Psalm 130 – The Choir in the Courtroom (feat. Twenty One Pilots)

Psalm 130 Bible with Theo Organic 70 Percent Dark Chocolate with Coconut

Today’s ChocolateTheo Organic 70% Dark Chocolate w/ Coconut

Today’s PassagePsalm 130

I just chucked an intro. I’d originally typed up a thing about Bo Burnham’s song “Repeat Stuff,” which satirizes the pop music industry’s aggressive commercialization of love songs. According to Burnham, mainstream love songs are written as vaguely as possible, in order to maximize their potential audience and deliver a product anyone can identify with. And I was about to contend that Psalm 130 takes a similar approach to experiences of stress and trouble rather than love (without the parasitic capitalism), but then I realized: no. The psalmist here describes a much-less-than-universal human experience. And the song pumping through my speakers as I type these precise words is a much better fit for the psalm’s subject matter. It’s “The Judge” by Twenty One Pilots.

Because the psalm’s not just about deliverance from general adversity, from any old generic trouble. It’s about contrition and forgiveness. It begins, “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (130:1). Compare that to the chorus of Twenty One Pilots’ track: “You’re the judge, oh no, set me free!” It’s a plea for help addressed to an authority. Under pressure, many people won’t call out for help, trying to endure on their own strength as independent-minded individualists. Already both the psalmist and the Pilots are veering off the mainstream path in their songs.

And they keep veering. The psalmist continues: “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (130:3-4). He pleads to God, making an appeal not on the basis of his own good deeds, but on God’s precedent for pardon. Similarly, Twenty One Pilots make their case by appealing to God’s mercy: “I know my soul’s freezing, Hell’s hot for good reason, so please, take me.” And once again, we’re leaving common territory. Among those humans who ask for help with their problems, not all humans will recognize that their worst problem is how evil they are, and among those humans, not all will recognize their evil is against God–not all will recognize their need for a savior.

The psalmist isn’t targeting as wide a market as possible here. His psalm doesn’t have a target market at all! No: he wrote something for his fellow Hebrews to sing together, a song to lead them all in acknowledging their evil and God’s mercy. He tells his people: “O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption” (130:7). It brings sinners together and helps them to move past their guilt by acknowledging God’s readiness to forgive.

And the psalmist’s not selling anything. He’s giving away his song about how God freely gives the gift of forgiveness. And if we sing it with him, from the heart, we aren’t just part of a target market: we’re a choir of redeemed sinners.

2 thoughts on “Psalm 130 – The Choir in the Courtroom (feat. Twenty One Pilots)

    1. It appears to be a psalm of disorientation, according to a few sources (i.e. selected links from the first page of Google results). I was inclined to categorize it as a psalm moving from disorientation into new orientation (hope) in the last few verses, but I can see the other perspective too.

      I think Twenty One Pilots’ “The Judge” is more firmly a song of disorientation. The psalmist at least has hope in God’s forgiveness, and waits on him expectantly and confidently. The speaker in “The Judge,” though, appears to throw himself on the mercy of the court in utter desperation.

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