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Psalm 102: Days Like Smoke and Years with No End Print E-mail
Sunday, 02 February 2014

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It is easy to be concerned about the future.  We worry because it is unknown.  We do not know what the future will bring and that leaves us anxious.  Not only that, but when we look around at our circumstances we often see even more reasons to be concerned.  Humanity does not seem to be getting better.  Society goes from bad to worse.  Even the Church gets sidetracked and loses sight of its primary mission, namely to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel to any and all.  Add to this days when particular difficulties strike, like the death of a loved one or the loss of a friendship or layoffs at work or bad news from the doctor, and our concerns about the future can cripple us and leave us desperate for hope.

It seems that the writer of Psalm 102 was facing similar struggles.  We donít know all of the specifics, but it seems that he was facing concerns about the future and his own limitations.  It could have been that he was writing as an exile in Babylon and wondering what the future held for Godís people.  It could have been some other situation that was troubling him.  But either way, he found himself in a desperate place, crying out to God for help and hope.  The purpose of the psalm is to highlight the contrast between God and man, especially when it comes to matters of the future.  Letís consider this contrast.

The passing days of man (v. 1-11)

The psalm begins like many others with a cry for God to hear the psalmistís prayer.  Look at verses 1-2.  As we see repeated over and over again in the psalms and throughout the Scriptures, belief in God does not mean an easy life with no troubles.  Rather, the psalms teach us that God is big enough for our days of distress.  We can cry out to Him when all seems lost.  In your days of darkness, be like the psalmist and cry out to the Lord.

Why was he so desperate?  We see the answer in verses 3-11.  Look at those with me.  The psalmist begins and ends with the same idea: my days pass away like smoke (v. 3) and my days are like an evening shadow (v. 11).  Both of these images give us a picture of the fleeting nature of man.  Smoke comes and it goes.  When you light a candle and blow out a match, the smoke is only there for a moment and then it is gone.  Shadows in the evening only last a moment, for as soon as the sun goes down, they vanish.  The psalmist feels like his time is running out.  Do you ever feel like that?  As I get older, I understand this better.  I only have so many days to teach my son.  I only have so many years to love my wife.  I only have so many sermons and so many prayers to give to my Church.  The days are passing.

In these verses, the psalmist offers a number of particular struggles that he is facing.  Notice all of the physical suffering that he mentions.  His bones burn like a furnace, possibly referring to a fever.  His heart is struck down, he forgets to eat, and his bones cling to his flesh.  All of this could mean that the psalmist is facing some type of sickness or disease.  Or it could just be a way of describing how stressed he feels.  If you have lived through difficulties and suffering, then you can relate to these feelings.  He also describes his loneliness.  He is like a desert owl and a lonely sparrow.  He feels alone.  He feels like no one is with him.  Ever feel like that?  To add insult to injury, the psalmist notes that his enemies are constantly taunting and mocking him.  The interesting thing is that the psalmist acknowledges that God is still sovereign over all of this.  He knows that the Lord has taken him up and thrown him down.  He is like Job who said after the loss of his possessions and children: The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).  He does not charge God with wrong, but he does not deny His sovereign control, even over his suffering.  And it is this belief in Godís control that leads him to not ending his prayer just yet.

The forever reign of God (v. 12-22)

There is a clear break in the psalm at verse 12.  Look at that verse with me.  The days of man are passing but the Lord is enthroned forever.  He is remembered throughout all generations.  Our generation will come and go, but the Lord is present in all generations.  And the Lord will have mercy on His people.  Look at verse 13.  The Lord is in control.  He gives and He takes away.  He appoints times and brings them to pass.  He will have pity on Zion because the time for her favor has come.  As we noted, it makes sense for the psalmist to be writing during the Exile of Israel.  The prophets said that the Exile would not last forever, only seventy years according to Jeremiah.  Thus, if the psalmist is writing during that time is thinking about Godís appointed time to rescue His people from Exile and bring them back to Jerusalem, which we read about in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Even in his day of his distress, the psalmist can take comfort in the fact that God is in control and He has appointed a day of favor for His people.

