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Penitential Psalms: Psalm 102–Devotional

Photo by Christina Wilson

 

One person can never transfer to another their own conscious perception. Only the Holy Spirit of God can do that. Scripture calls this transfer having “the mind of Christ.”

But we have the mind of Christ. (1Co 2:16 ESV)

In this sense the Bible is an interactive book. The Holy Spirit can place directly into our conscious perception thoughts and feelings he wishes to convey. It’s very exciting when the Lord does this to us as we read his Word. My prayer is that you, the reader, after reading the words I write here, will at some point turn to Psalm 102 (101 in the Septuagint) and read through it out loud, slowly and carefully, listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit in your heart. Prayerfully, God will share with you the insights that he has shared with me. Additionally, intellect alone can appreciate what I write here. That’s the best we can ever give each other: intellect shaping into communication the insights of our heart.

Here is my devotional guideline for Psalm 102.

Outline of my understanding of this psalm:

  1. Speaker One (the Son): Verses 1-11 (12 LXX).
  2. Speaker Two (God the Father): Verses 12-22 (13-23 LXX).
  3. Speaker One (the Son): Verses 23-24a (24-25a LXX).
  4. Speaker Two (God the Father): Verses 24b-28 (25b-29 LXX).

Text I am using for Psalm 102 (101 LXX):

