George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 4

Psalm 102

1. Structure

Suffering, and a contrast with God’s eternity
        God’s care for Zion
Suffering, and a contrast with God’s eternity

2. Title

A prayer. Psalm 17 is comparable in character. (Other “prayers” in psalm titles: 86, 90, and 142.) The s.w. occurs in vv. 1 and 17 below.

Of the afflicted. Everything in the psalm fits Hezekiah (cp. Isaiah 38:1-6). There is the same double theme: personal restoration, and the salvation of Zion.

When he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord. There would not be much point in inclusion of this psalm here if God had not responded fully to the prayer: see the rest of Isaiah 38, especially v. 20.

3. Hezekiah

Let my cry come unto thee. Hezekiah’s cry would have to suffice; for he, being both sick and unclean (with leprosy), could not literally come into the presence of God (cp. Psa. 42:1-4; 84:2,3).
Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily (Psa. 27:9; 69:17). And God did (2 Kings 20:4)! Faith turns a pitiful beseeching into an imperative.
For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth (Psa. 37:20; 68:2). This briefly describes the ravages of his disease. That is, ‘I suffer undeservedly, as though I were full of wickedness.’
My heart (mind) is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread (cp. v. 11; Psa. 121:6). The serious debility of a sick man affects his powers of thought and ability to take any interest in the affairs of life. “Heart” (v. 4) and “bones” (v. 5) equal, essentially, “mind and body” — i.e., the whole person.
My bones cleave to my skin (Psa. 22:17; Lam. 4:18). Compare Job’s description of his leprosy (Job 19:20).
I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. Both birds are unclean (Lev. 11:13-18; Deut. 14:12-17) and solitary (Isa. 34:11 and Zeph. 2:14 — where “cormorant” is s.w. as “pelican”; and Jer. 50:39) — symbolic of Hezekiah, unclean by illness and secluded in his palace.

“The pelican is a magnificent bird in flight, with its huge white wings, and long yellowish bill. [But] when it sits motionless at the edge of a swamp, its head against its breast, digesting the fish it scooped up in its pouch, it becomes the very image of brooding sorrow” (A. Parmelee, All the Birds of the Bible, p. 169).

Some translators call the first bird a “vulture” (RSV, Amplified), and the second a “pelican” (Aglen) — since the Hebrew word rendered “owl” in the AV is literally “cup”, calling attention (possibly) to the huge bill of the pelican. Either way, the basic ideas of uncleanness and separation hold true.
I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. As in Isaiah 38:14, Hezekiah again compares himself to a sparrow (see also Psa. 84:3).
My enemies reproach me (Psa. 42:10; 44:13). The s.w. is used eight times about Rabshakeh’s crude propaganda campaign outside the walls of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:4,16,22,23; Isa. 37:4,17,23,24; cp. Psa. 44:16 and 74:10 — also s.w.). Also cp. David’s experiences (69:9,10, s.w. again).

They that are mad against me are sworn against me. That is, ‘they have sworn to their gods’, or ‘they have cursed me by their gods’. The Israelite/Assyrian war had become a contest between Yahweh and the gods of Nineveh (2 Kings 19:4,10,15-19; Isa. 46). Hence the drastic action taken by God against Sennacherib’s army.
Because of thine indignation and thy wrath. There can be little doubt that God’s anger was against His people, not against the king; but Hezekiah was being taught to see himself as the representative of — and vicarious sufferer for — his entire nation (see especially Isaiah 53 and H.A. Whittaker, Isaiah, pp. 456-475).

For thou hast lifted me up (i.e., seized me), and cast me down — a very vivid figure of speech. The “lifting up” was the prosperity and revival of Temple activity and true worship of Yahweh during the early days of Hezekiah’s reign. And the “casting down”? Only too well-described here.
My days are like a shadow that declineth. This is an outstandingly appropriate allusion to the sundial of Ahaz (see Isa. 38:7,8).

