Psalm 102
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The authorship and therefore the date of this psalm cannot be certainly fixed, or whether it be a national or an individual utterance; probably it is the latter. The alternations of thought and feeling are very noteworthy. We have -

I. EARNEST PRAYER. (Vers. 1, 2.) There is an ascending scale, reaching to a climax.

1. That the Lord would hear. "Hear, O Lord."

2. For close access. "Let my cry come unto thee." Do not hear me from afar, but come near to me.

3. For gracious hearing. "Hide not thy face," etc.; when I see thee, let not thy face be averted, but graciously turned to me.

4. For attentive hearing. "Incline thine ear;" as one anxious to hear bends down his ear, that he may more easily hear what is said.

5. For prompt reply. "Answer me speedily;" let there be no long delay. It is a blessed thing when our troubles and distresses lead us to God in prayer, and in prayer thus earnest and believing.

II. SAD COMPLAINT. There are nine verses of this (vers. 3-11). They tell of:

1. The swift approach of death. (Ver. 3.) As fuel in fierce heat and flame is swiftly consumed, so is it with his life.

2. Of his bitter sorrow. (Ver. 4.) All its strength and joy smitten, as is the grass with the sun-stroke, so that he cares not to live, forgets to eat bread.

3. His wasted form. He is worn as a skeleton, his bones cleave to his flesh.

4. His utter loneliness. (Ver. 6.) As the cormorant of the wilderness (Zephaniah 2:14; Isaiah 34:11), and as the owl. The owl is called in Arabic, "mother of the ruins."

5. His cruel enemies. (Ver. 8.) These, when they curse, point to him as an example of misery; when they would imprecate vengeance on any, they ask that those whom they curse may be wretched as the psalmist.

6. His abiding and unrelieved sorrow. (Ver. 9.) It mingles with all his food.

7. The cause of it. The Divine displeasure. "God's wrath has seized and hurled him aloft, only to cast him, as worthless, away" (cf. Isaiah 22:18).

8. The result of it all. Death is close at hand. Not improbably some exile dying far away in Babylon poured forth this bitter complaint. As the groans of a sick man are a relief, so is the outpouring of our trouble to God a relief to the burdened heart. It is ever well so to do. But now, out of these depths comes -

III. DIVINE COMFORT. There are eleven verses of this (vers. 12-22). And this comfort is drawn:

1. From the remembrance of the eternal God. (Ver. 12.) God does not die, though man does; God lives to carry on his work when men pass away.

2. The conviction that Zion's redemption is at hand. (Ver. 13.) He gathers this from the fact that the minds of the people of God were turned to the fallen Jerusalem (cf. Nehemiah 1-2:3). There were probably many conferences and much interest and prayer in regard to Zion (ver. 14); and the psalmist recognizes in all this one of the evidences that God's set time to be gracious to Zion has come.

3. The anticipation of the blessed results that shall follow on Zion's restoration. (Vers. 15, 16.) This is ever the harbinger of the world's conversion.

4. His grateful sense of the exceeding goodness of God which is to be made manifest (vers. 17-22). He thinks of the destitute, of the prisoner groaning in his misery, of those appointed unto death, and of the blessed help and deliverance that shall come to them all, and his heart leaps up in praise. But next we see -

IV. SADNESS SEEKING TO COME BACK AGAIN. (Ver. 23.) As is the way of sadness, it haunts the soul, and, though banished awhile, it will return. It was so with the psalmist. The remembrance of his own sore trouble comes over him again, and he bursts out in this piteous lament, "He weakened my strength in the way," etc., and he cries, "O my God, take me not away," etc. But God does not leave him; such holy troubled souls never are left. We next see -

V. SADNESS AGAIN DRIVEN AWAY. (Vers. 25-28.) His trust is restored; for:

1. He remembers the eternal God. This had been his comfort before (vers. 1, 2); and now it comes to his help once more. "Thou art the same, and thy years," etc. (ver. 27). And then he thinks of:

