Verse 1. - Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee (comp. Psalm 27:7; Psalm 39:12; Psalm 54:2; Psalm 55:1, etc.). "Stereotyped expressions," but the fittest to express a sufferer's urgent need.
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.
Verse 2. - Hide not thy face from me (so in Psalm 27:9; Psalm 69:17; Psalm 143:7). As the "light of God's countenance" is the greatest of all goods (Psalm 4:6), so its withdrawal is the worst of evils. In the day when I am in trouble; literally, in the day of my trouble, or of my straits. Incline thine ear unto me (comp. Psalm 17:6; Psalm 71:2; Psalm 88:2, etc.). In the day when I call, answer me speedily. Compare the versicles of our Prayer book, "O God, make speed to save us; O Lord, make haste to help us."
For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.
Verse 3. - For my days are consumed like smoke; or, according to another reading (בעשׁר, instead of כעשׁר), "are consumed into smoke," i.e. "disappear, pass away into nothingness." And my bones are burned as an hearth. Dr. Kay translates, "My bones smoulder like a firebrand," which is better (compare the Prayer book Version, and see Leviticus 6:2 and Isaiah 33:14). (For the sentiment, see Psalm 31:10; Psalm 32:3; Psalm 42:10.)
My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.
Verse 4. - My heart is smitten. As with a stroke from the sun (see Psalm 121:6; Hosea 9:16). And withered like grass. As grass upon the house tops (Psalm 129:6), or, indeed, in any exposed place under an Eastern sun. So that I forget to eat my bread; literally, for I forget, etc. The fact is adduced as a proof of the heart's condition (comp. Job 33:20; 1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 20:34, etc.).
By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.
Verse 5. - By reason of the voice of my groaning; i.e. "by reason of the affliction which causes my groaning." My bones cleave to my skin; literally, to my flesh, but the Authorized Version rightly expresses the meaning (comp. Job 19:20; Lamentations 4:8).
I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.
Verse 6. - I am like a pelican in the wilderness. The Hebrew word here rendered "pelican" is elsewhere in our version translated by "cormorant" (Leviticus 11:7; Deuteronomy 14:17; Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14); but it is now generally believed that the pelican is intended (compare the Septuagint πελεκᾶνι, and see Mr. Houghton's letter in the Academy, April 5, 1884, and the versions of Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne, and our Revisers). The pelican is a bird which haunts marshy and desolate places. It abounds in the Lake Huleh in Northern Galilee (Thomson, 'The Land and the Book,' p. 260). I am like an owl of the desert; or, "of the ruins." The owl haunts ruins in the East no less than in our own country (Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 484, note).
I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top.
Verse 7. - I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. Sparrows are very common in Palestine. Dr. Thomson says that he has often heard a sparrow which had lost its mate, uttering "by the hour" its sad lament, seated upon a housetop ('The Land and the Book,' p. 43).
Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me.
Verse 8. - Mine enemies reproach me all the day. The reproach of their enemies was always felt by the Israelites as a bitter aggravation of their afflictions (see Psalm 42:10; Psalm 44:13-16; Psalm 79:4; Psalm 80:6, etc.). They that are mad against me are sworn against me; rather, use me as their curse (comp. Jeremiah 29:22). It was a common form of cursing among the Israelites to wish a man the same fate as had befallen some one whose unhappiness was notorious.
For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping,
Verse 9. - For I have eaten ashes like bread; i.e. "the 'ashes' of humiliation have been my food. I have, as it were, fed on them." A literal mingling of ashes with his food is not to be thought cf. And mingled my drink with weeping (comp. Psalm 42:3; Psalm 80:5).
Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.
Verse 10. - Because of thine indignation and thy wrath. "The bitterest ingredient of our cup of sorrow," says Dean Johnson, "is to know that it is owing to Jehovah's wrath and fierce anger for sin." For thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down. "Elevated me," i.e. "only to cast me down, and so make my affliction the greater." The allusion is probably to the former prosperity of the speaker, and of Israel generally, in their own land, and their present misery in Babylon (compare, however, Job 27:21; Job 30:22).
