The Word Made Fresh
(A prayer of one who is ill and weak; a plea to the LORD.)
1Hear my prayer, LORD. Listen to my plea for help!
2Don’t turn away from me when I am in trouble,
but turn your ear toward me and respond to me quickly when I call.
3My days pass like smoke,
and my bones burn as if in a furnace.
4My heart aches and can barely continue to beat.
I am too exhausted to even eat my food.
5I moan so loudly that my bones stick to my skin.
6I feel like a little owl out in the wastelands.
7I lie in my bed wide awake,
like a lonely bird on the rooftop.
8My enemies tease me all day long.
They use my name as if it were a curse word.
9My food tastes like ashes,
and my drink is filled with my tears,
10and it is all because you are angry and filled with wrath.
You have lifted me up only to toss me aside.
11My days are like evening shadows
and I waste away like the grass.
12But you are in charge forever, LORD.
Your name is never forgotten generation after generation.
13I know that you will have compassion on Zion,
for the time is right for you to intervene in its behalf.
14Your servants hold dear even its stones,
and have pity even on its dust.
15All the nations will fear the LORD’s name.
All the kings of the earth will fear the LORD.
16The LORD will bolster Zion and appear, shining brightly.
17The LORD will hear the prayers of the hopeless:
their petitions will not be cast aside.
18Let this be preserved for the generations to follow
so that those yet to be born may praise the LORD.
19Let them know that the LORD looked down from heaven
at the earth below,
20and heard the cries of the prisoners,
and will set those who were sentenced to death free!
21Then the LORD’s name will be shouted in Zion,
and praise will be lifted on their voices in Jerusalem
22when the people – yes, even all the kingdoms – gather together
to worship the LORD!
23But God has taken my strength and shortened my days.
24I pray, “Oh God, don’t take me away in the middle of my life –
you are the One whose years continue throughout all the generations.
25You laid the foundations of the earth long ago,
and fashioned the heavens as well with your hands.
26They will all fade away, but you will endure.
They will wear out like old clothes, as if they were your clothing,
and they will fade away.
27But you never change. Your years will never come to an end.
28The children of your servants will live safely,
and their children will be established before you.
Superscription: this is a beautiful description of the psalm; “a prayer of one who is ill and weak”. But that is misleading, as we shall see. In Christian tradition, Psalm 102 has been included in the 7 “penitential” psalms, along with 6, 32, 38, 51, 130, and 143 – all but two of these are said to be “of David.”
1-2: The psalm begins with a plea for God to pay attention, to notice what is happening and come to the aid of the one suffering.
3-7: Then follows a description of the suffering the psalmist is experiencing. The symptoms are; no appetite, no energy, extreme weight loss, high fever, and deep depression. It sounds like the flu.
8-9: Because of that awful condition, enemies are closing in like buzzards.
10-11: However, we are surprised by the sentiment expressed here. Suddenly the psalmist is attributing all his troubles to the hand of God!
12-17: And now we see that this is not the complaint of an individual at all; it is the voice of the nation. During the last decades of Judah’s existence, the country had been chipped away by enemies far and near until little more than Jerusalem remained with Mt. Zion as its principle landmark. We see now that the description of the “illness” at the beginning of the psalm is a description of the condition of the nation.
18-22: The psalm dares to look to the future at “generations yet unborn” and declares that they will revive the shattered nation.
23-24: So, the prayer is the prayer of the people of God. Surely God is not done with them yet. Surely their existence is no more than at the halfway mark. Surely there is more to come.
25-28: God is exalted as creator of all. The earth and the sky will pass away, but God will remain; and because God is steadfast the psalm can end on the positive note that the generations to come will enjoy the presence of God.
If you were to approach God as if you were the voice of your people in prayer, what would your prayer be for them? You represent the nation and all its people: what do they need? How has God blessed them, or punished them? What do you think God has in mind for them in the future?