And I am withered like grass. As in v. 4 and Isa. 40:6-8.
But thou, O Lord, shalt endure (sit enthroned: NIV; cp. 93:1; 97:1; 99:1) for ever (cp. vv. 24-28). The Assyrian campaign against trust in Yahweh (Isa. 36:15; 37:4) must be exposed as empty human futility.

And thy remembrance unto all generations. This alludes to God’s Covenant Name (Exod. 3:15), and so also in every use of this word in the psalms.
Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion. The linking of this theme with that of the king’s sickness would be absurd if (as some suppose by a mistaken reading of a couple of texts) the Assyrian invasion and Hezekiah’s illness were separated by quite a number of years. But it is all too plain that his suffering and the threat of Assyrian attack on Jerusalem came simultaneously (see esp. Isa. 38:5,6).

For the set time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. This Hebrew word moed always refers to one of Israel’s religious feasts, in this instance to Passover, for the Assyrian attack came at that very time (Isa. 26:20,21; Isa. 30:29 — s.w.; and Isa. 31:5,8).
For the servants take pleasure in her stones, as the Lord’s disciples did centuries later (Mark 13:1).
So the heathen (Gentiles) shall fear the name of the Lord. The effect of the mighty destruction of Sennacherib’s army was to put all surrounding nations in awe of the power of the God of Israel (2 Chron. 32:23; Isa. 37:20; 45:6; 59:19; see also v. 22 here).
When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. It was by this means that the Assyrian camp was decimated (Isa. 37:36; 30:30,31). This may also refer to the Lord’s Glory being manifested in Hezekiah’s recovery from his fatal illness — perhaps the Shekinah Glory that caused the shadow (cp. v. 11 here!) of the sundial to go backward ten degrees (2 Kings 20:8-11).
He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer: Isa. 37:1; 38:2,3. Hezekiah was without heir (“destitute”) at this time (cp. s.w. in Gen. 15:2; Lev. 20:20,21; and Jer. 22:30).
This shall be written for the generations to come. This answer to the prayer of the destitute was written in the Scriptures just cited.

And the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. Hezekiah’s state and nation seemed to be virtually obliterated — the Land ravaged from end to end, 200,000 captives taken away, great numbers of refugees now in foreign lands, cities destroyed, farms and forests burnt, only Jerusalem not yet desolated. Yet within one year all was renewed — the Land fertile and productive, the captives returned, cities rebuilt, and Jerusalem “re-created” a rejoicing in the earth: Psa. 67:6; 81:16; 85:12; 96:12; Isa. 35:1,2,6,7; 44:26; 45:13; 48:12,13; 55:10,11,13; 58:11,12; 60:3-5; 62:5-7; 65:17-19; 66:22; Mic. 4:10.
For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death. The captives returning from Assyria, as in v. 18 note above.
He weakened my strength in the way. “He has broken my strength in midcourse” (RSV; cp. NEB).

He shortened my days. Hezekiah’s sickness: “Set thine house in order: thou shalt die, and not live” (2 Kings 20:1; Isa. 38:1).
I said. This phrase is a Hezekiah characteristic: Isa. 38:10,11.

O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days (NEB: ‘before half my days are done’). The king had reigned 14 years when another 15 years was added to his life. With “my days” here contrast “thy years”, which “shall have no end” (here, and v. 27).

Thy years are throughout all generations. It is as though this good king prays: ‘Out of Your eternity — an inexhaustible store — will You not spare me just a few more years?’
The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee. Here Hezekiah is pleading the unshakable continuity of the Promise made to David (2 Sam. 7:12-16). “Continue” may be translated “dwell” or “abide” — as in a home (Psa. 37:27,29; 68:16,18; 69:35,36).

4. Messianic reference

Against the overall background of Hezekiah as a type of Christ (see Psa. 80, Par. 4), many details here fall readily into place.