The psalmist goes on to list some further reasons why He knows the Lord will show favor.  First, he will show favor to Zion because His people treasure her.  Look at verse 14.  They value the city of Jerusalem and all that she represents and the psalmist believes that God does as well.  Second, the psalmist believes that God will show favor because the nations will fear.  Look at verse 15.  The Babylonians and other nations will fear the God who can restore His people, just as the nations feared the God who delivered Israel from Egypt.  The Lord will pity Zion for His glory among the nations.  Third, the psalmist believes that the Lord will have mercy because He cares for the needy.  Look at verses 16-17.  He builds up the city for His glory and for the good of His people.  He hears the destitute when they pray.  He hears the psalmist as He cries out.

The psalmist gives one final reason that he believes Yahweh will have pity on Zion.  Look at verses 18-22.  Again, the prayer seems to apply to a situation like the Exile.  The psalmist knows that when the Lord rescues Israel from Exile, future generations will praise Him.  They will worship Him for setting the prisoners (of Exile) free.  Not only that, but this picture points us forward to an even greater rescue.  The Lord will send His Son to rescue His people from their slavery to sin and Satan and death.  Jesus will come and live a perfect life, die on a cross, and be raised from the dead.  Through Him, a people yet to be created will praise the Lord, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.  Christ will be the ultimate fulfillment of this psalm.  The psalmist writes in his day of distress to contrast his passing days with the eternal reign of God.  He believes that God has appointed a time to set His people free.  He believes that even though he will pass away, the future rests in the good hands of our Sovereign God.  All these beliefs are realized at the coming of Christ.  And all of them will be realized at His return, when He comes back for the Final Rescue.
The concluding contrast (v. 23-28)

The psalmist concludes by repeating the contrast.  Look at verses 23-24.  Once again the psalmist recognizes that his days are limited.  He asks God to give him more days, but he knows that they will eventually come to an end.  But not so with God.  His days know no end.  His years endure throughout all generations.  He writes more of this in verses 25-27.  Look at those with me.  The Lord is the Sovereign Creator.  He spoke the world into existence.  He was there before it existed and He will be there when it is gone.  He alone is unchanged by time.  He is the same.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Manís days are fleeting.  They are like smoke and evening shadows.  But the Lordís reign will never end.  His years will never end.  He is forever.

Thus, whatever concern we might have for the future is best entrusted to our eternal God.  He will care for His own.  Look at verse 28.  The psalmist is concerned about what will happen in the future.  He knows that his time is running out and he is worried about Zion.  Yet, he finds hope in the fact that Godís days are not numbered.  He has appointed a day of favor and He will cause the children of your servants to dwell secure.  The future generations can be entrusted to the Lord, for they will be established before Him. 

Have you ever felt like this psalmist?  Has the crushing reality of your limited time on the earth ever left you reeling?  Do you worry about your children, your family members, your friends, your Church?  Are you anxious about what the future holds?  If that is true of you, then I encourage you to listen to the psalmist this morning.  Hear what He says: But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generationsÖyou will remainÖyou are the same.  Life on this earth will come and go.  Our days are numbered.  But we can trust in the Sovereign Lord.  We can believe that He will have mercy on His people, that the children of His servants will dwell secure.  With the psalmist, look up and believe in the sovereign goodness of our God.

And look to Christ.  The psalmist lived in expectation of Godís future deliverance.  He believed in a people yet to be created praising the Lord for His salvation.  We are a part of that people.  If you have turned from your sins and trusted in Jesus as your Savior, then you are a part of those who have come together to worship the Lord.  Not only do we have a promise for the generations to come, we know how they will dwell secure, through the power of the gospel.  My time on this earth is limited.  I will breathe my last and my bones will turn to dust.  My days are like smoke.  But the power of the gospel will never end.  The glorious good news of Jesusí death and resurrection will go to all nations and then He will return to take His Bride to be with Him forever.  The sovereign goodness of God is doing and will continue to do this.

So then, take your concerns about the future to the Lord.  He has a plan to redeem people from every tongue, tribe, and nation.  He has a plan for your life and for all of those whom you love.  No matter how dark our day of distress may be, His reign will never end.  You can trust Him. You can believe that the power of the gospel is enough to save your children and your family members and your friends.  The future is unknown to us and that can leave us full of anxiety.  But it is known to the Sovereign Lord.  And He has revealed His plan for the future to us, namely to deliver all of His people through the power of the gospel.  You can trust Him to bring this plan to fruition.  Our hope for the future rests secure in Him.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~ 

Last Updated ( Thursday, 20 February 2014 )

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