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Metaphors in Psalm 130

This entry is part 6 of 13 in the series

"Out of the Depths"

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Last week I pointed out that since Psalm 130 is a song, we cannot treat it like a Pauline epistle. We need to explore the poetic elements of the psalm to let it do for us what the original author(s) intended for it to communicate.

First, songs often make use of artistic metaphors to create an image. A metaphor is a representative symbol; it is a picture that is not literally true, but that communicates a truth in a deeper way than it would otherwise.

The most obvious metaphor in this psalm is found in the first line: “Out of the depths.” This phrase paints a picture; it captures our imaginations and draws us into the world the poet is painting. “The depths” here signifies something like a deep pit or deep waters. The author is not literally in a pit or drowning in a deep body of water; rather, he is using an artistic metaphor that creates an image of how we should feel about our sin.

Imagine that you were in Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit, and you’re in your home, and gradually water begins to creep under your doors, and then it begins to rise. And you’re caught in a room as the water reaches your knees, and then your waist, and then it’s up to your chest, and it’s still rising. That’s the picture the psalmist is painting. What kind of desperation would you feel? What would your cries for help look like?

This is how the psalmist wants us to view sin in our lives. It creeps in slowly under the doors of our lives, and at first it may not seem like a big deal, but as unconfessed sin continues to rise, pretty soon it’s up to our knees, and then up to our waists, and then up to our chests, and we’re in real trouble.

And when that happens, God wants us to cry out to him in desperation: “Out of the depths of my sin I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my please for mercy!”

Psalm 69 expresses something similar when the psalmist cries, “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. . . . Deliver me from sinking in the mire!”

So the author is creating a poetic experience of desperation that he wants us to enter as we consider our sin. He is not just telling us that we should feel desperate about our sin, he shows us artistically through the use of this metaphor. This is what a song does.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.