(102) A Prayer for the Poor; when he is deeply afflicted, and pours out his supplication before the Lord.
Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come to thee.
Turn not away thy face from me: in the day when I am afflicted, incline thine ear to me: in the day when I shall call upon thee, speedily hear me.
For my days have vanished like smoke, and my bones have been parched like a stick.
I am blighted like grass, and my heart is dried up; for I have forgotten to eat my bread.
By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bone has cleaved to my flesh.
I have become like a pelican of the wilderness;
I have become like an owl in a ruined house. I have watched, and am become as a sparrow dwelling alone on a roof.
All the day long mine enemies have reproached me; and they that praised me have sworn against me.
For I have eaten ashes as it were bread, and mingled my drink with weeping;
10 because of thine anger and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and dashed me down.
11 My days have declined like a shadow; and I am withered like grass.
12 But thou, Lord, endurest for ever, and thy memorial to generation and generation.
13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Sion: for it is time to have mercy upon her, for the set time is come.
14 For thy servants have taken pleasure in her stones, and they shall pity her dust.
15 So the nations shall fear thy name, O Lord, and all kings thy glory.
16 For the Lord shall build up Sion, * and shall appear in his glory.
17 He has had regard to the prayer of the lowly, and has not despised their petition.
18 Let this be written for another generation; and the people that shall be created shall praise the Lord.
19 For he has looked out from the height of his sanctuary; the Lord looked upon the earth from heaven;
20 to hear the groaning of the fettered ones, to loosen the sons of the slain;
21 to proclaim the name of the Lord in Sion, and his praise in Jerusalem;
22 when the people are gathered together, and the kings, to serve the Lord.
23 He answered him in the way of his strength: tell me the fewness of my days.
24 Take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are through all generations.
25 In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.
26 They shall perish, but thou remainest: and they all shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them, and they shall be changed.
27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
28 The children of thy servants shall dwell securely, and their seed shall prosper for ever. (Psalm 101, Brenton Septuagint translation, available at https://ebible.org/eng-Brenton/PSA101.htm, accessed May 24, 2019)
First, we see a human being in great distress, one who suffers emotionally, spiritually, and physically. The reason for his stress he states in verse 10, “because of thine anger and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and dashed me down.” Read these verses out loud and hear the Son of God, Jesus Christ, speaking from various points throughout the course of his Passion–his arrest, trial, and crucifixion upon the cross. Even though he mentions his “enemies” in verse 8, he addresses God his Father and attributes his suffering directly to him. Please pause and let this sink in. How painful it is when our own parents reject and punish us, but this is God’s own Son. How tragic beyond imagination for the perfectly innocent Son of God to be so treated by his own Father. Christ as one of us suffered as one of us–
Hebrews 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. (ESV)
When we see the Son of God suffering the rejection and wrath of his Father upon the cross, our empathy is sufficient to understand something of the great love God has for humankind: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were willing that God the Son should suffer this way.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)
Second, we see the Father’s tenderness toward his Son in the reassuring responses he supplies in two passages: 1) verses 1-11 (12 LXX) and 2) verses 24b-28 (25b-29 LXX). Is it too difficult for us as readers to imagine the despair and might I say with no irreverence intended, the self-doubt as to the reality of his high role as Savior, as perceived by his human identity–as a man–that Christ might be feeling as he hung upon the cross? The agonies he experiences, as he finds his life being cut off in mid-stream, he experiences as a man–a male human being. How much more intense it would be for him as Son of God! In the replies of his Father we see such a great love for his Son, as he speaks into the eternal identity that transcends this moment of mortality upon the cross. Beyond the reassurance God gives his Son in these two speeches, God through Scripture speaks prophetically to us. Since these words were written centuries before they occurred, the Holy Spirit is indicating well in advance future events in the life of Messiah. Walking alongside the two Emmaus Road disciples (Luke 24:13-27), Psalm 102 would surely be part of the picture Christ painted for them of his life of sacrifice, as foretold in the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
Third, they talked! I find it utterly amazing that such an extended dialogue between two persons of the Trinity should be occurring right here before our very eyes, and in the Old Testament, no less. In addition to having been placed in Scripture for Christ, that he might have written assurance from his Father as he traveled the path through Calvary, these words have been written for us as believers. God wants us to know and understand who he is and what he has done for us. It is not for nothing that John the Apostle calls Christ “the Word” in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Indeed, God through Scripture is a great communicator.
Fourth, God is love. A gift beyond description that comes through our apprehension Psalm 102, is the certain knowledge that only the Holy Spirit can convey to our hearts, that just as God the Father loves God the Son, so he loves each and every one of us in Christ. As regards the Father’s love, what is true for Christ is true for us in him.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (ESV)
John 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (ESV)
Fifth, a further gift beyond measure is the knowledge that God speaks to us through his Word. Often the timing of when the Holy Spirit chooses to interactively connect with our conscious awareness of his presence coincides with a difficult moment we may be passing through at that exact point in our lives. In those moments, as we experience God speaking directly to our hearts from within the passage of Scripture we are reading, each one of us realizes that God sees me and that God hears and understands the travails of my heart. We learn from Psalm 102 that God does indeed “know what it is like” for us, having been where we are to the maximum degree.
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (ESV)
Sixth, our God is a God of power. Not only does he understand our hearts by means of his Son’s very own personal experience, not only does he love us as he loves his Son, but God also has the power to have placed these written words in the Bible in just such a way. First, he placed them centuries before Christ as part of his preparation for Christ’s arrival. Second, he maintained them in Scripture so that Christ in his incarnation would know them and be blessed by them. Third, he has preserved these words down to this present day. And fourth, God has power to speak this psalm specifically into our hearts on the occasion when we most need to hear it. Such is the power of God’s love.
Seventh, Psalm 102 adds greatly to the Old Testament prophetic testimony of the future coming of a Savior Messiah. Even if the national religious leaders and Jesus’ very own disciples did not, we know that some few, at least, understood the significance of its prophecy. We read:
1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,
11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (ESV)
Luke 1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;
78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:68-79 ESV)
Read in its entirety, the previous passage sounds remarkably like a fulfillment of Psalm 102:12-22 (13-23 LXX), spoken by the Second Speaker:
12 But thou, Lord, endurest for ever, and thy memorial to generation and generation.
13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Sion: for it is time to have mercy upon her, for the set time is come.
14 For thy servants have taken pleasure in her stones, and they shall pity her dust.
15 So the nations shall fear thy name, O Lord, and all kings thy glory.
16 For the Lord shall build up Sion, * and shall appear in his glory.
17 He has had regard to the prayer of the lowly, and has not despised their petition.
18 Let this be written for another generation; and the people that shall be created shall praise the Lord.
19 For he has looked out from the height of his sanctuary; the Lord looked upon the earth from heaven;
20 to hear the groaning of the fettered ones, to loosen the sons of the slain;
21 to proclaim the name of the Lord in Sion, and his praise in Jerusalem;
22 when the people are gathered together, and the kings, to serve the Lord.
Eighth, Jesus Christ is Creator. Psalm 102 explicitly and more completely than almost anywhere else in Scripture reveals the identity of God’s suffering Messiah as none other than God the eternal second person of the Trinity, through whom the heavens and earth were created. He also shall be the one to bring about the new creation at the end.  It is this content of the psalm which Hebrews 1:10-12 expounds. Could this be a passage upon which the apostle John leaned when he wrote, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3 ESV)?
Some Closing Thoughts: Hopefully I don’t need to say that I did not get all this in one reading, nor in my first several readings. I have read Psalm 102 most likely dozens of times. What I received that wonderful morning when I first read it in the Septuagint was the simple but startling realization that there were two people talking in the psalm, one of them Christ and the other his Father. This realization came to me as I meditated in recollection upon the psalm, out for a walk shortly after having read it. This was when I was a young Christian, long before I had heard of its quotation in Hebrews. I mention this to demonstrate that God does work upon our spiritual understanding by two means: 1) the plain language of everyday speech, as it is recorded in Scripture, and 2) the presence of the Holy Spirit in our inner beings. I pray that God will use Psalm 102 to bless you, the reader, as much as he has used it to bless me. 

