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The complaint and miserable state of the poor captives, Psalm 102:1-11; the expectation of deliverance, Psalm 102:12-14; the conversion of the heathen, Psalm 102:15-18; the termination of the captivity, Psalm 102:19-22; the great frailty of man, Psalm 102:23, Psalm 102:24; the unchangeableness of God, Psalm 102:25-27; the permanence of the Church, Psalm 102:28.
The Hebrew, and nearly all the Versions, give the following title to this Psalm: A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and pours out his sighing before the Lord. There seems to be little doubt that this is the prayer of the captives in Babylon, when, towards the end of the captivity, they were almost worn out with oppression, cruelty, and distress. The Psalm has been attributed to Daniel, to Jeremiah, to Nehemiah, or to some of the other prophets who flourished during the time of the captivity. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has applied the twenty-fifth, twenty sixth, and twenty seventh verses to our Lord, and the perpetuity of his kingdom.
Hear my prayer - The chief parts of the Psalm answer well to the title: it is the language of the deepest distress, and well directed to Him from whom alone help can come.
My days are consumed like smoke - He represents himself (for the psalmist speaks in the name of the people) under the notion of a pile of combustible matter, placed upon a fire, which soon consumes it; part flying away in smoke, and the residue lying on the hearth in the form of charred coal and ashes. The Chaldeans were the fire, and the captive Jews the fuel, thus converted into smoke and ashes.
My heart is smitten, and withered like grass - The metaphor here is taken from grass cut down in the meadow. It is first smitten with the scythe, and then withered by the sun. Thus the Jews were smitten with the judgments of God; and they are now withered under the fire of the Chaldeans.
I am like a pelican of the wilderness - It may be the pelican or the bittern. The original, קאת (kaath), is mentioned Leviticus 11:18 (note), and is there described. See the note.
Owl of the desert - כוש (cos), some species of owl; probably the night raven. See the notes referred to above.
As a sparrow alone - צפור (tsippor), seems to be often used for any small bird, such as the swallow, sparrow, or the like. Bochart supposes the screech owl is intended.
They that are mad against me are sworn against me - The Chaldeans are determined to destroy us; and they have bound themselves by oath to do it. See a similar case related Acts 23:12-14, where a number of Jews had bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had slain Paul.
I have eaten ashes like bread - Fearful of what they might do, we all humbled ourselves before thee, and sought thy protection; well knowing that, unless we were supernaturally assisted, we must all have perished; our enemies having sworn our destruction.
For thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down - Thou hast lifted me on high, that thou mightest dash me down with the greater force.
We were exalted in thy favor beyond any people, and now thou hast made us the lowest and most abject of the children of men.
My days are like a shadow that declineth - Or rather, My days decline like the shadow. I have passed my meridian, and the sun of my prosperity is about to set for ever. There may be here an allusion to the declination of the sun towards the south, which, by shortening their days, would greatly lengthen their nights. Similar to the exclamation of a contemporary prophet, Jeremiah 8:20: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” There is now scarcely any human hope of our deliverance.
But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever - Our life is a shadow; we can scarcely be called beings when compared with thee, for thou art eternal. Have mercy upon us, creatures of a day, and thy kindness shall be a memorial in all our generations.
Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion - While he is humbled at the footstool of mercy, and earnestly praying for mercy, an answer of peace is given; he is assured, not only that they shall be delivered, but that the time of deliverance is at hand. The set time - the seventy years predicted by Jeremiah, was ended; and God gave him to see that he was ever mindful of his promises.
Thy servants take pleasure in her stones - Though Jerusalem was at this time in a heap of ruins, yet even her rubbish was sacred in the eyes of the pious; for this had been the city of the great King.
So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord - It is granted that after the edict of Cyrus to restore and rebuild Jerusalem which was about four hundred and ninety years before Christ, the name of the true God was more generally known among the heathen; and the translating the Sacred Writings into Greek, by the command of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, about two hundred and eighty-five years before the Christian era, spread a measure of the light of God in the Gentile world which they had not before seen. Add to this the disperson of the Jews into different parts of the Roman empire, after Judea became a Roman province, which took place about sixty years before the advent of our Lord; and we may consider these as so many preparatory steps to the conversion of the heathen by the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And to this last general illumination of the Gentile world the psalmist must allude here, when he speaks of “the heathen fearing God‘s name, and all the kings of the earth his glory.”
When the Lord shall build up Zion - It is such a difficult thing, so wholly improbable, so far out of the reach of human power, that when God does it, he must manifest his power and glory in a most extraordinary manner.
The prayer of the destitute - הערער (haarar) of him who is laid in utter ruin, who is entirely wasted.
The people which shall be created - “The Gentiles, who shall be brought to the knowledge of salvation by Christ,” as the Syriac states in its inscription to this Psalm: how often the conversion of the soul to God is represented as a new creation, no reader of the New Testament need be told. See Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:24; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15. Even the publication of the Gospel, and its influence among men, is represented under the notion of “creating a new heaven and a new earth,” Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 65:18.
For he hath looked down - This, with the three following verses, seems to me to contain a glorious prophecy of the incarnation of Christ, and the gathering in of the Jews and the Gentiles to him. The Lord looks down from heaven, and sees the whole earth groaning and travailing in pain; his eye affects his heart, and he purposes their salvation.
To hear the groaning - By sin, all the inhabitants of the earth are miserable. They have broken the Divine laws, are under the arrest of judgment, and all cast into prison, They have been tried, found guilty, and appointed to die; they groan under their chains, are alarmed at the prospect of death, and implore mercy.
To declare the name of the Lord - To publish that Messenger of the Covenant in whom the name of the Lord is, that Messiah in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt; and to commence at Jerusalem, that the first offers of mercy might be made to the Jews, from whom the word of reconciliation was to go out to all the ends of the earth.
When the people are gathered together - When all the Gentiles are enlightened, and the kings of the earth brought to pay homage to the King of kings.
He weakened my strength in the way - We are brought so low in our captivity by oppression, by every species of hard usage, and by death, that there is now no hope of our restoration by any efforts of our own.
I said, O my God - This and the following verses seem to be the form of prayer which the captives used previously to their deliverance.
Thy years are throughout all generations - This was a frequent argument used to induce God to hear prayer. We are frail and perishing; thou art everlasting: deliver us, and we will glorify thee.
Of old hast thou laid the foundation - None taught of God ever imagined the world to have been eternal. Of old, לפנים (lephanim), before there were any faces or appearances, thou didst lay the foundations of the earth. It was created by thee; it did not grow by accretion or aggregation from a pre-existent nucleus. There was nothing; and thou didst produce being - substance or matter. Out of that created matter thou didst make the earth and the heavens.
They shall perish - Nothing can be eternal a parte ante, or a parte post, but thyself. Even that which thou hast created, because not necessarily eternal, must be perishable; necessary duration belongs to God only; and it is by his will and energy alone that universal nature is preserved in existence, and preserved from running into speedy disorder, decay, and ruin.
Yea, all of them shall wax old - Every thing must deteriorate, unless preserved by thy renewing and invigorating energy. Even the heavens and the earth are subject to this law; for that which is not, from the infinite perfection of its own nature, Eternal, must be perishable; therefore the heavens and the earth must necessarily come to an end. They contain the seeds of their own dissolution. It is true that in sublunary things, the vicissitudes of seasons is a sort of check to the principle of dissolution; but it only partially corrects this tendency. Even the productions of the earth wear out or deteriorate. Plant the same seed or grain for several years consecutively, and it degenerates so as at last not to be worth the labor of tillage, however expensively the soil may be manured in which it is planted. I may instance in wheat and in the potatoe, the two grand supporters of life in European countries. All other seeds and plants, as far as they have fallen under my observation, are subject to the same law.
But thou art the same - ואתה הוא (veattah Hu), but thou art He, that is, The Eternal; and, consequently, he who only has immortality.
Thy years shall have no end - לא יתמו (lo yittammu), “they shall not be completed.” Every thing has its revolution - its conception, growth, perfection, decay, dissolution, and death, or corruption. It may be said that regeneration restores all these substances; and so it does in a measure, but not without deterioration. The breed of animals, as well as vegetables, wears out; but God‘s eternal round has no completion. I repeat it, - what is necessarily eternal is unchangeable and imperishable; all created beings are perishable and mutable, because not eternal. God alone is eternal; therefore God alone is imperishable and immutable.
The children of thy servants shall continue - Thy Church shall be permanent, because founded on thee, it shall live throughout all the revolutions of time. And as thy followers are made partakers of the Divine nature they shall live in union with God in the other world, deriving eternal duration from the inexhaustible Fountain of being. Nothing can be permanent but by God‘s supporting and renewing influence.