Psalm 130 is one of seven psalms that church tradition has labeled the “penitential psalms” (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143), another way of saying “songs of repentance.” This penitential psalm includes all of the necessary elements of heartfelt confession to the Lord.
The psalm has four stanzas, each progressively expressing true repentance. In the first stanza, verse 1–2, the psalmist begins with a cry of desperation. He is expressing his deep need for God. He finds himself in a desperate situation, and so he cries aloud to the only one who can help him. He begs God for help; he begs God for mercy.
So what is the terrible situation in which the psalmist finds himself? He tells us in the second stanza, beginning with verse 3. The situation out of which he cries to the Lord for mercy is that he is a sinner, fully deserving of judgment from God. He knows that if the Lord would take note of his sinful condition, he would not be able to stand under the just wrath of a holy God.
And so he confesses his sinful condition before the Lord; he confesses that he would not stand if God would mark his iniquities; he confesses that he deserves God’s wrath.
And yet the stanza does not stop there. In the second half of this stanza, in verse 4, the psalmist proclaims that despite his sinfulness, despite the fact the he would not be able to stand under the just judgment of God, in God there is forgiveness. God does show mercy to those who approach him in this way, with hearts of repentance and faith.
And so, in the third stanza, verses 5–6, the psalmist rests in the realization and simply trusts in the Lord; he places his hope in God—steadfast confidence in God’s ability and willingness to forgive sin.