Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This psalm also is entitled "A Song of Degrees." See the notes at Introduction to Psa 120:1-7. The author and the occasion on which it was composed are unknown, as is also the reason why it was included in this group of psalms.
The language of the psalm seems to be that of an individual; but most interpreters suppose that it is an individual speaking in the name of the nation, and representing its calamities and its penitence. Some have imagined that the person represented as speaking in Psa 130:7-8, is a different individual from the one speaking in the other part of the psalm, but there seems to be no ground for this opinion. It is commonly supposed that the psalm had reference to the state of the Jews in the Babylonian captivity, but there is no necessity for limiting it to that period, if indeed it has any reference to the people of Israel. There were many occasions in their history when the language of the psalm would not be less appropriate than at that time. But there is no necessity at all for supposing that it refers to the nation as such. It may be the language of an individual, mourning over his sins, and pleading for mercy, expressing deep conviction of sin, and humble trust in God as the only hope for a convinced, condemned, and penitent sinner. As such, it would represent what has occurred in thousands of cases when sinners have been brought to conviction of sin, and have cried for mercy. Understood in this manner, it is one of the most instructive and touching of the psalms. I know of no reason why it may not be so regarded.
Out of the depths - The word rendered "depths" is from a verb - עמק ‛âmaq - which means to be deep; then, to be unsearchable; then, to make deep; and it would apply to anything low, deep, or profound, as the ocean, a pit, or a valley. The word used here occurs elsewhere only in the following places: Psa 69:2, Psa 69:14, where it is rendered "deep," applied to waters; and Isa 51:10; Eze 27:34, where it is rendered "depths." The word, as used here, would be applicable to deep affliction, dejection, or distress. It would be applicable
(a) to affliction - the depths of sorrow from loss of friends, property, or bodily suffering;
(b) sin - the depths into which the soul is plunged under the consciousness of guilt;
(c) mental trouble - low spirits - melancholy - darkness of mind - loss of comfort in religion - powerful temptation - disappointment - the anguish caused by ingratitude - or sadness of heart in view of the crimes and the sorrows of people - or grief at the coldness, the hardness, the insensibility of our friends to their spiritual condition.
From all these depths of sorrow it is our privilege to call upon the Lord; in those depths of sorrow it is proper thus to implore his help. Often he brings us into these "depths" that we may be led to call upon him; always when we are brought there, we should call upon him.
Have I cried unto thee, O Lord - Or rather, "do I now invoke thee," or call earnestly upon thee. The language does not refer so much to the past as the present. I now cry for mercy; I now implore thy blessing. The condition is that of one who in deep sorrow, or under deep conviction for sin, pleads earnestly that God would have compassion on him.
Lord, hear my voice - This is the prayer; this is what he cried. It is the language of earnest pleading.
Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications - Do not turn away from me; do not disregard my cry. See the notes at Psa 5:1.
If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities - If thou shouldst observe, note, attend to, regard all the evil that I have done. The Hebrew word means properly to keep, to watch, to guard. The word, as used here, refers to that kind of vigilance or watchfulness which one is expected to manifest who is on guard; who keeps watch in a city or camp by night. The idea is, If God should thus look with a scrutinizing eye; if he should try to see all that he could see; if he should suffer nothing to escape his observation; if he should deal with us exactly as we are; if he should overlook nothing, forgive nothing, we could have no hope.
Who shall stand? - Who shall stand upright? Who could stand before thee? Who could hope to be acquitted? This implies
(1) that the petitioner was conscious of guilt, or knew that he was a sinner;
(2) that he felt there was a depth of depravity in his heart which God could see, but which he did not - as every man must be certain that there is in his own soul;
(3) that God had the power of bringing that to light if he chose to do it, so that the guilty man would be entirely overwhelmed;
(4) that he who urged the prayer rested his only hope on the fact that God would not mark iniquity; would not develop what was in him; would not judge him by what he saw in his heart; but would deal with him otherwise, and show him mercy and compassion.
Every man must feel that if God should "mark iniquity" as it is - if he should judge us as we are - we could have no hope. It is only on the ground that we may be forgiven, that we eau hope to come before him.
But there is forgiveness with thee - The Septuagint renders this ἱλασμός hilasmos, propitiation, reconciliation; the Latin Vulgate "propitiatio," propitiation. The Hebrew word means "pardon." The idea is, that sin may be forgiven; or, that God is a Being who does pardon sin, and that this is the only ground of hope. When we come before God, the ground of our hope is not that we can justify ourselves; not that we can prove we have not sinned; not that we can explain our sins away; not that we can offer an apology for them; it is only in a frank and full confession, and in a hope that God will forgive them. He who does not come in this manner can have no hope of acceptance with God.
