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Psalms 90 Commentary


Psalm 90 - The Prayer of Moses in the Wilderness

This Psalm is titled, A Prayer of Moses the man of God. Some commentators think this was not the same famous and familiar Moses, but the evidence is much stronger for believing that this was indeed the great leader of Israel. This is the only song of Moses in the Psalms, but there are two others in the Pentateuch (Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 32-33).

If we connect it with any particular time in the life of Moses, the best suggestion is Numbers 20. "The historical setting is probably best understood by the incidents recorded in Numbers 20: (1) the death of Miriam, Moses' sister; (2) the sin of Moses in striking the rock in the wilderness, which kept him from entering the Promised Land; and (3) the death of Aaron, Moses' brother." (Boice)

Charles Spurgeon wrote of the phrase, The man of God: "Moses was peculiarly a man of God and God's man; chosen of God, inspired Of God, honoured of God, and faithful to God in all his house, he well deserved the name which is here given him."

A. Finding refuge in the eternal God.

1. (Ps. 90:1) Yahweh the refuge and protection of His people.

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place [refuge] in all generations.

a. Lord, You have been our dwelling place: The title indicates this is a prayer of Moses, almost certainly written during the wilderness years on the way to Canaan. In all those years Israel lived in constant need of refuge, shelter, and protection. More than their tents and their armies, Israel had God as their dwelling place, their refuge and their protection.

i. Lord: "The protest against the dominion of death is well founded, in that it begins with this great affirmation concerning the relation of man to God. Addressing Him, not as Elohim the Mighty One, nor as Jehovah, the Helper, but as Adonai, the Sovereign Lord, the singer declares that He has been the dwelling-place, the habitation, the home of man in all generations." (Morgan)

ii. Our dwelling place: "Instead of this several MSS. have 'place of defence,' or 'refuge,' which is the reading of the Vulgate, Septuagint, Arabic, and Anglo-Saxon. Ever since thy covenant with Abraham thou hast been the Resting-place, Refuge, and Defence of thy people Israel." (Clarke)

iii. "The Hebrew word for 'dwelling place' may also be translated 'refuge,' which is how it appears in Deuteronomy 33:27, one of the other songs of Moses." (Boice)

b. Our dwelling place in all generations: Moses understood that Yahweh's help to His people did not begin with the exodus from Egypt. From their pilgrim beginnings under their patriarch Abraham to the days of Moses, God had been their dwelling place, their refuge and protection.

i. It isn't a good thing to say of anyone, homeless. Spiritually speaking, that need never be the state of the believer. We have our home in Him, and home should be a place where we rest, where we can be ourselves, where love and happiness dominate. All this should mark our relationship with God.

ii. "In this Eternal One there is a safe abode for the successive generations of men. If God himself were of yesterday, he would not be a suitable refuge for mortal men; if he could change and cease to be God he would be but an uncertain dwelling-place for his people." (Spurgeon)

iii. "He that dwelleth in God cannot be unhoused, because God is stronger than all; neither can any one take another out of his hands, John 10:29. Here, then, it is best for us to take up as in our mansion house, and to seek a supply of all our wants in God alone." (Trapp)

2. (Ps. 90:2) The eternal origin of Yahweh.

2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

a. Before the mountains were brought forth: In the wilderness on the slow route to Canaan, Moses saw mountains on the horizon and reflected on the truth that God was before those mountains. It was God who formed the earth and the world.

b. Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God: Before anything existed God was. From eternity past through eternity future (everlasting to everlasting) He exists, independent of all His creation.

i. "This is the highest description of the eternity of God to which human language can reach." (Clarke)

ii. "The Psalmist, about to describe man's fleeting and transitory state, first directs us to contemplate the unchangeable nature and attributes of God." (Horne)

3. (Ps. 90:3) The judgment of the eternal God.