2. His children. They shall be established before God (ver. 28). And so the light again ariseth in the darkness. - S.C.

It is uncertain whether in this psalm we have an expression of personal feeling in a time of personal suffering, or an idealizing of the afflicted nation. If we take the former view, personal and national views must be regarded as blended. If we take the latter view, we may give heed to Bishop Wordsworth's suggestion, that the psalm was composed by Nehemiah when he went by night to examine the walls of Jerusalem, and was so deeply affected by the ruinous condition which he found. Bible writers prefer to associate the psalm with the later days of the Exile, when the sufferings of the Lord's people had become almost unendurable, and the time prophesied for the length of the Exile was nearly completed. It is the prayer of a patient sufferer for himself, and for the Jerusalem that lies in ruins. The sorrow of the psalmist has in it no touch of doubt or repining. But he does feel the difficulty and mystery of the Divine delays. That is, indeed, one of our gravest sources of anxiety. If God is acting, we are well assured and comforted. He is manifestly present; we feel his presence - that is enough. But when he delays, we easily get the impression that he is holding aloof; that he is indifferent; that he is not heeding our prayer. Then, with the psalmist, we begin prayer by praying to be heard and heeded.

I. THE PRAYER OF THE AFFLICTED SHOULD BE A CONFIDENTIAL UNFOLDING, NOT A COMPLAINT. Complaint of God must always be wrong and unworthy. No pious man can ever be placed in any circumstances of distress in which he gains the right to complain of God. No pious man keeps his piety and ever wishes to complain. Submission to the infinitely wise, strong love is absolutely essential to piety. "Thy will be done," and borne. But the pious soul is invited to the fullest confidences with God. He may speak out his feelings fully and freely. Great relief comes in times of trouble by giving our confidence to a trustworthy friend; and God permits us freely to complain to him.


(1) of God's attention;

(2) of God's sympathy;

(3) of God's ability to help;

(4) of God's wisdom in delaying his intervention.

1. Fear would be a dishonour to our past of Divine deliverances.

2. Fear would tell of our circumstances mastering our souls.

3. Fear would show suspicion of the Divine power and promise. We ask God to "hear our prayer," because we know that is just what he is doing. - R.T.

The point of this pathetic complaint on which we just now dwell is given in ver. 4. "My heart is smitten, and withered like grass." There may be pain of body, and sorrow of circumstance, but these only become seriously distressing when they affect our minds, our spirits. "As the smitten flower no longer drinks in the dew, or draws up nutriment from the soil, so a heart parched with intense grief often refuses consolation for itself, and nourishment for the bodily frame, and descends at a doubly rapid rate into weakness, despondency, and dismay."

I. SOME FORMS OF DISEASE INVOLVE DEPRESSION OF SPIRITS. Certain types of stomach and kidney disease have depression as a necessary symptom. So certain brain and nerve diseases. Then depression is not to be dealt with as a moral, but as a physical, evil. This feature of disease is specially trying to the Christian, who longs to keep ever alive his joy in God. And it makes extremely painful the duties of those who watch and tend the sick. Such may often gain patience for bearing work by treating depression as but a symptom of disease.


1. By the good man. Often leads him to think he has been deceiving himself, and has never known the grace of God. As well say, when there are clouds in the sky, that they prove we were mistaken when we believed the sunshine warmed us. Varying moods of feeling do not affect spiritual facts. Depressions belong to the sphere of the feelings, the emotions; they do not belong, necessarily, to the sphere of the will. If the will were set against God, we should never be depressed about it.

2. By those who are in relations with the good man. They are easily carried away by his despondencies, and they are filled with fear concerning him. The low spirited will often say and write bitter things against themselves; and we are always wise to make no decisions about them, and form no opinions concerning them, while they walk in darkness. "At eventide it shall be light."

III. DEPRESSION OF SPIRITS CALLS FOR ALL-TRIUMPHING PATIENCE. On those who have to deal with such persons, patience has its perfect work.

(1) We think how much patience the depressed require from their fellows; but

(2) can we conceive aright of the infinite patience God has with them? For at such times they not only say bitter things against themselves, they say bitter things against God. - R.T.

