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A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD.
Although this psalm is written from the standpoint of individual experience, it also speaks from the heart of the nation. Its allusions are too highly national and historic to be mistaken, and the writer often personifies the condition and the longings of his people. It was evidently written by one of the Babylonian exiles an ancient, or “chief father,” of the people and a genuine Israelite. The sorrows of his people are his sorrows, and their hopes his hopes. He lives only in their life, and both hang upon the one only, immutable, everlasting, and faithful God. The psalm was written toward the close of the exile, according to the time set by the prophet Jeremiah, but before any political or government measures had been taken by the king of Persia to restore to the exiles their freedom. This accounts for the alternations of hope and despondency which appear. The reader is referred to the notes for particulars. The psalm properly synchronizes with Daniel 9:0.The divisions of the psalm may be made as follows: The prologue, Psalms 102:1-2; the complaint, Psalms 102:3-11; the hopeful consolation, Psalms 102:12-22; the retrospect of adversity, Psalms 102:23; the prayer, and ground of trust in the darkest hour, Psalms 102:24-27; the final triumph of faith, Psalms 102:28.TITLE:
A Prayer of the afflicted Or, as the Vulgate has it, “The prayer of the poor man.” Elsewhere, the titles are generally historic or musical notations; here, (as in Psalms 88:0,) it is a dedication to the afflicted the humble poor “when he is overwhelmed (languishes) and pours out his complaint before Jehovah.” See Psalms 61:3; Psalms 142:3
1. Hear my prayer The invocation of Psalms 102:1-2 is replete with those familiar forms which appear often in the Davidic psalms, and which are common, also, to all earnest, agonizing prayers. See Psalms 18:6; Psalms 27:9; Psalms 39:12; Psalms 143:7
3. My days are consumed like smoke Or, My days have ended in smoke. Life, once so real, so desirable, has passed away like “smoke,” which dissolves and disappears. The same is an Eastern proverb to this day.
Burned as a hearth Consumed like a fagot. The judgments of God have dried up my bones like a fagot, or brand, in the fire. Psalms 69:3
4. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass The word here translated “smitten,” in Psalms 121:6, denotes a sunstroke. “Withered like grass,” is an allusion to the effect of the sirocco, or, perhaps, to the June sun, which, in that climate, withers the grass upon the hills to a brown and desolate appearance. On the sirocco, see note on Psalms 103:16, and on the heat of the sun in May and June, see Matthew 13:6.
Forget to eat my bread The loss of appetite is a natural effect of great sorrow. Psalms 107:18; Job 33:20
5. Bones cleave to my skin From emaciation. Job 19:2; Lamentations 4:8.
6. Like a pelican of the wilderness The idea is solitariness. The “pelican,” קאת , ( kaath,) though under some circumstances a social bird, is noted for its habits of retiring to solitary places to rear its young, also to devour its prey, when it will sit, for hours together, motionless. It is a water bird, large, clumsy; inhabiting lakes and swamps in desert or retired places. The word is translated cormorant, Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14. In the law it is placed among the unclean birds. Leviticus 11:18.
Owl Another of the birds of solitary habits, called by the Arabs “mother of the ruins.”
7. As a sparrow On the original word for “sparrow,” see note on Psalms 84:3. Solitariness is, here, the idea, as in Psalms 102:6, and is the characteristic of the bird alluded to. But the common “sparrow” is excessively lively, gregarious, and bold. The text better suits the habits of the blue thrush, (Petrocossyphus cyoneus.) “This bird is fond of sitting on the tops of houses, uttering its note, which, however agreeable to itself, is monotonous and melancholy to the human ear.” Wood.
8. Mine enemies reproach me This was a chief source of his distress. They taunted him as one forsaken of God. Psalms 42:3; Psalms 42:10; Micah 7:10.
Mad against me They rage “against me.” They act like men devoid of reason.
Sworn against me The peculiar form of the expression would indicate that they used him as a common formula of cursing, as in the passage, “The Lord make thee like Zedekiah and like Ahab,”
Jeremiah 29:22. See, also, Isaiah 65:15. We know this was the reproach of the exiles while in Babylon, Zechariah 8:13. This accords well with the historic occasion of the psalm.