3 You return man to dust and say, "Return, O children of man [or of Adam]!"

a. You turn man to destruction: Moses had seen the judgment of God turn man to destruction. He saw it with wicked Egypt and disobedient Israel. The eternal God who created all things was and is a God to be appropriately feared and respected by man. He takes interest in the affairs of men and exercises His holy judgment.

b. Return, O children of men: This was not a call to repentance; it was a command of man to return to the dust from which he came, an echo of Genesis 3:19: For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.

i. "Although dust is a different word from that of Genesis 3:19 ('you are dust, and to dust you shall return'), the idea of returning to it (Turn back) almost certainly alludes to the curse of Adam, and uses the same verb." (Kidner)

ii. "If we had no Scripture at all to prove this, daily experience before our eyes makes it clear how all men, even the wisest, the strongest, the greatest and the mightiest monarchs and princes in the world, be but miserable men, made of red earth, and quickly turn again to dust." (Smith, cited in Spurgeon)

B. Man before the God of judgment.

1. (4-6) God's perception of time and our perception of time.

4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. 5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

a. For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past: Having introduced the idea of God's eternal being, living outside of time with no beginning or end, Moses poetically repeated the idea. For the eternal God, a thousand years seems like a single day, and a single day in the past, not the present.

i. "He is raised above Time, and that none of the terms in which men describe duration have any meaning for Him. A thousand years, which to a man seem so long, are to Him dwindled to nothing, in comparison with the eternity of His being. As Peter has said, the converse must also be true, and 'one day be with the Lord as a thousand years.'" (Maclaren)

b. You carry them away like a flood: From God's eternal perspective the days and they years and each millennium passes quickly. For Moses and Israel in the wilderness time seemed to pass slowly, but Moses knew this was not God's perspective. From God's perspective, a thousand years passes quickly like a sleep.

c. Like grass which grows up: Moses used many poetic pictures to describe God and time. In God's sight a thousand years was like yesterday, like a watch in the night, like a flood, like a night of sleep. He added this picture: that a thousand years is like grass which grows up in the morning and in the evening it is cut down and withers. God's perspective of time's passing is very different from ours.

i. "We are not cedars, or oaks, but only poor grass, which is vigorous in the spring, but lasts not a summer through. What is there upon earth more frail than we!" (Spurgeon)

ii. They are like grass: "An ordinary comparison, Isaiah 40:6, James 1:10-11." (Trapp)

2. (Ps. 90:7-8) God's judgment on their open and secret sins.

7 For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

a. For we have been consumed by Your anger: In the first section of this Psalm Moses connected the ideas of God's eternal nature and His judgment upon man. In this section the two ideas are repeated. The God who stands over time and sees a thousand years as yesterday, certainly has the right and the authority to judge mankind, and especially His own people.

i. In the wilderness Moses and the people of Israel felt consumed by God's anger and terrified by His wrath. It must have been remarkable for Moses to see a whole generation melt away in the wilderness, dying away under the judgment of God.

ii. "This was specially the case in reference to the people in the wilderness, whose lives were cut short by justice on account of their waywardness; they failed, not by a natural decline, but through the blast of the well-deserved judgments of God." (Spurgeon)

iii. "Consumed; either naturally, by the frame of our bodies; or violently, by extraordinary judgments. Thou dost not suffer us to live so long as we might by the course of nature." (Poole)

b. You have set our iniquities before You: The judgment of God came against His people because of their iniquities. When the eternal, holy God saw and considered them, the response was His anger and wrath. Moses understood that God's anger against His people was not unreasonable or uncaused.

i. "We do not understand the full blessedness of believing that God is our asylum, till we understand that He is our asylum from all that is destructive in Himself; nor do we know the significance of the universal experience of decay and death, till we learn that it is not the result of our finite being, but of sin." (Maclaren)

c. Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance: It was not only their obvious iniquities but also their secret sins that God saw. Such sins were not secret before God and His judgment.

3. (9-10) Man's frailty understood against the eternity of God.

