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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).

[Link to the first of the Psalm 102 sequence]

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 12-22 (13-23 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 of 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)? A great deal of comfort and amazement over the great love of God for us is available for all who stop and ponder that our Creator is also our Savior, that he personally came to us and suffered as he did to reclaim us and to salvage our lives from the destruction of the enemy. Oh what a Creator we have! And what a powerful Savior he is. God’s unequaled power matched by his unequaled love.
Application: 
Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
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.
16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(ESV)
Psalm 102 displays in tender, emotional, human fashion the infinite pains God has taken on our behalf. When we forget this, we should not berate ourselves, because even Jesus, as expressed in Psalm 102, needed and received special encouragement from his Father. Just as he turned to his Father God in his greatest hour of need, so should we.
As Karl Barth so ably said, “God is for us.” Barth received that from the Apostle Paul, who writes–
Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died– more than that, who was raised– who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(ESV)
Amen!
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. When the Holy Spirit “quickens” the words of Scripture to our understanding and to our hearts, the effect within us is not something we soon forget. I pray that God will use Psalm 102 to bless you, the reader, as much as he has used it to bless me. 

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