Removed from the interests and activities of life, the bed ridden sufferer feels as if left alone; his very weakness and helplessness make him feel lonely; there must be long hours of the day when he is actually alone, and long, sleepless hours of the night when he seems all alone; and he must go altogether alone down into the "valley of the shadow." Here the psalmist uses as figures three birds which were regarded, in his day, as types of loneliness. The pelican is the bird of the swamp; the owl is the night bird of the desolate ruin; the sparrow is melancholy when it loses its mate. Tristram describes the pelican as sitting motionless for hours after it has gorged itself with food, its head sunk on its shoulders, and its bill resting on its breast. There is a bird in Western Asia, sometimes called a sparrow, which has a custom of sitting solitary upon the habitation of man. It never associates with any other, and only at one season with its own mate; and even then it is often seen quite alone upon the house top, where it warbles its sweet and plaintive strains, and continues its song, moving from roof to roof.

I. LONELINESS AS AN ELEMENT OF TROUBLE. There is a forced loneliness, and there is a sought loneliness. That sought loneliness may be right, worthy, useful; but it may also be wrong, trying to others, and making needlessly difficult the work of the nurse. Those who would cheer us by their presence are too often frowned away. Sick people fail sometimes in due self-restraint; they become self-centred, and inconsiderate of the feelings of others. The wish to be alone may be quite wrong.

II. LONELINESS AS A CALL TO CHRISTIAN SYMPATHY. Waiting times of pain seem very long; waiting times of mere necessary resting without pain may even seem longer. The visit of mere good cheer is Christian service. The sight of another face, the sound of another voice, the touch of another hand, are full of truest relief and comfort. Ease the lonely hours of every sick friend within your reach.

III. LONELINESS AS AN APPEAL FOR DIVINE MANIFESTATION. That is the point we have in the psalm. God is the Supreme Friend of the lonely heart. Compare "Alone, yet not alone, because the Father is with me." Jesus on the cross is the sublime model of loneliness; yet he could say, "My God, my God!" - R.T.

A sad, a not unseldom, and often a salutary, condition this. For the soul, when thus left alone of men, retreats into the sure sweet shelter of the love of God. We are apt to think we can do very well without that; when the smiles and favour of our fellow men rest upon us. But unquestionably it is a sad and painful condition, however it may be caused.

I. SO, OFTEN, THE SOUL SEEMS TO BE. The world says it: "God hath forsaken him; persecute him and take him." And the soul itself says the same: "Why art thou so far from me, O God?" It is a frequent complaint. Even our Lord knew this distress. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But he was then, and all God's children were and are wrong; for God never forsakes his people (John 16:31, 32). They may think he does.

II. SO, AT TIMES, IT WILL BE. But this is in regard to the world. The soul must "come out, and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17; cf. homily on Jeremiah 12:9, "The speckled bird," p. 325, vol. 1.).

III. SO EVER IT MUST BE IN REGARD TO GOD IN THE WORLD. There can be no compromise. - S.C.

And that because of thine indignation and wrath. The conscience of sin makes men regard affliction as Divine judgment. For man, God's favour is life, God's frown is death - death of peace, pleasure, hope. Man can lose everything and be rich if he can keep the sense of gracious relations with God. Man can keep everything, and be poor and miserable, if he has lost the sense of God's favour. While this is true of every man, it is in an especial manner true of the man who has once known the joy of God's smile and favour. It is such a man who feels the bitterness of human affliction when it is seen as Divine judgment. The Book of Job represents the struggle of good men to get right views of human affliction. And what comes out so clearly from its discussions is, that no one explanation will suffice. It may be Divine judgment; but Job's friends are wrong when they say that it must be. It may be Divine chastisement for correction; but it would be a mistake to say that it is always chastisement. It may be pure testing, simple culture, God's way of nourishing the good, and not involving the removal of any bad. When a sufferer can see suffering to be Divine culture, or even Divine chastisement, his trials lose their bitterness. But it is always hard to be compelled to call suffering Divine judgment.

