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Deeper Commentary


Psa 102:1

A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint before Yahweh-
This appears to have begun as a prayer by David, lamenting that his promised restoration hasn't come, and that he continues to be in suffering. But it was appropriated by the exiles, who had the same feeling and complaint.

Hear my prayer, Yahweh! Let my cry come in to You-

A number of Psalms appear to have some verses relevant to the exile, and others relevant to earlier historical situations. It would seem that an inspired writer inserted the verses which spoke specifically to the exilic situation. Psalm 102 is an example. Ps. 102:2-12 and 24-25a appear to be the original lament; and the other verses are relevant to the exile. This was all done under the process of Divine inspiration.

Psa 102:2

Don’t hide Your face from me in the day of my distress, turn Your ear to me. Answer me quickly in the day when I call-
David asked God not to hide his face from him, David personally, (Ps. 27:9; 69:17; 102:2; 143:7), but to hide His face from David’s sins (Ps. 51:9). And one wonders whether the way the records of the Lord’s temptations are written implies some similar recognition by the Spirit of the two ‘men’ within the Lord. Recognizing the existence of the new and old men within him, Paul can speak in Rom. 7 as if he is two different people; “I myself serve the law of God”, but “my flesh” serves sin. 

Psa 102:3

For my days consume away like smoke, my bones are burned as a torch-
David feels he is about to die, seeing similarities between himself and Job. And these feelings were identified with by the exiles, who perhaps felt that the national life of Israel was at an end.

Psa 102:4

My heart is blighted like grass and withered, for I forget to eat my bread-
Despite his undoubted physique stamina, David was a broken man, even quite early in his life, prone to fits of introspection; dramatic mood-swings (cp. 1 Sam. 24:14 with 1 Sam. 25:6,22,34;), sometimes appearing a real 'softie' but hard as nails at others (consider Ps. 75:10 and the whole of Ps. 101); easily getting carried away: be it with excessive emotional enthusiasm for bringing the ark back, in his harsh response to Hanun humbling his servants, his over-hasty and emotional decision to let Amnon go to Absalom's feast when it was obvious what might well transpire, his anger "flaring up" because of incompetency (2 Sam. 11:20 NIV),  or in his ridiculous softness for Absalom. He had a heart cruelly torn so many ways. All these traits are amply reflected in the Psalms: Ps. 6:7; 31:10; 42:3,6; 38:8; 55:4; 56:8; 69:3,29; 88:3,9; 94:19 (what introspection!); 102:4; 116:3; 143:4.

Psa 102:5

By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones stick to my skin-
This has connections with David's Psalms of suffering at the time of Absalom's rebellion, which are often applied to the sufferings of the Lord Jesus on the cross. He there also knew the feelings of the exiles.

Psa 102:6

I am like a pelican of the wilderness, I have become as an owl of the waste places-
These were ritually unclean birds. The exiles felt unclean, without access to the cleansing rituals of the law because they required a temple and priesthood which had been destroyed. They were thereby driven to seek their cleansing not by law but by grace. LXX heightens the application to the ruined Zion: "like an owl in a ruined house". Often David likens his enemies' plans to catch him as snares, gins etc. set for birds (e.g. Ps. 84:3; 102:6; 124;7; 140:5)- all the language of hunting birds. He had probably done plenty of this as a youngster caring for the sheep, and the influence of those formative years remained.

Psa 102:7

I watch, and have become like a sparrow that is alone on the housetop-
The connection between watching and feeling like a sparrow is in the way that David, Hezekiah, the exiles etc. all 'watched' or waited for God to respond and intervene, and His apparent silence made them feel alone. The Psalm originated in David's feelings of dejection whilst enduring the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba- which all began with his lustful looking from his housetop. And he now feels alone on that housetop; for one result of sin is psychological isolation. Yet through that loneliness there is enabled even more powerful and intimate connection with God.

Psa 102:8

My enemies reproach me all day, those who are mad at me use my name as a curse-
LXX "they that praised me have sworn against me". The initial application was probably to the rebellion of David's former friends, when they joined forces with Absalom. The language is again based upon Job, whose book was probably one of the few scriptures available to David. The application to the exiles is very clear.

Psa 102:9

For I have eaten ashes like bread and mixed my drink with tears-
This may be another allusion to Job (see on :8), attempting to describe in words his grief. But it could also be a reference to his fasting which had apparently not brought about any response from God.