This describes the loneliness of Christ in his ministry, and his wrestling in the garden of Gethsemane.
In the day when I call, answer me speedily. And He did, in Gethsemane, with an Angel from heaven (Luke 22:43); and on the cross, with a manifestation of the Shekinah Glory (notes, Psa. 22:22-31).
My bones cleave to my skin. Compare: “I may tell all my bones” (22:17).
Mine enemies reproach me all the day. The ceaseless campaign of vilification and plotting against Jesus (cp. Psa. 69:12; see references, Psalms Studies, Psa. 10, Par. 5).
For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping (Psa. 42:3; 80:5). Strong expressions to signify the intense vexation and frustration which frequently beset Jesus in his ministry. And especially, the mingled sorrow and joy of the “Passover” in the upper room.
Because of thine indignation and thy wrath. Again, a strong way of expressing how heavy was the burden which he bore for mankind. The Father had laid upon the Son the reproach and iniquity of all men (Isa. 53:6; 2 Pet. 1:20-25; cp. notes in Vol. 1, pp. 47, 220, 229, 230, 297, 298, 397, and 398).

Thou hast lifted me up and cast me down. There were certainly moments of considerable exhilaration in the course of the Lord’s ministry, but also — and more generally — much experience of dis-appointment and depression (see esp. Isa. 49:4).
My days are like a shadow that declineth. From very early days, when he would have posed the question: “What mean ye by this (Passover) service?”, the life of Jesus moved inexorably, as a shadow declining, towards an end shrouded in tragedy.
Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to fa-vour her, yea, the set time, is come. It is a serious mistake to suppose that this means a fixed date in a heavenly calendar. There is clear implication here (see earlier note) that the blessing of Zion will come at a “set time” (moed), that is, at one of the Feasts of the Lord (this is how the Hebrew word is used about 150 times): Dan. 8:19 (an “appointed time” is s.w. moed); Hab. 2:3 (s.w. again); see also Whittaker, Passover, pp. 34-37.
Thy servants. After Isa. 53:11 (the last of 23 singular uses of the word), Isaiah has servants (plural) nine times. Generally speaking, the servant (Christ) now gives way to the servants (those in Christ) in the last dozen or so chapters of Isaiah.

Thy servants... favour [even] the dust thereof, meaning that Jeru-salem is no longer an unclean leprous city (Lev. 14:41).
All the kings of the earth [shall fear] thy glory: Psa. 72:10,11; Isa. 60:3,9-12. He who was merely (if that is the right word!) King of the Jews has now become King of the World (Rev. 5:8-14; 11:15; 12:10; 15:4; Phil. 2:8,10; Dan. 4:17,25; Isa. 24:23; 26:9; 45:23; Psa. 22:27-29; 86:9; etc.).
When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. Is it not likely that Jerusalem will be largely destroyed by an earth-quake (Zech. 14:4), and so will need rebuilding? But without dis-pute, this is also the “new Jerusalem” — the embodiment of the glor-ified saints (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21:2,9,10). It is there, through them, that God will truly appear in all His glory (Rev. 21:3; 22:3,4)!
He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. Israel, repentant at last (Lev. 26:40-42; Deut. 30:1-3; Psa. 81:13,14; Ezek. 20:42-44; Joel 2:12-20; Zech. 12:10; Matt. 23:39; Acts 3:19,20; Rom. 11:15), will cry to God out of her misery, and He will send His Son to redeem Israel from her captivity (see notes, Psa. 74, Par. 7).
And the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. The Hebrew bara signifies: ‘made afresh’: Psa. 22:31; Isa. 43:5,21. This is now seen to be the new, spiritual “Creation” in Christ: 2 Cor. 5:14-19; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:1-10; 4:22-24; Col. 1:15-18; 3:9,10; James 1:18; Rev. 3:14.
For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groan-ing of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death. Compare Psa. 79:11, notes; Zech. 9:11. The inarticulate groaning of the “prisoners” of the flesh is given words by Paul:

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24).