I. THIS MAY BE THE VIEW OF OUR TROUBLES THAT OTHERS TAKE. it is the view Job's friends took at once, and they would hear nothing else. Job had at least secretly sinned, and his suffering was his judgment. Of Messiah it is said, "We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." It is what we first think of others, and what others first think of us. But it had better never be spoken, for it may not be true, and it will certainly add to the sufferer's burden. What a mistake to think of the suffering Jesus as a malefactor!

II. THIS MAY BE THE VIEW OF OUR TROUBLES THAT WE OURSELVES TAKE RIGHTLY. It may be the explanation. And some heart searching is proper at the beginning of all times of affliction. Perhaps we have been going astray, or becoming wilful or negligent. There are "secret faults," "presumptuous sins," "leavings of first love," which must be dealt thus with. God's people have to come into judgments which will mark the character of their sins, and into chastisements which will deliver them from their power.

III. THIS MAY BE THE VIEW OF OUR TROUBLES THAT WE OURSELVES TAKE WRONGLY. Many good Christians are too ready to think evil of themselves, and write bitter things against themselves. Absolute sincerity and truthfulness should be sought, even in dealing with our own faults and failings. We may even confess too much. - R.T.

A very favourite contrast with psalmists and poets.

I. A CONTRAST BASED ON A FACT. The fact is that man's life is changeable and brief. This is true of a man's bodily life, intellectual life, and life of relations. It is impressed on a man in his times of sickness, especially when sickness comes breaking into and breaking up his plans, as in the case of king Hezekiah. Here the psalmist puts the fact into two figures - the passing shadow, the quickly withered grass. Precisely the metaphor is taken from the lengthening, that is, the evening shadow, which Rashi thus explains: "When it is the time of evening the shadows lengthen, but when it is dark they are no longer discernible, but come to an end and go." The figure of the short-lived grass is one of the most familiar in the Bible. It is more striking in the hot Eastern countries, where blasting winds come, than with us. The contrast is the Divine continuity and persistency. The cedars outlive the storms of many winters, but die at last. They endure through some generations, but fall at last. God survives all kinds of winters, and lasts through all generations. The successions of the afflicted have always the Divine Healthy One to whom they can look. They may comfort themselves with the assurance that what he was, he is, and ever will be.

II. A CONTRAST BASED ON AN IMAGINATION. Nobody really knows anything about the earth perishing, and the heavens being folded up, though scientific men venture now to calculate the actual number of years that the earth may be expected to last. Ver. 25 is poetry, and based on Eastern knowledge and ideas of the form of earth and heaven. We can imagine all material things changing and passing. We know that nothing created retains its form long. And yet certain things of creation seem permanent and immovable. We speak of the "everlasting mountains," the "solid earth," the "infinite heavens." But think of the mountains shaken down, the earth shifted from its place, and the heavens folded up, and then God is the same, unaffected; nay, he is the supreme force that crumbles the mountains, refashions the earth, and rolls up the heavens that he "spread abroad." God stands in absolute contrast with

(1) all our experiences, and

(2) with all our imaginations.

The flux and reflux characteristic of material things never affect him "whose years are throughout all generations." - R.T.

I. WHAT IS THIS WORK HERE SPOKEN OF? The building up of Zion.

1. By the conversion of individual souls. The true Church can be built up in no other way.

2. By the public confession of their faith on the part of these converted ones. If they refuse this, how can the Church be built up?

3. By their union in the fellowship of the Church. They must openly range themselves on the Lord's side in this his appointed way.

4. By the full sanctification of these converts. This is a further gift of grace, and it is the privilege of all who will fully consecrate themselves to the Lord, and then trust him to accomplish his own will in them - even their sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Thus are they qualified to become coworkers with God in the further upbuilding of his Church.

5. By their becoming builders for God - going forth to make converts and win others. Such is this blessed work.


1. It is the Lord's work. Many may cooperate, but apart from God he can do nothing.

2. It will be a gradual work. The very idea, of building implies this.

3. That from various causes it may be at a standstill, or almost so. Who does not know this? Oh, these miserable lulls in the work, these ebb tides in the flow of holy zeal, faith, and love! It is so in the Church and in the individual soul.

