The Messianic Psalms - PSALM 102
Keith R. Keyser, Gilbertsville, Pa., USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The Messiah, afflicted yet victorious
People sometimes feel overwhelmed by life’s struggles. Amid physical, emotional, and spiritual difficulties, they wonder where to turn. The Lord Jesus promised, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’, Matt. 5. 3. Psalm 102 is written from this perspective, for the title declares, ‘A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord’. 1, 2 Amid suffering, believers should emulate the psalmist by taking their troubles to God. Yet, the multitudinous trials detailed in this chapter may speak particularly of ‘the Man of sorrows’ who fully experienced these things, Heb. 5. 7-9.
The messianic nature of the psalm is clearly set forth in its latter part, vv. 23-28, cp. Heb. 1. 10-12, yet its theme throughout is Messiah’s sufferings and subsequent glory, Luke 24. 26, 27, 44. One nineteenth-century preacher said, ‘Amongst all the Psalms, there is none more full of mourning and lamentation than this’. 3 Another asserts, ‘It is a Psalm of very touching beauty and grandeur. It is like Jesus in Gethsemane, exceeding sorrowful even unto death, going away and praying again, saying the same words, and yet again and again heard – the angel from heaven strengthening Him there, the answer of Jehovah assuring Him here’. 4 Clarke offers that ‘this psalm shows something of the depth of Messiah’s humiliation – the Deathless One as death-stricken’. 5 Although the psalm is about Christ, believers may also derive comfort and applications from its lessons.
Here are two outlines:
A thematic outline:
- The suffering Servant identifying with His people, vv. 1-11.
- The sovereign Lord illuminating His people, vv. 12-22.
- The Saviour’s immutable life on behalf of His people, vv. 23-28.
A content outline:
- The psalmist’s plea to the Lord, vv. 1-11.
- God’s endurance and activity on the destitute Jews’ and Gentiles’ behalf, vv. 12-22.
- Messiah’s cry to God the Father, vv. 23, 24
- The Father’s answer to Messiah, vv. 25-28.
The suffering Servant’s supplication
The opening prayer calls on God to ‘hear’, v. 1, using the same Hebrew verb as in Israel’s foundational creed in Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4. When one is in a covenant relationship with the Almighty, one may cry out to Him for help in times of distress. Believers today possess strong scriptural assurances of His attentiveness to their prayers, Matt. 7. 7-11; 1 John 5. 14, 15. The opening verse borrows words from other biblical passages. 6 Like Jonah’s desperate prayer in his prophecy’s second chapter, the psalmist exudes scripture, demonstrating his deep familiarity with it. When saints hide God’s word in their hearts they are preparing themselves for future perseverance in trials.
Physical and emotional challenges
Verses 3 to 5 concern humanity’s frailty, depicting severe physical sufferings including burning, heart pain, and dryness. Collectively, these symptoms are so intense that natural impulses like eating are neglected and His appearance becomes skeletal, v. 5; compare the similar imagery in Psalm 22 verses 14 and 15. Verses 6 and 7 turn from Messiah’s physical to His emotional sufferings. The avian imagery highlights His extreme loneliness, for it uses solitary birds which mostly inhabit desolate places. This abandonment is augmented by His enemies’ taunts, v. 8. Boice observes, ‘Suffering is a difficult enough burden to bear all by itself. But when enemies also mock you for it, it is virtually intolerable. Yet they do! These cowards would have been afraid to mock a strong man when he was on his feet fighting, but they attacked the author of the psalm when he was down and unable to fight back’. Like Job, ashes and tears mingle as symbols of His mourning, v. 9; Job 2. 8.
Messiah’s horrible treatment by man is dwarfed by the divine punishment as the sin-bearer, Ps. 102. 10. One commentator writes of its enormity in these words, ‘The saints would find it no hard task to bear the reproaches of men, if they could always have the sensible, gracious presence of the Lord; but when his indignation and wrath are manifested, the best of men cry out in their anguish’. 8 Beginning with His agonizing prayers in Gethsemane and continuing through His crucifixion, the Lord first suffered mentally, then spiritually on the cross as He died for sins. The last phrase is particularly chilling, ‘for thou hast lifted me up and cast me down’. As Perowne explains, ‘Thou hast taken me up . . . God’s wrath has seized and whirled him aloft, only to cast him, as worthless, away’. 9 It was bad enough that men cast Him away, 1 Pet. 2. 7, but to be forsaken by the Judge of all the earth was the epitome of spiritual trauma. 10 Verse 11 concludes His catalogue of woe using ‘smoke’ and desiccated grass to graphically express life’s transience.
Suffering yields to glory
In verse 12, the tone changes radically with the inspiring comparison of God’s eternality, ‘But thou O Lord’. Like the phrase ‘but God’ in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 4, the scene is instantly changed from wrathful gloom to glorious mercy. His impassioned opening prayer for help is answered, ‘Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come’, v. 13. God remembers and answers prayer; the resolution of this world’s massive problems merely awaits His perfectly appointed time. The Messiah will reign from Jerusalem, regathering His Israelite people and adding believing Gentile nations to His millennial kingdom, vv. 13-16. 11 Rather than thwart the divine plan, His sufferings actually became the foundation of His triumph, and so the Sufferer becomes the Sovereign, Isa. 52. 13 – 53. 12.