9. Eaten ashes like bread As a mourner, he sits in, and covers himself with, ashes. (Lamentations 3:16,) and they mingled with his scanty food. Or, by a strong figure, it may mean “ashes instead of bread.” So, also, “My tears have been my food” “bread of tears.” Psalms 42:3; Psalms 80:5
10. Lifted me up, and cast me down Both honour and shame, prosperity and adversity, are from God; the one, the reward of obedience; the other, the punishment of sin. This was true of the nation. Compare Psalms 30:7; Psalms 104:28-29
11. Shadow that declineth Which lengthens and darkens till it loses itself in night.
Withered like grass See on Psalms 102:4
12. But thou, O Lord The complaint is ended. Faith lifts the curtain and opens a new scene. The remainder of the psalm is illumined with the joy of hope.
Shalt endure for ever The word rendered “endure,” here, would be better translated enthrone, as in Psalms 2:4; Psalms 9:7; Isaiah 14:13; Lamentations 5:19; Zechariah 6:13. “ But thou, Jehovah, shall for ever sit [ enthroned ].” It was this doctrine of the everlasting dominion of Jehovah which sustained faith, and gave comfort and the joy of hope in the darkest adversity.
13. Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion Here is touched the point of the psalmist’s grief, (the miserable state of the people,) and the object of his chiefest hope, (their restoration to Zion.) As fixing the historic date and occasion of the psalm, this is decisive.
The set time “The set time” for terminating the captivity, and bringing back the people. See Dan.
Psalms 9:2; Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10; Isaiah 40:2. God has just limits to his chastisements, and remembers “mercy” in due time.
14. Take pleasure in her stones… favour the dust Not the “stones” to be prepared for the new city and temple, but the ruins of the old, as left by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. See Psalms 79:1; Psalms 74:2-3. The “stones” and “dust” rubbish and debris of the old city are still dear to them. Their hearts lingered here. Psalms 137:5-6. So the spiritual Zion, the true Church, in glory or in reproach is dear to the hearts of all her true children.
15. So the heathen shall fear the name Both the exile and the deliverance shall bear such marks of the supremacy and providence of Jehovah, that the nations shall be impressed with fear of his name. The result of all will be glory to God. This was literally true.
16. When the Lord shall build A repetition of the thought of Psalms 102:15. The building up Zion, and the Lord’s appearing in his glory, are simultaneous. See Isaiah 40:1-5
17. The prayer of the destitute Although the deliverance of the exiles was signally the work of God, and promised, yet they were to pray for it as a condition of fulfilment. Jeremiah 29:12-13; Ezekiel 36:37; Daniel 9:2-3.
Destitute Literally, Naked. The word denotes utter poverty and helplessness. Yet God despises not their prayer.
18. This shall be written “The only place in the psalms where the memory of great events is said to be preserved in writing.” Perowne. Elsewhere left to oral transmission. Psalms 44:1; Psalms 48:13; Psalms 78:2.
The people which shall be created That is, the Jewish nation, which should be resuscitated by the restoration. Calvin: “Their return was as a second birth a new creation.” Same as “a people that shall be born,” Psalms 22:31
19. Looked down Compare Deuteronomy 26:15; Isaiah 63:15. So manifestly was their salvation above all human power and skill. It came directly from Heaven.
20. To loose those that are appointed to death Hebrew, the sons of death. They were rescued from under the “death” sentence. Same as Psalms 79:11. So imminent was the danger and opportune the help!
21. To declare the name of the Lord in Zion The climax of this wonderful deliverance is, that Jehovah’s name should once more be celebrated in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem. This was the realization of their highest hopes of the nation’s greatest glory.
22. When the people are gathered An anticipation, not unfrequent, of the submission of the nations to Jehovah, as in Psalms 22:27; Psalms 72:11, and in the later prophecies of Isaiah; but realized fully only in gospel times.
23. He weakened my strength in the way The psalmist returns to a brief reminiscence of his affliction and the agony of his prayer, but in a more hopeful strain than in his complaint, Psalms 102:1-11. “In the way,” here, may be understood by means of “the way,” as “in fetters” means, by means of “fetters,” (Psalms 105:18,) and in “the way” means, because of “ the way,” (Numbers 21:4,) or, it may signify that the visitations of God “ along the way,” had bowed down his “strength.” But the former is the more probable sense. The allusion is to the journeyings of Israel in the desert. See Exodus 18:8; Numbers 17:12-13; Deuteronomy 8:2; especially, Numbers 21:4, “And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.” The abrupt transition of Psalms 102:23-24, is exceedingly impassioned and plaintive.