4. There are special times for this upbuilding. (Cf. vers. 13, 14.) A hallowed excitement on the matter is felt, a sacred and deep sorrow because of Zion's desolation (cf. Nehemiah). A faithful ministry is raised up. Such are some of the indications of the set time to favour Zion having come.

5. Great glory accrues to God. The building of his Church is God's greatest glory, that for which he put forth his greatest power, that on which he lavished his greatest love, even the gift of Christ. That glory appears in the poorness of the instruments he employs (1 Corinthians 1:26-30); in the setting aside of man's chief agencies, their great churches, hierarchies, and priesthoods; in the discomfiture of the innumerable and mighty adversaries which stand in the way of this work. All this is taught here.


1. The work shall surely be done. "I will build my Church," said Christ. It is not a mere possibility, but a fixed will.

2. As to our duty. To be patient. To inquire what is our relation to this work. Are we helping or hindering? Are we ourselves forming part of this glorious building, or are we wilfully refusing, as we can do, to have part or lot therein? If we are of the Lord's Zion ourselves, are we striving to win others? Many fail here. Let us be found workers together with God. - S.C.

The psalmist has evidently in mind the anticipated return of the exiles, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the re-establishment of the Jehovah worship. By his servants the prophets God had made distinct promises to his people of a return from the Captivity. He had even fixed a precise time, though the date from which the seventy years were to be reckoned was not clearly defined. But seventy years of humiliation is a long time in which to keep up faith and hope. Many were likely to fail under the strain, and to say, "Our way is hid from the Lord, and our judgment is passed over from our God; .... God hath forgotten to be gracious." Better souls, like this psalmist, kept faith in God, sung in their hope, and were filled with confidence that God would keep his time, that he did not really tarry, and that he would surely be glorified, before all men, as the "Faithful Promiser."

I. GOD GLORIFIED IN KEEPING HIS WORD. "Hath he said, and shall he not do it? hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" Men sometimes are neither right nor wise in keeping their word, because they had promised unadvisedly, had spoken impulsively; there had been no sufficient thought behind their promise. That fear can never be applied to God. We may always be sure that efficient knowledge and adequate thought lie behind all his promises. And these come fully to view when the blessings promised are realized. God is glorified to our view when his word is kept, because we read him through the blessing his fulfilled promise becomes to us.

II. GOD GLORIFIED IN THE WAYS IN WHICH HE FULFILS HIS PROMISES. For he fulfils them through the orderings of his providence, and these are often full of surprises, which excite our admiration of the Wonder worker. Illustrate from the providential order that brought about the return of the exiles. Who could have expected Cyrus to appear on the scene?

III. GOD GLORIFIED IN THE TIMES HE ARRANGES FOR THE FULFILMENT OF HIS PROMISES. He promised restoration from Babylon, and we can see that the time chosen was the only time when, in any sense, an independent Jewish national life could be resumed. The shiftings of authority in the great Eastern nations made that possible just then. So the coming of Messiah is declared to have been just at the "fulness of times" - the precise time of the world's peace, and of the universal sway of Rome, when he could be the "Saviour of the world." - R.T.

I. A TRUE DESCRIPTION OF MAN'S SPIRITUAL CONDITION. He is destitute, not merely badly off; and he is without expectation, and without power of his own to better his condition.

II. A WISE COUNSEL THAT WE ALL SHOULD FOLLOW. That we should wait upon God in fervent prayer and earnest cry. There is nothing else that we can do. There is nothing better that we could do. There is nothing that has ever succeeded so well. There is no fear that, notwithstanding the Lord's greatness and majesty, he will disregard us.

III. A GLORIOUS ENCOURAGEMENT TO FOLLOW THIS COUNSEL. The text is a plain declaration of what the Lord will do, not merely of what we may desire he should do. Our Lord was surrounded by destitute people, who begged of him, and he never sent one away unblessed. And when he comes in his power he will do the same. Only let us remember that we must come as destitute. - S.C.

