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Repetition in Psalm 130

This entry is part 7 of 13 in the series

"Out of the Depths"

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We have seen that in verse 1 and 2 of Psalm 130, 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 metaphor.

The psalmist expresses similar themes in the third stanza, verse 5–6.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

This third stanza, like the first, is communicating a kind of desperation because of sin, but this time it is a hope-filled desperation because we trust in the promises of God. The poet helps us to feel this desperation through lots of repetition. This is another poetic device that song writers often use in order to express something that cannot be expressed with just didactic statements. Notice how many times in this short space he uses the concept of “waiting” or “hoping,” which are similar ideas: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord.”

And actually, that final occurrence of “waits” in verse 6 isn’t even there in the Hebrew; there is no verb in that sentence. It literally reads, “my soul . . . for the Lord.” The poet leaves it out on purpose to make us fill it in ourselves, which only makes us feel more desperate. “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul . . . waits! for the Lord.”

And then he adds two more lines that are completely repetitive, and actually in the Hebrew they read: “more than watchmen for the morning, . . . watchmen for the morning.”

It’s like when your little 2-year-old desperately wants to get your attention: “Mommy… mommy…. Mommy…. Mom…. Mom!!!” That’s the kind of longing the psalmist is trying to create poetically here.

The song writer is saying, the reality of your sin should cause you to desperately cry out to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness. This is true, biblical repentance. Repentance is not simply recognizing our own sinfulness; anyone can do that. Repentance is being horrified by our sin, feeling the heavy weight of our sin, and desperately crying out to God for mercy.

Now the author could have just said that. He could have just said, “My sin is bad, and I need forgiveness. God, please forgive me.” But songs do more than just say something to us; songs do something to us. This psalm doesn’t just tell us what true repentance is like; this song leads us to feel what true repentance should feel like. It does this through using metaphors, and through the repetition of words and phrases, and through leaving out a verb and making us fill it in ourselves.

And the psalmist further paints this picture with the metaphor he uses in those last two lines: “my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.” The watchmen here pictures guards who have been standing at their post all night, and they are longing for the morning. Imagine that you are a guard, and you have the night shift. You start at midnight, and for the first couple of hours you’re doing OK. But then it’s 3am, and nothing is going on; there are no people to watch, nothing to do. You’re just standing there keeping guard. And then it’s 4am, and then 5am. By this time your eyes are heavy, and you are just desperately waiting for the morning. That’s the picture here. But this is also a confident waiting; the watchman knows the morning is coming, there is no question about that. And in the same way, we have confidence that God will forgive those who repent of their sins.

So the purpose of the first and third stanzas of this song is to communicate to us the kind of desperation for the Lord that should accompany true repentance. We should not feel comfortable in our sin; we should feel desperate, we should cry out to the Lord for forgiveness, and then we should wait longingly for him.

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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.