9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span [or pride] is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

a. All our days have passed away in Your wrath: With power and poetry Moses compared the eternal nature of the holy God with the frail, temporary nature of sinful man. God stands forever, but long days have passed away in Your wrath and we finish our years like a sigh.

i. "It was toward the close of the desert wanderings that Moses wrote this sublime psalm, all the imagery of which is borrowed from the wilderness. The watch around the camp-fire at night the rush of the mountain flood; the grass that sprouts so quickly after the rain, and is as quickly scorched; the sigh of the wearied pilgrim." (Meyer)

b. The days of our lives are seventy years: Moses lived to 120 years according to Deuteronomy 31:2 and 34:7. He did not say this as either a promise or a limit, but as a poetic estimate of a lifespan. The emphasis is on the futility of life; even if one should live past the norm of seventy years and live eighty years, the end of it all is only labor and sorrow.

i. Seventy years: "Which time the ancient heathen writers also fixed as the usual space of men's lives." (Poole)

c. For it is soon cut off, and we fly away: Moses described the short and often futile sense of this life. The deep cry of Moses seems to anticipate important themes in Ecclesiastes.

d. Who knows the power of Your anger: Moses connected the ideas of a relatively short and frustrating life to the fact of God's righteous judgment. He especially saw and lived this in the wilderness.

i. "Moses saw men dying all around him; he lived among funerals, and was overwhelmed at the terrible results of the divine displeasure. He felt that none could measure the might of the Lord's wrath." (Spurgeon)

C. A prayer in light of who God is and how He deals with man.

1. (Ps. 90:12) Praying for wisdom.

12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

a. So teach us to number our days: When Moses considered the frail nature of humanity and the righteous judgment of God, it made him ask God for the wisdom to understand the shortness of life.

i. "To number our days; to consider the shortness and miseries of this life, and the certainty and speediness of death, and the causes and consequences thereof." (Poole)

ii. "Of all the mathematical disciplines this is the hardest: to number our days. We count everything else, but we do not seem able to use our days rightly and with wisdom." (Boice)

iii. "Of all arithmetical rules this is the hardest-to number our days. Men can number their herds and droves of oxen and of sheep, they can estimate the revenues of their manors and farms, they can with a little pains number and tell their coins, and yet they are persuaded that their days are infinite and innumerable and therefore do never begin to number them." (Tymme, cited in Spurgeon)

iv. "To live with dying thoughts is the way to die with living comforts." (Trapp)

iv. So teach us means that this wisdom must be learned. It isn't automatic. Most people live with little awareness that life is short and their days should be numbered. Young people especially often think their days have no number and give little thought to what lies beyond this life.

b. That we may gain a heart of wisdom: Learning to number our days will give us a heart of wisdom. This is wisdom not only for the mind, but for the heart as well.

i. "Let us deeply consider our own frailty, and the shortness and uncertainty of life, that we may live for eternity, acquaint ourselves with thee, and be at peace; that we may die in thy favour and live and reign with thee eternally." (Clarke)

2. (13-17) Praying for mercy and blessing.

13 Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor [or beauty] of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

a. Return, O Lord: This psalm of Moses carefully considered the judgment of God. The prayerful response to that consideration is a plea to God for His presence, for His compassion, and for His mercy - the hesed of Yahweh, His loyal covenant love.

i. In Psalm 90:3 God spoke to mankind in judgment, telling him to return to the dust. Now in prayer Moses asked God to return. It is as if Moses said to God's people, "If you continue in sin you will return to the dust; your only hope is for God to return to you."

b. How long: This was a meaningful question. Moses asked God to not delay in bringing His presence, compassion, and mercy to His people. It was a bold question, almost accusing God of being late in His help.

i. "When men are under chastisement they are allowed to expostulate, and ask 'how long?' Our fault in these times is not too great boldness with God, but too much backwardness in pleading with him." (Spurgeon)

c. Satisfy us early with Your mercy: Moses understood that true satisfaction was rooted in money, fame, romance, pleasure, or success. It was satisfied with God's mercy, His faithful, covenant goodness to His people.

i. "Alexander Maclaren said, 'The only thing that will secure life-long gladness is a heart satisfied with the experience of God's love.' This means that nothing will satisfy the human heart ultimately except God." (Boice)

ii. This mercy should be sought early. "There is no hour like that of morning prime for fellowship with God. If we would dare to wait before Him for satisfaction then, the filling of that hour would overflow into all other hours." (Meyer)

iii. "The renewal of his love is associated with "the morning" (cf. 30:5; 49:14; 143:8; Lam 3:23), as the light of day is contrastive with the darkness (gloom) of the night. Thus the psalmist prays for a new beginning, which the Lord alone can open up for his people." (VanGemeren)

d. Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us: Many were the days of their affliction; Moses asked that the days of their gladness would also be many. He hoped the days of gladness would be so long that God's glory would be evident even to their children.

i. "The New Testament, incidentally, will outrun verse 15's modest prayer for joys to balance sorrows, by its promise of 'an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison' (2 Cor. 4:17)." (Kidner)

ii. "The time of our pilgrimage upon earth is a time of sorrow; we grieve for our departed friends must soon grieve for us; these are days wherein God afflicteth us." (Horne)

iii. "Lord, if we must die in this desert, if this whole generation (except Caleb and Joshua) must pass away in the wilderness, then, at any rate, give us the fullness of my favor now, that we may spend all our remaining days, whether they are be too few or many, in gladness and rejoicing." (Spurgeon)

iv. According to the days: "The good Lord measures out the dark and the light in due proportions, and the result is life sad enough to be safe, and glad enough to be desirable." (Spurgeon)

e. Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: Earlier in Psalm 90 Moses spoke of God's people being consumed and terrified. He prayed that the gracious God would exchange that misery for His own beauty.

i. The beauty of the Lord our God is great beauty. It is impossible to think of a higher level of beauty or goodness.

ii. The beauty of the Lord: "His favourable countenance, and gracious influence, and glorious presence." (Poole)

iii. "The faithful beseech God to let his 'beauty,' his splendor, the light of his countenance, his grace and favour, be upon them." (Horne)

f. And establish the work of our hands for us: The final aspect of blessing Moses prayed for was for the permanence of the work of God's people. Without this blessing, our work and its effectiveness pass quickly and are of little impact.

i. Essentially, Moses asked that God would work with man. "Fleeting as our days are, they are ennobled by our being permitted to be God's tools." (Maclaren)

ii. "Good men are anxious not to work in vain. They know that without the Lord they can do nothing, and therefore they cry to him for help in the work, for acceptance of their efforts, and for the establishment of their designs." (Spurgeon)

iii. "Satisfaction, gladness, success in work must all come from the right relation of man in his frailty to the eternal Lord." (Morgan) - R. Deffenbaugh

Psalm 90, written by Moses, speaks of the eternal nature of God and the very temporal nature of man. With God, a thousand years is nothing. For man, 70 years is a long life, and even these years are filled with sorrow and labor. This brevity and painfulness of life is explained by Moses as the result of God's holiness and man's sin. The solution to this problem of pain, and the hope of the believer is not in this life, but in the next. It will come with the return of the Lord. It will come "in the morning". It will come in the future. The solution is not to be found in the deliverance from death, but in a deliverance after death. While it is not clearly stated in this psalm, it would be correct to say that death itself is a kind of deliverance for the Christian, for it removes us from the effects of sin, from pain and suffering and sorrow, and it takes us into the eternal joy of the presence of our Lord.

The destruction from which the believer is delivered is not the suffering and pain and even death of this life, but from the judgment of God, from the "second death" of eternal separation from His presence. This deliverance is so clearly described in yet another psalm, Psalm 73.

