Psalm 102

Psalm 102[a]

Prayer of an Exile

1 The prayer of one afflicted. When he is wasting away[b] and pours out his anguish before the Lord.

2 [c]O Lord, give heed to my prayer;
let my plea for help reach you.
3 Do not conceal your face[d] from my sight
in the time of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
on the day when I call out to you, answer me speedily.
4 For my days are fading away like smoke,
and my bones are burning like live coals.
5 My heart[e] is stricken, withered like grass;
I am too exhausted to eat my bread.
6 As a result of my incessant groaning,
I am now nothing more than skin and bones.
7 I am like a pelican[f] of the wilderness,
like an owl among the ruins.
8 I am sleepless[g] and I moan
like a lone sparrow on a rooftop.
9 All day long my enemies revile me;[h]
those who rage against me use my name as a curse.
10 [i]I eat ashes as though they were bread,
and I mingle tears with my drink.
11 Because of your indignation and wrath,
you have raised me up only to cast me down.
12 My days are like a lengthening shadow,
and I am withering away like grass.
13 [j]But, you, O Lord, are enthroned forever,
and your renown will endure for all generations.
14 You will arise and show mercy to Zion,
for it is time for you to have pity on her;
the appointed time[k] has come.
15 For her stones are precious to your servants,
and her dust causes them to weep.[l]
16 The nations will revere your name,[m] O Lord,
and all the kings of the earth will sing of your glory.
17 For the Lord will rebuild Zion
and reveal himself in all his glory.[n]
18 He will answer the prayer of the destitute,
and he will not ignore their petition.
19 Let this be written[o] for future generations
so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord:
20 “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high
and gazed on the earth from heaven,
21 to hear the sighs of the prisoners
and to set free those under sentence of death.”[p]
22 Then the name of the Lord will be proclaimed in Zion,
and his praise[q] in Jerusalem
23 when all peoples and kingdoms come together
to worship the Lord.[r]
24 [s]He has taken away my strength on my life’s journey;
he has cut short my days.
25 So I said: “Do not carry me off, O my God,
before half my days are done,[t]
for your years endure from age to age.
26 [u]“Long ago you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
27 They will pass away but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like clothing,
and they will perish.[v]
28 “However, you remain always the same,
and your years will have no end.[w]
29 The children of your servants will be secure,
and their descendants will dwell in your presence.”[x]


  1. Psalm 102:1 Known as the fifth of the seven Penitential Psalms (Pss 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143), this psalm combines the lament of an afflicted person overwhelmed with pain and the prayer of the community of poor returned exiles waiting to be able to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, their holy city. It shows that humanity and the universe pass away, while God remains (vv. 12-13, 26, 28). This is the proof of the Lord’s power and the reason for their hopes.
    It is also the reason for the hopes of Christians, since we know that in Jesus and in his Church, God has built an imperishable dwelling place for his people, a point emphasized by the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 1:10-12) when it comments on verses 26-28 of this psalm.
  2. Psalm 102:1 This superscription is unique, giving neither author nor liturgical or historical note; instead it assigns the prayer to a life situation—when one afflicted is close to giving up, i.e., wasting away (see Pss 61:3; 77:4; 142:4; 143:4).
  3. Psalm 102:2 One day, possibly during a grave sickness, the psalmist reaches the bitter conclusion of the inconsistency of human life. And the supreme outrage is that all who see him attribute his sad state to punishment sent by God, for his prayer and repentance receive no answer. The poor man experiences the depths of anguish where everything is falling apart; he can do nothing except cry out to God.
  4. Psalm 102:3 Conceal your face: see note on Ps 13:2.
  5. Psalm 102:5 Heart: see note on Ps 4:8. Withered like grass: see note on Ps 90:5.
  6. Psalm 102:7 Pelican: a bird that in Christian times became a symbol of Christ all alone in Gethsemane and of the Eucharist. The word is also translated as “owl.” Owl: a symbol of desolateness and destruction (see Isa 34:11, 15; Jer 50:39; Zep 2:14).
  7. Psalm 102:8 I am sleepless: some translations omit the words: “and I moan.”
  8. Psalm 102:9 Enemies revile me: see note on Ps 5:10; see also Ps 109:25. Use my name as a curse: his enemies point him out as an example of divine malediction, saying: “May you become as wretched as so-and-so.”
  9. Psalm 102:10 The Israelites indicated their penance externally by covering their heads with ashes and uttering lamentation accompanied by copious tears. To obtain God’s pity, the sick psalmist does not hold back. He covers himself with such an abundance of ashes that they are interspersed with his food, and he gives way to so many tears that they mingle with his drink. All the same, he is inexorably on his way toward death.
  10. Psalm 102:13 The people thus experience a time of scorn. Uprooted from their temple and their land, they are too overwhelmed by the loss of what they most cherish for them to think of revenge. They have recourse to God’s tender mercies. In their misfortune, they fall back on a single certitude—the goodness of the Lord. At once, hope of restoration begins shining forth, for “the appointed time has come” (v. 14)—so much so that they do not stop at imagining the sole reestablishment of Israel, but their perspective of renewed happiness embraces all humanity.
  11. Psalm 102:14 Appointed time: the time established by God for judgment and salvation (see Ps 75:3; Ex 9:5; 2 Sam 24:15; Dan 11:27, 35).
  12. Psalm 102:15 The psalmist intimates that Zion must be highly cherished by the Lord for she is so dear to his servants.
  13. Psalm 102:16 See note on Ps 46:11. Name: see note on Ps 5:12.
  14. Psalm 102:17 And reveal himself in all his glory: may also be translated as: “and thus appear in his glory” (see v. 16 and note on Ps 46:11; see also Isa 40:1-5). The ultimate fulfillment of this hope will occur in the “new Jerusalem” (see Rev 21).
  15. Psalm 102:19 Written: this is the only place in the Psalter that calls for a written record of God’s saving deed. The usual reference is to an oral record (see Pss 22:32; 44:2; 78:1-4).
  16. Psalm 102:21 Prisoners . . . those under sentence of death: see note on Ps 79:11.
  17. Psalm 102:22 Name . . . praise: see notes on Pss 5:12; 9:2.
  18. Psalm 102:23 See notes on Pss 46:11; 47:10; see also Pss 96; 98; 100; Isa 2:2-4; Mic 4:1-3.
  19. Psalm 102:24 Here the individual lament and the national supplication are combined. Upon meditating on the precariousness of existence before the God who endures forever, a hope arises, the hope of not being abandoned. The Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 13:8) will proclaim: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
  20. Psalm 102:25 Before half my days are done: when the normal life span is only half-completed (see Isa 38:10; Jer 17:11).
  21. Psalm 102:26 This passage is inspired by Isa 51:6-8 and applied to the Messiah (Heb 1:10-12). The restoration of Israel and the coming of the Messiah will be the preface to the eschatological renewal or regeneration that will accompany the end of time (see Isa 65:17; 66:22; Rev 20:11; 21:1).
  22. Psalm 102:27 Both the “foundations of the earth” and the “heavens” (v. 26, which the ever-living God has made) will perish (see Pss 1:6; 90:4; 2 Pet 3:8ff) and be of no use, like discarded clothing (see Isa 51:6).
  23. Psalm 102:28 By contrast, the Lord remains forever the same (see Heb 13:8); he is the “first and the last” (see Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4; 46:4; 48:12).
  24. Psalm 102:29 Because God does not change, the children of his people will be secure in the Lord (see Mal 3:6). Dwell in your presence: another translation is: “dwell in the [Promised] Land” (see Pss 25:13; 69:37; see also Ps 37:3, 29; Isa 65:9).

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