Penitential Psalms: Psalm 102–Summary of Its Dialogic Structure

In the “theodramatic” (1) setting of Psalm 102, the Holy Author creates a divine conversation between Father and Son. Scripture supplies confirmation when the New Testament writer of the Letter to the Hebrews quotes in Hebrews 1:10-12 a portion of the entire dialogue, verses 25-27, writing as a matter of fact that in these verses God addresses the Son. Though not directly stated, God the Father is implied.

Where else can the reader find evidence of this dramatic, readers theater style interpretation? First, reading through the text of Psalm 102, the entire sense of the psalm inevitably reveals a conversation. Minimally, the main speaker addresses God directly in verses 1, 2, 10, and 24. Further direct addresses that carry a different content and tone are found in verses 12-22 and again in verses 25-28. The change in content and tone correspond to a change in speaker. Second, as stated above, the Letter to the Hebrews explicitly identifies a second speaker, God, for verses 25-27. Finally, the Septuagint text leads the way in the Hebrews’ interpretation by plainly labelling in common, everyday language the presence of two speakers, “He [speaker one] answered him [speaker two] in the way of his strength: tell me the fewness of my days” (Psalm 101:23 LXE, verse 24 in modern language versions).

With the presence of two speakers acknowledged, the reader can discern the boundaries of the several speech parts. A reasonable assignment is the following:

  1. Speaker One (the Son): Verses 1-11 (12 LXX).
  2. Speaker Two (God the Father): Verses 12-22 (13-23 LXX).
  3. Speaker One (the Son): Verses 23-24a (24-25a LXX).
  4. Speaker Two (God the Father): Verses 24b-28 (25b-29 LXX).

When perceived as a divine dialogue between Father and Son, the devotional aspects of this amazing psalm expand greatly.

__________

Bates, Matthew W. The Birth of the Trinity: Jesus, God, and Spirit in New Testament & Early Christian Interpretations of the Old Testament. Oxford University Press: Oxford, United Kingdom, 2015 and Paperback Edition 2016, p 170.

Penitential Psalms: Psalm 102–God’s Son Speaks: Technical Background

P 967 Rahlfs Daniel 1.1 (ca. 200 p. Chr. n., Papyrus-Sammlung Köln). 
Accessed at http://www.hsaugsburg.de/~harsch/graeca/Chronologia/S_ante03/VT/vte_pd00.html#p967

 

Tragically, not many commentators hear the voice of Christ in Psalm 102. Spurgeon (1) does not. Generally, those who don’t hear the voice of Christ fail to hear the divine dialogue within this amazing psalm. Because two or more witnesses biblically establish a valid testimony (Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16; John 8:18), I’m going to take time at the outset to provide these additional witnesses to my own. First, here is a link to the text itself, where the reader can find the entirety of Septuagint Psalm 101(102), and below that is an excerpt that contains the portion quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12.

Reader Resource: Bilingual Text LXX (Septuagint in Greek) and LXE (Brenton’s English Translation). Notice that in the Greek Septuagint and in Brenton’s translation, Psalm 102 in our English Bibles is numbered as Psalm 101. Also, verse numbers may differ, depending upon which Septuagint edition is being used. The numbers to the left follow the Masoretic tradition while those in parenthesis follow the numbering used by the link given.

23(24) He answered him in the way of his strength: tell me the fewness of my days.

24a(25a) Take me not away in the midst of my days: 24b(25b) thy years [are] through all generations.

25(26) In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.

26(27) They shall perish, but thou remainest: and [they all] shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them, and they shall be changed.

27(28) But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

28(29) The children of thy servants shall dwell [securely], and their seed shall prosper for ever.