My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.
Verse 11. - My days are like a shadow that declineth; literally, that lengthens, as shadows do when the day declines (comp. ver. 24). The psalmist, like his nation, is old before his time; the shades of evening have come upon him, when he should have been in his midday brightness. And I am withered like grass (comp. ver. 4). The "I" here is emphatic (אני) - not only is the psalmist's heart withered, but he himself is altogether scorched and dried up.
But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.
Verse 12. - The second part of the psalm here begins. Against the complaint is to be set the confident hope and consolation. But thou, O Lord, shalt endure forever. God does not "wither" or decay - God and God's purposes "endure forever." It matters not that Israel is brought so low, and seems at the last gasp; God can raise up his people, and will do so in his own good time (vers. 13-17). And thy remembrance unto all generations; or, thy memorial (Revised Version); see Exodus 3:15. God's "remembrance," or "memorial," consists in the recollection, that his faithful ones have, of his historically manifested attributes. If this recollection is never to pass away, his faithful ones must remain also, to keep it up.
Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.
Verse 13. - Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion (comp. Psalm 3:7; Psalm 12:5; Psalm 68:1). God is said to "arise," when he bestirs himself to take vengeance on his enemies, and deliver his saints out of their hands. The "Zion," on which he would "have mercy," was not the city only, but the people belonging to it. For the time to favour her (or, pity her), yea, the set time, is come. By "the set time" is probably meant the time fixed by Jeremiah for the termination of the Captivity and the restoration of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 25:11, 12; Jeremiah 29:10), and alluded to by Daniel in Daniel 9:2. This time, the psalmist says, approaches.
For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.
Verse 14. - For thy servants take pleasure in her stones (comp. Isaiah 64:10, 11; Lamentations 4:1; Nehemiah 2:13; Nehemiah 4:2). To this day the same affection is shown by Israelite pilgrims at the "Jews' Wailing Place." And favour (rather, pity) the dust thereof. The rubbish in which the stones lay (Nehemiah 4:2) seems to be intended.
So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory.
Verse 15. - So the heathen shall fear the Name of the Lord (comp. Isaiah 59:19). The restoration of Jerusalem could not but impress great numbers of the heathen, and tend to the enlargement of Jehovah's kingdom. And all the kings of the earth thy glory. Oriental hyperbole, if confined to the immediate effects of the rebuilding of the earthly Jerusalem; but simple truth, if extended to the establishment on earth of the new and heavenly Jerusalem (Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:1-24).
When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.
Verse 16. - When the Lord shall build up Zion; rather, because the Lord hath built up Zion. The psalmist, in prophetic ecstasy, sees the future as past. The verbs in this and the next verse are all preterite. He shall appear in his glory; rather, hath appeared in his glory (see Isaiah 40:5).
He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.
Verse 17. - He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer; rather, he hath regarded... and hath not despised (see the Revised Version). The word translated "destitute" is elsewhere (Jeremiah 17:6) only used as the name of a shrub - probably the dwarf juniper, still so called by the Arabs. The dwarf juniper has "a gloomy stunted appearance" (Tristram), and well symbolizes the Israel of the Captivity period, dry and withered, like a wretched desert shrub.
This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD.
Verse 18. - This shall be written for the generation to come; or, let it be written; γραφήτω αὕτη, LXX. The mercy of God in restoring his people to their own land and city must be recorded in writing, as his past mercies have been (Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 31:19), for the edification of future generations. The record was made by Ezra and Nehemiah. And the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. Restored Israel is spoken of as a new creation (comp. Psalm 22:31; Isaiah 43:7, 21). It was, indeed, a sort of resurrection from the dead (see Ezekiel 37:1-10). (For the "praise" immediately rendered, see Ezra 3:10, 11; Ezra 6:16-22; Nehemiah 12:27-43.)
