by Walter A. Boyd, N. Ireland
OUTLINE OF THE PSALM WITH OBSERVATIONS
The Psalmist’s Obvious Affliction – vv.1-11
The Psalmist’s Only Consolation – vv.12-28
Leslie C. Allen says of Psalm 102 that “a bewildering multiplicity of interpretations has been offered for this complex Psalm. Exegetical ambiguities have been exploited to the full and intertwined with a variety of views as to form and setting.” While there are many aspects of this Psalm about which we cannot be certain, we should not be intimidated by Allen’s comments. The use of Psalm 102 in Heb.1.10-12 leaves us in no doubt that it is a Messianic Psalm. Therefore, we expect to find the Person of our glorious Lord within its text; and while it is the case that there are difficulties within its text, it is possible to glean truth from the Psalm that will feed our souls, encourage us in our Christian lives, and above all, glorify the Lord of Whom it speaks. This Psalm directs our attention to the Person of Christ in a very touching way. J.N. Darby describes Psalm 102 as “one of the most profoundly interesting in the whole book of Psalms”. J.G. Bellett says, “It is a Psalm of very touching beauty and grandeur.” It is the hope of this author that, by the Lord’s help, we will discover and enjoy that interest, beauty and grandeur.
Despite the scarcity of information about the author, the circumstances under which or the time when it was written, the quotation of this Psalm in Hebrews chapter 1 assures us not only of its Messianic nature but also of its Divine inspiration and inclusion in the Canon. Without doubt it is of God and therefore dependable and enlightening. The quotation of vv.25-27 in Hebrews chapter 1 identifies them as the language of the Father to the Son, and as a result we can say that vv.12-22 are also the same, while vv.1-11 are identified as the language of the Son to the Father.
GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE PSALM
Before examining any of the details of the Psalm it will be useful to identify some of the general ways in which it can be viewed.
Reading the Psalm Personally
This is one of the Messianic Psalms that has a considerable amount of detail about the personal experience of its unknown author. The title of the Psalm is unique in the whole of the Book of Psalms and should be considered before we comment on its verses. The inscription will guide us in how to approach the Psalm.
It is “A prayer of the afflicted”, which suggests it was written by someone experiencing affliction and can be used as a template for prayer by a believer in affliction. We have no information about the nature of the affliction the Psalmist experienced (apart from a suggestion from vv.13-16 that the land is in ruins, thus pointing to the possibility of it being written in the time of the nation’s exile) but we do have a clear picture of how the affliction affected him: he is “overwhelmed”. The Psalm’s inscription in the Septuagint is “A prayer of the poor; when he is deeply afflicted and pours out his supplication before the Lord”. When one is overwhelmed by affliction of any kind, the surest comfort is found in “pour[ing] out his complaint before the LORD”. The words of the apostle Paul corroborate the actions of the Psalmist: “Be careful [‘anxious’ E.S.V.] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” Phil.4.6.
In affliction there are two tendencies in the human heart, neither of which brings any relief: the first is to explain your affliction to everyone who will listen; the second is to ‘bottle everything up’ and tell no-one, and thus suffer alone in silence. While a trusted confidant is always a help in a time of trouble, true comfort is found in getting alone with God to pour out your supplication before Him: tell Him the details of your affliction and supplicate His throne for timely help. The well-known words of Joseph Scriven’s hymn describe this well:
- O what peace we often forfeit,
- O what needless pain we bear!
- All because we do not carry
- Everything to God in prayer.
- Have we trials and temptations?
- Is there trouble anywhere?
- We should never be discouraged:
- Take it to the Lord in prayer! 4
4. Scriven, Joseph. “What a Friend we have in Jesus”, Believers Hymn Book, Pickering and Inglis, U.K., 1981, Hymn No. 317.