1 Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart! 2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; My steps had almost slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant, {As} I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no pains in their death; And their body is fat. 5 They are not in trouble {as other} men; Nor are they plagued like mankind. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them. 7 Their eye bulges from fatness; The imaginations of {their} heart run riot. 8 They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high. 9 They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth. 10 Therefore his people return to this place; And waters of abundance are drunk by them. 11 And they say, "How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?" 12 Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased {in} wealth. 13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, And washed my hands in innocence; 14 For I have been stricken all day long, And chastened every morning.

15 If I had said, "I will speak thus," Behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children. 16 When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight 17 Until I came into the sanctuary of God; {Then} I perceived their end. 18 Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! 20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form. 21 When my heart was embittered, And I was pierced within, 22 Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was {like} a beast before Thee. 23 Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. 24 With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven {but Thee}? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. 28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works (Psalm 73:1-28).

Here Asaph, the psalmist, expresses his faith, a faith in God as the Good God, to those who trust in Him. His problem was that while he trusted in God as the One who was "good" to Israel, his experience was that the righteous suffered, while it was the wicked who prospered. He had contemplated giving it up, he confessed, for his piety seemed to be of little profit.

This was until he came to see his life through a different perspective--a heavenly, eternal one (verses 16ff.). He then realized that the prosperity of the wicked was exceedingly short-lived. Their eternal fate was destruction. The righteous, on the other hand, have all of eternity to enjoy the blessings of God's presence and power.

In the light of eternity, the sufferings of this life are but a small price to pay when compared to the blessings of eternity. But even the sufferings of this life are not "evil". They are truly "good" for the saint, for in these times of suffering, God seems even nearer to us, especially as we are drawn nearer to Him. The ultimate "evil" in life is to be separated from God, and if affluence and a life of ease turns us from God, this absence from pain is really an "evil". The ultimate "good" in life is fellowship with Him, enjoying His presence. If suffering in this life enables us to experience His presence in a deeper way, then it is truly "good" and He is "good" for bringing this adversity into our lives.

This is why Ann found comfort in Psalm 91. Not because it promised her a long, trouble-free life on this present earth, but because it assured her that in Christ she would escape the wrath of God. In this life, she did not need to fear danger or even death, for He will raise her from death to eternal life, in His presence, free from pain and sickness and sorrow. That was her hope, and thus we can rejoice in her sufferings and death.

This hope is not for everyone, but only for those who have turned to God for their security and safety. Jesus Christ suffered the wrath of God, and by faith in Him, we may be sheltered from it. If you would share the hope of Ann, you must trust in her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. May you experience the joy and the hope which she did, even in her sickness and pain. - James Burton Coffman Commentary


As noted above, this Psalm is ascribed to Moses in the superscription; and one objection cited by scholars against this is Psalms 90:10 which declares man's life-span to be "Three-score and ten years ... or even four-score years." That statement is alleged to disqualify Moses as the author, because he lived to be 120 years of age, and his brother Aaron likewise lived well past a hundred.

That objection is worthless, because Moses indeed, as was Aaron, was especially blessed of God for the purpose of God's achieving the exodus of his people from Egypt and bringing them to the borders of Canaan. Not only did Moses reach that advanced age, but his eyesight had not failed, nor was his strength abated.

Also, that foolish objection ignores the fact that all of the Israelites who were above 20 years of age at the Red Sea Crossing died during the subsequent forty years, Caleb and Joshua, of course, being the only two exceptions.

Furthermore, the words here may be viewed as a prophecy of how man's life-span would be restricted in the ages to come. Is it true? Indeed yes. The fact is that a very small percentage of mankind enjoys a life-span any longer than that laid down here. In view of all this, we reject this objection to Moses' authorship.

We shall conclude this study of the Mosaic authorship of Psalms 90 with this paragraph from Delitzsch: "There is scarcely any written memorial of antiquity which so brilliantly justifies the tradition concerning its origin as does this Psalm ... Not alone with respect to its contents, but also with reference to its form and language, it is perfectly suitable to Moses. Even Hitzig could bring nothing of importance against this view."[5]

A Prayer of Moses the Man of God (Superscription). Three times this title is awarded to Moses in the Scriptures: Deuteronomy 33:1; Joshua 14:6; and Ezra 3:2.

Based upon Psalms 90:7-12, McCaw concluded that, "The definite historical background of the Psalm is the latter months of the wilderness wanderings (Numbers 21:14-23)."[6]

Despite being labeled "A Prayer," it's a prayer only in the last six verses. The first six are a meditation.

Psalms 90:1-6 - THE MEDITATION

1 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from
everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.

3 Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.

4 For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

5 Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.

6 In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.

No more eloquent comment upon the wretched fate of the human race was ever made. God had warned Adam that, "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." And, as the great lawgiver of Israel thought upon the dying generations of the human family, the Spirit of God spoke through Moses in these precious words. It must have been a sad experience indeed for Moses to watch an entire generation of the Chosen People die in the wilderness.

"Our dwelling place in all generations" (Psalms 90:1). This was true in two ways. In the nation of Israel itself, their faith in God dated back to the patriarchs. The years of Egyptian slavery had not destroyed their knowledge of the Lord. Even the mid-wives of Egypt knew enough about the God of the Hebrews that through fear of God they refused to follow strictly Pharaoh's order to destroy all the male children. "The `God' of this passage is `The Lord,' the covenant God of the Hebrews; and "None can ignore those generations of faithful believers in the developing nation from the days of Abraham, all of whom made the Lord their dwelling place."[7]

It is true in another sense. From the beginning of Adam's race, God has been the only security of the human family. The discerning souls of all generations found their only hope in God, the only exceptions being the "fools" who said in their hearts that, "There is no God" (Psalms 14:1).

An adaptation of these words was used by William Croft for the title of his famous chant (Called St. Anne), "Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past."[8] Kyle Yates made this the title of Psalms 90.[9]

"From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God" (Psalms 90:2). The eternity of God, his prior existence as the First Cause, the God of Creation, the Maker and Sustainer of All Things is eloquently extolled and honored in this sentence, which we have chosen as an appropriate heading for this magnificent psalm.

"Return, ye children of men" (Psalms 90:3). "For dust thou art, and to the dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:19). Moses' comment here is plainly a reference to this passage from Genesis.

"A thousand years ... as yesterday ... as a watch in the night" (Psalms 90:4). This contrasts the dying generations of mankind with the eternity of God. The Apostle Peter quoted this verse (2 Peter 3:8), warning Christians not to forget it, a warning which some have not heeded. Making "God's days" to be 24 hours long is nothing but a human conceit, contrary to God's specific word and its accompanying warning not to forget it.

It should be noted that "a thousand years" with God are also as a few hours (a watch in the night). It would be impossible to make it any plainer that God's `days' or God's `years' cannot be restricted to the limitations of the human understanding of those terms.

"Thou carriest them away as a flood ... as a sleep" (Psalms 90:5). Like the succeeding waves of the sea, the generations of men rise and fade away. As the hours pass away when one is asleep, the lives of men fly away (Psalms 90:10). This writer has read these beautiful words at funerals throughout a period of sixty-four years in the ministry of the gospel of Christ.

"Like grass ... in the morning it flourisheth ... in the evening ... withereth" (Psalms 90:5-6). This simile is also used repeatedly in the New Testament. Christ used it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:30); James utilized it in James 1:10-11; and the Apostle Peter developed it in 1 Peter 1:24. It would be difficult to imagine a simile more expressive of the fleeting, ephemeral nature of human life.

Verse 7-11 - THE LAMENT

NOTE: Some have referred to these verses as "a complaint," but to us, the word "lament" is better. We do not believe that Moses "complained" about God's established order; but he certainly did grieve that it was the way it is.

