A Meditation on Psalm 102

Kevin J Youngblood
For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread.

(Psalm 102:3-4, ESV)

For my days pass away like smoke and my bones, like dried meat, are parched.
Beaten down, like withered grass, is my heart because I forget to eat my food.
(Psalm 102:3-4, My translation)
Dry bones – probably one of the most famous metaphors in Scripture thanks to Ezekiel 37 and the famous spiritual inspired by it. Ezekiel 37 is not the only place in Scripture, however, where we encounter dry bones. They appear in Psalm 102:3 as well, and, no doubt, in at least a handful of other texts in Scripture. They are not as easily recognizable in Psalm 102 because our English translations have struggled to understand the comparison the psalmist is making. A word occurs here that occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, making it difficult to translate (qēd). The ESV takes this word to mean “oven.” I think that is unlikely in the light of the most recent evidence. DJA Clines’ Dictionary of Classical Hebrew suggests the gloss “dried meat.” This makes better sense in context since the parallel line compares the psalmist’s heart to withered grass and expresses what was apparently a favorite image in ancient Israel for hopelessness and loss of will.

Dry bones. What an appropriate metaphor for a living death – a seemingly unending season of joyless, hopeless existence when we feel so dead for so long that we no longer see the point in going on.John Mellencamp expressed it well in his “Little Ditty about Jack and Diane” – “Well, life goes on long after the joy of living is gone.” The psalms are brutally honest about the fact that the life of faith will experience seasons like this and that it will be ever so tempting to throw in the towel and give up. For some, tragically, that means ending their own lives. For others, just as tragically, it means throwing away their faith and numbing themselves with sinful indulgences while they wait “for their number to be called.”

Dry bones are all that the psalmist has to hold up his weary body and yet he holds on. He does not succumb to despair as so many others do. Instead the relentlessly pounds on the closed door of heaven, making appeal after appeal, demanding to be heard. Where does the strength to pray like this come from in such seasons?

As the remainder of the psalm indicates, there are a handful of convictions the psalmist cannot seem to shake that sustain his prayer life during this season of suffering – his living death. The first is that YHWH remains securely enthroned in heaven (v.12). Whatever else the destruction of Zion might mean, it assuredly does not mean that YHWH has been defeated. Unlike the rest of the ancient Near East, Israel seemed able to draw a very different theological conclusion from her most recent tragedy, drawing from her rich tradition of prophetic warnings and torah instruction. What a lesson for us! The more frequently and deeply we drink of the living waters of Scripture, the better prepared we are to endure prolonged seasons of deadly dryness. It is as though the Scriptures transform us into spiritual camels capable of long treks through the wastelands of life.

Another is the psalmist’s conviction that YHWH will absolutely not renege on his promises. Our sin and stubbornness may complicate and delay their fulfillment but fulfill them God will and the fulfillment is worth the wait.

Perhaps the most important source of the psalmist’s strength, however, was one that he could neither clearly see nor articulate because it had not yet come into full view. The main source of the strength to sustain prayer through such prolonged treks through the spiritual desert is the Holy Spirit. I noted as I read Psalm 102 that twice the psalmist mentioned groaning (102:5, 20). This made me think of Paul’s assertion that the Spirit helps us in our weakness when we find it difficult to pray. This assistance, he says, comes in the form of the Spirit’s own groaning, the Spirit’s identification with and participation in our pain – a pain that the Spirit translates to God as a means of keeping us tethered to the eternal and the divine when we are most apt of feel alienated from God.


Give us the strength by your Spirit to sustain communion with you during prolonged seasons of suffering when our bones dry out and we are most tempted to despair. Lord Jesus, thank you for enduring with us for so long. In your earthly life you never shied away from sorrow and were well acquainted with grief. Your example and your current session at your Father’s right hand are vivid reminders that it is worth the wait. Holy Spirit thank you for groaning with us while we trudge through the desert dunes of this life, keeping us tethered to God and to hope, slaking our thirst with Scripture.