>Do you feel as weak and fleeting as withering grass? Then you’re not alone; you’re in company with the author of Psalm 102 and every genuinely repentant sinner in history.
My ESV Classis Reference Bible (© 2001 by Crossway Bibles) has at the beginning of Psalm 102 this heading, “Do Not Hide Your Face from Me,” and this sub-heading, “A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD.”
My ESV Literary Study Bible (© 2007 by Crossway Bibles, editors Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken) prefaces Psalm 102 with this heading, “I wither away like grass” and notes: “As the headnote hints, this is one of the most intense personal laments in the Psalter.”
It is indeed an intense personal lament. It is also a vibrant psalm, displaying vivid images that sear the penitential message into our minds and hearts.
It begins with this heartfelt cry (verses 1-2):
Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry come to you!
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!
The psalmist is desperate. He is in deep distress from which he seeks immediate relief. His emotional, mental, and physical anguish encompass his entire being.
For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my flesh (4-5).
He is mentally depressed and is physically wasting away. He compares himself to a forlorn owl and a solitary sparrow:
I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
like an owl of the waste places;
I lie awake;
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop (6-7).
He suffers taunts from enemies and cannot enjoy simple mealtime pleasures, but he acknowledges that his continual sufferings are from God.
All the day my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
For I eat ashes like bread
and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
for you have taken me up and thrown me down (8-11).
God is the one who sets men in places of authority and God is the one who throws down those who abuse that authority.
The sufferings of the Psalmist make him keenly feel his fleeting transience:
My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass (11).
In contrast to ephemeral humanity, the most high God is firmly and eternally enthroned.
But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever;
you are remembered throughout all generations (12).
People of renown are soon forgotten, but knowledge of God will never fade. He will be remembered through every generation until Christ returns. Christ came to earth in humility at the appointed time and he will come again to earth in glory at the appointed time. Until then—and especially then—God will remember his people.
You will arise and have pity on Zion;
it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
For your servants hold her stones dear
and have pity on her dust.
Nations will fear the name of the LORD,
and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
For the LORD builds up Zion;
he appears in his glory;
he regards the prayer of the destitute
and does not despise their prayer (13-17).
God will arise and have pity on his people; not simply those who call themselves Christians, but those who love and worship God wholeheartedly and treat others with genuine compassion.
When Christ returns, all the nations will suddenly realize the reality of God’s existence. They will tremble in fear of his name and glory.
God is the one who builds his church. He is the one who hears and answers the prayers of those who feel forsaken and alone. Because God hears and answers prayer, we have a responsibility to communicate God’s goodness and faithfulness to the next generation.
Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:
that he looked down from his holy height;
from heaven the LORD looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die,
that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD,
and in Jerusalem his praise,
when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the LORD (18-22).
Those who have been set free from sin’s death row cannot remain safe and silent; they must declare God’s praise in every avenue of service and in corporate worship.
The psalmist again reflects on God’s adverse providence and cries out to him for mercy (23-24):
He has broken my strength in midcourse;
he has shortened my days.
“O my God,” I say, “take me not away
in the midst of my days—
you whose years endure
throughout all generations!”
This is not the cry of an old man, whose life is spent and who is patiently waiting for translation to glory; this is the cry of a man in his prime, who had hoped for many more years of doing great things for God.
Yet he acknowledges God’s sovereignty in this sorrowful life and anticipates a sin-free existence in the new heavens and earth.
Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you (25-28).
God is the only source of security for us and our children. God created the vast expanse of the universe with its unknown planets and brilliant stars. He placed the earth on a firm foundation where it perfectly spins on its axis. He warms our days with golden sunlight and lights our nights with silvery moonlight.
These seemingly constant things will pass away; they will change as quickly as one shrugs off an old robe and puts on a new one. But even when the sun and moon are darkened and the stars fall (Matthew 24:29), God will still be the same. He remains the same forever. Believers do not live in this transitory earth as much as we live in God. He is our dwelling place.
You may feel as fleeting as withering grass, but every genuinely repentant sinner is eternally secure in him.