(H) The prayer of one afflicted when he is feeble and pours out his complaint before Yahweh. (1) Hear my prayer, Yahweh. Let my cry for help come to you. (2) Do not hide your face from me in the day of distress. Incline your ear to me. In the day when I call, answer me speedily, (3) for my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones burn like glowing embers, (4) for my heart has been cut down like grass and withers. I forget to eat my bread. (5) Because of my loud groaning, my bones cling to my flesh.
Twice in the opening of this psalm, the word for “prayer” occurs, first in the heading and then in the first verse. Additionally, we find two synonymous expressions: “cry for help” (vs. 1) and “call” (vs. 2). Then, the psalmist uses the word for “day” three times: “the day of distress,” “the day when I call” (vs. 2), and “my days (which) are consumed like smoke” (vs. 3).
Structurally, we have the “what” (“my prayer” in vs. 1), the “when” (“day/days” in vs. 2), and the “why,” the psalmist’s sense of malaise, both physical and emotional (vss. 3-5). We also encounter the word for “bones” twice. First the author speaks of his “bones burning like glowing embers” (vs. 3) and then of his “bones” clinging to his flesh (vs. 5). In a parallel reference, he describes his heart as “cut down like grass” (vs. 4). These terms vividly describe the afflictions the psalmist is experiencing.
I. Crying out to God in the day of distress (1 & 2)
II. Complaining to God amidst my discouragements (3-5)
In times of distress, those who belong to Yahweh cry out to him for help and relief from their afflictions.
The four similes used by the psalmist to convey his inner turmoil grip our imagination as we meditate on them. “Days consumed like smoke” (vs. 3) effectively communicates how fleeting, how evanescent our lives can seem. “Bones glowing like embers” (vs. 3) as well as “bones clinging to my flesh” (vs. 5) both portray the anguish we feel deep within ourselves when overwhelmed by our afflictions or shamed by sinfulness. A “heart cut down like grass and withering” (vs. 4) graphically depicts the feelings of abandonment and diminishment we feel when disappointed and forsaken by those around us.
If we were to visit a modern diagnostician or psychiatrist and use the psalmist’s words to describe our condition, we would probably receive a diagnosis like, “You are suffering from anxiety and depression,” and be given medications to ease our symptoms. In the ancient world, the only remedy available to those in such physical and emotional turmoil was to cast themselves upon the mercy and grace of a loving God. In our day when we too quickly medicate and too quickly resort to any number of therapeutic treatments, we should learn first to turn to God in earnest prayer before we try other palliatives. We all too easily forget that our loving Lord has designed the stresses and difficulties of our lives as ways of drawing us closer to him in prayer so that we might learn to rely on his enablement in the time of need. Could it be that in our haste to alleviate symptoms we short circuit what God is seeking to accomplish in us through life’s trials and testings?