Since the kingdom will be administered by someone ‘afflicted’, v. 1, it stands to reason that ‘He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer’, v. 17.12 This regime will be marked by freedom for the oppressed – people like the ‘sons of death’, vv. 19, 20. 13 The kingdom’s centrepiece will be the revelation of the Lord’s glory and name, causing praise and service of His redeemed people, vv. 21, 22.
A conversation between God the Father and the suffering Servant
The psalm’s third and final section begins with a flashback to Messiah’s sufferings in verse 23. The nuanced back and forth of the conversation is hard to discern in Psalm 102, but the New Testament quotation makes it clear that the Father and Son are conversing, Heb. 1. 10-12. The Son is addressed as ‘Lord’, Heb. 1. 10, and the promise is linked with Psalm 45 prior to it and Psalm 110 afterwards. Besides affirming Christ’s deity and superiority, these quotations tell the story of His future glorious wedding day and His complete conquest of evil.
In essence, the Son asks, ‘Are my days to be shortened? Am I to be cut off in weakness?’ v. 23. The first clause of verse 24 reminds one of Isaiah chapter 53 verse 8. He was cut down in His prime, full of strength and vigour. Yet His resurrection demonstrates that He has a glorious future. In the second half of the verse, the Father responds that the Son is the eternal and changeless creator, who will outlast the passing material creation, vv. 25-27. Verse 28 is like Psalm 22 verses 26 to 31. Under His leadership, the renovated earth of the millennium is populated by a new believing generation, and, eventually, a future new heavens and new earth will supersede the current fallen world. The closing of the psalm is also akin to the Lord Jesus’ promise, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’, John 14. 19. Because of Christ’s continuance, His people of every age will continue as well.
Gooding sums up the glorious future that awaits God’s people, ‘The Creator himself has become human, has entered our temporary world of space and time, with authority to give us eternal life; has prayed to be saved from death, to be glorified in the Father’s presence with the glory he had with the Father before the world began, John 17. 1-5. And his prayer has been answered! God has raised him from the dead, and he has carried his humanity to the very bosom of the Godhead. The eternal Creator who is eternally the same, Ps. 102. 27, has for ever become Jesus, the man, “the same yesterday and today and forever”, Heb. 13. 8. And God the Father has assured him in the words of Psalm 102. 28: “The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you”. Or in the words of the New Testament: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus”, Eph. 2. 6-7. For this is what God had in mind when he chose us in Christ before the creation of this temporary world, Eph. 1. 4 . . . none of those who have believed in him, and have lived and worked for his coming kingdom, will miss it, no matter in what distant century they lived and died. For those that are Christ’s shall be made alive at his coming, 1 Cor 15. 22-23; and when the Lord appears in his glory, and sets up his kingdom, them also will God bring with him, 1 Thess. 4. 13-18’. 14
1 The ‘afflicted’ is translated as ‘poor’, ‘humble’, or ‘lowly’ in other passages, e.g. Pss. 9. 12; 72. 2; Prov. 3. 34, NKJV. Psalm 22 verse 24 assures this individual of God’s care, ‘For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Neither hath he hid his face from him; But when he cried unto him, he heard’.
2 For similar language, see Asaph’s complaint in Psalm 77.
3 Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: Vol. 6, Samuel Holdsworth, 1836, pg. 203.
4 J. G. Bellett, Short Meditations on the Psalms, Rouse, 1892; electronic ed. accessed here: http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/bellett/Psalms.html#a102.
5 Arthur G. Clarke, Analytical Studies in the Psalms, John Ritchie, 1949, pg. 248.
6 E.g. Pss. 27. 9; 39. 12; 54. 2; 61. 1; 64. 1; 66. 14; Job 19. 7.
7 J. M. Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary, Baker Books, 2005, pg. 827.
8 W. S. Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1872, pg. 910. Italics original.
9 J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms, Vol. 2. George Bell and Sons, 1882, pg. 220.
10 The word that Peter uses graphically describes our Lord’s treatment: ‘“Reject” (after scrutiny), “declare useless”, to regard as unworthy/unfit and therefore to be rejected’. William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, 2000, pg. 110. Boldface original.
11 See also: Isa. 2. 1-4 and Zech. 2. 4-13.
12 ‘In Hebrew, the naked one, the most utterly destitute and helpless. When his people have this feeling and come before God in conscious want and conscious weakness, yet taking hold of his strength as their legitimate hope, God will never despise their prayer’. Henry Cowles, The Psalms, With Notes, Critical, Explanatory, and Practical, D. Appleton & Company, 1879, pg. 414. Italics original.
13 Literal rendering of the Hebrew expression behind the KJV’s ‘appointed to death’.
14 D. W. Gooding, An Unshakeable Kingdom: The Letter to the Hebrews for Today, Myrtlefield Expositions, 2013, pp. 67, 68.
AUTHOR PROFILE: KEITH KEYSER is a commended full-time worker, married with a young family, and is in fellowship in the assembly meeting at Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania. He ministers throughout North America and spent some time in Spain. He also regularly writes material for assembly magazines.