When Smoke Prays/Psalm 102

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We have in this psalm a prayer offered up in the midst of desperate affliction. The afflicted are those who feel most in need of answered prayer. They are also those who feel like getting an answer is a true long shot. But affliction makes them eloquent anyhow, and it is the kind of eloquence that moves Jehovah. Moreover, the fact that the affliction could be the result of our own sin doesn’t really alter that. God loves the cry of the desolate.

The Text:

“A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord. Hear my prayer, O Lord, And let my cry come unto thee. Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: In the day when I call answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; So that I forget to eat my bread . . .” (Ps. 102:1-28).

Summary of the Text:

This is a psalm of affliction, and so it begins with the cry of the psalmist, asking that his plea come to God’s attention (v. 1). He asks that God not hide His face in this time of trouble (v. 2), and asks for a swift intervention. His days are like smoke, and his bones are like cinders in a cold fireplace (v. 3). His heart has been cut down by a scythe, and it withers on the ground (v. 4). He loses his appetite (v. 4). His skeleton has skin stretched over it (v. 5). He is lonely and deserted, like an owl in the ruins (v. 6), and he is like a solitary bird on the roof line (v 7). His enemies won’t let up (v. 8), and his food and drink are ashes and tears (v. 9). His enemies do this to him, but God is behind it all (v. 10). His days are a lengthening shadow, and he is like crisp brown grass (v. 11).

The psalmist is in deep trouble, and he knows he is praying to a God who isn’t in deep trouble. This is why prayer makes sense. God will endure, and He will be remembered always (v. 12). Because Jehovah is forever, the restoration of Zion is inevitable (v. 13). God’s servants love her very bricks, and show honor to the dust of her streets (v. 14). Not only will Zion be restored, the heathen and their kings will notice His glory there (vv. 15-16). God will regard the prayer of the desperate (v. 17). This is going to happen, and God’s people will praise Him for it (v. 18). God peers over the balcony of the very highest heaven, and what does He regard down here? He sees the groaning of the ones in the dungeons (vv. 19-20). The God of highest heaven sees down to the lowest condition. These are the ones who, when delivered, will declare the name of God (v. 21), and all together they will praise Him (v. 22).

God is the one who ordained all this. He brought in this time of great weakness (v. 23), and so the prayer is that God not cut him off in the midst of his work (v. 24). God’s work is forever (v. 24), and He is the one who created all things (v. 25). What He created will perish, while the Creator Himself will not (v. 26). Creation will wear out like a pair of old jeans, while God is constantly the same (v. 27). And because God is constant in this way, the children of His servants will be like Him, and not like the created order which will necessarily wear out (v. 28).

The Grace of Affliction:

Scripture teaches us that God brings affliction into our lives—affliction being defined here as something that you are overwhelmed by, something that you do not honestly believe you can handle—in order to teach us how small we are. He gives us particular things we cannot handle to teach us the important lesson that we cannot really handle anything. All of life, which we cannot handle, is divided into two categories—that which we know we cannot handle and that which we erroneously believe we can handle. God arranges visits to the first category to remind us that it is all the first category.

Why does God do this kind of thing to us? Because we desperately need it. Our troubles are hand-stitched for us, and they fit the outline of our lives perfectly. “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). This is it in a nutshell. “That we should not trust in ourselves.” But if we cease trusting in our own abilities (because we know that in our own ability we cannot rise from the dead), what must we do? We must trust in someone else—one who can raise the dead. And we must realize that apart from His grace, we are always “dead.”

Faithful Logic in Affliction:

The psalmist here is at the bottom trench of all his troubles. He is under a pile, which he describes in exquisite detail. He is a flitting shadow. But he then turns to describe God (v. 12). “But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever . . .” Here is the logic, running hard on a straight line, like a well-hit line drive. 1. I am a little wisp of smoke (v. 3). 2. God is eternal (v. 12). 3. Because His character is constant, Zion will be restored (v. 13). 4. When Zion is restored, God will regard the prayer of the destitute (v. 17). When smoke prays, God listens. 5. I am among the destitute; I am smoke; do not take me off in the middle of this trouble of mine (v. 24).

Luther once wrote that “much religion lies in the pronouns.” This is my God, and so this is my promise. I am His smoke.

Of the Son He Says:

The first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews seeks to show that the Son of God is much greater than the angels. God says things to Him that He never says to angels (Heb. 1:5-6). He declares that the angels are simply ministering spirits (Heb. 1:7). But of the Son He says . . . “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: The sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre” (Ps. 45:6). In addition, God speaks these words, from conclusion of this psalm, to the Son. God says to the Son, “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth . . .” God says of the Son that He is the Creator of all things. Although the creation will grow threadbare, the Son is the same, “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

And while we believe the doctrine of covenantal succession (the doctrine that Christian parents are invited to believe God for the salvation of their children), let us never forget that this doctrine finds its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ—as do all life-giving doctrines. Who is God talking to? To the Son. And what does He say to Him? “The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee” (v. 28). Everything coheres in Christ, and outside of Him, all things come apart in your hands.

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