Psalm 102.

1867 289 A wonderful psalm is this which has for its subject the intercourse held between the Messiah, our Lord, and God. It tells us what occupied His heart in view of being cut off and having nothing, according to the prediction of Daniel ix. 26, even the visitation of Zion by Jehovah in mercy; just as John xvii. admits us, through His intercourse with the Father there recorded, to an understanding of His desire for His disciples then present, and for all who should believe on Him through their word. And though probably no human ear heard the outpourings of His heart to Jehovah in the words of this psalm, yet as the cry of Psalm xxii. 1 was really uttered by Him, we may rest assured that the Spirit has here revealed what He felt, and what He made known to Jehovah, together with the wonderful answer vouchsafed Him. Very different is the character of the communication in John xvii. from this in the psalm. There it is the Son about to leave the world, and to return to the Father, caring for His own who were in it, who had received Him, and through Him the Father; here it is Messiah, about to be cut off, thinking of Jerusalem so soon to be rightly described as the city where their Lord was crucified. As Son of God He speaks of the future before Him — the glory; as man, Messiah, rejected by the people, about to be crucified, He speaks of the future before Him — death. But another feature is introduced in the psalm which we have not in John — the answer of God to the afflicted One, declaring who He is.

It is a wonderful psalm also, if we take into account the period of time it embraces. Commencing from before the time when the foundations of the heavens and the earth were laid, it reaches on to the establishment of Zion, when the Lord shall reign, and yet it does not travel beyond the limits of the life of the One who here as man asks God to hear Him. Of whom then could it speak but of One? For which of the sons of Adam had a past existence before time began, although all will have a future existence when time shall end, except the woman's Seed? Living between the time of His humiliation, when He passed through what is here described (ver. 3-11), and the day of His glory we may read it, and, by the light which Hebrews i. 10 sheds upon it, find subjects for wonder and praise. But we must admit that the circumstances in view of which it was written, and inserted in the Book of Psalms, are still future. "The time to favour Zion, yea the set time," has not yet arrived; nor can any past event in connection with Jerusalem satisfy the terms employed, however men may try to explain them of the restoration under Cyrus. The set time contemplated in the psalm is yet future. So this prayer of the afflicted has its place in book iv., which, commencing with Psalm xc., and ending with Psalm cvi., is chiefly occupied with the reign of Jehovah over the earth in power, when His throne will be established in Zion (Ps. xcix. 2), and the earthly people of God with creation will welcome with acclamation the king. (Ps. xcv. — xcviii.) And as other psalms which speak of His humiliation — e.g., Ps. xxii., Ps. lxix. — follow those which tell of the glory that comes after (Ps. xxi. — lxviii.), so it is here; the celebration of the kingdom set up in power, with the king's method of government (Ps. ci.), precedes the one which tells of His having just been cut off and having nothing. (See Ps. xciii. — ci.)

Let us now examine it a little more closely. It has a title — "A prayer of the afflicted one when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord." We have prayers of David, Ps. xvii., Ps. lxxxvi., Ps. cxlii.; and a prayer of Moses, etc. Here is a prayer of the afflicted One, greater than Moses, yet the Son of David, of whom Moses and David prophesied, the Mediator and King of Israel. What comfort will it be to godly souls among the remnant to find One who has been in trouble likewise, and whose expression of it describes their condition and circumstances, though they may not exhaust the meaning of His words! Are they well-nigh overwhelmed and think some strange thing has happened to them? This One has been quite overwhelmed. Does death stare them in the face? He has known what this is, yet never once failed to look to God, nor gave up cherishing God's thoughts about that centre on earth so dear to them and to Him. And this prayer tells of a time when it will be made apparent that the Lord looked down from the height of His sanctuary to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to loose those that are appointed to death. Surely in this they will find consolation that the groan of the prisoner, the cry of the afflicted, can pierce the very heavens, and reach His ears even in the height of His sanctuary.