It is helpful to apply the Psalm in this way to our own situation when experiencing affliction. The Psalm was written by a person in deep affliction who spoke to the Lord; when in affliction we should do the same. As in every trial where true spiritual progress is made, the Psalmist starts with a realisation of the depth of his crisis as he “pour[s] out his complaint before the LORD”. In vv.1-11 he speaks of trouble, groaning, weeping, enemies, Divine indignation and wrath. He rises out of affliction’s crisis only when he gets his mind focussed on his Lord from v.12 to the end of the Psalm. The words “But thou, O LORD” v.12, form the turning point in his experience; it will be similar for us when we shift our vision from the crisis to Christ. We do need to express our pain and suffering to the Lord, but only when we get our mind off ourselves and on to the Lord to see our affliction in the light of Divine purpose will the clouds of sorrow begin to lift and praise erupt in our hearts. Habakkuk found that, by changing the point of his focus from the world and nations around him to the throne, he was better able to see and accept what God was doing, Hab.2.1-20. In our afflictions we can look in and see defeat and failure, or look up and see power and majesty.
The second half of the Psalm, vv.12-28, concentrates on the Person and power of the Lord, with an inclusio provided by vv.12 and 27 that identifies the unchanging, eternal nature of the Lord: “But Thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and Thy remembrance unto all generations” v.12; “But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end” v.27. Scholars tell us that the function of an inclusio is to give the character of the truth in the inclusio to the material that sits within it. Therefore, vv.13-26 are marked by the unchanging, eternal nature of Deity, the Lord of vv.12 and 27, Who shall “endure for ever”; Who shall be remembered “unto all generations”; Whose “years shall have no end”. Everything within these verses is viewed in the light of His eternal power and presence: Zion’s future, vv.13,14,16,21; the heathen and earthly kings, v.15; an answer to prayer, v.17; direction for future generations, v.18; and Divine awareness of earthly conditions, vv.19,20, are all subject to the eternal and immutable Jehovah. Thus it is, when we pour out our supplication to the Lord and focus on the eternal and immutable character of the Lord, it lifts our minds beyond the problem to the solution: to the Lord Himself!
Reading the Psalm Prophetically
Since it is a Messianic Psalm, we should look for the fulfilment of its features in the coming Messiah. We will examine in more detail later in the chapter the future aspect of its truth being fulfilled in the coming of Israel’s Messiah, but will identify them at this stage in statements such as:
- “Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come” v.13;
- “So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory. When the LORD shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory” vv.15,16;
- “This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD” v.18;
- “When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD” v.22;
- “The children of Thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before Thee” v.28.
Hamilton Smith says: “These verses present the glory of Jehovah and His intervention in grace and power on behalf of His people. The One Who in lowly grace has given expression to the sorrows of His people is the One Who can equally give expression to the glories of Jehovah.”5
He further says: “Thus it is that the Messiah secures the blessing of His people. The One Who is Jehovah having become Man and identified Himself with His suffering people, at last brings His suffering people to be identified with Himself in His glory. If He endures, they will endure; if He is the same, they will be established before Him, v.28.”6
The future aspects of the Psalm find fulfilment in Christ personally as the Messiah and prophetically in His Millennial reign. Edersheim says of this Psalm: “The psalm which opens with such mournful words, closes in the right anticipation, not only of redemption, but of the consummation of all things, and of His people with them.”7
5. Smith, Hamilton. “Psalms”. Accessed online at STEM Publishing, www.stempublishing.com.
7. Edersheim, A. “The Golden Diary of Heart Converse with the Messiah”. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, Jerusalem, Israel, 2000, p.272.
Reading the Psalm Theologically
To read the Psalm theologically identifies how the Persons of the Godhead are portrayed and their relationship One to the Other. The words with which the Psalmist addresses his God in vv.25-27 are attributed to the Son of God in Heb.1.10-12. It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that the earlier verses of our Psalm also apply to the Son in both His Incarnation and future Manifestation. In the first section, vv.1-11, the Son speaks to the Father of what He calls “the day of My distress” v.2, E.S.V., in which He experienced the physical afflictions of vv.3-5 and the emotional experience of vv.6-9. In the second section, vv.12-28, the Father speaks to the Son and says that He will “arise, and have mercy upon Zion” v.13, and “appear in His glory” v.16. When read theologically, the Psalm identifies such wonderful attributes as the Son of God’s humanity, vv.1-11; Deity, vv.16,18,19,21; majesty and glory, vv.15,16,22,25; sympathy, vv.17,19,20; stability, vv.12,26,27; eternity, vv.12,27.