For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth;
Verse 19. - For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary. God's true sanctuary is the heaven of heavens wherein he dwells. Earthly sanctuaries are but shadows of this. From heaven did the Lord behold the earth (comp. Exodus 2:23-25). As God in the days of old had looked down on the affliction of his people in Egypt, so did he now "look down" and "behold" their sufferings in Babylon.
To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death;
Verse 20. - To hear the groaning of the prisoner (see Exodus 2:24, "God heard their groaning;" and comp. Exodus 3:7; Exodus 6:5). To loose those that are appointed to death; literally, the sons of death (comp. Psalm 79:11). Captive Israel regarded its life in Babylon as little better than death (see Ezekiel 37:11).
To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem;
Verse 21. - To declare the Name of the Lord in Zion; rather, as in the Revised Version, that men may declare. The great object of Israel's restoration was the glory of God - that Jew and heathen, joined together in one, might unitedly bless God, and praise his glorious Name. The complete fulfilment was, of course, only after the coming of Christ. And his praise in Jerusalem. Especially in the "new Jerusalem" (see the comment on ver. 15).
When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.
Verse 22. - When the people (rather, the peoples) are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord (comp. Psalm 22:27; Psalm 68:29-32; Isaiah 49:6, 7, 18, etc).
He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days.
Verses 23-28. - The third strophe begins with an acknowledgment of weakness - a sort of "renewed complaint" (Hengstenberg). But from this there is an ascent to a higher confidence than any displayed previously - a confidence that God, who is everlasting (vers. 24-27), will perpetually protect his people, and, whatever becomes of the existing generation, will establish their seed before him forever (ver. 28). Verse 23. - He weakened my strength in the way. The reading "my strength" (כחי) is greatly to be preferred to that of "his strength" (כחו), which cannot be made to yield a tolerable meaning. It is judiciously adopted by Professor Cheyne, who translates, "He has brought down my strength in the way," and explains "the way" as "the journey of life." So also Rosenmuller and Hengstenberg. He shortened my days; i.e. "made me grow old prematurely" (comp. ver.] 1).
I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.
Verse 24. - I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days. Compare the complaint of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:10). A pious Israelite regarded himself as entitled to a fairly long life, which was promised him directly (Exodus 20:12) and by implication, since it was only the wicked that were "not to live out half their days" (Psalm 55:23). Thy years are throughout all generations. Dathe and Professor Cheyne translate, "O thou, whose years are eternal." But the Hebrew will scarcely admit of this rendering.
Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
Verse 25. - Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth (comp. Isaiah 48:13). And the heavens are the work of thy hands (see Genesis 1:1, 7; Genesis 2:4; Psalm 89:11; Hebrews 1:10).
They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
Verse 26. - They shall perish. The coming destruction of the world that now is, is very frequently declared in Holy Scripture (see Isaiah 51:6; Isaiah 65:17; Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; 2 Peter 3:7, 10, 12). But thou shalt endure. With the perishable nature of the whole material creation, the psalmist contrasts the absolute eternity of God (comp. ver. 12; also Psalm 9:7; Hebrews 1:11). Yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment (comp. Isaiah 51:6). As a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. Compare the prophecies of "a new heaven and a new earth" (Isaiah 55:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).
But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
Verse 27. - But thou art the same; literally, but thou art HE (comp. Isaiah 44:4; Isaiah 46:4); i.e. "thou art the one eternal and unchangeable existence - the one reality." And thy years shall have no end. It is by an accommodation to human modes of thought that God's "years" are spoken cf. An eternal existence is a unity - not made up of years and days.
The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee.
Verse 28. - The children of thy servants shall continue. "The nation descended from those who served thee of old shall continue," or, "abide" - i.e. not only continue to exist, but have a permanent abid-ing-place (comp. Psalm 37:39; Psalm 69:36). And their seed shall be established before thee (comp. Jeremiah 30:20).