The title of this psalm is A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint before the LORD. This afflicted one borrowed his tone and some of his phrasing from Job, who is the Old Testament’s greatest example of affliction. Many phrases also match others in the psalms.
This psalm describes Jerusalem (Zion) in a state of ruin. If this is taken as literal ruin, the psalm may have been written by those in exile who mourned over both their personal and national affliction. Adam Clarke followed this thinking and suggested the author could be Daniel, Jeremiah, or Nehemiah. However, it may be that the ruin of Zion described is more poetic in nature and the psalm is pre-exilic.
In traditional Christian liturgy, this has been regarded as one of the seven penitential psalms (along with Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 130, and 143).
A. A cry from the crisis.
1. (1-2) A plea for the presence of God.
Hear my prayer, O LORD,
And let my cry come to You.
Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my trouble;
Incline Your ear to me;
In the day that I call, answer me speedily.
a. Hear my prayer, O LORD: According to its title, this psalm comes from an anonymous afflicted one. The psalmist begs for God to hear his prayer, knowing that if the God of goodness and compassion heard his prayer, He would not ignore the plea.
i. The first two verses of this psalm are filled with phrases that allude to other psalms (VanGemeren cites seven such phrases). “But the psalmist is not a cold-blooded compiler, weaving a web from old threads, but a suffering man…securing a certain solace by reiterating familiar petitions.” (Maclaren)
b. Do not hide Your face: The affliction itself was bad enough, but it was made worse beyond measure by the sense that God did not see or care. When he had the sense that God’s favor and face were evident, the affliction could be endured.
2. (3-7) The agony of being afflicted in health.
For my days are consumed like smoke,
And my bones are burned like a hearth.
My heart is stricken and withered like grass,
So that I forget to eat my bread.
Because of the sound of my groaning
My bones cling to my skin.
I am like a pelican of the wilderness;
I am like an owl of the desert.
I lie awake,
And am like a sparrow alone on the housetop.
a. For my days are consumed like smoke: In a style similar to Job, the psalmist described his agony. His days passed like meaningless smoke. Pain from deep inside his body made his bones feel as if they were burning. His heart ached and he had no appetite.
i. “Like smoke; which passeth away in obscurity, and swiftly, and irrecoverably.” (Poole)
ii. “The effects of extreme grief on the human frame are compared to those which fire produceth upon fuel. It exhausts the radical moisture, and, by so doing, soon consumes the substance.” (Horne)
iii. I forget to eat my bread: “Ahab, smitten with one kind of grief, David with another, and Daniel with a third, all ‘forgot,’ or ‘refused to eat their bread:’ 1 Kings 21:4, 2 Samuel 12:16; Daniel 10:3. Such natural companions are ‘mourning and fasting.’” (Horne)
b. My bones cling to my skin: As in Job 19:20, he was so weak and thin that there seemed to be nothing between his bones and his skin. He felt like a lonely and restless bird (pelican, owl, or sparrow).
i. “Pelican; or, bittern, as the same word is translated, Isaiah 34:11, Zephaniah 2:14. It is a solitary and mournful bird, as also the owl here following is.” (Poole)
ii. Pelican, owl: “The Psalmist likens himself to two birds which were commonly used as emblems of gloom and wretchedness.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Sparrow: “But this Hebrew word doth not only signify a sparrow, but in general any bird, as Leviticus 14:4,Deuteronomy 14:11,Daniel 4:12,14,21. And so it may here design any one or more sort of birds which used to sit alone, watching and mourning upon house-tops.” (Poole)
3. (8-11) The agony of being afflicted by enemies.
My enemies reproach me all day long;
Those who deride me swear an oath against me.
For I have eaten ashes like bread,
And mingled my drink with weeping,
Because of Your indignation and Your wrath;
For You have lifted me up and cast me away.
My days are like a shadow that lengthens,
And I wither away like grass.
a. My enemies reproach me all day long: The psalmist’s affliction came from more than poor health; he had enemies set against him. They opposed him with constant disapproval and rejection. They added a tone of mocking and cursing (who deride me and swear an oath against me).
i. “The scoffs and reproaches of men are generally added to the chastisements of God; or rather, perhaps are a part, and sometimes the bitterest part of them.” (Horne)
ii. Swear an oath against me: “Have sworn my death, or do swear and curse by me.” (Trapp)
b. I have eaten ashes like bread: The life of the psalmist seemed to be constant mourning. The marks of mourning – ashes and weeping were as familiar to him as food and drink.
c. Because of Your indignation and Your wrath: The mourning was all the more bitter because of the sense that this affliction came as some kind of punishment from God.
i. You have lifted me up and cast me away: “He felt that God was treating him as wrestlers treat one another, when a man deliberately lifts up his opponent in order that he may give him the worse fall.” (Spurgeon)
d. I wither away like grass: Overwhelmed with a sense of divine rejection (You have lifted me up and cast me away), he felt that his life was short and had little meaning.
i. A shadow that lengthens: “A ‘shadow’ never continueth in one stay, but is still gliding imperceptibly on, lengthening as it goes, and at last vanishing into darkness.” (Horne)
ii. “Here, to the twelfth verse, is a most lively picture of a dejected person, such as can hardly be paralleled.” (Trapp)
B. Praising the LORD who builds up Zion.
1. (12) Recognizing the everlasting God.
But You, O LORD, shall endure forever,
And the remembrance of Your name to all generations.
a. But You, O LORD, shall endure forever: The previous lines spoke of the psalmist’s frailty and the fleeting nature of life. The present line gives a sharp and wonderful contrast. Man may have days like shadows or wither away like grass, but Yahweh shall endure forever. The psalmist can therefore reject all self-reliance and hold on to a true reliance upon God.
i. We note the contrast between the first 11 verses, which were filled with personal references (I, me, and my) and verses 12 and following. With the words, but You, the focus changes and is set on God.
ii. “This, then, is the light which banishes darkness – the sense of the eternity of God. Then all life is seen as being under His control, and therefore conditioned in the wisdom and intention which include far more than the passing moment, taking into account all the ages.” (Morgan)
b. The remembrance of Your name to all generations: Not only would the Lord Himself endure, but His influence and greatness would be declared to all generations, never passing away.
2. (13-14) Recognizing the favor of God to Jerusalem.
You will arise and have mercy on Zion;
For the time to favor her,
Yes, the set time, has come.
For Your servants take pleasure in her stones,
And show favor to her dust.
a. You will arise and have mercy on Zion: Though in deep affliction, the psalmist had steadfast confidence that God would act and show mercy to Jerusalem once again.
b. Yes, the set time, has come: At God’s appointed time, Jerusalem would be the object of God’s favor. He had a set time for their restoration and would not forever leave them in ruin.
i. If this psalm describes the time in exile, the set time points to the 70 years set by God for Israel’s captivity (Jeremiah 25:11-13 and 29:10).
ii. “There was an appointed time for the Jews in Babylon, and when the weeks were fulfilled, no bolts nor bars could longer imprison the ransomed of the Lord.” (Spurgeon)
c. Your servants take pleasure in her stones: It is in our nature to reject that which is broken or torn down, but God’s servants have a love that goes beyond human nature. They see the ruined city, take pleasure in her stones and show favor to her dust.
i. The psalmist was overwhelmed by a sense of his own ruin and need (Psalm 102:1-11). Yet he did not allow that to turn him completely inward; he also cared for his community.
ii. “When the people of God cease thinking about themselves so much and begin thinking about the state of things around them, particularly our cities and those who are suffering in them, then God may indeed hear our prayers and send a revival.” (Boice)
iii. If every stone of God’s city was precious to His servants, then by analogy, so is every stone representing the people of God in His great building (1 Peter 2:5). “The poorest church member, the most grievous backslider, the most ignorant convert, should be precious in our sight, because [they form]…a part, although possibly a very feeble part, of the new Jerusalem.” (Spurgeon)
3. (15-17) Recognizing God’s exaltation among the nations.
So the nations shall fear the name of the LORD,
And all the kings of the earth Your glory.
For the LORD shall build up Zion;
He shall appear in His glory.
He shall regard the prayer of the destitute,
And shall not despise their prayer.
a. So the nations shall fear the name of the LORD: The restoration of mercy to Jerusalem is only the first part of a much larger work among the nations. God would so reveal Himself that all the kings of the earth would honor His name and glory.
b. He shall appear in His glory: The kings and kingdoms of the world honor Yahweh because He reveals Himself in His work toward Zion. His blessing and mercy to Jerusalem are a foretaste of His goodness to all the earth, when He shall regard the prayer of the destitute.
i. “A wondering world will adore her delivering God.” (Maclaren)
ii. The prayer of the destitute: “Only the poorest of the people were left to sigh and cry among the ruins of the beloved city; as for the rest, they were strangers in a strange land, and far away from the holy place, yet the prayers of the captives and the forlorn offscourings of the land would be heard of the Lord.” (Spurgeon)
4. (18-22) Recognizing the great deliverance God brings.
This will be written for the generation to come,
That a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.
For He looked down from the height of His sanctuary;
From heaven the LORD viewed the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoner,
To release those appointed to death,
To declare the name of the LORD in Zion,
And His praise in Jerusalem,
When the peoples are gathered together,
And the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.
a. This will be written for the generation to come: God’s goodness to Zion and the whole earth is a testimony for the future, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.
i. This will be written:“This wonderful deliverance shall not be lost nor forgotten, but carefully recorded by thy people.” (Poole)
ii. “Registers of divine kindness ought to be made and preserved: we write down in history the calamities of nations – wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes are recorded; how much rather then should we set up memorials of the Lord’s lovingkindnesses!” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Nothing is more tenacious than man’s memory when he suffers an injury; nothing more lax if a benefit is conferred. For this reason God desires lest his gifts should fall out of mind, to have them committed to writing.” (Le Blanc, cited in Spurgeon)
iv. The idea that God considers and plans for those yet to be created is an interesting revelation. We don’t first enter into the consciousness of God when we are conceived in our mother’s womb, but when we are conceived in His heart and mind.
b. He looked down from the height of His sanctuary: The psalmist pictured God bending down low from heaven:
· To see (viewed the earth).