Here is the same text as presented in the ESV with the Septuagint English in brackets alongside: Psalm 102:23-28.

23  He has broken my strength in midcourse; [LXX: He answered him in the way of his strength:]

he has shortened my days. [LXX: tell me the fewness of my days.]

24  “O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days— [LXX: Take me not away in the midst of my days:]

you whose years endure throughout all generations!” [LXX: thy years [are] through all generations.]

25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,

and the heavens are the work of your hands.

26 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,

27  but you are the same, and your years have no end.

28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure;

their offspring shall be established before you.

Finally, here is the portion (ESV) which the author of Hebrews quotes from the Septuagint:

10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,

and the heavens are the work of your hands;

11  they will perish, but you remain;

they will all wear out like a garment,

12  like a robe you will roll them up,

like a garment they will be changed.

But you are the same,

and your years will have no end.”

Second, as witness #1, here is how I perceive the dialogue in Psalm 101(102). Note that verse numbers differ and are dependent upon the edition being used. For reader convenience I am using the Masoretic numbers and referencing in brackets the numbers found in the “Bilingual Text” link in the “Reader Resource” paragraph at the top of this article.

  1. Verses 1 – 11 [1-12 in the bilingual link given above]. God’s Son speaks to his Father in the days of his incarnation and Passion.
  2. Verses 12 – 22 [13-23] God the Father replies through the Holy Spirit to his Son.
  3. Verses 23 – 24a [24-25a] God the Son answers God the Father. (23 “He answered him in the way of his strength: tell me the fewness of my days. 24a Take me not away in the midst of may days:)
  4. Verses 24b – 28 [25b-29] God the Father answers the Son. (24b “thy years are through all generations. 25 In the beginning thou, O Lord …]

Witness #2: John Barclay (2).

[Barclay uses the Masoretic numbering] In this Psalm we behold the sufferings of Christ, as expressed in his own person, by the Holy Ghost, from the beginning to verse 12, contrasted with the following glory, as declared by the same Spirit in the person of the Father, from verse 12 to 23. Then from the 23d to the middle of verse 24, the dialogue is again renewed, as at the beginning of the Psalm, in the person of the Son–to whom, from the middle of verse 24, to the end of the Psalm, the Father is again represented, as replying according to the former manner, mentioned from ver. 12 to 23: for so this Psalm, ver. 25, &c. is expressly applied and interpreted by the Holy Ghost, Heb. I. ‘Unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever–And thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of think hands,’ &c.–‘And they shall be changed: but thou are the same, and thy years shall not fail.’

My Comment: Very few biblical commentators will ascribe verses 12-24a to God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, even among those who readily find the Father replying to Christ in the final speech, verses 24b-28. Most gladly I recognize the kindred spirit that exists between John Barclay and myself.

In contrast to Barclay, the third witness, below, Robert Hawker, is one who readily hears the voice of Christ in his Passion in verses 1-11, yet who does not recognize the words of comfort found in verses 12-22 as proceeding from God the Father. He does, however, hear Christ speaking in verses 23-24a and the Father directly answering him in verses 25 to the end.

Witness #3: Robert Hawker (3).

After verse 28: From the apostle Paul’s quotation of this glorious passage, Heb. I. 10, &c. and his illustration of it, as there explained, it should seem very evident that these verses contain God the Father’s answer to Christ’s prayer, and form a blessed summary of all redemption mercies ensured to the church in Him…Reader, I know not what soul exercises or afflictions your heart may be wounded with; but I venture to believe, that the truest relief under all, is to view Christ in his unequalled sorrows. Poring over ourselves, or over our own sorrows, and magnifying them, will never bring comfort. But if I see Jesus with the eye of faith, in the tribulated path; if I mark his footsteps, and he calls to me, and leads me by the way of the footsteps of his flock, where he feeds his kids, beside the shepherds’ tents; I shall feel comfort.

