses He is mentioned in the third person (he). Based on this they divide Psalm 130 into two main sections:

  1. Calling to God
    • Verses 1-2 Hear our supplication
    • Verses 3-4 Grant forgiveness
  2. Speaking about God
    • Verses 5-6 Waiting on God
    • Verses 7-8 God redeems Israel

The commentator Malbim states briefly that this is a psalm about the forgiveness of sin.

The Gemara in Taanit 15a mentions that Psalm 130 is included in the prayers recited on a fast day in response to drought conditions.

Who Wrote Psalm 130?

Psalms 120 – 134 all begin with the Hebrew words “shir hamaalot” meaning “a song of ascents.”

The author of these 15 psalms is not explicitly named in any of them. According to Jewish tradition they were all written by King David.

In the Temple, there were 15 steps between the Women’s Court and Israelite Court. At certain times of the year, Levites would stand on the steps and recite these 15 psalms.

Verse 1

A song of ascents.
Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord.

What is meant by “the depths?”

According to Radak the current exile of the Jewish people is compared to the watery deep.

Ibn Ezra and Metzudat David understand “depths” more broadly as a reference to all troubles faced by the Jewish people.

Malbim states that the plural word “depths” indicates 2 different types of depths. First are the physical depths such as being poor or weak.

There are also spiritual depths caused by being separated from God due to sin. A person may be physically healthy and successful, but still in the depth of spiritual degradation.

Daat Mikra disagrees and states that “the depths” it’s not many depths. Rather, it’s one very great depth.

The Hebrew word translated as “have I cried to you” is in the past tense. Daat Mikra understands this to indicate a crying out in the past that has continued until this very moment.

Though the first few verses are in the singular, the Psalmist is not speaking only about himself but about all of the Jewish people.

Verse 2

Lord, hear my voice;
let Your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications.

We need to look at some grammar to understand this verse.

The Hebrew word translated as “be attentive” is “kashuvot” which is the idea of hearing and being attentive to what is said.

In Hebrew, “ears” is a feminine plural noun. Therefore, “kashuvot” is a feminine plural adjective.

The Psalmist asks God to accept his prayer and fulfill it. He wants God to be attentive to the nature of his voice, the presentation of his words, and his righteous pleadings.

Daat Mikra takes a close look at the beginning of the verse.

The form of the word translated as “hear” is a lengthened form of the word “shema.” Normally, shema is spelled shin – mem – ayin. Here there is an added letter: shin – mem – ayin – hey.

The lengthened form indicates a pleading with God to listen to the request.

Verse 3

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?

Radak understands this verse to teach that if God pays close attention to sins, then nearly everyone would be a lost cause.

Daat Mikra adds that the judgment for iniquities is severe. Therefore, if God judges the world with strict justice, there is no one who can withstand such a judgment. The Psalmist is asking God to deal with the world with mercy.

Verse 4

But there is forgiveness with You,
that You may be feared.

Verse 4 teaches that God did not give any other being the power to forgive sin. Therefore, a person should not trust any other forgiveness. (Rashi)

Radak, in the name of his father, makes a similar comment. God gave many powers to the heavenly beings. However, the power to forgive is not delegated. Only God can forgive sin. If this was not the case, then people would try to “bribe” these heavenly beings.

Malbim uses this verse to teach another lesson about forgiveness.

There is a distinction between God and man. A person may forgive another person for various reasons if he chooses to do so. However, that forgiveness does not and cannot remove the sin as if it never happened. Only God can forgive a person’s iniquities and make them as if they never existed.

Also, if a person wants to be feared, then he will NOT forgive those who wrong him. This is because the fear only comes from the ability to punish the wrong doer.

However, the fear of God is the result of His greatness and exalted stature. His exalted stature is revealed by His power to forgive iniquities.

Daat Mikra agrees that God is the only One who can forgive iniquity. Therefore, the Psalmist asks God to please forgive His people.

Verse 5

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in His word I hope.

Let’s look at the Hebrew words translated as “wait” and “hope.”

The 3-letter root translated as “wait” is kuf – vav – hey. This root means to wait for something or, figuratively, to expect something.

The root translated as “hope” is yud – chet – lamed. According to Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch this root expresses the idea of expecting progress.

Rashi writes that the repetition of the word “wait” indicates the waiting has been going on for some time. This waiting is like that mentioned next in Verse 6.

Malbim in his commentary takes a different approach. He understands that kuf – vav – hey means that a person’s hope is based on an expectation that has not been stated explicitly.

By way of contrast, the word yud – chet – lamed means hope based on a faithful promise.

Hence it’s reasonable for a person to have hope in God from both of these aspects. A person can hope that God will save him even if there is no explicit promise. But it is known that God will never abandon His people. And also there are explicit promises that God will save the Jewish people.

Daat Mikra sees a parallel in the usage of the past tense in Verse 1 and here in Verse 5. That is to say, the past tense indicates hoping and waiting in the past and still right now hoping and waiting.

Psalm 130 - out of the depths

Verse 6

My soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning
watch for the morning.

The commentators are troubled by the repetition of the phrase “watch for the morning.”

Rashi sees this verse as being spoken by those who are waiting for the final redemption. Those who are waiting for the dawn look and then go back and look again. This goes on and on, seemingly without end.

Ibn Ezra suggests this verse refers to the guardians or watchmen on the city walls. This leads to the following translation: My soul [waits] for the Lord more than the guardians of the walls [wait] for the the morning, watch for the morning. The guards keep themselves strong and awake because they know the dawn will come.

Malbim’s approach is more straight forward. A person who waits for another person to come, never knows for sure what will happen. The person he’s waiting for could get sick or die and never come. But, a person who is waiting for the dawn knows that it will come. However, it will never come early.

On a personal note, I’ve had several jobs that required working graveyard shift. There is a special feeling of relief when such a shift ends.

Verse 7

Let Israel hope in the Lord;
for with the Lord there is loving kindness,
and with Him is bountiful redemption.

Radak (as mentioned above in Verse 1) understands this psalm as being about the depths of exile. He understands this verse to be a command to the exiles.

Israel, hope for God that He will redeem you from the exile. His kindness is always with all of creation and He will also treat you with kindness. He has already redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt, from Babylon, and from other predicaments. He will redeem you from this exile.

Malbim has a similar understanding of Verse 7. He says, the hope of the Jewish people does not depend upon a certain time, rather they wait for God. God, based on his loving kindness, is able to redeem them before the time set for the final redemption.

Daat Mikra also says the Psalmist is commanding Israel to hope in God. In Verse 5, the Psalmist said “I hoped.” Now he urges the Jewish people to do the same.

Verse 8

And He shall redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

Ibn Ezra sees in this verse a parallel with Verse 3: “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” However, God redeems each person and the people of Israel from their sins.

Radak uses this verse to explain how the process of redemption can take place. Granted, each person has many transgressions on his record.

First, He will redeem Israel from its sins. That means he will forgive them their iniquities. He will put into the heart of the Jewish people to repent from their sins. Then God will bring them back to Him.

Metzudat David views it slightly differently. The transgressions of the Jewish people will not prevent the ultimate redemption. God will redeem them from their sins because of the harshness of the ongoing exile.

Similarly, Malbim explains that God can do this by redeeming Israel from all of it’s iniquities. When He does this, then the final redemption will come, even if it’s before the time originally set by God.

Conclusion

Many Jewish communities recite Psalms 121 and 130 in times of distress.

The theme of Psalm 121 is that God protects the Jewish people from destruction.

As we see in this article, the theme of Psalm 130 is the forgiveness of sin. Related to God forgiving sin is the fact that eventually the final redemption of the Jewish people from exile will come.


A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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