Psalm 90:1-12 (NIV)
Entitled: A prayer of Moses, the man of God.
People’s lives are like grass that withers and their days quickly pass under Your wrath; yet we pray You will relent, teach us Your wisdom and give us Your favour.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
- Psalm 90 to Psalm 100 fit together and are framed by the beginning statement of praise, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” and the similar language of the ending statement of praise “His faithfulness continues through all generations”.
2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
- The psalmist praises God as the Creator and recalls the creation of man, Genesis 2:7.
4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death — they are like the new grass of the morning:
- Contrast this grim reality with the much more comforting words of Psalm 91:1-6 especially. Psalm 90 and 91 read together become a more balanced expression.
6 In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.
- Perhaps the underlying idea of 1 Peter 1:24
7 We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
- The psalmist’s focus here is man’s depravity, the word used to describe our being born sinful, selfish and independent. With this starting point, we cannot avoid angering God with sins that are both plain “iniquities” and the hidden thoughts and attitudes, or actions unknown to others which are the “secret sins” which of course are all observed by God. The psalmist explains that this is the root of man’s insecurity and anxiety, which are the expression of God’s ever-present wrath. So, too, is the brevity of life.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
- God’s righteous wrath is contrasted with the fear, or loving awe, which is what is due to Him.
12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(Lectionary reading ends here)
13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children
17 May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.
- The last word of the psalm is about God’s enduring and merciful love (hesed) in language which reflects the covenant relationship between God and His people. It ends with a supplication for God’s favour.
Choose the eternal purposes of God rather than living for the present in what cannot endure.
Part of the key to this prayer to God to have compassion on His servants is to see the timescale measured against eternity as in verse 4. This is hard for us to grasp. So is the reality of God’s wrath, and our experience of it in trials of life, resulting from man’s sin and sentence of death that is the starting point for all of us.
On its own, it is a grim picture of the human state, but the compilers of the Psalter have followed it with a psalm that speaks eloquently of the happiness of those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” and “make the Most High their dwelling” (Psalm 91:1,9). See also Psalm 103.
Another key to how Psalm 90 speaks to us is to think about the contrast between a holy, pure, all-loving God, and man’s natural selfish and independent state. For a New Testament perspective of man’s unredeemed depravity, and God’s response to it, read Romans 1:18-32. Of course there is a choice, a way out for those who turn to God, but God’s mercy (like wrath, a big word with deep meaning) would become less arresting, less immense, less of a focus of our unstinting praise, apart from the context of our sin and its consequences.