Our God Is A Forgiving God -Psalm 130

There are three reasons that bring me to Psalm 130. First, it is a beautiful Psalm. Secondly, it fits in so well with this week’s Sabbath Study. And a third reason is an Internet link asking the question: “How Did saints in the Old Testament receive Salvation? Hank Hanegraaff, on the same Christian.com website I subscribe to says, “Many people falsely assume that only the New Testament believers are saved by grace whereas Old Testament believers were saved by obedience to the Law of Moses and not by grace.”

Psalm 130 has been considered one of Martin Luther’s favourite Psalms. One can see why – considering Luther’s struggle with the way of salvation recorded by the historian, Roland Bainton.

Psalm 130 has overtones of the Old Testament Sanctuary. The Old Testament Sanctuary speaks about judgement. The word ‘judgement’ carries a sense of accountability. People don’t like the idea of judgement these days.

But judgement is an important teaching of the Bible. It was taught on a daily basis through the Old Testament Sanctuary system. Throughout the year the sins of the people were confessed over the slain offering and taken into the Sanctuary. Taking the view that there has only ever been one method of salvation, this Old Testament sacrificial system prefigured the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus would pay the consequences of the sins of all mankind, before as well as after the cross (Hebrews 9:22-26; John 3:16).

Once a year there was a ‘Cleansing of the Sanctuary’ when the high priest would mediate in the Most Holy place on behalf of the people of Israel. And God’s people would depend on the high priest coming out of the Most Holy Place of the Temple to declare that all their sins were taken away (Leviticus 16:29-34).

The New Testament, particularly the Book of Hebrews, tells us that the Old Testament Sanctuary services are a type of what is going on in heaven today. Hebrews chapters 7 – 10 tells us we have a perfect High Priest who is mediating for us in the Heavenly Sanctuary.

In 1 Timothy 2:5,6 we are told, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself a ransom for all men . . .” He is the all-sufficient God and only Saviour who alone is our mediator – and being both God and Saviour neither Him nor we need more help than what He provides. When the Judge who sits on the bench of the heavenly assize is also our God, our Saviour and our Friend, what is there to fear?

Mediation suggests the idea of judgement. In Hebrews 9:27 we are told that as we are all destined to die once – then after that we must face the judgement.

The idea of judgement can be quite scary. I recently discovered an old document signed by the local ‘Superintendent of Police’ – dating back to the 24th October 1958. He was giving me notice of his intention to institute proceedings against me. It was related to a motorcycle accident I had ‘at Old Furnace Road, Trecenydd (Caerphilly) at 2.45 on the 18th of October 1958’ (see ‘My Story’). I was being prosecuted on two road traffic offences. It was the first time I had been into a court. The case was dismissed on conflicting evidence but I remember feeling anxious about what the judgment would be. But that is not the way the Israelites felt about God’s judgments on the Day of Atonement.

Judgment can only be scary if we don’t have a right understanding of the judgement, or, we know we are not living right with God. The question the Psalmist asks we would ask too. “If you O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?

Psalm 130 is well suited for such an occasion variously known as Yom Kippur, or the Day of Judgement, or the Day of Atonement.

In one way this psalm is very personal. But whatever this personal experience was, it was obviously recorded and constructed to become a national experience; just like we can join in the sentiments of some of the great hymns in our time that come from personal experiences.

It is said of Charles Wesley that he was sitting in his study meditating in one of his down moments when a sparrow flew through the open window and landed on his chest where it appears to have stayed for a moment. Perhaps it was from a state of shock from being pursued by a bird of prey. That experience is said to have given him the inspiration for the wonderful hymn which many Christians still sing and can identify with today: “Jesus lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly”.  So Israel could readily identify with the sentiments of this psalm on the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. Look at the anticipation and expectation we read in verses 6 and 7:

My soul waits for the Lord

More than watchmen wait for the morning

More than watchman wait for the morning

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord,

For with the Lord is unfailing love

And with Him is full redemption.”

That is what the message of the Sanctuary was about. It was not about totting up sins and seeing how anyone fared on judgement day. As the Psalmist says, if God was to keep a record of our sins against us, “Who could stand?

As mentioned earlier, there are some Christians who separate the New Testament from the Old Testament. They see the Old Testament providing salvation by keeping the Law and the New Testament providing salvation by faith in the grace of God. But that is not what I read in the Old Testament. Apart from it being an obviously very unfair system if it were true, the evidence is that salvation, before and after the cross, was by faith through the Grace of God. We see this expressed quite clearly in Hebrews 11, where we have a record of Old Testament characters who are known to be waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus, because of their faith and trust in God.