7 For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.

8 Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

9 For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.

10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

11 Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.

"We are consumed in thine anger" (Psalms 90:7). "Such expressions suit the time of the later wanderings in the wilderness,"[10] in which the condemned generation which God forbade to enter Canaan, "Were being gradually consumed that they might not enter the Holy Land."[11]

Addis observed on these verses that, "It is the sinfulness of man that makes his life so short."[12] Also, there is the possibility that there is a divine limitation upon human life imposed by the will of God. We have already noted the possibility that Psalms 90:10 here is a prophecy.

"Thou hast set our iniquities before thee" (Psalms 90:8). This stresses the relationship between sin and death. As Barnes noted, "The fact that human life has been made so brief, is to be explained, only upon the basis that God has arrayed before his own mind the reality of human depravity."[13]

"We bring our years to an end as a sigh" (Psalms 90:9). The KJV reads this, "We spend our years as a tale that is told." The implication regards the transitoriness, the fleeting nature, and the brevity of human life. "Here today, and gone tomorrow; yes I know; that is so"![14]

"Three-score and ten ... four-score years" (Psalms 90:10). See the chapter introduction for comments on this.

"Who knoweth the power of thine anger ... thy wrath" (Psalms 90:11). "The implication of this verse is that men do not generally take the anger and wrath of God seriously enough."[15] This observation is profoundly true. The current conception of God in our American society regards him as a rather over-indulgent grandfather who pays little or no attention to the crimes of blood and lust that rage beneath his very nose, assuming that his wonderful loving grace and mercy will ignore and overlook anything that wicked men may do. It is against this background of human ignorance and misconception that the ultimate appearance of Almighty God in the Judgment of the Last Day will be an occasion when, "All the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him" (Revelation 1:7).

Verses 12-17 - MOSES' PRAYER

12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

13 Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.

14 O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

15 Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.

16 Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.

17 And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

"Teach us to number our days ... that we may get ... a heart of wisdom" (Psalms 90:12). This is a prayer that God will teach men to live as dying men should live, always taking account of the brevity and uncertainty of life and of the inevitable accounting before God in the Final Day. What a contrast is this with the attitude of many wicked people who live exactly as if they expected to live forever!

"Return ... repent thee" (Psalms 90:13). This is a plea, "For a restoration of God's favor."[16] To be sure, God does not "repent" in the human sense, but when the repentance and prayers of his people permit it, God indeed will restore them to favor.

"Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us" (Psalms 90:15). The two clauses in this and in the second half of the verse are synonymous pleadings with God to, "Balance the evil with good things."[17] It is as if Moses is saying, "O God, let us at least have good times that are as long as the evil times we have suffered."

"The prevailing thought in this section is one of confidence in the Lord's kindness and power. The psalmist knows that it is only God's favor that renews the sense of gladness and truly prospers the works of men."[18]

"Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory upon their children" (Psalms 90:16). Barnes understood this to mean, "Let us see thy power displayed in removing the calamities and in restoring our days of prosperity."[19] It was especially a concern of Moses that the next generation of Israel (their children) would also be made aware of God's glory.

"Let the favor of God be upon us ... establish the work of our hands" (Psalms 90:17). Those who do God's will during their earthly pilgrimage are happy indeed. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, assuredly, for they shall rest from their labors, and their work's follow with them" (Revelation 14:13). This indicates that the works of righteous people shall indeed survive them and follow them even to the Judgment of the Great Day. This must surely be what the psalmist meant by "establish the work of our hands." How glorious is the apostolic assurance that, "We know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Alexander Maclaren has a marvelous paragraph on this with which we wish to conclude this chapter.

Fleeting as our days are, they are ennobled by our being permitted to be God's "tools"; and although we the workers have to pass, our work may be established. That life will not die which has done the will of God. But we must walk in the favor of God, so that there can flow down from us deeds which breed not shame but shall outlast the perishable earth and follow their doers into the dwelling places of those eternal habitations.[20]