24. In the midst of my days In the half of “my days” when my life is only half spent. This cutting short of life was regarded as a great calamity often a sign of judgment. As applied to the nation it was what Jeremiah had foretold to Judah, and Amos to Israel, that their “sun should go down at noon.” Jeremiah 15:9; Amos 8:9. Perowne says: “This deprecation of a short life springs not, in this instance, from a natural clinging to life, as in the case of Hezekiah, (Isaiah 38:10-11,) but from the intense desire to see God’s glory manifested in Israel’s restoration.”
Thy years are throughout all generations The consolation here drawn from the eternity of God is not in the abstract idea of his existence, but in the connecting idea of his covenant relation to his people. The generations of men perish, but the immutable word of God, like his own eternity, remains the same, and by that word Israel must be restored. See on Psalms 90:1; and compare Psalms 103:15-18; Isaiah 40:6-8
25. Of old hast thou laid the foundations of the earth What is here affirmed of God, is, in the New Testament, quoted and affirmed of Christ.
Hebrews 1:10. This is repeatedly done. Compare Jeremiah 17:10; Revelation 2:23. We are thus taught the personality and unity of the Father and the Son: “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.” John 5:23. “For what things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the son likewise.” John 5:19
26. They shall perish That is, being created, they are perishable. Their existence is not necessary, but dependent; not inherent, but derived. “They continue this day according to thine ordinances,” (Psalms 119:91;) but not from any self-sustaining power. Therefore, nothing in man or nature is to be trusted, but God only, the Eternal, the Creator, the Faithful.
Shalt thou change them That is, If it be thy will so to do it will not contradict thine attributes. But the implication is, Thou wilt sooner change them than alter, or fail, in thy word of promise to thy Church. Thus the same form expressed more fully, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away,” (Matthew 24:35,) is to be explained by “until heaven and earth pass away,” etc,, or, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass,” etc., (Matthew 5:18; Luke 16:17,) that is, it is a conditional proposition. But the Hebrews held to the doctrine that the earth and its atmosphere, and even the whole system of nature, would be destroyed, and from the ruins would spring a new and renovated state of things. The text, with many other passages, harmonizes with this view. See Job 14:12; Psalms 72:5; Psalms 72:7; Isaiah 51:16; Isaiah 65:17-18; Isaiah 66:22. The same is taught in the New Testament. 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12-13; Revelation 20:11; Revelation 21:1. In many other places the destruction of the heavenly bodies, and the darkening of the sun and moon, represent, symbolically, the downfall and catastrophe of nations, as in Isaiah 13:10-11; Isaiah 13:13; Isaiah 34:5; Ezekiel 32:7. “These very figurative expressions presuppose the literal idea,” ( Knapp,) particularly as far as this earth is concerned. The word “change,” ( חלפ ,) in the text, properly denotes a progressive change a passing on to a further stage, (Isaiah 51:6; Isaiah 65:17-18; Revelation 21:27; 2 Peter 3:13;) and this geology itself makes probable, in the doctrine of catastrophe and renewal, and of progressive species. The text, with Zephaniah 1:14-18, especially Psalms 102:15, as rendered in the Vulgate, ( Dies irae dies illa, etc.,) and 2 Peter 3:10, are supposed to have suggested that incomparable poem of the ages, “ Dies Irae,” (Day of Wrath,) which, for five hundred years, has been the admiration of the Christian world, having passed into eighty versions. It is used in the Romish Church as the sequence for All Souls’ Day, and in all masses for the dead.
27. But thou art the same Hebrew, But thou art he. Equal to, Thou art the unchangeable One. Compare “I am he,” Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 46:4
28. The children of thy servants shall continue Faith has thus reached the conclusion, “Because he lives, we shall live also.” The beginning and closing of this psalm exhibit the contrast between the contemplation of affliction from the human side, and from that of faith.
Continue Hebrew, dwell, that is, in the full expression, “dwell in the land,” as Psalms 37:29; Psalms 69:36.The application to Christ of Psalms 102:25-27, in the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, is, as above stated, according to a common practice, or law, in Messianic quotations, whereby what is said of Jehovah in the Old Testament is sometimes applied to Christ in the New. See on Psalms 102:25.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 102". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16