SSL 7 - Psalm 90:1-14
LAST WEEK: In Num. 27:12-23, we studied God's plan for the transition in leadership between Moses and Joshua. From that lesson, we learned that great leaders like Moses begin developing successors long before they leave office. The major truth of the lesson is that a carefully planned, orderly transition of leadership is as relevant to modern churches today as it was to the ancient Israelites over three millennia ago. In this very church, we have had to learn the hard way on more than one occasion that a lack of continuity in leadership causes the membership of the church to become confused and demoralized, like "sheep who have gone astray" Isa. 53:6. Preparing for transitions in leadership takes time (God's timeframe, not ours), hard work, careful planning, and steadfast prayer. The Bible doesn't list the exact details that Moses used to prepare and identify Joshua as his successor, but we do know that he (1) prayed for God's guidance (Num. 27:16); (2) made certain to publically recognize and support Joshua in his future role; and (3) followed recognized procedure to confirm his authority (Num. 27:17-21).
THIS WEEK: We'll take a detour and look at Psalm 90, entitled "A Prayer of Moses, A Man of God," which parallels the themes of Numbers and Deuteronomy. Although some scholars have debated whether Moses actually wrote it, the vast majority identify him as the author, which makes it the oldest psalm in the book. In his four-volume commentary on the Psalms, theologian James Montgomery Boice suggests that this Psalm is most likely connected to the events reported in Num. 20-21, which include (1) the death of Moses' sister, Miriam, (2) the sin of Moses in striking the rock in the Wilderness (which prevented him from entering the Promised Land), and (3) the death of Moses' brother, Aaron. Charles Hadden Spurgeon remarked that Moses definitely earned "The Man of God" title given him by this Psalm because, "Moses was peculiarly a man of God and God's man; chosen of God, inspired of God, and faithful to God in all his house." In theme, the psalm recounts the eternal nature of God in relation to the very temporal nature of man. For God, a thousand years is but an eye-blink, whereas, for man 70 years is a long lifespan, and even this limited span of time is often filled with a lot of sorrow and hardship. In the Psalm, Moses explains this as the result of God's holiness and man's sinfulness. Moses goes on to explain that for man, the solution to this problem is not man's hope in this life but in the next. Let's hear, then, what the Man of God has to say.
Read Ps. 90:1-2 - The LORD is Eternal
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the
world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
v. 1: "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations" - Written during the years of the wilderness wanderings, the children of Israel lived in constant need of refuge, shelter, and protection. But more than their tents and their armies, Israel had God as their "dwelling place." Notice in your Bible, the title Lord, upper and lower-case, which translates to Adonai, which signifies that God is sovereign-in control of all things and events. And they had Him as their dwelling place, not just for themselves, but for "all generations," including both those who came before them and those would come after.
v. 2a: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world" - In the wilderness on the slow journey toward Canaan, Moses saw the mountains on the distant horizon and reflected on the truth that God existed before the mountains; in fact, it was God who formed the earth and the mountains on it.
v. 2b: "from everlasting to everlasting You are God" - Thinking about God's unchangeable nature, Moses reflects here that before anything existed, God was. From eternity past through eternity future-"everlasting to everlasting"-He exists, independent of all His creation. The famous English theologian Samuel Clarke said that, "This is the highest description of the eternity of God to which the human language can reach."
TRUTH 1: God has been, is, and will always be God to those who follow Him. He is their dwelling place, their refuge, not only for the Ancient Children of Israel, but for "all generations," including both those who came before them and those would come after up to present day. From eternity past through eternity future-"everlasting to everlasting"-He exists, independent of all His creation.
