In our psalm this morning, the psalmist says: “I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope. My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy; with him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins. (Psalm 130:4-7)
Psalm 130 is part of a group of fifteen psalms known as the Psalms of Ascent, or the Gradual Psalms, beginning with Psalm 120 through Psalm 134. All 15 psalms begin with the words, “A song of ascents”. Many interpretations have been given for these psalms: The psalms are to celebrate the return from captivity from Babylon in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, with the assistance of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah that the Jews would again be resettled in the land of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was overtaken and captured by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He demolished the temple and took captive all the people of influence and position, along with the priests and Levites, and all the holy vessels of the temple, and transported them to Babylon. They left the poor of the land, and then assigned new leaders to rule the area. Forty years later Cyrus sent out a decree to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem. Under Ezra the scribe, anyone that wanted to return to Jerusalem could go with the kings blessing. They also were instructed to take all the holy vessels of the temple that were taken when the Babylonians destroyed the temple 40 years prior.
Building the walls of the temple was not an easy task. The people that surrounded the area of Jerusalem fought them every step of the way. Through the time of various kings from Cyrus to Darius, they finally built the walls. But, guarding the temple and the city was no easy task. Watchmen and guards were assigned to watch the walls by day and by night.
Some scholars say these 15 psalms of ascent were sung as the priests led the people up the stairs to the newly built temple. These psalms were also sung by the Jews as they ascended to the holy temples three times annually for their festivals. These are psalms of praise, songs of joyful celebration, and in this psalm, a song of hope and encouragement to those that wait for the goodness of the Lord. In our Good Friday liturgy, Psalm 130 is always read.
Psalm 130 is also considered a Penitential psalm, a grouping consisting of seven psalms, PSs 6;32;38;51;102;130 and 143. Psalm 30 opens with a heartfelt cry from the depths of the heart, a plea to God to hear his or her voice. It is a desperate cry in the darkness of the night, a plea to God to hear a voice in need. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, Lord hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” (v1,2)
This psalm gives a special acclamation of the forgiving character of God. If God were to keep track of all our mistakes, moral and social failures, then who could stand before Him. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord who could stand? But, there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered”. (v3,4) Remember when Peter came to Jesus and asked him how many times we should forgive those that have sinned against us. He asked: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times”. (Matthew 18:21-22). That’s like 490 times. Now is that 490 times a day or 490 times a week? In other words, we need to forgive one another as a loving God forgives us, repeatedly. God is a God of love and forgiveness.
Waiting and hoping are closely related in our life of faith in God. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. (Hebrews 11:1) Watchers on the wall were assigned to guard the community, to provide security for villagers, and to keep an eye on the fields and livestock, to observe unusual activity. And, if predatory animals or humans approached to sound an alarm, to blow the trumpet or the rams horn, to alert everyone to the danger approaching. The warning from the watchman was a critical alarm that called the villagers to action, as we read in the prophet Joel: “Blow you the trumpet in Zion, let the sound of the trumpet be heard. Sound an alarm, sound an alarm. Let the sound of the trumpet be heard”. (Joel 2:8)
The watchman on the wall, carried a lighted torch. It was probably the only light in the village except for the candles in the homes of those watching over the sick or the dying. For these it was a long night, and they too watched with hope for the morning. For the watchman and for those that could not sleep because of illness, depression or for other reasons that keep people up at night, the darkness of the night can also be called the “dark night of the soul”. There is hope for the morning sun, the dawn that reassures us that “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). It is a hope not only for the fullness of the day, but a hope for healing, a hope for the removal of pain, a hope and prayer for deliverance and reconciliation.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I have hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than the watchman who waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning”. (v 5,6)
All of us at some time will experience these times of darkness, a time often referred to in church ascetical theology as the dark night of the soul, times of soul searching, times of extreme loneliness, sickness, the mental and social struggles or various situations that bring depression and confusion. It is in those times when we ache for morning, the light of day, the light of God’s mercy. We wait and we hope, which is the substance of faith. We know that joy will come in the morning, but the dark nights of the soul can sometimes linger for a long time.
“O Lord where comes the day? Surrender we pray, the night to the day. Let the morning dawn come. Rise up O Lord! Show us your light, your favor with the sun and the warmth of the day, a warmth to comfort the soul”.
We wait patiently and longingly for that perfect day. That day where all will be well. Everyone will be healed. The psalmist encourages us to put our hope in the steadfast love of the Lord. He will forgive us for our mistakes and by his power he will raise us up in newness of life. “O Israel 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”. (v 7,8)
Help is on the way. Another psalm gives us this encouragement: “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14)
I appreciate comfort more when I am distanced from that comfort. We appreciate sunshine when we miss the sunshine in our lives. Sorrow and sadness is not enough, as the eastern mystic Thich Nhat Hanh would say. The joy can be there even in the night.
From the psalm from last, we read:
“The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever”. (Psalm 23)
Even in our darkest hour Jesus is with us. “The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5) I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning!
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen