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Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 102

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The Superscription here has this very interesting little paragraph:


As Kidner noted, “This psalm has been miscalled a Penitential Psalm”(F1) for ages, but there is no confession of sin anywhere in it. Kidner was also willing to label the whole psalm Messianic; and, without any doubt whatever, Psalms 102:23-28 certainly fall into that classification.

Some have supposed that David might have written it, but the depiction of Jerusalem in ruins (Psalms 102:13) points rather to the times of the Captivity.

On the basis of Psalms 102:13-21, the date seems to have been in the time of the captivity… Beyond all question, the language used would express the feelings of many pious Hebrews in the times of the exile, such as the sorrow, the sadness, the cherished hopes, and prayers of many a one in that prolonged and painful captivity.(F2)

There are three divisions of the psalm: (1) Psalms 102:1-11 describes the terrible sufferings of the afflicted one. (2) Psalms 102:12-22 dwells upon the hopes for relief. (3) And Psalms 102:23-28 speaks of the unchanging God as contrasted with the changing world.

Verses 1-11


“Hear my prayer, O Jehovah, And let my cry come unto thee. Hide not thy face from me; In the day when I call answer me speedily. For my days consume away like smoke, And my bones are burned as a firebrand. My heart is smitten like grass, and withered; For I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning My bones cleave to my flesh. I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am become as an owl of the waste places. I watch and am become like a sparrow That is alone upon the housetop. Mine enemies reproach me all the day; They that are mad against me do curse by me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, And mingled my drink with weeping. Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: For thou hast taken me up and cast me away. My days are like a shadow that declineth; And I am withered like grass.”

The only hint of sin on the part of the sufferer is in Psalms 102:10 where the indignation of God is mentioned; but if the passage speaks of the distress of Israel in captivity, the application might be to the sins of the nation, rather than those of the sufferer.

The passage carries a graphic picture of an individual suffering from some unnamed malady. He is in distress; his days are consumed like smoke; his bones burn; his heart is broken; he has lost his appetite; his appearance has become as “skin and bones”; he has become like the pelican, the owl, and the lonely sparrow; his enemies cast reproaches upon him and curse by him; he sits in sackcloth and ashes, where sometimes his food gets ashes in it; his life’s sun is sinking rapidly; the shadow on the dial is declining and the night of death is impending.

It is impossible to associate all of these “symptoms” with any disease described either by ancient or modern doctors; and there remains the possibility of the whole passage being figurative. This would certainly be the case if Kidner’s assignment of the passage to the sufferings of Messiah should be allowed.

“The pelican… the owl… the sparrow” A certain Dr. Thompson, quoted by Albert Barnes, stated that “The pelican is the most somber and austere bird I ever saw; it gave one the blues merely to look at it; and no more expressive type of solitude and melancholy could have been selected.”(F3) “The owl of the rains is also a striking emblem of desolation.”(F4) “The sparrow alone on the housetop” was described by Barnes as a grieving sparrow. “When one has lost its mate, he will sit on the housetop alone for hours at a time in his sad bereavement.”(F5)

Later in the psalm, it becomes clear that the sufferer’s hope of deliverance is tied to his hope of the rescue of Zion; and from this, Dummelow concluded that, “The personal distress of the psalmist has been caused by the captivity and humiliation of his people.”(F6)

Verses 10-11

“Thou, Lord in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of thy hands: They shall perish, but thou continuest: And they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a mantle shalt thou roll them up, As a garment, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”

The great significance of this Hebrews quotation is that words which were originally spoken of God Himself are unhesitatingly applied to Jesus Christ. Brooks Foss Westcott, as quoted by Thomas Hewitt, declared that, “Here we have the application to the Incarnate Son of the words addressed to Jehovah.”(F7) F. F. Bruce’s comment on this was:

“It was through the Son that the worlds were made; (and that) person to whom these words were spoken is addressed explicitly as, “The Lord,” and it is God who thus addresses him.”(F8)

For further discussion of this passage see Vol. 10 (Hebrews) of my New Testament commentaries, pp. 30f.

It is upon this undeniable meaning of the last paragraph of this psalm that Kidner applied the whole psalm to the Messiah. He stated his conclusion thus:

“The passage in Hebrews 1:10-12 opens our eyes to what would otherwise have been brought out only by the Septuagint (LXX) rendition of Psalms 102:23 f, namely that the Father is here replying to the Son, and this implies that the sufferer throughout the psalm is also the Son Incarnate.(F9)

We receive as an invariable rule that one line from the New Testament regarding any Old Testament passage is worth more than a whole library of critical allegations to the contrary. On this account, we have omitted any allegations to the contrary regarding the application of this passage to Christ. We believe that it was the Spirit of God which illuminated the mind of the author of Hebrews, and that we may place absolute trust in what is here declared concerning Christ our Savior.

