God, My Enemy?
(6) I am like a pelican of the wilderness. I have become an owl of the desert. (7) I lie awake and have become like a bird alone on a rooftop. (8) All the day my enemies taunt me. Those who deride me swear an oath against me, (9) for I eat ashes like bread and mix my tears with my drink (10) because of your indignation and wrath, for you have picked me up and thrown me down. (11) My days are like a lengthening shadow, and I wither away like grass.
While no word repetitions are found in this segment, these verses are filled with poetic parallelisms that help us determine its message. Three birds are mentioned, all dwelling in isolated places: a pelican in the wilderness, an owl in the desert, and a bird alone on a rooftop (vss. 6 & 7). These powerfully convey the psalmist’s sense of isolation, cut off from human contact.
Five couplets conveying malaise are found in the second half of this segment. First, the psalmist’s enemies both “taunted him and swore oaths against him” (vs. 8). Then the author describes his diet as consisting of “ashes and tears” (vs. 9). Next, God’s treatment is portrayed as “indignation and wrath,” making the author feel as though he had been “picked up and thrown down” (vs. 10). Finally, the psalmist summarizes his life as “a lengthening shadow and withering away like grass” (vs. 11). This vivid imagery helps us sense what the psalmist was experiencing while under the heavy hand of God’s chastening.
I. Feeling isolated because of the taunting of enemies (6-8)
II. Feeling overwhelmed because of God’s indignation (9-11)
Because of our enemies and because of God’s hand of chastisement upon us, we feel isolated and overwhelmed.
God is never our adversary, but sometimes it can feel that way. Just think of Job in this regard. While this segment of Psalm 102 is anything but comforting, it does give us a vivid description of how we may feel at times when God deals with us in our waywardness or allows us, like Job, to go through a time of testing for our spiritual growth. Solomon tells us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6 KJV). This is especially true when God, our greatest friend, wounds us for our good. At such times, God may seem like an enemy.
The author of Hebrews describes how God deals with his children in disciplining us as a faithful father: “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father” (Heb. 12:6 & 7)? Later on in the chapter we read, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10 & 11).
When it seems that God is treating us more like an enemy than a friend, we need to remind ourselves of passages like Psalm 102 and Hebrews 12. One additional verse from the Apostle Paul can be a great encouragement at such moments: “No temptation (or testing) has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).