Psalms 128–130: Forgiveness & Fear

Read the Bible in 2011Week 45: Wednesday

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.
If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

“I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.
Psalm 130

Wednesday’s Bible reading is Psalms 128–130. These three psalms are in Book V of the Psalms, and are part of the group of psalms known as the ‘Songs of Ascents’: Psalms 120–134.1

I’m currently reading Dan Phillips’ book, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, and today I came across his thoughts on Psalm 130 in the chapter, “The Foundation of Wisdom,” that’s an extensive discussion of the fear of the Lord (or the fear of Yahweh, because he strongly advocates using the personal name of God written in the Hebrew text).

“Quite strikingly, verses 3–4 [ of Psalm 130] combine forgiveness and fear in a relationship with God. Verse 3 affirms the Biblical doctrine of man’s sinful guilt before God, a guilt he is powerless to assuage by his own efforts. Then, arrestingly, verse 4 assures believers that there is forgiveness with Yahweh in order that He might be feared.

“Forgiveness… and fear? Odder still, forgiveness in order to fear? How can these concepts possibly be wed?

“First, we must understand the Bible’s premise concerning the place of man: we do not approach God as peers. We are not “valued collaborators.” We are not His equals. The Bible is candid and univocal in asserting how we approach God: as criminals, guilty rebels who deserve His wrath and need His forgiveness.

“This is why the psalmist bluntly affirms that, apart from divine forgiveness, we would all be utterly doomed before this holy God (v. 3). There would be no relationship, except that between judge and condemned, between convict and noose.

“Thus the writer sings boldly of God’s forgivenesss, which alone makes a relationship possible. What kind of “fear” is this, then? We tend to think of “fear” as servile and cringing. To us, fear is an emotion that repels, rather than attracts. Clearly, this is not God’s meaning here. Kidner notes that this verse “confirms the true sense of ‘fear of the Lord’ in the Old Testament, dispelling any doubt that it means reverence and implies relationship.”

“What forgiveness makes possible is reverential, worshipful fear. Fear, then, is our proper attitude toward God. It is how we cling to Him as our Redeemer and our Lord, looking to His redemption (vv. 7–8). It is how we recognize our subordinate and vastly inferior position. And the only reason we may thus worshipfully revere Him rather than fleeing in terror of His judgment, is because of His forgiveness.”2

This chapter underscores the truth that we must understand biblical terms as the Bible defines them. Many of us, myself included, bring very negative connotations to the word fear. To understand the fear of the Lord rightly, we have to read and know the teaching of God’s Word on the topic. There’s not space to summarize all of Phillips’ excellent chapter, but I do want to bring in this comment of his:

“My favorite brief definition of the fear of Yahweh comes from Derek Kidner, who wrote that the fear of Yahweh is “that filial relationship which, in the most positive of senses, puts us securely in our place, and God in His (a theme thankfully developed in, e.g., Ps. 34:7ff.).””3

Go read Psalm 34 and see how David develops the theme.

“O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.”
Psalm 130:7–8

UPDATE: At Pyromaniacs on Thursday, Dan posted The fear of Yahweh involves revelation (excerpt from God’s Wisdom in Proverbs). It’s from an earlier section in the chapter I quoted above, “The Foundation of Wisdom.” If you read it, you’ll find light bulbs of comprehensive going on in your mind (at least I did!) as you see what Scripture teaches about the fear of Yahweh.
Isaiah 42 Photograph: – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1Leslie S. M’Caw, J. A. Motyer, “Psalms,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 529.
2, 3Dan Phillips, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, pp. 77, 81. Kidner on Nehemiah 9:32, in Ezra & Nehemiah, p. 113.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

2 thoughts on “Psalms 128–130: Forgiveness & Fear

  1. Thanks for coming by! I’ll do that.

    I’ve really appreciated the chapter on “The Foundation of Wisdom.” It’s the most comprehensive explanation of the fear of Yahweh I’ve seen. Most of the time I’ve heard a passing comment that’s only a minute or two long. I don’t remember anyone going into the Scripture passages using the phrase and connecting it with the work of God’s Word in our lives. Thank you for your work and insight.

    In God’s Wisdom in Proverbs I saw that you mentioned Tedd Tripp. About ten years ago I took his advice and led my kids through Proverbs. I explained my approach in Proverbs 1: Wisdom & Children. I have been so glad that we went through it together.

    I wish I had had your book when I was reading through Proverbs with my kids and here on the blog a few months ago—although I have held off on writing on Proverbs 22:6 after I read some reviews about your appendix. That’s a post I have yet to do.

    (BTW—thanks also for the tweet about this post. I just found it a minute ago.).

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