Psalm 130 expresses hope amidst desperation through what it says, but it also expresses confidence in God’s faithfulness through what it does poetically as well.
The psalmist expresses a progression from repentant desperation to this hope and confidence in God’s mercy beautifully in the specific words that he chooses in this song. A good song writer doesn’t just choose the first words that come to his mind. A really good song is not written in twenty minutes. A good song writer carefully chooses his words in order to communicate very specific ideas, and this song is no different.
In this song, the author communicates something simply with the names for God that he choses as he progresses through each stanza.
Notice the use of the word, “Lord” in verses 1 and 2: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice!” In our English translation we see two uses of the word, “Lord,” but in Hebrew, they are actually different terms. The first is Yahweh (you can tell that by the use of all caps in that instance of LORD). This is the unique, covenant name for God. This is the name that signifies that the psalmist knows God’s promises made to him; he knows that he is one of God’s chosen people. He knows that God’s promises and his hesed—his steadfast, loyal, covenantal love will endure forever. He knows that.
But the second title for God he uses is not Yahweh, but Adonai. This is a broader title for God that emphasizes, not his covenant faithfulness and love for his people, but his sovereignty and rule over all things. It is a title that expresses a deep respect and reverence, but in a way, it is a more distant title for God.
And the author repeats this back and forth reference to God as Yahweh and God as Adonai in the second and third stanzas as well. “If you, O Yahweh, should mark iniquities, O Adonai, who could stand?” Verse 5: “I wait for Yahweh,” and verse 6: “my soul waits for Adonai.”
It is as if in these three stanzas of repentance, the song writer is saying, “I know I am one of God’s chosen people, I know God has made promises to me, I know God’s steadfast love toward me will endure forever . . . but I also know that God is the sovereign ruler over all things, and he is just, and he is holy, and he cannot tolerate sin, and if he judges me for my sin, I will not stand.” In these three stanzas he goes back and forth . . . Yahweh, Adonai, Yahweh, Adonai, Yahweh, Adonai.
But then, look at the fourth stanza beginning in verse 7: “O Israel, hope in Yahweh! For with . . . Yahweh there is hesed—steadfast love.” The song writer has carefully and clearly created an artistic progression of thought here through careful word choice that his original audience would have felt as they sung through this song. When we sin, we should not take God’s grace for granted; we should not feel comfortable; we should feel desperation. We should recognize that the sovereign, holy, just Adonai will judge sin.
But a child of God who is repentant will not stay in a condition of desperation. A child of God knows that in Yahweh there is forgiveness, in Yahweh there is steadfast love, with him is plentiful redemption. And so we can have full and complete confidence: God will keep his covenant with us. God will redeem his people from all of their iniquities.
Through the use of metaphors, and repetition, and careful word choice, and names for God, the song writer of Psalm 130 moves us artistically from a feeling of repentant desperation to a feeling of complete hope and confidence in the forgiving steadfast love of God. This song does not just tell us this, the song shows us this artistically.