J.G. Bellett says of this Psalm: “I might further observe that this Psalm also lets us read, in these utterances of Jesus and the Divine answers to them, what we learn from other simple doctrinal Scriptures – that the glories of Jesus come from His suffering. ‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.’ It shows us ‘the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow.’ For the Lamb on the throne is the Lamb that had been before on the altar.”8
J.N. Darby in his usual insightful way glorifies Christ in his observation on the Psalm, and we do well to meditate on what he says until we grasp its significance: “What is so peculiar in this Psalm is that it brings out the Person of Christ – His Divine nature in answer to His sufferings and cutting off. It is not grace to others by His sufferings, nor judgment on others because of their iniquity in inflicting them, but in reply to His utter loneliness in sorrow, and touching appeal to Jehovah of a heart withered like grass, He is owned as Jehovah, the Creator Himself. It is not what He is for others through His suffering and humiliation, but Himself – the answer is His own glory – the blessed title of His Person. This it is which gives it such a peculiar interest.”9
8. Bellett, J.G., ibid.
- 9. Darby, J.N. “The Psalms”. Accessed online at STEM Publishing, www.stempublishing.com.
OUTLINE OF THE PSALM WITH OBSERVATIONS
The Psalmist’s Obvious Affliction – vv.1-11
His Prayer is Heard – vv.1,2
- “My prayer” v.1
- “My cry” v.1
- “I call” v.2
- “My trouble” v.2, J.N.D.
- “Thy face” v.2
- “Thine ear” v.2
Psalm 102 was written by a man in deep pain and anguish; so deep that they wring a cry for help from his heart, v.1. He needs to be sure that his God hears his prayer and he wants an answer from God right away: “answer me speedily” v.2. We can sense from reading his words that the Psalmist feels at a distance from his God. David felt like that in Ps.13.1 when he said, “How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” The feeling of isolation because of affliction is very real, yet Ps.121.4 assures us that “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” God is always aware, He is never asleep on the throne, and even when our afflictions are so intense that we cannot sense His presence we can depend upon the certain promise of His Word: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” Matt.28.20.
When we find ourselves in circumstances like the Psalmist our prayer, v.1, should be marked by sincerity and urgency as we “cry” v.1, and “call’ out for help, v.2, expecting that God will answer “speedily” v.2. The Saviour’s agony in the garden is described in terms similar to this Psalm: He “began to be sorrowful and very heavy” Matt.26.37, “sore amazed, and … very heavy” Mk.14.33, to such an extent that Luke says, “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” Lk.22.44. With the record of the Saviour’s experiences, we can be sure that our great High Priest understands our situation when we cry out to Him for help in affliction. Yet, we must also understand that we cannot impose our sense of urgency upon the Divine timetable. The Psalmist’s sense of urgency is governed by how he sees the crisis; the Lord may well view the crisis in a different light and answer according to His plan, not ours. God is not bound to answer according to our demands.
His Problems are Seen – vv.3-11
His Problems Visualised in Inanimate Things
- “My days” – as smoke, v.3; as a shadow, v.11
- “My bones” – hearth, v.3
- “My heart” – grass, vv.4,11
- “My groaning” – skin, v.5
The Psalmist writes in a way that helps us to understand the intensity of his suffering by giving us visual pictures to which we can relate. In vv.2-5 he gives us a physical description that portrays his weakness and fragility. His “days are consumed like smoke”: he feels the fragility and brevity of life are such that he can be described as smoke being blown away in a gust of wind. The expression that his “bones are burned as a hearth” may indicate a raging fever or inflammation that are consuming his energy. His “heart is smitten, and withered like grass”: this describes the weakness and listlessness that has overwhelmed him. His condition is so critical that he has forgotten to eat his food and by the resulting weight loss he has been reduced to skin and bones. The Saviour’s experience in Gethsemane was unseen by human eyes but must have been very intense. The only details we read of the physical effect upon Him are those given briefly by the Gospel writers, which include His own words, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, yet they are very expressive: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” Matt.26.38; He “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” Mk.14.33; “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” Lk.22.44; “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears …” Heb.5.7.