My Comment: Very often, those commentators who do not perceive the voice of Christ in Psalm 102, but that of an unnamed human suppliant–these authors tend to focus on Christ as Creator, and that portion of Hebrews as a Creation passage. The reasoning is that the author of Hebrews merely “applies” the words of Psalm 102:25-28 to Christ as object. They consider verses 25-28 to be spoken by the unnamed single human speaker who speaks throughout the entire psalm. They argue that though this human poet addresses God throughout the entirety of the psalm, this particular portion is applied by the author of Hebrews as making reference to Christ as Creator. In other words, they see a human speaking to God throughout the psalm, complaining to God for a longer life, reasoning that because God has such a long life and such power to create, why can’t he give some of that to the suffering poet? They fail to grasp the nearly sacrilegious arrogance of such a supplication. These commentators claim that the author of Hebrews by inexplicable “divine” inspiration, wrenched these words in particular from the whole psalm, and applied them in reference to Christ as object (Creator). Not only does this do disservice to the entire concept of the Bible’s having been written in “plain, ordinary speech,” but it completely destroys the comfort Hawker and others preeminently find in this psalm, as they consider the sufferings of Christ and the comfort afforded both him and us, who are in him, by God the Father.

Witness #4: Arthur Pink (4)

Arthur Pink lines up with Hawker as perceiving Christ as speaker up until the Father’s reply quoted in Hebrews (verses 25-28). Myself and Barclay, the reader might recall, saw two sections in which God the Father spoke directly to the Son (verses 12-22 and 24b-28.) Pink sees only the latter. He adds to the discussion, however, by combining the author of Hebrews’ rhetorical (logical, argumentative) use of Christ as Creator with the devotional comfort found in Psalm 102 of Christ as suffering Savior. Pink writes:

“And Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth.” The Psalm from which this is quoted is a truly wondrous one … It lays bare before us the Saviour’s very soul. Few, if any, of us would have thought of applying it to Christ, or even dared to, had not the Spirit of God done so here in Heb. 1. This Psalm brings before us the true and perfect humanity of Christ, and depicts Him as the despised and rejected One (p 69, see note 4).

After the above, Pink quotes the entire psalm (an indication of how very impressed he is with it) up through verse 22. He labels verses 23-24a as the “strong crying,” quoted in Hebrews 5:7, “of Him who was ‘acquainted with grief.'” Then Pink writes:

And what was Heaven’s response to this anguished cry of the Saviour? The remainder of the Psalm records God’s answer: “Thy years are throughout all generations. 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. 24-27).

Conclusion: In what I hope has not been a manner too arduous to read, I’ve presented four witnesses who agree that through the use of dialogue, Psalm 102 represents both the voice of the Son crying out to his Father in anguish during the days of his incarnation and Passion and the comforting voice of his Father in reply. I have been greatly encouraged recently to have discovered current academic writers who perceive divine dialogue between Father and Son in the book of Psalms (5). I’m sure up to date devotional material, such as this one seeks to be, will also follow.

I have presented these four witnesses so that the reader may have confidence to explore this pathway in a meditatively devotional session of his or her own. For those who follow this blog, I promise that a devotional interpretation of Psalm 102 will be written next.

For now, in consideration of Christian history’s regarding of Psalm 102 as one of the seven so-called penitential psalms, I just want the reader to notice how exactly the Holy Spirit wrote Scripture. We have seen that not all of the so-called “penitential” psalms are penitential in a sense that requires confession and repentance over sin. In this sense of the word, Psalm 51 is the most “penitential,” and Psalm 102 not at all. Note carefully that Psalm 51, which confesses and mourns over sin, does not represent Christ in any way as speaking from the divinity of his being. Rather, he speaks as mediator, a participant in humanity, a sacrificial lamb who took upon himself the sins of the world. Then, just as carefully, note that Psalm 102, which is highly “penitential” in the second meaning of the word, that of poverty and suffering of spirit, presents Christ both in his divinity and his human nature, but quite apart from sin. The reader can conclude that Christ God’s Son, as 2 Corinthians 5:21 states, “knew no sin,” as Psalm 102 demonstrates, and yet God “made him to be sin” “for our sake,” Psalm 51. Praise God.

__________

1 Spurgeon, Charles. The Treasury of David: Containing an Original Exposition of the Book of Psalms; A Collection of Illustrative Extracts from the Whole Range of Literature; A Series of Homiletical Hints upon Almost Every Verse; And Lists of Writers upon Each Psalm in Three Volumes. Peabody: Henrickson Publishers, No Date.

2 Barclay, John. The Psalms of David, and the Paraphrases and Hymns: With a Dissertation on the Book of Psalms, and Explanatory Introductions to Each. Edinburgh: James Gall, 1826. Reprinted Digitally by Forgotten Books, registered trademark of FB &c Ltd., London, 2017. Available at http://www.ForgottenBooks.com, 2017. A better quality copy is available at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433068259260;view=1up;seq=205;size=75.