Psa 102:10

because of Your indignation and Your wrath; for You have taken me up, and thrown me away-
The idea is, lifted me up and thrown me down. This could refer to David's sense of having been exalted to the throne, and then apparently cast down at Absalom's rebellion. But the idea also alludes to a lion, lifting up and then throwing down the prey it has caught. The Babylonians were likened to lions, and this indeed is how they treated Judah.

Psa 102:11

My days are like a long shadow, I have withered like grass-
After the initial application to David, there is clearly some reference to Hezekiah, whose days were lengthened by the shadow on the sundial being changed. LXX "have declined like a shadow". The same ideas are in Ps. 109:23. David's feelings at this time are also appropriate to Hezekiah, whose feelings were responded to by God by making the shadow of the sundial reverse. The same words are used in 2 Kings 20:10. But the withering like grass is the language of the restoration prophecy of Is. 40:7,8. Even though the grass of that generation might wither, the prophetic word of restoration would ultimately come true. 

Psa 102:12

But You, Yahweh, will remain forever; Your renown endures to all generations-
Despite the pain and struggle arising from feeling that God isn't coming through for the psalmist as he expects, there is this significant statement beginning "But...". Faith remains strong in God and His eternal purpose and the continual, eventual articulation of His name. This kind of juxtaposition of doubt and ultimate faith is common in Job and the Psalms and should be our pattern to. 

Psa 102:13

You will arise and have mercy on Zion; for it is time to have pity on her, yes, the set time has come-
When “the time to favour Zion” came, at the end of the 70 years, God’s servants Israel were to “take pleasure in her stones, and favour [even] the dust thereof”; and then, “when the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory” (Ps. 102:13-16). But the few Jews who returned chose not to live in Jerusalem, preferring to carve out for themselves farmsteads in the countryside (Neh. 11:1), and the strength of those that shifted the rubble in Jerusalem decayed…they saw her dust and scattered stones as a nuisance, and didn’t take pleasure in them (Neh. 4:10). And so the Lord could not then appear in glory.  

The "set time" of 70 years was however elastic; as Daniel and Ezekiel were taught. The period was extended due to Judah's impenitence, and Daniel 9 explains how it was turned into seventy sevens... and the final restoration of a redefined Zion was to be through the work of the Lord Jesus.

"The set time" is a phrase used about the feasts, and there is reason to believe that God delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrians at Passover time (see on Ps. 75:2) and would do so again. All these things look forward to the final "time" coming for Zion's final deliverance at the last day.

Psa 102:14

For Your servants take pleasure in her stones, and have pity on her dust-
This was only true of a minority, for the majority preferred the opulence of Babylon to the rubble of Jerusalem. And as noted on :13, the few who did return initially preferred not to live in Jerusalem. But the argument of the psalmist is that as the exiles had "pity" on the dust of Jerusalem, so God should "pity" Zion (:13). But the reality was that most of the exiles didn't "pity" Zion as God did, and thus precluded His potential program for her restoration into the Kingdom of God on earth at that time.

Psa 102:15

So the nations will fear the name of Yahweh; all the kings of the earth Your glory-
Ps. 102 has many connections with the events during the time of Hezekiah, when after the salvation of Zion, the surrounding nations in the land promised to Abraham came up to worship there. Here, “the nations” refers specifically to “the kings of the earth / land”. And one wonders how many other times the phrase “the nations… of the earth” refers specifically to the powers in the land from the Nile to the Euphrates.
But the great prophetic potential at this time was precluded by Hezekiah welcoming those kings to see his glory rather than God's; and then going after their gods, rather than leading those nations to the God of Israel. Likewise the restoration was intended to lead the nations within the eretz promised to Abraham to see Yahweh's glory, which was intended to shine forth literally and morally from Zion. But this didn't happen, and the restoration was characterized by apostacy, whilst the Jews who remained in Babylon continued in their idolatry, as Ezekiel records.

Psa 102:16

For Yahweh has built up Zion; He has appeared in His glory-
He had not then done so (:13)- the earlier part of the Psalm laments this. But the Psalmist believed in God’s prophecies of doing so, and considered them as good as already fulfilled. Faith is all about adopting God’s perspective, seeing future promises as if they have already been fulfilled, thereby enabling us to live the Kingdom life now in its essence. But LXX reads this in the future tense: "For the Lord shall build up Sion, and shall appear in his glory". This glory of Yahweh appearing in Zion is a theme of the restoration prophecies of later Isaiah. This could have happened, had the exiles rebuilt the temple as commanded in Ez. 40-48. But they didn't, and so the shekinah glory didn't return to the temple as envisaged in the prophecies.