“For we know that the whole creation [surely the ecclesia, or the ‘New Creation’, here!] groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit [i.e., the Apostles especially], even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (8:22,23).
To declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem. The same “captives” are now brought forth to praise the Lord in Jerusalem. Surely this provides evidence as to the locality of the saints’ immortalization, and thus (presumably) the locality of the Judgment Seat of Christ (cp. Isa. 25:7,8; Psa. 87:5,6; 133:1-3; see Psalms Studies, Vol. 1, pp. 384-388).
When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord. This continues the picture of the Kingdom established: the people (i.e., God’s Israel and New Israel) are gathered; and the kingdoms (or nations, of Gentiles) serve the Lord.

5. The argument in Hebrews 1

The whole of Hebrews 1 and 2 was written to prove that Christ is greater than the angels. How does the quotation of Psalm 102:25-27 in Hebrews 1:10-12 fit into this?

Those words are certainly about the greatness of Yahweh, but they also describe the removing of an old creation (a: that of Genesis 1? or b: the Law of Moses? cp. Isa. 51:6,16; also cp. 50:3,9). Therefore the New Creation which takes its place must be better, just as the New Covenant is better than the old (Heb. 8:13). The old creation (both a and b) was brought in by angels (a: Gen. 1:26; Psa. 33:6; b: Heb. 2:2; Acts 7:35,38,53; Gal. 3:19), but the New Creation is brought in by the Messiah. Therefore Messiah must be greater than the angels, because his “Creation” — “the world to come” (Heb. 1:2; 2:5) and the saints who rule it (see references, Par. 4, v. 18) — will continue forever!

And, in Psalm 102:28, the “children” of this new world can “continue” only by sharing the endless years of Yahweh (vv. 26,27), that is, by undergoing a change to His divine nature. This is already true of the Messiah (v. 27; Heb. 13:8), and it will most surely be true of all “in him” (Heb. 10:9)!

Literally speaking, the earth will of course not be burned up, despite Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:10. This is proven by passages too numerous to list (just a few examples: Isa. 45:18; 11:9; Hab. 2:14; Eccl. 1:4; 1 Chron. 16:30; Matt. 5:5; Psa. 37:9-11; 115:16; Prov. 10:30). The “new heavens and earth” will be a re-creation, or reordering, of the old. This is evident by, among other points, the fact that the new “heavens and earth” will still include a Zion and a Jerusalem (Psa. 102:13,20; Isa. 65:18,19). But — as with the flood of Noah’s day — the wicked works of man will be totally destroyed (2 Pet. 3:5,6), and the “new” heavens and earth will solely by the dwelling place of righteousness (v. 13). Or, to use the Biblical figure of speech found in this context, the heavens and earth will shed their old, tattered “garments” and replace them with bright new ones!

6. Postscript

“When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory” (v. 16).

Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Lift up your voice and sing;
Erect your heads, eternal gates! Give welcome to your King.
Robed in his cloak of righteous zeal he comes with kingly tread;
Upon his vesture, “King of kings”, and crowns upon his head.
Shout loud “Hosannas” to thy King who comes to set thee free;
Around him are ten thousand saints — come, Zion, bend thy knee.
Lay off thy garb of widowhood, put on thy gown of gold.
Exalted to thy King’s right hand, the world doth thee behold.
Majestic and victorious, thy glories now unfold.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How beautiful thy light.
Effulgent as the noonday sun — yea, clearer and more bright.
Resplendent are thy streets of gold, and all thy sons are fair;
Unto the ends of all the earth ’tis known “The Lord is there”.
Salvation’s name is on thy walls; thy gates are filled with praise;
And boys and girls in all thy streets their childish anthems raise.
Lo, from green isles in distant seas, from mountain, valley, plain,
Exulting throngs thy temple seek; they know no tears nor pain.
Most blessed city of our God, for ever shalt thou reign.

H. Mary Cole
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