3 Hawker, Robert S. The Poor Man’s Old Testament Commentary: The Book of Psalms, public domain. Available at http://grace-ebooks.com/library/Robert%20Hawker/RH_Poor%20Man%27s%20Old%20Testament%20Commentary%20Vol%204.pdf, published by Grace Baptist Church of Danville, Kentucky. Accessed May 3, 2018.

4 Pink, Arthur. An Exposition of Hebrews. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1954, pages 68-74.

5 See Bates, Matthew W. The Birth of the Trinity: Jesus, God, and Spirit in New Testament & Early Christian Interpretations of the Old Testament. Oxford University Press: Oxford, United Kingdom, 2015 and Paperback Edition 2016. See also Bates, Matthew W. The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation.  Baylor University Press: Wayco, Texas, 2012.

 

Penitential Psalms: Psalm 102–Who Is Speaking?

 

The Old Testament was originally written mostly in Hebrew. About three centuries before Christ, translations of the Hebraic Scriptures into Greek became common. These translations collectively are called the Septuagint. The word “septuagint” means seventy, and unverified tradition holds that seventy scholars sequestered themselves while making the translation at the request of King Ptolemy II for the national library in Alexandria. Extant Greek manuscripts, translated from Hebrew, are older than the oldest extant Hebrew manuscripts by one to two centuries (1). The New Testament, on the other hand, was originally written in Greek, and its authors regularly read and quoted from the Old Testament Septuagint. Knowing this information helps to clarify why the author of the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews included Psalm 102:25-27 in his list of Old Testament texts that demonstrate God’s calling Jesus Christ his “Son” (2).

In the first chapter of Hebrews, the biblical author quotes several passages from the Old Testament in which God speaks directly to his Son. The three occurrences of God speaking directly to his Son are found in verse 5, quoting Psalm 2:7, verses 10-12, quoting Psalm 102:25-27, and verse 13, quoting Psalm 110:1. In the first and third of these quotations, the reader readily discerns the voice of God speaking to a second person. The text clearly states that this is so. However, when reading the quotation from Psalm 102, as it stands embedded within the context of the entire psalm in most English translations, the reader may wonder how it is that these particular verses refer to the Son. How did the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews arrive at this conclusion? Many commentators simply skip past the confusion by stating that the Hebrews’ author, divinely inspired, applied these verses to Christ. But this begs the question, for if so, then why so? Why these verses in particular?

Knowing that the author of Hebrews was quoting from a Greek text helps tremendously. In fact, it solves the puzzle. The complete context in the Septuagint clearly indicates a dialogue between two speakers. That is, the Septuagint text tags the verses immediately preceding the quotation found in Hebrews with clear transitional phrases of dialogue, “23 He answered him in the way of his strength: tell me the fewness of my days. 24a Take me not away in the midst of my days: 24b [the reply from the second speaker immediately follows here without an identifying tag, but it is clear from the context that a second speaker answers the requests of the first] thy years are through all generations. 25 In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth…” (3).  The Septuagint from which the author of Hebrews quotes (scholars overall agree that the writer is quoting from the Greek text) clearly distinguishes with speech labels the presence of two speakers in dialogue with each other. But the English translations of Psalm 102, which are based upon the Masoretic text (Hebrew), fail to include the tag words, “He answered him…”, found in verse 23a. And the author of the Letter to the Hebrews begins his quotation of Psalm 102 with verse 25, which occurs after the second speaker, God, has already begun speaking. The quotation in Hebrews does not contain the dialogue tags, or labels, but the author implicitly acknowledges their occurrence and assumes that his readers also know this fact. The assumption of dialogue is central to the logic and force of the author’s argument. He presents the Old Testament text as an example of God speaking directly to his Son.

Conclusion: While English versions translated from the Hebrew Masoretic text of Psalm 102:23 do not include the three words, “He answered him…”, the author of Hebrews implicitly acknowledges the prior occurrence of these three words as he begins his quotation in verse 25, which falls after their occurrence in the Septuagint from which he quotes. That the author implicitly acknowledges dialogue in the passage is clear from the entire context of Hebrews 1. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is demonstrating how Old Testament scripture accords Christ the status of Son. Among his proof texts are several verses that indicate direct speech by God to his Son. Among these is Psalm 102:25-27, quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12. It is clear that the Hebrews’ author is attributing the quotation as a speech statement by God to his Son. Again, the Son is the one to whom God is speaking, both in Hebrews 1:10-12 and in that passage’s source, Psalm 102:25-27. The Son is he to whom God replies. The Son is the “poor” man pouring out his supplication to the Lord, whose voice we hear so plaintively in the first eleven verses of this “penitential” psalm.