His Problems Visualised in Animate Things
- “Pelican’’ – “wilderness” v.6
- “Owl” – “desert” v.6
- “Sparrow” – “housetop” v.7
Having described his afflictions physically, the Psalmist now describes them poetically. He portrays his vulnerability by visualising himself as birds that have been transported out of their natural habitat. Since the pelican, a bird accustomed to coastal waters, is in the wilderness, he is describing his emotional state as being in unfamiliar circumstances: he is displaced and does not feel at home. He is like “an owl of the desert”: he is not only out of his normal habitat but, as the owl is an unclean bird, Lev.11.17, he feels that he has been treated as unclean and is rejected and isolated from others. Finally, he watches “alone upon the housetop” like a sparrow. “Watch” suggests sleeplessness and being “alone upon the housetop” depicts his utter loneliness. He paints a pathetic picture in his words.
These pictures can be seen in the words of the rejected Messiah, Who said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head” Lk.9.58. It was He Who “came unto His own, and His own received Him not” Jn.1.11. It was He Who was a babe for Whom there was “no room … in the inn” Lk.2.7, and Who, as the Master of the Twelve, “went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” Lk.6.12. He knew the rejection and social isolation of which the Psalmist spoke in this Psalm.
His Problems Experienced Internally: Self-ward
- “A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed” (Inscription)
- “I am in trouble” v.2
- “My days are consumed” v.3
- “My bones are burned” v.3
- “My heart is smitten” v.4
- “I forget to eat my bread” v.4
- “By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin” v.5
- “I have eaten ashes like bread” v.9
- “I have … mingled my drink with weeping” v.9
The words used by the Psalmist describe the dire situation that he feels deeply in his soul. The sorrow the Psalmist experienced in his isolation led to a feeling of loneliness that can cause one to become introverted. In the first section of the Psalm he concentrated on himself: “I” and “my” are prominent in his descriptions. Unrelenting pain and suffering can lead to a sense of despair that causes one to focus on self. The loss of physical and emotional energy means we have no strength to look beyond self.
The rejected Messiah said: “Reproach hath broken My heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” Ps.69.20. As He agonised alone in prayer in the garden, His favoured three disciples slept, Mk.14.37,40, 41. When He was arrested in the garden before being taken away to be crucified His disciples “all forsook Him and fled” Mk.14.50. When we feel estranged from everyone and isolated from all help, we can cry out to the Lord, Who knows from experience exactly how we feel. Instead of wholesome bread, the Psalmist has filled himself with “ashes”; he has “mingled [his] drink with weeping”. This symbolises the grief and sorrow he continually felt.
The words used in the inscription to explain the general effect of his sufferings are “afflicted” and “overwhelmed”. “Affliction” is used of mental depression, and “overwhelmed” conveys the idea of languishing in darkness that will not lift or that clings to him like a cloak. What has caused such deep suffering? The other words he uses give some idea of what contributed to this sense of being overwhelmed by depression. “Trouble” v.2, conveys the idea of being constricted in a tight place with no way of escape. “Consumed” v.3, describes his feeling that his life (“days”) has been fully expended; he has no life left. “Smitten” v.4, means to be wounded by beating; he has suffered repeated blows to his soul that have left deep wounds. “Groaning” v.5, is the expression of grief or physical distress. “Weeping” v.9, is the continual weeping of lament.
