Theme: When Troubles Abound
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
At the beginning of this study I pointed out that the immediate problem facing the psalmist is that he was sick. That is not all that was bothering him; he was concerned for Jerusalem too, as I said, and he was being taunted by his enemies. These conditions enter into his lament. Nevertheless, it is chiefly his sickness, frailty and the brevity of life that trouble him and give force to his complaint. He describes his condition like this:
1. My life is like smoke. Earlier in the Bible, in the book of Job, when Job was bemoaning his sad condition, that great sufferer said, “…hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6, 7). Since there are other indications in Psalm 102 that its author may have known and drawn upon Job, it may be that he got the ideas of life dispersing like smoke from Job’s writing (v. 3). Job is saying that each generation of human beings is born to suffer, that they are merely logs thrown upon the blazing fire of life to be consumed and fly upward as sparks and be blown into oblivion. So is the psalmist. He feels that he has been thrown upon the fire and that his life is vanishing like smoke. Or to change the image, he is withering away like summer grass (v. 4).
2. I am sick. As in other psalms written by sick men, there is not very much in these verses to indicate the psalmist’s particular affliction. But whatever it was, it affected his appearance. It had taken away his appetite. As a result of this sickness and not eating he was “reduced to skin and bones” (v. 5).
3. I am lonely and isolated. This seems to be the meaning of the references to various birds in verses 6 and 7. The older versions referred to a pelican and an owl, but this was only because the translators did not know the birds the Hebrew words referred to. The New International Version is not certain either, which is why it translates: “a desert owl” (whatever that is), an “owl” and a “bird alone upon a house top.”
4. My enemies are mocking. 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.
5. My sufferings are unexplained. In verse 10 the psalmist speaks of God having taken him up and thrown him aside “because of your great wrath.” This shows awareness of sin on his part, but it is significant that nowhere in the psalm does the psalmist mention his sin specifically or confess it. This suggests that although he is aware that nothing that has happened to him is undeserved (we all sin and deserve God’s fiercest wrath), still he is not at all sure what he has done to deserve that wrath or why God is afflicting him in this particular way. In other words, his experience was identical to Job’s. Job was not sinless, far from it. But Job could not understand why he was being singled out for such particularly intense suffering. All the psalmist can say is that, in the final analysis, it is God who is responsible. He leaves it at that.
Lament: a formal expression of sorrow or mourning, especially in verse or song; an elegy or dirge.
What image of the psalmist’s life reflects an image from Job?
What do the birds in verses 6 and 7 represent?
How do others treat the sufferer?
Why is it significant that the psalmist does not mention his specific sin?
Reflection: Which of the psalmist’s list of five complaints have you experienced?
Application: How do you treat those who suffer? Do you identity with them in their experience, or do you lessen or even dismiss their struggles as not being as great as they are making them out to be?
For Further Study: To learn more about suffering, download and listen for free to Ligon Duncan’s message, “The Psalms and Suffering.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)