As it says in Psalm 130:7, the Sanctuary is about God’s unfailing love. “With Him is full redemption.” It is not partial redemption with God needing to make up the deficit. It is full pardon for all our sins. We have nothing to offer, God provides it all! As Priscilla Jane Owens wrote,

Shout salvation full and free

Highest hills and deepest caves;

This our song of victory:

Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

The Bible image of the Sanctuary tells us that God does not want to hold anything against us. He wants to clear our name of all blame. The Sanctuary was not something the Hebrews feared. It was something they delighted in, and sang about.

The Day of Atonement was a serious time. As Psalm 130:3 puts it, “If you O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” But we also know that the Day of Atonement was a day of rejoicing! As verse 8 concludes, “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins”.

It harks back to Leviticus 16:29-34 where it says in verse 30, “On this day atonement will be made for you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins.”

God doesn’t keep a little red notebook for Himself where He logs up all the hurts and sins done against Him. We fallen humans might do that, but not God. If God was like that, then the Psalmist had good reason to ask, “Who could stand?” If God kept a record of our sins then we would all sink into the despair of our own sinfulness.

Sin is not something God takes lightly. Sin separates us from Him, and from each other. Forgiveness comes when sin is repented of and forsaken. It does not mean that God is soft on sin and that He will forgive us in our sins. When Pharaoh continually defied God in not letting the Israelites go, Pharaoh died in his sin. It was the same for King Saul. Continual disobedience resulted in the Holy Spirit leaving him. Suicide was his way out! (1 Samuel 13:7-14; 1 Samuel 31:1-10).

Judgement does have a negative side. When John described the ‘Day of the Lord’ in Revelation 6:14-17 the question is spontaneous, “Who can stand?” But the Apostle John assures us in chapter 7 of Revelation that there will be those who will stand secure in the judgement time. And the Psalms also tell us who will stand in the judgement. If we go back to Psalm 24:3-6 we notice how verse 3 begins:

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?

Who may stand in His Holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

Who does not lift up his soul to an idol

Or swear by what is false.

He will receive blessings from the Lord

And vindication from God His Saviour.

Such is the generation of those who seek Him,

Who seek your face O God of Jacob” (See Genesis 32:26-30).

These are the ones who seek God with all their hearts. The follower of Jesus knows that sin is against God and has cost Him more than we can ever know. It was His Son who died on the cross (Matthew 27:45,46). “By His wounds we are healed”(Isaiah 53:5).

So coming back to Psalm 130:1, “Out of the depths I cry to you Oh God.” If this was the cry of King David after his great sin, we may wonder how he got himself into such a mess in the first place! How could a man whom God elevated to the throne of Israel, reduce himself to the cowardly act of murder to cover his adultery with another man’s wife? (2 Samuel 11). But that is really what happened to David. And when he was told that parable recorded in 2 Samuel 12:1-5, about a prosperous but selfish livestock owner, David was so angry that he unwittingly pronounced his own death sentence. David’s response to Nathan was, “the man who did this deserves to die!

When Nathan, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, penetrated the heart of David with that story of injustice and robbery, David immediately recognised his own condition before God. We read it in Psalm 51:1 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgression.” And that is what we have here in Psalm 130:1 and 2:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,

O Lord, hear my voice,

Let your ears be attentive

To my cry for mercy.”

And, all that went on in the Old Testament Sanctuary system was to show just how merciful as well as just God is, and, how much He loves to forgive if we are willing to repent.

Our God is a forgiving God! As verse 3 points out, God will not “mark” or “keep a record of sins” against us. The Apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9).

King David’s experience is not written for us so that we can gloat over his sinfulness. It is not a juicy bit of gossip for the reader to snigger over. It is recorded so that we can glory in the wonderful mercy and forgiveness and grace of God. As verse 8 puts it, “He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”

That is the message of the Bible. In the history of Israel the people of God looked forward to the cross through the symbols of the Sanctuary. When Jesus made his last cry with his last breath on the cross – we are told, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51).

The Old Testament Sanctuary teaching tells us what God’s actions in the history of Israel were about. It is about a loving, gracious and redeeming God. That is the reason for the rejoicing in Psalm 130. It was a reason for Israel’s rejoicing. Jesus fulfilled all the promises contained in the practices of the Old Testament Sanctuary. That fulfilment in the cross is the reason for Christians to rejoice too! That for me is the best of religious faith or belief – it is Christian belief.

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