Psa 102:17

He has responded to the prayer of the destitute, and has not despised their prayer-
As noted on :16, the prayer had not yet been answered. But faith is about feeling and acting as if our prayers have been answered even when they haven't been (Mk. 11:24). The captives were despised (s.w. Neh. 2:19) as David was for his sin (s.w. Ps. 22:6,24), and as was the Lord Jesus on the cross (s.w. Is. 53:3), but God did not despise them and would destroy that opposition. Yet perhaps it had a historical basis in David appreciating that although he had despised God in his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (s.w. 2 Sam. 12:10), God by grace had not despised him. Because God did not despise David's contrite and broken heart (s.w. Ps. 51:17, a passage also alluded to in :31). The exiles had likewise despised God (s.w. Ez. 16:59) but would not be despised by God.

Psa 102:18

This will be written for the generation to come. A people which will be created will praise Yah-
This connects with Isaiah's restoration prophecies of a new creation, of a multiethnic people of God comprised of repentant Jews as well as those of the nations amongst whom they had been in exile. But this didn't happen. The people didn't repent as required. And so the prophetic potential of a new creation of a new people of God was reapplied and rescheduled to the new creation of that people which occurs "in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:17).

Psa 102:19

For He has looked down from the height of His sanctuary; from heaven, Yahweh saw the earth-
This is an awesome conception; that God in Heaven 'sees the earth'. That the huge distance between God and man is collapsed. God's sanctuary was in ruins on earth, but still existed in Heaven.

Psa 102:20

to hear the groans of the prisoner-
The same phrase used of God hearing the groans of Israel in Egypt. The idea was that God would miraculously empower an exodus from Babylon just as He had delivered His people from Egypt. Tragically, most of them preferred to remain in Babylon.

To free those who are condemned to death-
LXX "to loosen the sons of the slain". This would mean that the Psalm refers to the second generation of exiles, whose parents had been slain. For the exiles in Babylon / Persia were prosperous, as witnessed by the situation in the book of Esther. They were not "condemned to death"; although perhaps Haman's persecution is here in view.

Psa 102:21

that men may declare the name of Yahweh in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem-
The idea is that the "men" who would return in the new exodus from Babylon (see on :20) would be Gentiles as well as Jews; and this is confirmed in :22. Praise is here defined as declaring the Yahweh Name. Praise is about appreciating the characteristics of Yahweh, which is what His "Name" is all about; and declaring them in praise. It was God who declared His Name to Moses, but here we have Gentiles declaring that same Name, having come in homage to Jerusalem to do so. This was the potential at the restoration, but the prophetic program was rescheduled and reinterpreted.

Psa 102:22

when the peoples are gathered together, the kingdoms, to serve Yahweh-
The Gentiles were to gather together to Jerusalem "to serve Yahweh", language appropriate to priestly service. They who had gathered together against Jerusalem in battle were to repent and again gather together there, but as the priesthood in the new people of God who were to be created (see on :18). 

Psa 102:23

He weakened my strength along the course, He shortened my days-
LXX "He answered him in the way of his strength". God's strength is contrasted with the Psalmist who feels his days have been "shortened". This may initially refer to David at the time of his disease after the sin with Bathsheba, feeling he was going to die young. But it has clearly been reapplied to Hezekiah's feelings when his days were shortened and then lengthened by God's grace. 

Psa 102:24

I said, My God, don’t take me away in the midst of my days. Your years are throughout all generations-
As noted on :23, both David and Hezekiah felt their lives were being ended in the middle. The appeal for healing and more life is based upon God's eternity. The psalmist is asking for God to share something of His eternity with him. And this will be ultimately true when we partake of His immortality at the last day.