Some people think, quite wrongly, that a believer should never be depressed. Others go even further, to say that to be depressed is to deny your faith and trust in God. It is unfortunate that such views are ever expressed to one in affliction, for those views are not only wrong but damaging. However, it is a common mistake to make and when you are in the depth of despair you tend to be so sensitive that you cannot overlook the absurdity of opinions like these. When in affliction that escalates to despair, as well as seeking appropriate medical help, it is not trite to say that we should spend time alone with God. Where there is a definite medical cause, seek a medical cure. However, whether the cause is medical or emotional, do not allow the situation to so absorb your thoughts that you fall out of communion with the Lord. As the sympathetic great High Priest He is at hand to help.
The pain of the Psalmist’s experience, and more, can be felt in the words of the Saviour in the garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” Matt.26.38. There is no affliction we will ever feel that has not been felt in greater measure by the rejected Messiah, and from Him we can draw strength and comfort. The words of Michael Bruce sum it up well:
- Though now ascended up on high,
- He bends on earth a brother’s eye;
- Partaker of the human name,
- He knows the frailty of our frame.
- Our fellow Sufferer yet retains
- A fellow feeling of our pains:
- And still remembers in the skies
- His tears, His agonies, and cries.
- In every pang that rends the heart,
- The Man of Sorrows had a part,
- He sympathises with our grief,
- And to the sufferer sends relief. 10
- 10. Bruce, M. “Where high the heavenly temple stands”. Accessed online at www.hymntime.com.
His Problems Experienced Externally: Man-ward
- “Mine enemies reproach me” v.8
- “They that are mad against me” v.8
- “They … are sworn against me” v.8
The Psalmist now turns from the emotional and physical sphere to his social sphere and another cause of his deep hurt: his enemies. By using the word “reproach” he describes how they taunt and scorn him. The expressions that his enemies “are mad” and “sworn against” him could mean that they have entered a covenant or oath together to harm him, or it could mean that they use his name for a curse in much the same way as the rejected Messiah became “the song of the drunkards” Ps.69.12. In all of those deeply felt and ignominious attacks, the rejected Messiah taught us how we should respond: “when He was reviled, reviled not again” 1Pet.2.23. He did not respond to the hurtful insults heaped upon Him. That, says Peter, was “an example, that ye should follow His steps” 1Pet.2.21.
In affliction, it is possible to become embittered and seek the opportunity to lash out against those who speak cruelly against us. It is also easy (and perhaps natural) to look at others who seem to sail through life without trouble or difficulty of any kind and speak harshly against them. Let us resist the temptation to “be envious at the foolish” who are “not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men” Ps.73.3-5, by following the example of our Saviour’s meekness. His rejection and affliction were far greater than we will ever experience.
His Problems Experienced Spiritually: God-ward
- “Because of Thine indignation and Thy wrath” v.10
- “Thou hast lifted me up” v.10
- “Thou hast … cast me down” v.10
The Psalmist now explains why he has “eaten ashes like bread, and mingled [his] drink with weeping” v.9. It is because, like Job, he feels he has been made the subject of Divine “indignation” and “wrath”. He feels that in wrath God has cut his life short “like a shadow that declineth” and he is “withered like grass” v.11. He reckons that God has discarded him and brought his life to a sudden end. The Psalmist feels he has been made the object of Divine wrath and that brings distress which is real and can only be resolved by turning to his God. As he turns to his God he describes an obvious contrast between himself as a declining shadow, v.11, and Jehovah, Who shall “endure for ever” v.12. He recognises that all his resources and any possibility of recovery are found in his God. “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” Deut.33.27.
The Psalmist’s Only Consolation – vv.12-28: “But Thou, O LORD”
We now come to the section of the Psalm in which the Psalmist lifts his eyes from his circumstances and details some of the characteristics of the Lord, in which he finds a contrast and consolation. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, when we read the Psalm as it related personally to the Psalmist, it is at v.12 that his soul lightens and his horizon lifts. Helen Howarth Lemmel’s well-known words express this beautifully:
- O soul, are you weary and troubled?