Read Ps. 90:3-6 - Man's Life is Fleeting
3 You return man to dust and say, "Return, O children of man [or of Adam]!"
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.
v. 3: "You return man to dust and say, "Return, O children of man" - Even if we had no Bible to explain it, our daily experience tells us that all humans, not matter how smart, strong, healthy, powerful, wealthy, etc., are mere mortals who will one day surely die and return to the dust from whence they came. The phrase, "Return, O children," was not a call to repentance but a command for humankind to return to the dust from which they came, which echoes God's judgment upon the sin of Adam and Eve in Gen. 3:19: "...for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
v. 4: "For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night" - Moses poetically repeats the idea of God's eternity-i.e., living outside of time with no beginning or end-and he contrasts, figuratively, God's timelessness and man's brief lifespan as the difference between a thousand years and a single day, and a single day in the past, not the present. A "watch in the night" is usually three or four hours. In this life, we humans are ruled by time; for God, time does not exist. The point is that we can never fathom God's workings and timing by our human standards and have no real frame of reference.
v. 5: "You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning" - Here Moses compares the swiftness of time to a flood, so that one hour, one day, one month, a decade rolls on one after another, ceaselessly. Then in a sound sleep, time is gone, and a dream, briefly remembered and lost, is comparatively as short as a human life. Finally, man flourishes like new grass growing in the short-lived morning dew. All of these images point to the briefness of human life. It's a fact.
v. 6: "in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers" - Again, Moses poses another analogy to a human lifespan: a thousand years compared to grass which grows up in the morning and withers by the time of evening. Commentators like Matthew Henry say the morning to evening represents our time of prosperity and the withering, our old age, not death.
TRUTH 2: The condition of man Moses described above-short, hard lives compared an infinite and eternal God-confirms that we need God's ________. In this life, we humans are ruled by time; however, for God, time does not exist. The point is that we can never fathom God's workings and timing by our human standards and have no real frame of reference. We need to trust God and seek His help.
Read Psalm 90:7-11 - We Are Brought to Our End by God's Wrath
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. 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 is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?
v. 7: "For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed" - In this section of verses, Moses repeats two ideas: (1) The God who lives outside of time and see a thousand years as yesterday; and (2) the God who has the right and the power to judge mankind, especially the people He called His own. In the wilderness, Moses and the people of Israel felt consumed by God's anger and terrified by his wrath. Remember, too, that Moses saw during that time an entire generation melt away and die under the judgment of God.
v. 8: "You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence" - Moses reveals the cause of God's anger, wrath, and judgment-the peoples iniquities. The Heb. word for iniquity, āwōn, appears in the OT 231 times. It literally means an offense against God's Law, whether intentional or not, which constitutes breaking covenant or promise, and refers specifically to the covenant between God and His people reported in Ex. 19-24. "Secret sins" are wrongs not seen or known by other people but known to God. The point is that no sin is outside the light of God's presence.
v. 9: "For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh" - Here, Moses poetically compares the eternal nature of the eternal God with the weak, temporal nature of sinful humanity. To "pass away under [God's] wrath" emphasizes the connection between sin and death. English theologian and scholar Alexander MacLaren said that the ultimate death and decay of man is not the result of a finite, i.e., time-controlled, lifespan, but a result of sin. Do you see that?
v. 10: "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away" - According to Deut. 31:2; 34:7, Moses lived 120 years. The statement Moses makes here (70) isn't a promise or a limit but an estimate for that era, which, by the way, is 20 years longer than average American life expectancies 100 years ago. And yes, along this way, we have to work to support ourselves and our families, we face various trials of life, and experience the sorrow of losing loved ones-it's all part of life, isn't it? And folks, most of the lost people of this world-they think that's all there is, no hope. Does that bother you? It bothers me.
v. 11: "Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? " - Here we see Moses connect the ideas of the relatively short and hard life of man to the salient fact of God's righteous judgment. He saw it and lived in the wilderness. He saw men dying all around him and was overwhelmed by the results of God's anger and wrath. The point Moses makes, which is as relevant today as at was then, is that people simply don't take God seriously enough. People who think of Him as a kindly old grandfather who's willing to overlook their sinful ways are deeply mistaken-that doesn't describe the infinite and holy God of the Bible, not at all.
TRUTH 3: We must learn to "fear" God in order to see our human condition as it really is, compared to God as He actually is. The point Moses is making, which is as relevant today as at was then, is that people simply don't take God seriously enough. As Prov. 9:10 states, "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." Before all else, we must acknowledge and understand the central truth that God is eternal and righteous and that we are mortal and sinful. Only when we see the perfect holiness and righteousness of God, will we correctly recognize our own sinful condition.
