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Psalm 102

The time is now

What do we do when the bottom falls out of our lives and we’re threatened on all sides? When God is the only one we can turn to, we discover that he’s the only one we can count on as immutably true.

The prayer of a poor, overwhelmed soul, pouring out her complaint to Yahveh.

Hear my prayer, Yahveh
let my cry reach your ears!
2 Don’t hide your face from me
when I’m in trouble!
Bend down and listen
answer me quickly when I cry to you!
3 For my days vanish like a puff of smoke
and my bones burn like an oven.
4 I’m beaten down and withered
like scorched grass.
And having lost all appetite for food
5 I’m nothing but skin and bones
shaken by my loud groans.
6 I’m like a hoot owl in the desert
a screech owl haunting some desert ruin.
7 I lie awake
like a lone bird on a rooftop.
8 All day long my foes mock and taunt me
turning my name into a curse!
9 I eat ashes for bread
and mix my drink with tears
10 because of your anger and indignation:
you raised me up
only then to throw me down.
11 My days disappear like daylight
devoured by dusk’s fast-growing shadows.
I wither like scorched grass.

12 But you sit enthroned forever, Yahveh
and your name will be remembered
for all time.
13 You will yet take pity on Zion
and act on her behalf.
In fact, the time to show her mercy has come—
the appointed time is now.
14 For your servants love her stones
and even look with pity on her dust.
15 The nations will revere Yahveh’s name
and all of earth’s kings your glory.
16 For when Yahveh rebuilds Zion
he’ll appear in his glory.
17 He’ll hear the prayers of the broken then
and not ignore the poor.

18 Write this down for the generations to come
so that a people not yet created
may praise Yahveh:
19 “Looking down from his holy height
Yahveh scanned earth from heaven
20 to listen for the prisoners’ groaning
and set free those condemned to die.”
21 Write it so everyone in Zion
knows the kind of God Yahveh is
and Jerusalem rings with his praise
22 when all the peoples join together
and the nations gather to worship Yahveh.

23 He cut my life short
drained me of strength in mid-course.
24 So I said:
“Don’t take me away
before I’ve lived out half my days—
when you will live on forever, God!”

25 Aeons ago you laid earth’s foundations
and stretched out the heavens by your hand.
26 One day they’ll all waste away
but you endure forever!
They’ll wear out like a garment—
you’ll change them like worn-out clothes.
27 But you never change
and your years never end.
28 Your servants’ children will live securely
and their descendants be safe in your presence.

If we take the psalmist’s imagery figuratively, she’s likely facing the aftermath of exile or return from exile. She feels she’s going to die when her life has barely started. She’s lost and alone like a solitary, reclusive bird in isolation. She’s mistreated by others and feels abandoned by God.

Amidst such turmoil and anxiety, the psalmist anchors herself and her people in God. Next to our transience and fragility, he’s eternally, immutably merciful and compassionate. We may imagine God looking down from heaven to wreak vengeance on hapless sinners, but instead he listens for the prisoners’ groans to release those on death row. He cares about Zion’s brokenness, even as the psalmist does for the city’s broken-down walls and dusty streets.

The psalmist argues that God needs to restore her people now and not just for their sake: the nations are all looking on, and future generations will hear the story too. When God’s glory is revealed, the nations and their kings will revere him, and earth’s many peoples celebrate his glory. We naturally trust the ground beneath our feet, the sky above us. But they’re both destined for divine replacement. So the psalmist looks to God as the only one who can keep his people secure through all generations to come.

Thank you, Lord, that you didn’t just look down from heaven. You came down to release captives and care for the lost and broken, to reveal your glory as the gentle and humble one whose mercy and love triumphed over evil. Make me as open to receive your grace as you are to give it. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray these words:

You will yet take pity on Zion and act on her behalf.
In fact, the time to show her mercy has come—
the appointed time is now.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.