· To hear (the groaning of the prisoner).
· To act (to release those appointed to death).
· To proclaim (the name of the LORD in Zion).
· To gather (when the peoples are gathered together).
· To receive service (peoples are gathered…to serve the LORD).
i. Horne took these words and made them into a fit prayer for the afflicted believer today: “Look down, O Lord Jesu, yet once again upon thy servants, still under the dominion of death, and the bondage of corruption; loose these chains, even these also, O Lord, and bring us forth into the glorious liberty of thy children.”
C. The weakness of man and the strength of God.
1. (23) A confession of weakness and its cause.
He weakened my strength in the way;
He shortened my days.
a. He weakened my strength in the way: The psalmist began this song by recognizing his own weakness (Psalm 102:1-11). Then he praised God for His deliverance and ultimate victory (Psalm 102:12-22). Now in the last section of this psalm, he confessed once again his weakness and frailty (shortened my days).
b. He weakened…He shortened: In addition, the psalmist recognized that it was God who either caused or allowed his weakness and frailty. Here the psalmist wrote with a point much like that of the much later Apostle Paul, who saw God’s plan and even glory in his present weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
2. (24-28) A prayer from the afflicted psalmist.
I said, “O my God,
Do not take me away in the midst of my days;
Your years are throughout all generations.
Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You will endure;
Yes, they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will change them,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will have no end.
The children of Your servants will continue,
And their descendants will be established before You.”
a. O my God, do not take me away: Overwhelmed by both his sense of great weakness in affliction, and by the awareness of God’s greatness and ultimate victory, the psalmist did the right thing. He cried out in prayer, pleading for God’s merciful help.
b. Of old You laid the foundation of the earth: Psalm 102:25-27 is quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12 as the words of God the Father unto God the Son, the Messiah.
i. In the Hebrew text of Psalm 102:25-27, the psalmist says this to Yahweh, but the idea that God Himself speaks these words is more clear in the Greek translation of the Hebrew (the Septuagint), which the author of Hebrews quoted.
ii. “The epistle opens our eyes to what would otherwise be brought out only by the Septuagint of verses 23f.…namely that the Father is here replying to the Son, ‘through whom all things were made’.” (Kidner)
iii. “The writer of the Epistle is not asserting that the psalmist consciously spoke of the Messiah, but he is declaring that his words, read in the light of history, point to Jesus as the crowning manifestation of the redeeming, and therefore necessarily of the creating, God.” (Maclaren)
iv. “When the psalmist wrote these words he was thinking of God the Father, as he has been throughout the psalm. There is very little intimation of the Trinity or the person of the Son of God in the Old Testament. Still, the author of Hebrews is right when he views these words as spoken by the Father to Jesus Christ.” (Boice)
c. They will perish, but You will endure: The contrast was clear to the psalmist. The mighty God is eternal (throughout all generations) and can do all things (You laid the foundation of the earth). The things God creates may perish, but He Himself will endure.
i. “Did He make all things? Then He can unmake them, and be Himself evermore the same.” (Meyer)
ii. “There is nothing more calculated to strengthen the heart in suffering, or inspire the spirit with the courage in days of danger and difficulty, than the sense of the eternity of God…. Let us set our limitations always in the light of His limitlessness.” (Morgan)
d. You will change them: God has complete power over creation, including the power to change the heavens as He pleases. Yet He Himself is unchanging (You are the same) and eternal (Your years will have no end).
i. “Amidst the changes and chances of this mortal life, one topic of consolation will ever remain, namely, the eternity and immutability of God our Saviour, of him who was, and is, and is to come.” (Horne)
e. The children of Your servants will continue: The psalmist ended his prayer and this psalm with a note of confidence, even triumph. His affliction seems to have remained, and he does not proclaim hope for his present trouble. At the same time, he is utterly confident of God’s goodness and ultimate victory for His people (Your servants). If the psalmist did not see it in his own day, his children surely would, and their descendants will be established by God’s goodness and strength.
i. This is a remarkable declaration of trust in God’s promise to make all things right and good, if not in the present day, then in days to come. It shows a wonderful progression in this psalm.
· He began with an honest declaration of his own misery.
· Then he looked outside himself to his community.
· Then he looked outside his community to the world.
· Then he looked outside his time to future generations.
ii. “It is remarkable that the psalmist does not draw the conclusion that he himself shall receive an answer to his prayer, but that ‘the children of Thy servants shall dwell’ i.e., in the land, and that there will always be an Israel ‘established before Thee.’” (Maclaren)
iii. “Whatever be the fate of the present generation, whether they may live to see the accomplishment of all that has been foretold or not, yet the word of God standeth sure; there shall be always a church, and a holy seed, to whom the promises shall be made good.” (Horne)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com