Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
It is the soul of the people which here throws itself on the Divine forgiveness, waiting for deliverance as one waiteth for the dawn. Psalm 130:7-8, which are evidently taken up by the full choir, leave no doubt of the national character of the psalm. But the strong personal feeling breathed into it has made it even more the de profundis of individuals than of churches or nations. Luther’s fondness for this psalm is well known. The progressive or step-like parallelism is well marked.
A Song of degrees. Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD.(1) Out of the depths.—A recurrent image for overwhelming distress (Psalm 18:16; Psalm 88:7; also Psalm 69:2, where the same Hebrew word occurs). It is used literally in Isaiah 51:10 for the sea.
If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?(3) If thou.—The word rendered “mark” is “watch” in Psalm 130:6. If “Jah” were to watch for men’s lapses, as one watches for the dawn, nothing but signal punishment could follow. So Job (Job 10:14; Job 14:16) actually believed God did watch; while the prophets Jeremiah (Jeremiah 3:5) and Amos (Amos 1:11) use the word of the strict care taken that the consequences should follow the sin. It is a fact worthy of attention, that misfortune provokes at this crisis, in this people so profoundly religious, not murmurings against the Divine dealings, but a sense of deep contrition.
But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.(4) But.—Rather, for, marking an ellipse easily supplied. Israel’s sense of Jehovah’s readiness to forgive was too deep to need expression, it was understood; “Thou wilt not mark, &c, for . . .”
Forgiveness.—The article in the original may be more than that common with abstract nouns. “The forgiveness we need.”
That thou mayest be feared.—Either that the forgiven ones may become more profoundly religious, or perhaps, rather, that the manifestation of Divine mercy to Israel may strike fear in the heathen.
I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.(5) I wait.—The Hebrew expresses, I have been waiting, and still wait. Mark the earnestness in the repetition, I wait, my soul waits.
My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.(6) Watch for the morning.—Comp. Psalm 123:2 for another figure of the same earnest upward gaze. In the “watcher for the dawn” there may be an allusion to the Levite-sentinel whose duty it was to signal the first ray of dawn, and the moment for commencing the sacred rites of the Temple (Psalm 134:1), but the figure if general, as marking the impatience of a deeply agitated soul—a sufferer waiting for relief, a contrite sinner for forgiveness—is as striking as graceful. (See Deuteronomy 28:67.)
Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.(7) Let Israel.—Rather (as in Prayer-Book), Hope Israel in Jehovah. It is the watchword of faith addressed to the nation. (Comp. Psalm 131:3 for a rarer form of it.)
And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.(8) He.—Emphatic. He and only He. The redemption must not be limited to the consequences of iniquity, though including these. The psalm belongs to the age of true national contrition, when nothing would satisfy but deliverance from sin, as well as from its punishment. This appears decisively from a comparison with Psalm 25:22, where the expression is “from all his troubles.” Thus, this psalm was prepared to be what it has become, one of the penitential psalms of the world.