Verses 12-22


“But thou, O Jehovah, wilt abide forever; And thy memorial name unto all generations. Thou wilt arise and have mercy upon Zion; For it is time to have pity upon her, Yea, the set time is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, And have pity upon her dust. So the nations shall fear the name of Jehovah, And all the kings of the earth thy glory. For Jehovah hath built up Zion; He hath appeared in his glory. He hath regarded the prayer of the destitute, And hath not despised their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come; And a people which shall be created shall praise Jehovah. For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; From heaven did Jehovah behold the earth; To hear the sighing of the prisoner; To loose those that are appointed for death; That men may declare the name of Jehovah in Zion, And his praise in Jerusalem; When the peoples are gathered together, And the kingdoms to serve Jehovah.”

Psalms 102:12-14 here speak of the times when the Babylonian captivity was drawing to a close.

“The set time is come” Apparently, the psalmist remembered the promise of Jeremiah that the captivity would last 70 years; and as that time approached, the faithful looked forward to the restoration of Israel to Zion.

“Thy servants take pleasure in her stones and have pity upon her dust” Some have applied this to the times of Nehemiah; but the more likely view is that the captives, through their knowledge of Jerusalem’s ruins, were sentimentally attached to them. It is true that this ruined condition of Jerusalem continued till the times of Nehemiah.

“So the nations shall fear the name of Jehovah, and all the kings of the earth thy glory” The tone of this psalm drastically changes right here; and this marked change should be considered the beginning of a new subject. What is it? It is the Kingdom of the Messiah. Only in that era would “the nations,” namely, the Gentiles, fear the name of Jehovah; and only then would the kings of the earth behold the glory of the Lord.

“Jehovah hath built up Zion; he hath appeared in his glory” The building of Zion here prophesied is a reference to the establishment of Christ’s Church (Acts 15:16); and the appearance of God in glory can be nothing other than the First Advent of Jesus Christ.

“He hath regarded the prayer of the destitute… and he has heard the sigh of the prisoners” The true application of these words is not to the Babylonian captives but to the ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18); the `prisoners’ here are the “captives in sin.” The death to which they are appointed is eternal death.

“This shall be written for the generation to come; and a people which shall be created shall praise Jehovah” The mighty thing which God will do and which will be written down for future generations is nothing other than the First Advent of Christ, the visit from on High of the Dayspring to mankind.

It is important to note that the birth of each new generation is a “creation,” that is, having never existed before, they are an entirely new entity. The foolish notion of reincarnation perishes in the understanding of a passage like this.

“From heaven did Jehovah behold the earth” This and Psalms 102:21-22 describe God “looking upon the earth” in compassion, hearing the sighs of those dying in sin, and earnestly desiring that men may sing God’s praises in Jerusalem (that is, the New Jerusalem which is above).

“WHEN the peoples are gathered together, and the kingdoms to serve Jehovah” This verse declares in tones of thunder “when” the Lord will appear in glory (Psalms 102:15) and “when” all the other wonderful things of this passage shall happen. That time shall be when the peoples (the Gentiles) are gathered together unto the Lord; and the kingdoms of the earth, not Israel alone, shall serve Jehovah. Only the current dispensation of the Grace of God in Christ qualifies as “that time.”

Verses 23-28


“He weakened my strength in the way; He shortened my days. I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: Thy years are throughout all generations. Of old didst thou lay the foundation of the earth; And the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; Yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; As a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end. The children of thy servants shall continue, And their seed shall be established before thee.”

Psalms 102:23-24 a appear in this version to have been the words of the psalmist; but in the LXX, we have the following:

“He (God) answered him in the way of his strength: tell me the fewness of my days. Take me not away in the midst of my days.”(F10)

The significance of this rendition is that it makes God the speaker of this whole passage, indicating that the Messiah is the only person to whom such language from God could be applied. Without passing any judgment at all upon the Septuagint (LXX) rendition, one thing is certain: “Every word of Psalms 102:24 bff is indeed and truth a reference to Jesus Christ.” This does not deny that the passage, as it appears here, is most certainly addressed to Jehovah. Note the following quotation from Heb. 1:20-12.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 102". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-102.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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