Psa 102:25

Of old, You laid the foundation of the earth, the heavens are the work of Your hands-
The language of laying foundations is nearly always used about the laying of the foundations of the new, rebuilt temple at the time of return from exile (Ezra 3:10-12; 5:16; Is. 44:28; Hag. 2:18; Zech. 4:9; 8:9); and this is the context of this Psalm (see on :13 and :16). The ‘heavens and earth’ refer to Israel (Is. 1:2) and the temple. Although they had ‘perished’ in the Babylonian invasion and destruction of the first temple, God remained and would, the Psalmist believed, install a new temple system (as outlined in Ez. 40-48). However, this never quite happened as God intended due to Judah’s weakness, and so these prophecies were reapplied to how the entire Jewish system based around the temple and Law of Moses would ‘perish’ and God’s new temple system based around the exalted Lord Jesus would come into existence (Heb. 1:10 and context).

Psa 102:26

They perish, but You will endure. Yes, all of them will wear out like a garment-
In the same way as the Angels are so closely associated with their charges that they are identified with them, so the Angels are described as the things in the natural world which they have created. The quotation of Ps. 102:26 in Heb. 1:10 can appear to pose major problems for belief in the humanity of Christ and that the world will never be destroyed. "And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundations  of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands: they shall perish, but Thou remainest, and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail". The context in Hebrews is again Christ's superiority over the Angels; however, the context in Ps. 102 is of Christ on the cross thinking of the eternity of God, how that "of old", "in the beginning" (clearly alluding  back to the beginning of the natural creation in Gen. 1), God created the Heavens and earth by His Angel-hands. But "they shall perish. . wax old like a garment. . as a vesture shalt thou change them" (Ps. 102:26). This language is similar to that used elsewhere about the ending of the Angel-oriented Mosaic Law (e. g. Heb. 8:13). Thus the literal Heavens and earth will not perish, but the Angelic system that created them will do. Thus both the natural creation and the Mosaic system are identified exactly with the Angels that created them.

The purpose of the quotation in Hebrews 1 is to demonstrate the Lord's superiority over Angels. One approach is to understand the Hebraic way of stating that 'even X shall happen to prove the greatness of Y'; e.g. heaven could pass away [X] but the Lord's words would not [Y] (Mt. 24:35). This is not to say that X shall literally happen; it is stated as a hyperbole, to demonstrate the greatness of Y. And that may be the case here too. God's eternity is contrasted with the [relative] passing of the Heavens, which were made by Angels. "They shall perish" may not therefore mean they shall literally perish. See on Ps. 103:20.

The context of Ps. 102 is however pertinent. The "set time [had] come" suggests that the Psalmist is writing maybe in captivity in Babylon as the predicted 70 years of Judah’s captivity there came to a close, and he looks forward to the promised restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem. He enthuses in :16 that "Yahweh has built up Zion"- although He had not then done so (:13). The earlier part of the Psalm laments this. But the Psalmist believed in God’s prophecies of doing so, and considered them as good as already fulfilled. Faith is all about adopting God’s perspective, seeing future promises as if they have already been fulfilled, thereby enabling us to live the Kingdom life now in its essence. See on :25.

You will change them like a cloak, and they will be changed-
The Jewish system would be rolled up, as a scroll that is not going to be read any more; the Law would end. But Messiah would remain eternally. It was the Lord Jesus by His sacrifice which changed the Jewish system. The same Greek word (used in the LXX and the quotation in Heb. 1:12) is used of the Lord's 'changing' the customs delivered by Moses (Acts 6:14).

Psa 102:27

But You are the same, Your years will have no end-
Heb. 1:10 appears to quote words about God (from Ps. 102:25) and apply them to Jesus. To take a Psalm or Bible passage and apply it to someone on earth, even a normal human, was quite common in first century literature (Oscar Cullmann, The Christology Of The New Testament (London: SCM, 1971) p. 234). It's rather like we may quote a well known phrase from Shakespeare or a currently popular movie, and apply it to someone. It doesn't mean that that person is to be equated with Romeo, Juliet, Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth etc. By quoting the words about them, we're saying there are similarities between the two people or situations; we're not claiming they're identical. And seeing that the Son of God was functioning for His Father, it's not surprising that words about God will be quoted about the Lord Jesus.

Psa 102:28

The children of Your servants will continue, their seed will be established before You-
The context of the Psalm is that the historical David, along with Hezekiah and the exiles, feared they were not going to continue. But the Psalm ends with a bold statement that the true seed (even it was to be redefined) would be "established", the restoration and eternal reestablishment of Zion was to come, finally. Even if it didn't happen when and how it was originally intended, and as hoped for by that generation. And this is an abiding comfort and challenge for us all.