POST OVERVIEW. A detailed exegesis of Psalm 130:8 with the objective of discovering the identity of “Israel,” the entity whom the LORD promises to “redeem from all his iniquities.”
Psalm 130 begins with the psalmist in the lowest of the depths, crying to the LORD in his iniquities, but the psalm finishes with the joyous shout of the redeemed. “Israel” hopes in the LORD because of His lovingkindness (Hebrew “hesed”) and His abundant redemption (130:7). The crescendo occurs in the last verse when the LORD’s promise is proclaimed: “He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (130:8). The LORD has heard the cry of His servant and has granted him redemption from all his iniquities. By His mercy and His lovingkindness, the LORD has pulled His penitent servant “Israel” from the misery of guilt to the joy of full redemption. This is certainly salvation language, and it is certain that the “Israel” of verse 8 is saved.
As we reflect on this last verse of Psalm 130, we are faced with an interesting interpretive challenge. For while the psalmist begins as one person crying to the LORD for forgiveness (“Out of the depths I have cried,” “hear my voice,” “my supplications,” “I wait,” “I hope”), he concludes the psalm as a member of the group “Israel” exhorting all “Israel” to hope in the LORD and communicating to “Israel” the promise that the LORD “will redeem ‘Israel’ from all his iniquities.”
THE INTERPRETIVE CHALLENGE STATED. (Short form) “Who is the ‘Israel’ of verse 8?” (Expanded form) Since it is clear that, in Psalm 130:8, “Israel” is promised redemption from all his iniquities, and by definition, “redemption from all iniquities” means salvation, it is theologically important to clearly identify who this “Israel” is. Who is in this group “Israel” who will be redeemed from all their iniquities?
THREE POSSIBLE IDENTITIES FOR ISRAEL
Beginning our interpretive task, then, I would maintain that, in the Bible, there are three possible identities for “Israel.” First, “Israel” could refer to Jacob, the man who wrestled with God and with man and prevailed (Gen. 32:28). But second, “Israel” could also refer to the nation made up of the twelve tribes of Israel. That is, this could be the ethnic group known as the Hebrews, the physical descendants of the patriarch Jacob. The third option would be that this “Israel” refers to all the elect, to all those chosen by God for salvation before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5; see also Rom. 8:29-30; 9:8, 23-24).
So first, does this “Israel,” refer to the patriarch Jacob, who was named Israel? No, it does not. The exhortation in verse 7 to “hope in the LORD” makes no sense if it is made to a man who had been dead hundreds of years when this psalm was penned.
Next, could this refer to national Israel, to the ethnic group known as the Hebrews? No, it could not. While it is true that some of the Hebrews in the Bible were redeemed from their iniquities, the biblical record in both Old and New Testaments is very clear that the majority of people in national Israel perished. Just one example among many is in Numbers 14 when, except for Caleb and Joshua, the entire multitude of the sons of Israel coming out of Egypt rebelled against the LORD and therefore died in the wilderness (see also Psalm 95). But in addition to those Hebrews who perished as recorded in the pages of Scripture, virtually all Jewish people (ethnic, national Israel; Jews) who have lived in the last two millennia have not been redeemed but have died in unbelief. In no way, then, can the “Israel” of Psalm 130:8 refer to national, ethnic Israel.
“ISRAEL” IN PSALM 130:8 REFERS TO THE ELECT
Is it possible, then, that the “Israel” in Psalm 130:8 is referring to the elect? Yes, I think it is. In fact, I think “Israel” must refer to God’s elect, to those whom God has chosen for redemption (salvation) in eternity past. “Israel” must refer to God’s elect because only these people fit the words of the verse.
Consider first that Israel, as an entire group, is exhorted to “hope in the LORD” (130:7a). This hope is not the world’s baseless “hope” that somehow, despite all appearances to the contrary, everything will work itself out for my personal happiness. Rather, biblical hope is the conviction that the LORD who loves me will certainly fulfill all His promises to me, and so I can trust in Him as I wait for Him to work out His will. But remember that “God causes all things to work together for good (only) for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Those whom God calls are certainly His elect (Rom. 8:30).
Notice also that the basis of Israel’s hope (130:7a) is the LORD’s lovingkindness (130:7b). Now, the LORD’s lovingkindness is His covenant love given to His chosen people, and this in the sense that these chosen people are forever His. Those who have by faith received the LORD’s lovingkindness have a reason to hope, because all His promises are given for them and they are all “yes” (2 Cor. 1:20). But all these terms, of “covenant love” and “promises” and “hope,” are poured out in the hearts of His elect through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).
It is also clear that “will redeem” is equivalent to “will save.” The LORD will save (all) Israel from all his iniquities (modified 130:8). It follows that, if Israel is saved from all his iniquities, then Israel is also forgiven of all his iniquities. But consider this, that in the Bible, there is only one group of people in which every member of the group is forgiven of all their iniquities, and that group is the elect. Those whom God has chosen will come to faith in Christ and will be forgiven of all their iniquities.
CONCLUSION. Based on these considerations, our conclusion is that “Israel” in Psalm 130:8 is referring to the elect, to those chosen by God for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesian 1:4). In this instance, “Israel” is the name for God’s elect.
PROFOUND IMPLICATIONS OF THIS INTERPRETATION
A moment’s reflection will make clear that there are far-reaching implications and applications from this discovery. That, in at least some instances in the Scriptures, the word “Israel” can refer to the elect of God, to those chosen by God for salvation in eternity past, gives a new dimension especially to prophetic passages in the Old Testament. We will explore some of these ideas and implications in a follow-up post in the near future.
Soli Deo gloria rmb 12/15/2022 #600