This anonymous psalmist sinks to the depths of sorrow and ascends to the heights of faith. The psalm begins with his cry for help (vv. 1-2), which is followed by a graphic description of his situation (vv. 3-11). His isolation is aggravated by physical problems as he struggles to cope with the taunting of his opponents. Even his sleep has left him. If this state of affairs will continue, then he will wither away and die.
The psalmist traces his circumstances back to God’s anger (v. 10), so in a sense it is surprising that he then speaks confidently of what the Lord will do for his kingdom (vv. 12-17). Although things looked bleak, he knew that the Lord had appointed times of restoration for his kingdom. In the meantime, his servants will cherish even the ruins of its former greatness (v. 14), not as a sign of looking back but as evidence of looking forward. When the restoration would come, it would be universal in scope and include the great of the earth among those who would participate in the worship of God. Such an occasion will be a marvellous display of God’s greatness (vv. 15-16). There have been several large restorations of God’s kingdom in the past and we should expect more to happen in the future.
The link between the psalmist’s current plight and the future development of God’s kingdom is prayer (v. 17). Even the prayers of those who are deprived of temporal comfort will be heard. God does not grade the prayers he hears according to the status of the petitioners. Those who have little or nothing in earthly terms can contribute by their prayers to the growth of the Lord’s kingdom. This is a reminder and a challenge to us about our prayers for the spread of the gospel.
In verses 18-22, the author describes a time of spiritual recovery. It comes from the sovereign God in response to earnest prayer by those who feel confined and straitened by their circumstances. Their prayers have become groans, but the Lord reads their desires and liberates them from spiritual bondage. When that happens, they join with the multitudes who worship the Lord. These verses summarise the meaning of the Christian life. A Christian is a person who has been set free to worship God.
The final section of the psalm (vv. 23-28) is Messianic. It is quoted in Hebrews 1:10-12 and applied there to the experience of Jesus. Perhaps verse 24, with its prayer for deliverance from death, is an echo of what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some authors have suggested that the next statements would have comforted the Saviour as he faced the ordeal of the cross, with at least one suggesting that they could have been repeated by the angel who strengthened him in the Garden. Whether that is the case or not cannot be proved by us. What we can see in this section is a reference to Jesus as the Creator of the original universe (v. 25) and as the Changer of our dying universe into the new heavens and new earth (v. 26). He is also promised endless existence (v. 27) and an established kingdom (v. 28). All of which is very comforting. But what is also comforting is the connection between what Jesus will do and what the destitute believer was praying for in his isolation.