That thou mayest be feared - That thou mayest be reverenced; or, that men may be brought to serve and worship thee - may be brought to a proper reverence for thy name. The idea is, not that pardon produces fear or terror - for the very reverse is true - but that God, by forgiving the sinner, brings him to reverence him, to worship him, to serve him: that is, the sinner is truly reconciled to God, and becomes a sincere worshipper. The offendcr is so pardoned that he is disposed to worship and honor God, for God has revealed himself as one who forgives sin, in order that the sinner may be encouraged to come to him, and be his true worshipper.
I wait for the Lord - That is, in this state of distress and trouble - from these "depths" of woe, and sorrow, and conviction of sin. This implies two things:
(1) that he had no other dependence;
(2) that his soul was actually in a waiting posture, or that he actually looked to the Lord for his interposition.
My soul doth wait - I wait, with all my soul and heart.
And in his word do I hope - In his promise. I believe that he will fulfill that promise, and that I shall find a gracious answer to my prayers. Under conviction for sin, under deep sorrow and distress of any kind, this is the only hope of man. If God does not interpose, there is no deliverer; that he will interpose we may feel assured, if we come to him with a humble, a believing, and a penitent heart.
My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning - More intently; more anxiously. The Septuagint and Latin Vulgate render this, "My soul hopeth in the Lord from the morning watch until night." The idea is that of watchers - night guards - who look anxiously for the break of day that they may be relieved. It is not that of persons who simply look for the return of day, but of those who are on guard - or it may be who watch beside the sick or the dying - and who look out on the east to mark the first indications of returning light. To them the night seems long; they are weary, and want repose; all around is cheerless, gloomy, and still; and they long for the first signs that light will again visit the world. Thus in affliction - the long, dark, dreary, gloomy night of sorrow - the sufferer looks for the first indication, the first faint ray of comfort to the soul. Thus under deep conviction for sin, and deep apprehension of the wrath of God - that night, dark, dreary, gloomy, often long - the soul looks for some ray of comfort, some intimation that God will be merciful, and will speak peace and pardon.
I say, more than they that watch for the morning - Margin, which watch unto the morning. The translation in the text best expresses the sense. There is something exceedingly beautiful and touching in this language of repetition, though it is much enfeebled by the words which our translators have inserted, "I say, more than." The Hebrew is, "more than they that watch for the morning - watch for the morning," as if the mind dwelt upon the words as better expressing its own anxious state than any other words could do. Everyone who has been afflicted will feel the force of this; every one who has been under conviction of sin, and who has felt himself in danger of suffering the wrath of God, will remember how anxiously he longed for mercy, for light, for peace, for some indication, even the most faint, like the first ray which breaks in the east, that his soul would find mercy and peace.
Let Israel hope in the Lord - In such circumstances of affliction and distress, let not the people of God despair. In the darkest night, in calamities deep and prolonged, let not those who love God despair. The morning will dawn; the light will break in the east; deliverance and joy will come. The Hebrew here is, "Trust, O Israel, in the Lord." The design of the Psalmist seems to be, from his own experience, to persuade others - the afflicted people of God - to put their trust in Him in whom he had himself hoped. From the very depths of affliction, guilt, and almost despair, he had looked to the Lord: encouraged and persuaded by his example, he would now entreat the people of God everywhere and always, in like manner, to trust him.
For with the Lord there is mercy - He is merciful, and in his mercy we may trust.
And with him is plenteous redemption - It is ample; it is full; it abounds. It is not limited; it is not exhausted; it cannot be exhausted. So we may always feel when we come before God, that his mercy is ample for all the needs of all the sinful and the suffering; that the provisions of his grace are unexhausted and inexhaustible. Applying this, as we may, to the work of the Saviour, we may feel that the redemption which is in him is adequate to the needs of a world, and that although numberless million have been saved by it, yet that it is still as rich, as full, and as free as it was in the beginning; as the ocean, though from the beginning of the world it has supplied the materials for rain and dew to water the hills, the vales, the continents, and the islands, is still full; as the light of the sun, though for thousands of ages it has poured its light on the planets, and on all the vast space between itself and those orbs, and has sent out its light into the vast regions beyond, still shines with undiminished splendor, and pours its floods of day and of glory on all those worlds.
And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities - His people. He will completely deliver them from the power and the pollution of sin. This will ultimately be accomplished in reference to his whole church, and to every true member of that church. This was the highest object before the mind of the psalmist - that with which the psalm appropriately closes. And this is the highest object before the mind of every true child of God - that he may be completely and forever delivered from the power and the dominion of sin. This will be perfectly accomplished in heaven only; but there and then the bliss will be complete. The psalm begins with an earnest cry from the "depths;" it closes with the triumphant hope of complete and eternal deliverance. There is one world where there is no occasion to cry to God from the "depths" of sorrow and of sin.