- No light in the darkness you see?
- There’s light for a look at the Saviour,
- And life more abundant and free.
- Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
- Look full in His wonderful face,
- And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
- In the light of His glory and grace.11
- 11. Lemmel, H.H. “O soul, are you weary and troubled?”. Accessed online at www.hymnal.net.
Reading the Psalm theologically, we hear the Father speak to the Son and address Him as “Thou, O LORD”. As we trace the Psalmist’s experience in the life of the Saviour, the afflictions ended in v.11 with Him being “withered like grass”, which speaks of death. However, the Messiah, Who “withered like grass” is now the Lord Who “shall endure for ever” v.12. Phillips says that “Nothing less than a resurrection will meet the demands of this verse.” 12
- 12. Phillips, O.E. “Exploring the Messianic Psalms”. Hebrew Christian Fellowship, PA, U.S.A., 1967, p.243.
Reading the Psalm prophetically allows us to see in this section that the Messiah’s suffering is over and the sovereignty of His future reign is in view. Verse 12 encompasses the whole of our present dispensation, when the One Who suffered the rejection and afflictions of vv.1-11 is now the exalted Lord. From v.12 onwards we are considering the risen, glorified Lord in relation to the nation of Israel. At the end of this present dispensation and its succeeding period of tribulation, He will “arise, and have mercy upon Zion” v.13.
As we view the Lord theologically and prophetically in vv.12-28 we will find ten different themes highlighted by the Psalmist: The Eternity of the Lord; The Remembrance of the Lord; The Mercy of the Lord; The Name of the Lord; The Glory of the Lord; The Praise of the Lord; The Sanctuary of the Lord; The Service of the Lord; The Creation of the Lord; The Children of the Lord. Meditation on these aspects of the Lord provides consolation for an afflicted soul.
The Eternity of the Lord
The Psalmist, who has expressed the fragility and brevity of his own life in the pictures of smoke, v.3; grass, vv.4,11; and a shadow, v.11, sees the contrast with his situation as he contemplates the Lord, and bursts out in praise with the words, “But Thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever” v.12. Just as he uses three pictures to express the brevity of his life, he finds three expressions to describe the eternity of his Lord:
- “Thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever” v.12. The idea in the word “endure” is that the Lord abides in character: He remains, at all times, the unchanging One;
- “Thy years are throughout all generations” v.24. The phrase suggests that the Lord abides chronologically: His time is continuous throughout every recorded time period;
- “Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end” v.27. “Hav[ing] no end” conveys the thought of abiding in constancy.
In the Psalmist’s experience of vv.1-11 there was constant change. The metaphors and similes he uses are not just to vary the description of the one experience, but convey the unrelenting movement from one experience to the next. What a contrast with the Lord! The immutability of the Lord means that He cannot change: there is neither deterioration nor improvement with Him. In Mal.3.6 He says, “For I am the LORD, I change not.”
The Remembrance of the Lord – v.12
“But Thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and Thy remembrance unto all generations” v.12.
As well as the Person of the Lord being for ever, so too, the remembrance of the Lord is for ever. This is a noun to remind us that there will always be a memory or memorial of the Lord. The Psalmist in his weakness will pass away and be forgotten, but there will always be a memory of the Lord in the minds of people. However dark the days and however badly His people are afflicted there will always be a memorial to Him. The eternal God will never be totally forgotten by His people.
The Mercy of the Lord – v.13
“Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come” v.13.
There will come a “set time” to “favour” Israel and the Lord will “arise, and have mercy” upon her. The nation rejected her Messiah at Calvary and to this day still rejects Him, but He has not forgotten His people: the time is set in the Divine calendar. In Scripture, the title “Zion” never refers to the Church, which is a heavenly company, but always refers to Israel and her earthly blessing, especially as the channel through which blessing will flow to the nations of the world. The word “arise” can denote arising in preparation for an action, arising to do something. Zech.14.3 explains His ‘arising’ as “Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations.” He will arise to act in mercy by delivering His beleaguered people. To effect that deliverance He will “favour her”, which has the idea of stooping down to show grace. What a stoop! He previously stooped from the throne to show mercy by dying upon the cross; He will then stoop again in mercy to favour His people Israel.