All love life, and desire to have it prolonged. But the psalmist does not ask for its renewal on merely personal grounds. He pleads that he is so sure God's restoring mercies are just at hand; and, if he could see them realized, he could die in peace. Compare Simeon's song as he held the Babe-Saviour. Death coming when a man is in the very midst of life's work is the most trying of human experiences. We always feel intensely sorry for Moses, though he was so aged, because he must leave his life work incomplete. See the intense distress of Hezekiah, because his "purposes were broken off." This was the special bitterness of his grief: "I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord, in the land of the living." So with this psalmist of the Exile. He shrank from dying just at the time when he was expecting that manifestation of the Divine power for which he had been so long hoping and waiting. To die on this side of our promised land is always hard work. Death is dreaded in the midst of

(1) manhood;

(2) prosperity;

(3) responsibility;

(4) spiritual growth;

(5) Christian work, etc.

I. THE MISSION OF DEATH IN THE MIDST OF LIFE TO HIM WHO DIES. Show how supreme a moral test it may be. It tries a man's submission. It reveals incompleteness of culture. It shows what an undue hold the world may have gained on a man. It puts him on proving the power of prayer. It humbles him by showing that he is not so essential to the well being of humanity as he had thought. Sickness, imperilling life, coming to a man in the midst of his days, often proves to be a most humbling and sanctifying experience.

II. THE MISSION OF DEATH IN THE MIDST OF LIFE TO THOSE WHO HAVE TO LIVE ON. Nothing so effectively convinces of the uncertainty of life. Nothing better pleads for the faithful doing of the duty of every hour. Nothing more effectively convinces that no man is necessary to God's work in the world. It teaches us that as our life-work may be "rounded off" at any moment, it should always be ready for "rounding off." The imperilled may pray for renewed life and lengthened days, but not in any unconditional way, since length of life is no supreme and necessary good. Such prayer must wait on the holy will. - R.T.


1. They are not those of little children. They have not yet come to the midst of their days. And the sadness that overwhelms us when they die is, after a while, lit up with the conviction that they rest in the love of God, and can never know the sins and sorrows which men and women cannot but know.

2. But they are lives mature, but not aged - lives in the full meridian of their strength. Of such the psalmist is here speaking.

3. And there are others, and yet more sad. For old age has been denied to many of God's beloved ones - to the well beloved Son himself, for he was one of those who seemed to be taken away in the midst of their days, in the very prime of his manhood and his service. We may desire length of days; many and worthy motives prompt such desire; but it is often refused. God may have some better thing for us and for our beloved ones, and so we have to go. But the real sadness is not in such shortened lives, but in those which end, it may be, not literally in the midst of their days, but with the real purpose of life unachieved. God's forgiveness not gained because never sought after. The regenerate nature, indispensable for entrance into the kingdom of God, never desired, and therefore never striven for in faith and prayer, and therefore never given. The good works by which God should be glorified, and his fellow men cheered and blessed, never wrought, his day's work all undone. The bright hope of eternal life with God never valued, never cherished, and now never to be realized; death coming on the man with all its sting, and the grave exulting in its victory. These are the real incompleted lives by side of which the sorrow over mere brevity of earthly life is but small indeed. God grant our lives may not be thus really cut off in the midst!

II. WHEREFORE ARE THEY SO DEPRECATED? See how piteous is the psalmist's supplication. Wherefore this? Because for him, like Moses, who -

"On the very verge did stand,
Of the blessed promised land," but yet was never permitted to enter; so the psalmist feared that in the restoration of his own people to Zion he should not live to share. But for all, life is such a blessing when the purpose for which it was given is attained; that for men to die without that purpose being attained is sad indeed. Think of life's capacities: what glory it may bring to God! what blessing to one's fellow men! what peace, purity, and joy to one's own self! And all this which might be, not attained!

III. BUT THIS NEED NOT BEFALL ANY ONE. He who will commit his way unto the Lord shall find that the Lord will bring it to pass. He shall not be one who goes about asking - Is life worth living? and voting it all a failure. God did not bring us into existence for nothing, or without gracious purposes of good in regard to us. He sets before us life and death, and we are free to choose. Alas! many sin blinded ones mistake the one for the other, but "whosoever will may take of the water of life freely." - S.C.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Psalm 101
Top of Page
Top of Page