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detail, Norham Castle, Sunrise by J.M.W. Turner

More than the Watchman

Colin Fields

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Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” Isaiah 7:11

Of all the Penitential Psalms, 130 is especially poignant for the distance of its author’s journey. A cry “out of the depths” evokes a deep and turbulent sea, with waves closing overheard. Yet by the end of his prayer, he is standing as a watchman on battlements, waiting with hope – and certainty – for the coming dawn.

Charles H. Spurgeon’s commentaries on this Psalm speak to both depths and heights:

The Psalm begins very low: “Out of the depths.” The psalmist is in the depths of sorrow and conscious sin, the depths of weakness, the depths of doubt and fear; yet, though he is in those depths, he does not leave off praying: “Out of the depths have I cried.” Some of the best prayers that were ever prayed have been offered in the depths. There are some men who never prayed at all until they came into the depths of sorrow, and those sorrows pressed their prayers out of them. The psalmist’s prayer was a cry. That is a child’s prayer; it cries to its mother or its father: “Out of the depths have I cried.” But it was not like a child’s cries sometimes are, – cries to itself, or cries to nobody: “Out of the depths have I cried unto THEE, O Jehovah.” That is the right kind of prayer which is directed to God as an arrow is aimed at the target.

Men who guard a city, and women who wait by the sick, long for daylight. Worshippers tarrying for the morning sacrifice, the kindling of the incense and the lighting of the lamps, mingle fervent prayers with their holy vigils, and pine for the hour when the lamb shall smoke upon the altar. David, however, waited more than these, waited longer, waited more longingly, waited more expectantly. He was not afraid of the great Adonai before whom none can stand in their own righteousness, for he had put on the righteousness of faith, and therefore longed for gracious audience with the Holy One. God was no more dreaded by him than light is dreaded by those engaged in a lawful calling. He pined and yearned after his God.

This yearning has been interpreted in music as well. In 1963, Bruderhof composer Marlys Swinger wrote a piece that conveys the penitent’s journey toward mercy and forgiveness.

Out of the Depths

Out of the depths we cry to thee, O Father;
Lord, hear our cries,
Let thine ears be attuned unto our need,
O hear, and listen to our need.

If thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities,
Who then shall stand?

Have pity on our need.

But there is forgiveness with thee
For those who honor thee.

We wait for the Lord, and in his Word we hope.

Our hearts wait for the Lord,
More than the watchman waits for the morning.

All ye people, hope in the Lord!
Hope always, hope in the Lord.

For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
And with the Lord there is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem thee from all thine iniquities.

All ye people, hope in the Lord!
Hope always, hope in the Lord.

Amen.

Words based on English Standard Version of Psalm 130

detail, Norham Castle, Sunrise by J.M.W. Turner Detail, Norham Castle, Sunrise by J.M.W. Turner
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