The Name of the Lord – vv.15,21
“So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory” v.15; “To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem” v.21.
When the set time of v.13 has arrived and the Lord arises in His glorious Manifestation to have mercy on Israel, there will be an effect in two spheres on earth. His action of mercy towards Israel will mean that “the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory” v.15, and His besieged people (“the generation to come” v.18, who are facing certain death in the city of Jerusalem, v.20) will be released “to declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem” v.21. At the second coming, the heathen and the kings of the earth will fear and the coming generation of His own people will praise His name for their miraculous deliverance from the amassed armies of their enemies.
The Glory of the Lord – v.16
“When the LORD shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory” v.16.
The Lord’s appearing in glory is not just to overcome His enemies (“the heathen … the kings of the earth” v.15) or to deliver His people; His “mercy” and “favour” v.13, include the Divine purpose to “build up Zion” v.16. The phrase “build up” has the idea of establishing or making permanent. The city of Jerusalem that was razed in A.D.70, fell into disrepair over centuries, and has been partially rebuilt by Israel, will in that day become established as the centre for the universal reign of the Lord on earth. That reign will be over the entire earth, as in Ps.2.8, “I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession”, and the glory of the King will be acknowledged by “all the kings of the earth” Ps.102.15.
The prophecy of Jeremiah will be fulfilled: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the city shall be built to the LORD … it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever” Jer.31.38,40. It will be a marvellous transformation for the city whose history has been so troubled to enjoy the glorious fulfilment of Divine prophecy at the second coming:
- “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” Zech.8.4,5;
- “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will save My people from the east country, and from the west country; and I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness” Zech.8.7,8.
The Praise of the Lord – v.18
“This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD” v.18.
There are two things to observe about the people of Israel in this verse: they will be in the future (“the generation to come”) and specially formed (“the people which shall be created”). The fulfilment of this second half of the Psalm is future to the days of the Psalmist and at the time when the Lord shall “arise, and have mercy upon Zion” v.13. This locates them as the generation after the second coming. The formation of this generation of people is in the word “created”, which denotes to initiate something new. It is not the remodelling of something that is existing. The Jews in the land of Israel at present are there in unbelief but the remnant that survives the Great Tribulation and are alive at the time of the Lord’s second coming to the earth will “look upon Me [the Lord Jesus] whom they have pierced” Zech.12.10, and bow in acknowledgement that “He was wounded for our transgressions … and with His stripes we are healed” Isa.53.5. On that day and by Divine mercy a “people which shall be created shall praise the Lord”. Their praise will be the acknowledgment that the One Whom they pierced at Calvary was in truth the promised Messiah and is now “King of kings, and Lord of lords” Rev.19.16.
The Sanctuary of the Lord – v.19
“For He hath looked down from the height of His sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth” v.19.
The reason for the praise from the Jews of that day is their understanding that the Lord took notice of their plight: “He hath looked down”. This speaks of His grace and care: He looked down; even though they had rejected and crucified Him, He still cared. He looked down from “the height of His sanctuary”, yet it was not so holy a place that He ignored those who rebelled, nor so high a place that He could not see them. It will be as in an earlier day when He told Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people … and I am come down to deliver them” Ex.3.7,8. The nation that God has chosen is the people for Whom He cares and He will deliver them in spite of their rebellion.
He will “hear the groaning of the prisoner” and will come down to “loose those that are appointed to death” v.20. Matt.24.22 makes it clear that, because of the Great Tribulation, the second coming will deliver Israel from certain death: “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.”
The Service of the Lord – v.22
“When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD” v.22.
