This is a siege prayer. Whether the occasion is a literal siege matters not; there are many contexts that feel just the same — there is no where to turn for escape from the sorrow, and nothing to occupy the long hours to take your mind off the things. It begins very much like a time of personal trial, but the psalmist notes that Zion is also in need of deliverance. Thus, the heading that notes this is a prayer of the afflicted is almost understated.
As is often the case, we are humbled by the soaring imagery, even in mere English translations. The first two verses cry out for God to hear, at one point using a figure of speech that asks God to lean down close to hear because the cry is so feeble.
What does it feel like to sit as Job in sickness and deep sorrow? Surely the psalmist knew his tale. The imagery includes mention of a pair of birds we cannot easily identify, but both are repugnant as unclean fowl, including one distinguished by the habit of vomiting. As always, if all you see is the literal meaning, you miss the whole point. There really are no words to describe such a deeply disturbing sorrow, so utterly cut off from the comfort of another.
Indeed, the only company he has are his enemies. There are symbols of bitterness in ashes for bread and drink mixed with tears. But this is no pity party, because the psalmist knows deep inside he can blame only his own sin that has raised a barrier between him and God. He is deeply aware of his mortality.
He waits on the God, waiting for the wrath to run its course. In due time the eternal God will return to His former mercies and save the city that hosts His Name. The symbolism of loving the stones and dust is roughly equivalent to the ritual of kissing the ground in modern times. This is holy ground, in the sense that if one is going to find God’s mercy, this is where it will happen. And once God restores Zion, every nation will again quail in fear of what comes next. When His glory returns, nothing can stop His nation from carrying that glory to the ends of the earth.
Scholars agree that what follows is distinctly messianic. It’s not just Israel the Nation, but what takes center stage here is Israel the Mission. God’s glory and His revelation are the whole purpose the nation exists. Some day that mission will raise up a nation unlike any other, unlike any ever seen before. Through that future nation of revelation, God will hear the groaning of folks in dire straights, such as the psalmist himself, but throughout all the world. He will draw the world into His redemption and service.
The psalmist then hints that he would love to see those days, begging God not to end his life too soon. He confesses that God has been around since the beginning and will be still around when it’s all done. Surely He can spare a few more days for His penitent servant? Then again, all the universe will perish when the time comes. And God’s purpose in Creation shall not fail, for He will surely have children of His glory among men.