Summary: March 17, 2002 -- FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 With the LORD there is mercy and plenteous redemption. (Ps. 130:6-7) Romans 8:6-11 John 11:1-45 Color: Purple Title: “God’s forgiveness.” Psalm 130
March 17, 2002 -- FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT
With the LORD there is mercy and plenteous redemption. (Ps. 130:6-7)
Title: “God’s forgiveness.”
This is an individual lament for sin and an expression of confidence that God’s forgiving nature will remove the sin and redeem the individual, just as God has always done in the past for the whole nation. The structure of the psalm is based on the spiritual movement within the psalmist, as he goes from crying verses one to three, to trusting in God’s forgiveness verses four to six, to feeling reinstated within the community where he sees his individual grace as an example of and in harmony with the nation’s graced standing before God verses seven and eight.
In verse one, A song of Ascents: There are fifteen psalms with this title or heading, Psalms 120-134. While no one knows for sure, the best guess is that this was a collection sung by pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the great feasts. These would be the songs along the way. Since they are short they would have been easy to remember. Just about every type of psalm is represented. There are psalms of thanksgiving and praise, lament and confidence, wisdom and royal psalms. They all center on the Temple, the locus and focus of the divine presence, as the repository of life-refreshing grace that the pilgrim takes back with him or her into the world. Another conjecture, one not contradictory of what has just been said, is that these fifteen psalms we sung as the pilgrim party ascended the fifteen steps from the court of women to the court of Israel men only. If so, this psalm would most likely have been sung on the lowest step, that is, “Out of the depths.”
The depths: While the words literally refer to the depths of the sea, they figuratively represent troubles and misfortunes and even Sheol, death. The psalmist feels distant from God and submerged in chaos. This may refer to one specific individual experience or recurring situations or even a chronic condition. The image is general enough to include a “sea of troubles, “the pits,” as we would say, the felt distance from the presence of God caused by either a big sin or just daily life in the Diaspora, the mixed world of Jews and Gentiles or just the mixed up world in general. It is the cry of a pilgrim, a nobody from nowhere, dirty, grimy, tired, afar off, addressing his God. It is inspired by Exodus 2:23-25 with which the Jewish and our history of faith began, where the Israelites groaned because of their slavery. God heard that cry and was mindful of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In verse three, mark iniquities: The idea here is of one keeping an exact ledger of all wrongdoing to be used for assigning punishment for each and every one.
Lord, who can stand: No one is without sin. “Stand,” hints at standing or living in the presence of God. When Malachi speaks of the sudden appearance in the Temple of the Lord in Malachi 3:2 he asks the same question and uses the same verb: Who can stand when he appears? Thus one can neither stand, up, in deep waters nor in the presence of God. Such requires something on God’s part of which humans are incapable.
In verse four, but with you is forgiveness: This is an indirect prayer for forgiveness, coupled with the confidence that such is part of God’s nature to grant for the sincere asking. The psalmist knows his history. He has learned from it the consistent pattern of God’s behavior. He may be reminding God of that fact or himself or both. He hopefully awaits some sign. If he is in the Temple at a liturgy, that sign would be the “word” or “oracle” from God, uttered by the priest.
That you may be revered: “Revered,” is a good translation of the niphal imperfect, of the Hebrew verb used here meaning, “fear.” The fear of God is the human response to his felt presence. This response runs the gamut from utter terror to reverential awe. God’s immense power would cause anyone to cower in fear, but God’s love would cause one to be aghast, agape, in utter admiration and awe. Looking at his love Hebrew hesed reduces the terror. Experiencing the undeserved forgiveness of God instead of his “by the book,” strict justice leaves one aghast, agape, in awe. Forgiveness is not the end but the key that opens to the real purpose: “that you may be revered.” One would expect the opposite sequence, namely, that fear would be the motivation to ask for forgiveness. Instead, trust is, trust in God’s nature. And forgiveness is the motivation for fear, reverential fear, which leads to obedience. It also produces hope, hope that in the future God will remain consistent, that is, he will “deliver,” the same goods he always has in the past and now in the present.