The miraculous deliverance of the nation will result in immediate service to the mighty King Who wrought such deliverance, as written in Rom.11.26,27: “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.’”
The prophecy to Mary in Lk.1.33 will find its fulfilment when the Lord reigns over Israel and they serve Him: “And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”
The Creation of the Lord – vv.25-27
“Of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end” vv.25-27.
These verses, as their quotation in Hebrews chapter 1 confirms, are spoken by the Father to the Son. They confirm a number of cardinal truths concerning the Person of Christ. His eternal pre-existence is confirmed by the fact that He pre-dated creation: He “laid the foundation of the earth”. His creatorial power is confirmed by the statement, “the heavens are the work of Thy hands”. His immutability is confirmed in the words, “they [the earth and the heavens] shall be changed. But thou art the Same” J.N.D. His sovereign power over the material creation is indicated by the expression concerning the earth and the heavens, “As a vesture shalt Thou change them”. His eternal existence is understood by the words, “Thy years shall have no end”.
Sir Christopher Wren, the famous architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, is buried within the cathedral precincts, and the inscription in Latin on his headstone to serve as a memorial to his life and achievements, when translated, says: “If you wish to see his monument, look around you.” In a similar sense (except that the Creator is not dead!), the memorial to the Lord’s creatorial power and achievement is seen by looking around at the earth whose foundations He laid, and the heavens, which are the work of His hands. Creation changes; He does not! Like moth-eaten garments, the created world is deteriorating through use and soon will be changed, but He is the same; He will never change! He is “the same, yesterday, and today, and for ever” Heb.13.8. Verse 25 looks back to the past and v.26 looks forward to the future. In the past
and future alike, the Lord is unchanged and unchanging: He remains the same. Horatius Bonar likely had this passage in mind when he penned the words:
- My love is ofttimes low,
- My joy still ebbs and flows,
- But peace with Him remains the same,
- No change Jehovah knows.
- I change, He changes not;
- The Christ can never die;
- His love, not mine, the resting-place,
- His truth, not mine, the tie.13
13. Bonar, H. “I hear the words of love”. Believers Hymn Book, Pickering and Inglis, U.K., 1981, Hymn No. 91.
The Children of the Lord – v.28
“The children of Thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before Thee” v.28.
The description of the coming generation that will praise the LORD, v.18, at His coming has a simple warmth that should be noted. They are “the children of Thy servants”. The descendants of the Lord’s servants are the succeeding generations in the Millennium. They will be a living testimony to the unfailing goodness of God to His people, in that they “shall continue”. The verb “continue” has the idea of settling down, dwelling, residing. The unsettled days of their diaspora will be over and as subjects in the blissful reign of their Messiah they will abide peacefully in the land of their promise. Not only will they dwell or reside in the land, but they will do so securely, as conveyed by the expression, “their seed shall be established”. This verse speaks of their continuity (“shall continue”), the covenant (“servants … and their seed”) and their contentment (“shall be established”). The Abrahamic covenant that promised a seed, Gen.15.5, and a land, Gen.15.7, will be finally and fully fulfilled by the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ upon earth.
In our introduction we noted the description of this Psalm by J.G. Bellett as “a Psalm of very touching beauty and grandeur”, and having worked our way through its verses we can only agree with his sentiment. However, as we paused here and there to consider its beauty and grandeur, we have been forced to acknowledge with J.N. Darby that this Psalm is “one of the most profoundly interesting in the whole book of Psalms.”
About a thousand years after this Psalm was written the events of the first twelve verses were fulfilled in the city of Jerusalem when Jesus of Nazareth was rejected as Messiah and crucified. Another two thousand years have elapsed since then and world events are now causing us to look towards the fulfilment of vv.13-22. Every tick of the clock and turn of the calendar brings us nearer that day when the Lord “shall arise, and have mercy upon Zion” v.13. In the meantime, may we be found living in anticipation of the great event that precedes that day of glorious manifestation to Israel, the coming of the Lord to the air for His Church, when “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” 1Thess.4.16,17.