Theme: Fervent Prayer in Great Need
In this week’s lessons, we learn how great suffering should turn us toward God, and then cause our prayers to also include God’s work in the lives of others.
Scripture: Psalm 102:1-28
One of the splendid delusions of the young is that they think they are immortal. No matter how recklessly they drive, no matter how many drugs they take or physical dangers they expose themselves to, they do not believe that anything bad can happen to them.
But that changes as we grow older. There come times in our lives when it dawns on us that our existence is filled with dangers and life is not at all unending. Physical ailments begin to trouble us, and we worry about still other fatal diseases that may come. Family members die. We realize that the time is coming when we will die, too. As we move into retirement and later years, that realization grows even stronger. For now, not only do we know that we are not immortal, but we realize, quite to the contrary, that life is extremely short and we are at best frail specks of existence hanging on at the very precipice of eternity. At any point in life, whether young or old, we can be made aware of these realities by serious illness.
This is what the author of Psalm 102 experienced. Sickness forced him to a sharp realization of his frailty. But in his weakness he turned to God, who is not weak, and found a refuge.
In the liturgy of the church, Psalm 102 is considered one of the seven penitential psalms, no doubt because of the mention of God’s “great wrath” in verse 10. But it is actually Messianic, though not in the detailed sense suggested by Arno C. Gaebelein or William J. Pettingill. Gaebelein sees the psalm as a prophecy of Christ’s earthly humiliation and redemptive work. Pettingill views it as a dialogue between God the Father and God the Son.1 The psalm is Messianic because of its final verses, which are used in Hebrews 1:10-12, as the Father’s address to Jesus Christ. But this anticipation of the future work of Christ grows out of the psalmist’s painful awareness of his own frailty, which means that the Messianic focus of the psalm comes in only at the end.
Looked at another way, Psalm 102 is a patriotic psalm, which is how Charles Spurgeon saw it.2 This is because the writer, although he is sick even to death, does not look to God only for his own restoration but links his personal survival to the restoration of Zion. Jerusalem and its environs are in ruins. Her toppled “stones” and even the “very dust” move God’s servants to pity. But God is still her God and will therefore restore her in “the appointed time” (v. 13). It is the anticipation of this future time that leads the writer into those verses that look forward to Jesus.
There are echoes of other portions of the Old Testament in this psalm, such as some earlier psalms, Job, Isaiah and Lamentations. We will not explore them here, except to say that they are natural in view of Jerusalem’s ruin.
The first eleven verses are a lament in which the writer describes his weakened condition. But the first two of these verses (vv. 1, 2) are really a prologue to the whole in which, with much repetition and great passion, the suffering man appeals to God to hear him.
The single most noticeable feature of Hebrew poetry is repetition, especially what is called parallelism. This means that an idea stated in one line is followed by a second line in which that idea is repeated, though in slightly different words. Sometimes the repetition is synonymous. At other times it is antithetical. At still other times the second sentence adds a thought to the first as if to amplify its meaning. In these two verses we have repetition carried to an extreme, for there are five requests in these six lines and they are virtually identical: “hear my prayer,” “let my cry for help come to you,” “do not hide your face,” “turn your ear to me” and “answer me quickly.”
The impression intended (and left with us) is that this is no passive or half-hearted petition, no mere formal “saying of prayers.” Quite the contrary. It is an impassioned prayer because the situation out of which it grows is desperate. Desperate conditions make for strong petitions.
1Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1939), pp. 372-378; and William J. Pettingill, Christ in the Psalms (Findlay, OH: Fundamental Truth, 1937), pp. 115-124.
2Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 250.
Penitential: expressive of repentance
Messianic: showing a belief in the coming of the Messiah
What realization does the psalmist come to? What did he do?
Why is this psalm considered Messianic?
Describe the nature of the psalmist’s prayers.
Reflection: Have you suffered a serious illness or other significant event that showed you the reality of your own frailty? What effect did it have on your spiritual condition? Did it deepen your understanding of God or did it raise doubts?
Observation: Repetition can be used in various ways for poetic purposes.
Key Point: Desperate conditions make for strong petitions.