God’s Word for You
Psalm 102:3-7 I am like a pelican
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 22, 2019
3 For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like hot coals.
4 Blighted like grass and withered is my heart.
I forget to eat my food.
5 Because of my loud groaning
my flesh is tight against my bones.
6 I am like a pelican,
like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake;
I have become like a bird alone on a roof.
The two birds of verse 6 are the pelican and some kind of owl. The first one is the qa’ath, a solitary water bird associated with the wading rail and the soaring osprey in Leviticus 11:18. The Greek translation is clearly πελεκᾶνι (pelicani, the pelican). Pelicans are huge waterbirds, but some pelicans make almost no noise at all beyond a hoarse croaking. Perhaps this is what is on the king’s mind as he calls to mind such a bird: seemingly impressive, but with “nothing to say.”
The other bird here is the kos or owl (kos rhymes with the adjective “close”). The owl is pictured among the ruins, like a king with no kingdom, a ruler with no one to rule. He makes no commands; his cries are like the hoots of an owl in the dark that frighten only a few.
Let’s look for sin and grace in these verses. Our assumption (based on verses 13, 16 and 21) is that this is the lament of a king in exile (such as Jehoiachin) or at least in a lot of trouble (like Hezekiah). He talks about being unable to eat, about getting so thin that his flesh “is tight against my bones,” and he seems to suffer from a fever. This makes him think of his days disappearing like so much smoke, never to return. The references to the various birds make us think of a man who no longer has even the power of speech to command. His own sins have combined with the sins of the nation to cause this trouble to come. What is left to him but to ask God for help?
When such things pile together we see how one sin leads to many more sins. Think of Potiphar’s wife, who in about two verses (Genesis 39:7,17) commits quite a list of sins: Coveting, damaging her marriage, breaking her marriage vow, setting a sinful example for her servants, enticing someone else to sin, putting herself above God, violating God’s will for marriage, giving false testimony, and (since adultery was a capital offense) endangering Joseph’s very life. One of their sins was enticing someone else to sin, and that sin is one that shows up in our lives more than we would like to think. Consider the sins of so many of the kings of Israel and Judah! Their opinions of God’s word and worship corrupted the people to the point where they were beginning to forsake God as a nation. This is what brought on the exiles and the other troubles God allowed to come to them.
Think of the trend of modern churches to water down certain sins, to try to reason their way out of calling a sin a sin, by talking about loving relationships and committed lifestyles rather than reading in the text that sins are sins. By removing sins from the minds of people, this kind of talk removes the need for grace, the need for a Savior, and it removes Christ from the lives of the people. This is precisely what any king, any leader, should lament. This is why God permits disasters, wars, exiles and plagues to come: to turn the hearts of people back to him. This is the scene, for example, at the very end of John’s vision of the Sixth Trumpet (Revelation 9:13-11:14). When the destruction of the terrible earthquake destroys a tenth of the city and kills seven thousand people, some of the survivors, many of which were the heathen outside the numbers of the true church, repented of their sins and turned to God at the last possible moment (Revelation 11:13). We pray that God will permit such a return; that souls will be saved whenever people are called back to God by repentance and the word of God. We pray that God would forgive all of us our sins and our sinful condition, that he would snatch us from the ruins and lonely rooftops, put an end to our groaning and our spiritual starvation, and that he would fill us with the good things of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Turn to the word of God and listen to the invitation of your Savior: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). His loving sacrifice means rest and recovery for us forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith