Messianic Psalms - Psalm 102: Hope in the Unchanging God
People sometimes feel overwhelmed by life’s struggles. Amid physical, emotional, and spiritual difficulties, they wonder where to turn. Psalm 102 is written from this perspective, for the title declares, ‘A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and pours out his complaint before the Lord’. Amid suffering, believers should emulate the psalmist by taking their troubles to God. Yet, the manifold trials detailed in this chapter may speak particularly of ‘the Man of sorrows’ who fully experienced these things, Heb. 5:7-9.
The messianic nature of the psalm is clearly set forth in its latter part, vv. 23-28, quoted in Heb. 1:10-12, yet its theme throughout is Messiah’s sufferings and subsequent glory, Luke 24. 26, 27, 44. One nineteenth-century preacher said, ‘Amongst all the Psalms, there is none more full of mourning and lamentation than this’. Another asserts, ‘It is a Psalm of very touching beauty and grandeur. It is like Jesus in Gethsemane, exceeding sorrowful even unto death, going away and praying again, saying the same words, and yet again and again heard – the angel from heaven strengthening Him there, the answer of Jehovah assuring Him here’. Clarke offers that ‘this psalm shows something of the depth of Messiah’s humiliation – the Deathless One as death-stricken’. Although the psalm is about Christ, believers may also derive comfort and applications from its lessons.
The first eleven verses seem to be the prayer of a suffering man. He has a keen awareness that life is slipping away; with this the section begins, with this it ends, and we might name this section, ‘The disappearing days’ (vv3 & 11).
In verse 12, the tone changes radically with the inspiring comparison of God’s eternality, ‘But you O Lord’. Like the phrase ‘but God’ in Ephesians 2:4, the scene is instantly changed from wrathful gloom to glorious mercy. James Boice, notes that v12 is the turning point of the psalm, so much so that Martin Luther said, “Everything that has gone before looks to this verse.” Furthermore, says Boice, “Everything that follows builds on it also.”
In the opening section the psalmist described his frail and wasting condition. He is like smoke that vanishes. Ah, but he has a God who is not at all like that! His is the eternal, immutable God, and it is God whom he is trusting: “But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations.” His impassioned opening prayer for help is answered: ‘You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come’ v13. God remembers and answers prayer; the resolution of this world’s massive problems merely awaits His perfectly appointed time. The Messiah will reign forever. Rather than thwart the divine plan, his sufferings became the foundation of his triumph, and so the Sufferer becomes the Sovereign, Isa. 52. 13 – 53.
The psalm’s third and final section begins with a flashback to Messiah’s sufferings in verse 23. There is a nuanced conversation in this section which at times can be difficult to discern who is speaking or being spoken of. For example, when the psalmist wrote, “But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (v27), he was thinking of God the Father. Still, the author of Hebrews is right when he views these words as spoken by the Father to Jesus Christ. For he too is God, “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). In Psalm 102, then, as read through New Testament eyes, the God who made the heavens is Christ our Lord. To the impermanence of the heavens, then, is contrasted the permanence, and therefore complete dependability of Christ. Heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away.
I hope you can join us this week as we look at the truth of God’s unchangeability. How does this truth help sustain us as God’s children in the storms of life? Sunday we will consider how this wonderful truth can give us joy, hope, and peace amidst the storms of life.
In God’s Hands,