The title of this psalm is very observable; it is a prayer of the afflicted. It was composed by one that was himself afflicted, afflicted with the church and for it; and on those that are of a public spirit afflictions of that kind lie heavier than any other. It is calculated for an afflicted state, and is intended for the use of others that may be in the like distress; for whatsoever things were written aforetime were written designedly for our use. The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but here, as often elsewhere, the Holy Ghost has drawn up our petition for us, has put words into our mouths. Hos. 14:2; Take with you words. Here is a prayer put into the hands of the afflicted: let them set, not their hands, but their hearts to it, and present it to God. Note, 1. It is often the lot of the best saints in this world to be sorely affected. 2. Even good men may be almost overwhelmed with their afflictions, and may be ready to faint under them. 3. When our state is afflicted, and our spirits are overwhelmed, it is our duty and interest to pray, and by prayer to pour out our complaints before the Lord, which intimates the leave God gives us to be free with him and the liberty of speech we have before him, as well as liberty of access to him; it intimates also what an ease it is to an afflicted spirit to unburden itself by a humble representation of its grievances and griefs. Such a representation we have here, in which,
I. The psalmist humbly begs of God to take notice of his affliction, and of his prayer in his affliction, Ps. 102:1, 2. When we pray in our affliction, 1. It should be our care that God would graciously hear us; for, if our prayers be not pleasing to God, they will be to no purpose to ourselves. Let this therefore be in our eye that our prayer may come unto God, even to his ears (Ps. 18:6); and, in order to that, let us lift up the prayer, and our souls with it. 2. It may be our hope that God will graciously hear us, because he has appointed us to seek him and has promised we shall not seek him in vain. If we put up a prayer in faith, we may in faith say, Hear my prayer, O Lord! “Hear me,” that is, (1.) “Manifest thyself to me, hide not thy face from me in displeasure, when I am in trouble. If thou dost not quickly free me, yet let me know that thou favourest me; if I see not the operations of thy hand for me, yet let me see the smiles of thy face upon me.” God’s hiding his face is trouble enough to a good man even in his prosperity (Ps. 30:7; Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled); but if, when we are in trouble, God hides his face, the case is sad indeed. (2.) “Manifest thyself for me; not only hear me, but answer me; grant me the deliverance I am in want of and in pursuit of; answer me speedily, even in the day when I call.” When troubles press hard upon us, God gives us leave to be thus pressing in prayer, yet with humility and patience.
II. He makes a lamentable complaint of the low condition to which he was reduced by his afflictions. 1. His body was macerated and emaciated, and he had become a perfect skeleton, nothing but skin and bones. As prosperity and joy are represented by making fat the bones, and the bones flourishing like a herb, so great trouble and grief are here represented by the contrary: My bones are burnt as a hearth (Ps. 102:3); they cleave to my skin (Ps. 102:5); nay, my heart is smitten, and withered like grass (Ps. 102:4); it touches the vitals, and there is a sensible decay there. I am withered like grass (Ps. 102:11), scorched with the burning heat of my troubles. If we be thus brought low by bodily distempers, let us not think it strange; the body is like grass, weak and of the earth, no wonder then that it withers. 2. He was very melancholy and of a sorrowful spirit. He was so taken up with the thoughts of his troubles that he forgot to eat his bread (Ps. 102:4); he had no appetite to his necessary food nor could he relish it. When God hides his face from a soul the delights of sense will be sapless things. He was always sighing and groaning, as one pressed above measure (Ps. 102:5), and this wasted him and exhausted his spirits. He affected solitude, as melancholy people do. His friends deserted him and were shy of him, and he cared as little for their company (Ps. 102:6, 7): “I am like a pelican of the wilderness, or a bittern (so some) that make a doleful noise; I am like an owl, that affects to lodge in deserted ruined buildings; I watch, and am as a sparrow upon the house-top. I live in a garret, and there spend my hours in poring on my troubles and bemoaning myself.” Those who do thus, when they are in sorrow, humour themselves indeed; but they prejudice themselves, and know not what they do, nor what advantage they hereby give to the tempter. In affliction we should sit alone to consider our ways (Lam. 3:28), but not sit alone to indulge an inordinate grief. 3. He was evil-spoken of by his enemies, and all manner of evil was said against him. When his friends went off from him his foes set themselves against him (Ps. 102:8): My enemies reproach me all the day, designing thereby both to create vexation to him (for an ingenuous mind regrets reproach) and to bring an odium upon him before men. When they could not otherwise reach him they shot these arrows at him, even bitter words. In this they were unwearied; they did it all the day; it was a continual dropping. His enemies were very outrageous: They are mad against me, and very obstinate and implacable. They are sworn against me; as the Jews that bound themselves with an oath that they would kill Paul; or, They have sworn against me as accusers, to take away my life. 4. He fasted and wept under the tokens of God’s displeasure (Ps. 102:9, 10): “I have eaten ashes like bread; instead of eating my bread, I have lain down in dust and ashes, and I have mingled my drink with weeping; when I should have refreshed myself with drinking I have only eased myself with weeping.” And what is the matter? He tells us (Ps. 102:10): Because of thy wrath. It was not so much the trouble itself that troubled him as the wrath of God which he was under the apprehensions of as the cause of the trouble. This, this was the wormwood and the gall in the affliction and the misery: Thou hast lifted me up and cast me down, as that which we cast to the ground with a design to dash it to pieces; we lift up first, that we may throw it down with the more violence; or, “Thou hast formerly lifted me up in honour, and joy, and uncommon prosperity; but the remembrance of that aggravates the present grief and makes it the more grievous.” We must eye the hand of God both in lifting us up and casting us down, and say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord, who both gives and takes away.” 5. He looked upon himself as a dying man: My days are consumed like smoke (Ps. 102:3), which vanishes away quickly. Or, They are consumed in smoke, of which nothing remains; they are like a shadow that declines (Ps. 102:11), like the evening-shadow, or a forerunner of approaching night. Now all this, though it seems to speak the psalmist’s personal calamities, and therefore is properly a prayer for a particular person afflicted, yet is supposed to be a description of the afflictions of the church of God, with which the psalmist sympathizes, making public grievances his own. The mystical body of Christ is sometimes, like the psalmist’s body here, withered and parched, nay, like dead and dry bones. The church sometimes is forced into the wilderness, seems lost, and gives up herself for gone, under the tokens of God’s displeasure.