Identifying with Adversity

The Jews who returned from Babylonian captivity faced numerous challenges in their attempts to rebuild the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. The rubble that was Jerusalem must have seemed an insurmountable and depressing challenge, and the rising opposition of non-Jews in the land created additional struggles. The stress created by such a situation took its toll on these Jews, but amidst this crisis of confidence, they turned to the LORD to see them through as Psalm 102 describes. Feeling overwhelmed by circumstances, the psalmist cried out to God (Psa. 102:1-2). The adversity, the sense of loneliness, and the persecution served as ready reminders of how much mankind needs God (Psa. 102:3-9), especially since we will all eventually face death (Psa. 102:10-11). And that is why it is so comforting to remember that the LORD is eternal (Psa. 102:12) and determined to see His purpose through to the end (Psa. 102:13-16). His will ensured the restoration of His people even if the Psalm’s author did not live to see it (Psa. 102:17-23). Whatever might happen upon the earth, the LORD Himself guarantees victory in eternity (Psa. 102:24-28). This message surely resonated with post-exilic Israel and gave them hope for their future. And yet, the message of this psalm looked forward to greater adversity and an even greater victory.

The meaning of Psalm 102:23-24 has two possible interpretations, both allowed by the consonants of the text and dependent upon the vowel pointing supplied. While the Hebrew of the Masoretic text provided the translation followed by English translations, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, saw the vowel pointing differently, and the Holy Spirit followed this latter interpretation when inspiring Hebrews 1:10-12 in making verses twenty-four through twenty-eight the answer of God the Father to God the Son, thus making the psalm Messianic. And when we return to the beginning and consider the life of Jesus, the psalm has a flow that brings a powerful message.

Consider Jesus as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, imploring His Father for deliverance (Psa. 102:1-2). There He pled, feeling overwhelmed and alone (Psa. 102:3-7) while His enemies plotted against Him (Psa. 102:8), in agony because He knew full well the cost of sin and His own mission from God to accept its penalty on man’s behalf (Psa. 102:9-10). Therefore, fully aware of the torture that awaited Him, He realized the time for His death drew near (Psa. 102:11). However, even in this He had hope because of what His death would accomplish because God, the Father, lives on (Psa. 102:12). He knew that, by His death, God would show His grace to Israel (Psa. 102:13-14) and that even the Gentiles, those of other nations, would also benefit (Psa. 102:15-16). Indeed, this would be the answer to many prayers throughout the centuries (Psa. 102:17). Therefore, from both Jew and Gentile God would create a new people (Psa. 102:18), having defeated death on their behalf (Psa. 102:19-20) and bringing reason for great praise (Psa. 102:21-22). But at that moment, as the Septuagint reading indicates, the Father replied to the pleading and praise of the Son (Psa. 102:23) with a message that anticipated the gospel. Indeed, despite His death, the Messiah is indeed God and will live for all generations (Psa. 102:24). Through Him the heavens and the earth came into existence (Psa. 102:25; Gen. 1:1; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:3), and while they will be destroyed in the end (Psa. 102:26), the Messiah will endure (Psa. 102:27), as will the people He established and for which He died (Psa. 102:28).

Surely we can identify with the adversity of the Jews coming back from captivity. But how much greater is the thought that the Messiah, Jesus, chose to identify fully and completely with us? This indeed proved to be a foundational point in the opening of the book of Hebrews, but centuries beforehand, the Holy Spirit declared it through the inspired hand of the post-exilic psalmist.

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