Beginning with a request to be heard by Jehovah because in trouble, desiring that His face should not be turned aside from Him, and asking for a speedy answer, the afflicted One proceeds to describe His condition which called out His prayer: "For my days have been consumed as smoke, and my bones have been burned as an hearth. My heart has been smitten and withered like grass, for I have forgotten to eat my bread. Because of the voice of my groaning my bone has cleaved to my flesh. I have resembled a pelican of the wilderness, I have been as an owl of desert places. I have watched and have been as a sparrow alone on the roof. All the day mine enemies have reproached me, and they that are mad against me have sworn by me [i.e., made me the formula of imprecation]; for I have eaten ashes like bread, and I have mingled my drink with my weeping; because of thine indignation and thy wrath, for thou hast lifted me up and cast me down." Such was the condition in life He had been and was still in; now the hour for His departure draws nigh. Hence there is a marked change in the language, which the Authorized Version fails to show. "My days are like a shadow stretched out," near their end. What then can He look forward to? "And I shall be withered like grass." Cut off as man, this is what as man He looks forward to. But what of Jerusalem? Is Zion never to be restored? Are the promises never to be made good? Messiah may die, wither as grass; but Jehovah remains the same. He lives for ever. His very name implies that. So He contrasts what is before Him with the eternal existence of Jehovah. "I shall be cut off as grass. But thou Jehovah shalt abide for ever." (Is there not an intentional paronomasia, or play on words, here in the use of Hebrew in verse 11, and Hebrew in verse 12?) "And thy memorial," as God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, "to all generations." (Exodus iii. 15.) Hence the future of Zion is secured. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will make good His word, for He, the self-existing One, can never pass away.

This leads to the other subject of the psalm — the showing mercy to Zion which, as placed in the book, is looked on as close at hand; the present interval during which Zion is disowned being past over, so that the time of Messiah's humiliation, and the day of Jerusalem's joy are closely connected. "Thou wilt arise and have mercy upon Zion, for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come." Had He not made atonement, the time to favour her could never have come. Having accomplished that, when He died on the cross, the ground has been prepared for God's favour to be shown her. And here we are transported by the language of the Psalm to the coming days of Israel's blessedness. The time has come. What makes known that it has arrived? "Thy servants have taken pleasure in her stones, and they favour her dust." The watchman, the Lord Jesus, according to Isaiah, will sit on her walls to cry for this (Isaiah lxii. 6) has appeared, and will give Jehovah no rest till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. Then, looking forward to the consequences that must ensue from Zion being favoured, the psalmist proceeds: "And Gentiles shall fear the name of Jehovah, and all the kings or the earth thy glory. For Jehovah hath builded Zion, he has been seen in his glory. He has turned to the prayer of the desolate, and has not despised their prayer." Such is the simple statement of the Hebrew, which gives a more consistent interpretation of the idea intended to be conveyed than the Authorized Version presents. It is true what is there said: "When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the desolate, and not despise their prayer;" but this is not the truth intended to be conveyed in this place. Verses 16, 17 are the direct cause of what is stated in verse 15. The Gentiles will fear His name, for they will see He has built up that city they wished to destroy, and that He is the friend of the destitute whom they have desired to cut off. And all kings shall fear His glory, because it has been displayed. It is as king the Lord will destroy His enemies as David did before He reigns Solomon-like as Prince of Peace. But when He first comes to oppose the nations at Jerusalem, His glory will be displayed. Hence the heathen will fear Him when they see He has interposed in behalf of Zion.

But not alone shall the Gentiles fear the Lord; for the people created in the day of His power shall know what He has done, and praise Jah. (Ver. 18.) These doings which call forth their praise of the victorious One, who has interposed on behalf of Zion, His people, are next recounted in verses 19–22. "For he has looked down from the height of his sanctuary, Jehovah from heaven has looked to the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to loose those that are appointed to death; to declare in Zion the name of the Lord and praise in Jerusalem; when peoples are gathered together, and kingdoms, to serve Jehovah."

Such being the events which will take place because Jehovah abides for ever, and His promises cannot fail to be made good, though Messiah as man be cut off, who is this One who thus speaks as being like the grass which withers away? To this the remainder of the psalm is devoted. "He has weakened my strength in the way, He has shortened my days," He could say: and He adds, "I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days. Thy years are throughout all generations." Then comes the answer. He who has cried to God as man is Himself Jehovah the Creator. "Of old hast thou laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands." Can He then perish? He may, and surely must, die as man according to the counsels of God; but time can make no change to Him. His works may perish, and grow old. "They shall perish, but thou shalt stand; yea, all of them shall wax old as a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall pass away. But thou art the same [lit. thyself] and thy years shall not be finished." Cut off in the midst of His days as man, when only half the allotted period to man on earth has been passed through by Him, He is found to be the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending, the first and the last. He is the Ancient of days. Before time was counted, He was. When it shall end, His years shall not be finished.

And just one more revelation completes the subject of the psalm. Shall He abide for ever alone? The answer is given: "The children of thy servants shall abide, and their seed shall be established before thee." What a bright ending to such a dark beginning! I shall be withered like grass, He had said. His years shall never end, is the answer to Him. And more, Jerusalem shall be built, and the heathen fear God, and the children of Messiah's servants shall abide. Appointed to death they might have thought themselves; but they shall abide, and, as an earthly people, inheriting earthly promises, the provision is annexed of a permanence for their offspring, and that before Him in whose presence alone can true blessing be found, for "their seed shall be established before thee." C. E. Stuart.