Read Ps. 90:12-17 - Prayer for Wisdom and Guidance
12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
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 of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
v. 12: "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" - Shifting from God's righteous power to judge man, Moses now prays for God to guide His people in faithful living. He asks for God to "teach" them to make the most of their days and give them a "heart of wisdom" that would help them live faithfully according to the right priorities, such as the "fear" of God in v.11, which is much more that just being frightened and encompasses reverence, respect, and awe of God.
TRUTH 4: We should heed Moses' warning to "number our days" by living our life in light of its limits. Since life is short and we have no assurance of tomorrow, we cannot waste today. God has given us the ability to serve Him for a season, so we must live wisely within life's limitations and not presume upon an uncertain future by putting off the things we should do today.
v. 13: "Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants" - Moses makes a plea for God's presence, to turn away from His anger and "return" to His people. To have "pity" (or mercy) appeals to the hesed, Yahweh's loyal covenant love toward His
chosen people, a recurring theme of Psalms.
v. 14: "Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days" - Remember that "morning" in v.6 referred a time of prosperity in a short life. Moses completely understood that true satisfaction didn't come from money, fame, pleasure, or success, but from God's steadfast love (mercy KJV). Alexander MacLaren said, "The only thing that will secure life-long gladness is a heart satisfied with the experience of God's love."
v. 15: "Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil" - Here, Moses is asking God to balance the evil things with good things, as if to say, "please God let us have good times that are at least as long as the bad times we have suffered."
v. 16: "Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children" - Moses is asking God display His love toward His people in great "works" that will enable them to flourish, so that if the people live faithfully (v.12), seek God's presence (v.13), show true satisfaction in God's love (v.14), and experience prosperous living as a result (v.15), then God's "glorious power" will certainly be evident-a testimony-to their children. It was obviously important to Moses that the next generation of Israel should know of God's works, His great glory.
v. 17: "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" - Continuing the theme of v.16, Moses asks for God's "favor" (beauty in some translations) to be upon his people, that is, His presence and divine guidance giving direction and encouragement to their lives. Repeated twice for emphasis, the "work of our hands" is a figure of speech that means the work of our day-to-day lives, when approved by God, can have eternal consequences. By all of this, Moses is saying that the works of faithful people will be a legacy that will follow them into the next generation, and on to next. For Christians in today's world, our day-to-day work in our chosen vocations can be a powerful influence on the culture around us. The quality of our work combined with treating both the people we work for and the people who work for us with Christian kindness, honesty, fairness, and respect can make a strong statement to those we come into contact with. For us, the work we do is not an end in itself but a way to glorify the God we serve, a ministry.
TRUTH 5: Moses' prayer gives essential guidance about our relationship to God. In summary, our prayers should:
• Seek God's presence and ask for His mercy, forgiveness, and guidance in all we do.
• Seek God with the understanding that true satisfaction doesn't from money, fame, pleasure, or success, but comes from experiencing God's love toward those who follow Him.
• Ask God to intervene in present day history and demonstrate His glory by bringing revival to His people (that's us) in such a way that reveals His might, power, and salvation to all of humankind.
• Ask God to help us establish the "work of our hands" by teaching the next generation about His glorious works and using our day-to-day occupations as ministries that have eternal consequences.
PRAYER: LORD GOD, our Father and Creator, we come before Your throne this morning with humble and grateful hearts, thanking and praising You for Your love, mercy, and undeserved grace toward us and for all of the many blessings you give us this day and every day. Lord, as we enter a brand new year in the life of this church, we pray that you will guide us in all we do to be truly united in mind and Spirit, and above all, in love. Lord, we ask You to help every single one of us to become the witnesses to a lost world that we need to be. I pray, as members of this church, that we will be a congregation who serve You without hesitation and are generous in our giving. Help us, Lord, to make new disciples by being to be a light of hope to the lost people who are right outside the doors of this church. In the name above all names, our Lord and wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ, AMEN.