The psalm consists of three main portions: first, a complaint, prefaced by an appeal to God for aid (verses 1-11); secondly, a confident expression of an assured hope and trust in a speedy deliverance (verses 12-22); and thirdly, a contrast between human weakness and God's strength and unchangeableness, resulting in a conviction that, whatever becomes of the writer, the seed of Israel will be preserved and established before God forever (verses 23-28).
The third strophe begins with an acknowledgment of weakness—a sort of "renewed complaint" (Hengstenberg). But from this there is an ascent to a higher confidence than any displayed previously—a confidence that God, who is everlasting ( Psalms 102:24-27 ), will perpetually protect his people, and, whatever becomes of the existing generation, will establish their seed before him forever ( Psalms 102:28 ).
Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth (comp. Isaiah 48:13 ). And the heavens are the work of thy hands (see Genesis 1:1 , Genesis 1:7 ; Genesis 2:4 ; Psalms 89:11 ; Hebrews 1:10 ).
The mortality of man and the eternity of God.
The psalmist returns to his own personal condition; he considers himself as one who has but a narrow span of life, and even that small span is likely to be shortened; his heart is troubled at the thought of—
I. THE BREVITY AND UNCERTAINTY OF OUR MORTAL LIFE .
1 . The length of our life is regarded by us very differently, according to the portion of it which we have spent. In youth it seems long, and we are eager to get on further, we anticipate the coming years; but in age it seems short indeed, and we wish we were younger than we are. Many, immersed in cares or pleasures, have no time to measure the life they are fast expending; but to the thoughtful (as well as to the merely imaginative) human life seems a painfully short time in which to sustain its pure and holy relationships, in which to gather its fruits of learning and wisdom, in which to do its work and achieve some solid and enduring task. All too soon does that shadow decline, all too quickly do the flowers wither (see Psalms 102:11 ).
2 . And this pensiveness is deepened by the thought of the uncertainty of life. Sudden sickness comes, and the strong man in his prime is laid on the bed of death. The fatal accident occurs, and men and women are removed in an hour from the scenes of their activity, the homes of their affection. The land mourns its prince, its statesman, its scholar; the Church deplores its ruler, its minister, its counsellor; the home laments its head, its mistress, its ornament,—that one that should long have stayed and been its strength and joy. But in sharp and striking contrast with this is—
II. THE ETERNITY OF GOD .
1 . He is from everlasting. Our finite mind cannot possibly comprehend the idea of the infinite. We cannot take into our imagination the absolutely boundless past. But we can think of that which was indefinitely and immeasurably remote, and consider that God was long before that. We think of the ages behind us, when the first foundations of the earth were laid, and we reflect that all that vast and unknown period counts not even one degree of the time that God has been.
2 . He is to everlasting. Similarly, we look on to that distant hour, inconceivably far away, when our planet itself will be consumed or be congealed, or even to the time when the whole sidereal system will be dissolved, and we think that that immense tract of time will not count one unit of "the years of the right hand of the Most High."
3 . He is the Unchangeable One. Not that the idea of boundless temporal duration includes that of moral and spiritual constancy; but it suggests it, and it may be said to imply it; for surely it is only the Unchangeable that could be and would be the Eternal. So that while we are placing our mortality in contrast with the immortality of God, we may also place our fickleness and unreliableness in contrast with his immutability, and give the fullest meaning to the words, "thou art the same" (see James 1:17 ; Hebrews 13:8 ).
III. THE REDEEMING THOUGHT . The psalmist seems to feel that God, out of the exceeding riches of his eternity, might well bestow upon him a few more years of life ( Psalms 102:24 ). But he closes with the relieving thought that the children of God's servants will dwell in the land, that they will find a home there from which they will not be driven, and that their children will still be found in happy occupation, through coming generations ( Psalms 102:28 ). We have, in this Christian dispensation, a far more precious consolation. That is twofold. It consists of:
1 . The fact that the briefest human life, spent in the service of God and of man, holds a worth which no arithmetic can compute, no wealth can weigh.
2 . The truth that a holy life on earth conducts to a blessed and glorious immortality beyond. "They shall perish, but thou shalt endure." So also shall we, and our years shall have no end; for "he that doeth the will of God abideth forever."
Light arising in darkness.
The authorship and therefore the date of this psalm cannot be certainly fixed, or whether it be a national or an individual utterance; probably it is the latter. The alternations of thought and feeling are very noteworthy. We have—
I. EARNEST PRAYER . ( Psalms 102:1 , Psalms 102:2 .) There is an ascending scale, reaching to a climax.
1 . That the Lord would hear. "Hear, O Lord."
2 . For close access. "Let my cry come unto thee." Do not hear me from afar, but come near to me.
3 . For gracious hearing. "Hide not thy face," etc.; when I see thee, let not thy face be averted, but graciously turned to me.
4 . For attentive hearing. "Incline thine ear;" as one anxious to hear bends down his ear, that he may more easily hear what is said.
5 . For prompt reply. "Answer me speedily;" let there be no long delay. It is a blessed thing when our troubles and distresses lead us to God in prayer, and in prayer thus earnest and believing.
II. SAD COMPLAINT . There are nine verses of this ( Psalms 102:3-11 ). They tell of:
1 . The swift approach of death. ( Psalms 102:3 .) As fuel in fierce heat and flame is swiftly consumed, so is it with his life.