Significance: What is the answer to the big question, “So what?” The following blog in this series will, Lord willing, provide answers to that question.

 

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1 Reference works concerning the textual history of the Septuagint include 1) Karen H. Jobes & Moisés Silva. Invitation to the Septuagint. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000. 2) H.B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, Cambridge: University Press, 1900. 3) Timothy Michael Law. When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

2 Although Hebrews begins speaking of God’s Son in verse 2 of chapter 1, the author specifically names Christ as the Son in Hebrews 3:6, “But Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son…”

3 Brenton, Sir Lancelot C. L. The Septuagint Version: Greek and English. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970. Notice that the verse numbering differs from most English versions.

The NETS Bible (Pietersma, Albert, ed. A New English Translation of the Septuagint: The Psalms. Translated by Albert Pietersma. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Available online at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/24-ps-nets.pdf. Accessed April 27, 2018) reads, “24(23) He answered him in the way of my strength, ‘Tell me the paucity of my days. 25(24) Do not take me away at the mid-point of my days,…”

In further confirmation of the Septuagint text, the Latin Vulgate, which translates the Greek, includes the words from Psalm 102:23, “He answered him…”

Penitential Psalms–Psalm 102: Why Penitential?

 

WE LEARNED what a truly penitential/repentant psalm looks like when we studied Psalm 51. This kind of psalm is rare in the Psalter. Psalm 102(101 LXX) immediately follows Psalm 51 in the list of seven traditional penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). It bears little resemblance to Psalm 51. Why does the list include Psalm 102?

First, a careful line by line search of Psalm 102 (ESV) (Greek and Brenton English) (English NETS) reveals not a single syllable concerning sin or repentance. Words and phrases present in Psalm 51, such as “blot out my transgressions” (v 1) and “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me thoroughly from my sin!” (v 2) simply do not occur anywhere in Psalm 102.

Second, what Psalm 102 does contain is a poetic expression of great suffering on the part of the speaker. His suffering is summed up well in the superscription given the psalm before the first verse begins, “A Prayer for the Poor; when he is deeply afflicted, and pours out his supplication before the Lord,” (Psalm 102:1 LXE). While of course this title is not part of the biblical text itself but an ancient editorial addition, the Greek word for “Poor” (πτωχός, ptoe-koes) is a word often used by Jesus in the New Testament. We find one example in the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:3). Thayer describes the meaning of this word “poor” as, “destitute of wealth, influence, position, honors; lowly, afflicted,” (Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). As explained in greater depth in a previous chapter (Penitential Psalms: A Big Mix-Up?) one possible explanation of the origin of both the word “penitential” and the list of seven psalms is the Greek “pen” word family. One of these “pen” stem words is πένητος (pen-ee-tohss). A “penitose” person is a poor person. Note the similarity to English “penitent.” “Penitose” is a synonym of “Ptoe-koes,” “poor,” which we just saw in the title above Psalm 102.

So, Psalm 102 is the speech of a poor, afflicted person who pours his heart out to the Lord. What else do we find in Psalm 102? Thirdly, we find the psalmist’s direct claim that he has enemies (v 8) who cause him pain, and further, that God himself (v 10) in “anger” and “wrath,” or “raging fury” (NET) has “lifted me up, and dashed me down,” (LXE, Septuagint in English). These last two features, both enemies causing pain and God’s wrath causing pain, are most strongly present in penitential Psalms 6, 38, and 102. Of these three, only Psalm 38 expresses sorrow for sin. Psalm 102, as mentioned in point one above, expresses neither confession nor remorse for anything.

Conclusion: Psalm 102 is “penitential” in the sense that it is the speech of a poor and needy person crying out to the Lord for help. The speaker’s suffering originates in persecution by both enemies and the Lord. There is neither acknowledgement of sin (confession) nor contrition (repentance) of any kind. The more we examine the seven so-called penitential psalms, the one item we find common to all of them is a deep humility of spirit as the psalmist addresses the Lord. To this author, it seems likely that, were we beginning fresh today, we would not begin to think of grouping these seven psalms in a cluster as our church forefathers did.

A Peek Ahead: There is much more to say about Psalm 102, such as, Who is speaking? This topic will form the content of a future post.

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