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God’s Word for You

Psalm 102:1-2 A prayer of an afflicted man

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 19, 2019

A prayer of an afflicted man.
When he is faint, and before the LORD he pours out his lament.

This Psalm is counted among the seven “penitential psalms,” but this one is more a prayer for help than it is a prayer for forgiveness. It has been suggested that this Psalm was added to that group in order that there wouldn’t just be six. I will leave it to the reader to decide for yourself whether it should be in such a group. What we will notice without any effort is that while it gives the circumstance of its writing, it does not mention an author or any musical directions, which makes it unique in the Psalter. It seems to have been written on behalf of Israel or Judah as a whole, perhaps by one who might speak for the whole nation. A prophet such as Jeremiah, perhaps, or Daniel? Or perhaps a king in exile? I favor the latter possibility, not least of which because the poetry is unlike that of the prophets. Three or four kings were taken into exile and could have written this on behalf of their suffering country. Manasseh was taken to Babylon and repented there (see especially 2 Chronicles 33:10-13). There was wicked Jehoiakim (who, however, never displayed any faith in God, 2 Chronicles 36:5-8). There was also Jehoiachin, who was especially loved by his people (2 Chronicles 36:9-10), and Zedekiah, who was blinded and taken away in shackles (2 Kings 25:7). Of these, Manasseh and Jehoiachin seem more likely to have authored such a Psalm. However, an even more likely candidate as author is Hezekiah. God prolonged Hezekiah’s life by 15 years after telling him that his life was over. In Isaiah 38:9-20, Hezekiah composes a Psalm very much like Psalm 102. For this reason, I would say that Hezekiah is most likely to have composed this Psalm, based on what we know of his life and of something which he wrote.

As Dr. Brug shows in his Hebrew commentary, this Psalm follows a chiastic outline in which the two halves mirror one another:

Opening prayer     . . . vs. 1-2
  Lament           . . . vs. 3-11
    Promises         . . . vs. 12-22
  Lament           . . . vs. 23-24
Closing Reflections . . . vs. 25-28

  Hear my prayer, O LORD;
  let my cry come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress.
  Turn your ear to me;
  in the day I call, answer me quickly.

This introduction is a cluster of prayer-bits taken from David’s prayers and some other Psalms. In this way it is reminiscent of Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish; the author was snatching at familiar phrases to give words to his disjointed and frightened thoughts. This fits the presumed context of a King of Judah whose life was in danger.

A deep analysis of the text will not profit us in this case as much as a Christian application of the words, but let’s notice some of the places where the author may have found the phrases he has chosen:

“Hear my prayer.” Psalms 39:12, 54:2, 84:8, 86:6, 143:1; also see 1 Kings 8:29 and Nehemiah 1:6.

“Let my cry come to you.” Psalms 18:7, 39:12, 88:13; see also Lamentations 3:8.

“Do not hide your face from me.” Psalms 88:19 and 143:7.

“Turn your ear to me,” Psalms 31:2 and 71:2.

“Answer me quickly.” Psalms 69:17 and 143:7.

Of these examples, it seems that the author had in mind especially Psalms 88 and 143 as he wrote. Later in the Psalm he will also dip into the book of Job. This is a great comfort to us as we search for the right words in times of distress, because this author of Holy Scripture took the text of other Scriptures to speak his mind. We don’t need to be creative or innovative when we pray, preach or teach.

One of the phrases here is especially telling. The writer says, “Turn your ear to me.” Luther said, “To incline [turn] the ear is nothing else than to heed the cry of a troubled heart. Yet this same inclining also means that though he cannot call or desire strongly enough to reach up to the ears of God, he prays that God may turn downward toward him to hear him.”

Our privilege as Christians is to know that God has promised to hear our prayers, even when we do not quite know what to pray. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, the saints, “in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:27). God hears us, he will answer us, and he will come to our aid with gifts only he knows how to give, and which far surpass anything we have in mind to pray for. He knows how to give good things and he has promised to give them (Numbers 10:29). He invites us to trust in him always.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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