2 . Of his bitter sorrow. ( Psalms 102:4 .) All its strength and joy smitten, as is the grass with the sun-stroke, so that he cares not to live, forgets to eat bread.
3 . His wasted form. He is worn as a skeleton, his bones cleave to his flesh.
4 . His utter loneliness. ( Psalms 102:6 .) As the cormorant of the wilderness ( Zephaniah 2:14 ; Isaiah 34:11 ), and as the owl. The owl is called in Arabic, "mother of the ruins."
5 . His cruel enemies. ( Psalms 102:8 .) These, when they curse, point to him as an example of misery; when they would imprecate vengeance on any, they ask that those whom they curse may be wretched as the psalmist.
6 . His abiding and unrelieved sorrow. ( Psalms 102:9 .) It mingles with all his food.
7 . The cause of it. The Divine displeasure. "God's wrath has seized and hurled him aloft, only to cast him, as worthless, away" (cf. Isaiah 22:18 ).
8 . The result of it all. Death is close at hand. Not improbably some exile dying far away in Babylon poured forth this bitter complaint. As the groans of a sick man are a relief, so is the outpouring of our trouble to God a relief to the burdened heart. It is ever well so to do. But now, out of these depths comes—
III. DIVINE COMFORT . There are eleven verses of this ( Psalms 102:12-22 ). And this comfort is drawn:
1 . From the remembrance of the eternal God. ( Psalms 102:12 .) God does not die, though man does; God lives to carry on his work when men pass away.
2 . The conviction that Zion ' s redemption is at hand. ( Psalms 102:13 .) He gathers this from the fact that the minds of the people of God were turned to the fallen Jerusalem (of. Nehemiah 1-2:3). There were probably many conferences and much interest and prayer in regard to Zion ( Psalms 102:14 ); and the psalmist recognizes in all this one of the evidences that God's set time to be gracious to Zion has come.
3 . The anticipation of the blessed results that shall follow on Zion ' s restoration. ( Psalms 102:15 , Psalms 102:16 .) This is ever the harbinger of the world's conversion.
4 . His grateful sense of the exceeding goodness of God which is to be made manifest ( Psalms 102:17-22 ). He thinks of the destitute, of the prisoner groaning in his misery, of those appointed unto death, and of the blessed help and deliverance that shall come to them all, and his heart leaps up in praise. But next we see—
IV. SADNESS SEEKING TO COME BACK AGAIN . ( Psalms 102:23 .) As is the way of sadness, it haunts the soul, and, though banished awhile, it will return. It was so with the psalmist. The remembrance of his own sore trouble comes over him again, and he bursts out in this piteous lament, "He weakened my strength in the way," etc; and he cries, "O my God, take me not away," etc. But God does not leave him; such holy troubled souls never are left. We next see—
V. SADNESS AGAIN DRIVEN AWAY . ( Psalms 102:25-28 .) His trust is restored; for:
1 . He remembers the eternal God. This had been his comfort before ( Psalms 102:1 , Psalms 102:2 ); and now it comes to his help once more. "Thou art the same, and thy years," etc. ( Psalms 102:27 ). And then he thinks of:
2 . His children. They shall be established before God ( Psalms 102:28 ). And so the light again ariseth in the darkness.—S.C.
Changing self; changing world; unchanging God.
A very favourite contrast with psalmists and poets.
I. A CONTRAST BASED ON A FACT . The fact is that man's life is changeable and brief. This is true of a man's bodily life, intellectual life, and life of relations. It is impressed on a man in his times of sickness, especially when sickness comes breaking into and breaking up his plans, as in the case of king Hezekiah. Here the psalmist puts the fact into two figures—the passing shadow, the quickly withered grass. Precisely the metaphor is taken from the lengthening, that is, the evening shadow, which Rashi thus explains: "When it is the time of evening the shadows lengthen, but when it is dark they are no longer discernible, but come to an end and go." The figure of the short-lived grass is one of the most familiar in the Bible. It is more striking in the hot Eastern countries, where blasting winds come, than with us. The contrast is the Divine continuity and persistency. The cedars outlive the storms of many winters, but die at last. They endure through some generations, but fall at last. God survives all kinds of winters, and lasts through all generations. The successions of the afflicted have always the Divine Healthy One to whom they can look. They may comfort themselves with the assurance that what he was, he is, and ever will be.
II. A CONTRAST BASED ON AN IMAGINATION . Nobody really knows anything about the earth perishing, and the heavens being folded up, though scientific men venture now to calculate the actual number of years that the earth may be expected to last. Psalms 102:25 is poetry, and based on Eastern knowledge and ideas of the form of earth and heaven. We can imagine all material things changing and passing. We know that nothing created retains its form long. And yet certain things of creation seem permanent and immovable. We speak of the "everlasting mountains," the "solid earth," the "infinite heavens." But think of the mountains shaken down, the earth shifted from its place, and the heavens folded up, and then God is the same, unaffected; nay, he is the supreme force that crumbles the mountains, refashions the earth, and rolls up the heavens that he "spread abroad."
God stands in absolute contrast with
The flux and reflux characteristic of material things never affect him "whose years are throughout all generations."—R.T.