Psalm 130: Redeemed from the Depths
You would not know it from a vantage point on one of the many docks dotting the shoreline of Lake Murray, but this manmade reservoir is uniquely massive. The so-called “Jewel of South Carolina” has a surface area of 50,000 acres, over 650 miles of shoreline, and retains about 763 billion gallons of water. If the Saluda Dam holding back the reservoir were to burst, Lake Murray would spread water, mud, and its aquatic contents to the top step of the South Carolina State House in nearby Columbia.
At its deepest point, the reservoir measures 190 feet down. There are many places on Lake Murray that I enjoy visiting, but its dark and cloudy depths are not on my destination list. Consider the more perilous spiritual depths into which each of us plunge ourselves with willful recklessness, as presented in Psalm 130.
In Psalm 130, the depths out of which the psalmist cries in the opening two verses are directly related to his iniquities referenced in verse 3. The pilgrim in this Psalm of Ascents characterizes himself as a desperate sinner drowning in the depths of his own guilt and shame, even as he makes his way to stand before the Lord. Yet the pilgrim-psalmist expresses his hope in verses 4 through 8, confident in the sure pardon and salvation of Israel’s covenant-keeping God and Redeemer. This pattern of ascending out of the murky depths of sin through the redemptive work of God recurs at several critical junctures in redemptive history.
In the grand deliverance of Israel out of Egypt under the prophetic leadership of Moses, God’s redeemed people make their way “through the midst of the sea on the dry ground” (Ex. 14:22; 15:19; Heb. 11:29) en route to the Promised Land. God’s Word multiplies allusions to this event as paradigmatic of God’s mighty deeds of deliverance in the lives of His people (e.g., Neh. 9:11; Ps. 66:6; 78:13; 106:9; Isa. 51:10; 63:11, 12).
The ministry of Jonah turns on his experience in the depths of the sea after disobeying God’s clear direction. Jonah pleads with God “from the depth of Sheol” (Jon. 2:2) and in “the deep,” otherwise described as “the heart of the seas” where “the current engulfed” the prophet (Jon. 2:3). Yet even as Jonah details his plight in desperate terms, “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head” (Jon. 2:5), he prays in faith, confessing that “Salvation is from the LORD” (Jon. 2:9). In vindication of his faith, we read in the very next verse, “Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land” (Jon. 2:10).
Three of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and John – record Christ’s midnight walk on the Sea of Galilee, but Matthew alone reports on Peter’s interaction with Jesus upon the waves. In Matthew 14, Peter articulates his great faith in Christ by calling out to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Matt. 14:28). After hearing Christ’s summons, Peter begins to step out in faith onto to the surface of the water. When Peter notices the wind picking up, fear grips his heart, and his faith falters. Beginning to sink, he – like Jonah before him – cries out to Jesus, “Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:30). Just as in the case of Jonah, salvation is at hand with the next verse: “Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him” (Matt. 14:31).
These biblical allusions to salvation out of the depths may call Psalm 130 to mind as a parallel passage to describe Jonah’s, Peter’s, and even the Israelites’ experiences of God’s saving grace in hard times. But perhaps the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel alludes more directly to the hope-filled concluding verse of the psalm, “He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Ps. 130:8). In Joseph’s dream recorded at the end of the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, the angel is recorded as directing this eminently righteous man to name Mary’s son “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
As pilgrims passing through the murky depths of a world plagued by sin and iniquity, we lift our eyes up to the hills (Ps. 121:1) for help, deliverance, and redemption. We look up and away to Jesus, the Savior of sinners, the Deliverer of Israel, and the only Redeemer of God’s Elect. He alone saves us from the depths.
Zachary Groff (MDiv, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodruff, SC and he serves as Director of Advancement & Admissions at GPTS in Taylors, SC.