PSALM 90 - The LORD, Our Timeless Dwelling Place
Outline of Psalm 90
  1. The Eternality of God (v.1-2)
  2. The Frailty of Man (v.3-6)
  3. The Sinfulness of Man (v.7-9a)
  4. The Brevity of Life (v.9b-12)
  5. The Necessity of God's Intervention (v.13-17)
1. A Prayer of Moses the man of God.
Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
A prayer of Moses...- Though written 3500 years ago, this Psalm is timeless,
for like all of the Bible, it is the Word of the eternal God.
Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place...-
This calls to mind the words which Paul quoted: "for in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Paul was quoting a Greek poet (Epimenides, c.650 BC), who was addressing the false god, Zeus. From ancient times, the heathen sensed that there was something beyond themselves. They sought to define God with their temples and mythology. But they could not discover Him. Men cannot have a true understanding of their Creator apart from God's self-revelation.
     The LORD, the ever-living, self-existent One, chose to reveal Himself to mankind through the nation of Israel, as recorded in His Word, the Bible.
  • Abram - left his home in Ur of the Chaldees (c.2000 BC), "not knowing whither he went," by faith in the God who called him and promised him an inheritance. He left an advanced urban society, to dwell in tents in a wilderness which God promised would be his, as far as the eye could see. But he was just a sojourner, a stranger in the land. Yet, he was content to dwell in, and with, Him who promised, "for he looked for a city, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb 11:9,10).
  • Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise, also dwelt in tents. In a time of famine, Jacob and his sons left the land of promise to dwell temporarily in a strange land (Egypt).
  • Moses, the author of this psalm, while dwelling in Egypt "refused to be called the son of Pharoah's daughter, choosing rather to be afflicted with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." At age 40, he was an exile from the land of his birth, and spent the next 40 years as a shepherd, where "he endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb 11:24-27).
         The invisible "I Am" appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and sent him to lead God's flock, from the place of their bondage, to the land of promise. He obeyed by faith, and spent the next 40 years dwelling in tents with Israel in the wilderness. In his last words, Moses declared to his people that their security, was not in the fabric walls that sheltered them from sun and sand storm, but rather: "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deu 33:27).
...our dwelling place in all generations {lit., in generation upon generation}...
Times change, years pass, people come and go, leaders rise and fall. But there is one constant:
  • the unchanging, eternal, invisible God...
Yet, though He has revealed Himself in His Word, He remains far greater than we can grasp... far beyond our understanding. Even Moses, who recorded the lives of the Patriarchs, and the account of Creation, struggled to describe the Creator who lives outside of time. "God," Moses says, "is Before..."
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.
He is before the mountains were brought forth...
before the land was separated from the seas... before the world was without form and void... (Gen 1:1,2). As we attempt to look back, before time began, "the things which are" revert to "things which are not." Yet, God is.
He is from everlasting to everlasting {ie., from before the ages to after the ages}.
He lives beyond the vanishing point of time stretched out in either direction. He is the God of the Before and of the After.
     Somewhere between the vanishing points 'before' and 'after' is a vanishing moment called "now." That is where we live. The LORD is the God of the Now, also. "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2Cor 6:2). He must be the God of our lives 'now'... we at home in Him, He at home in us, if we expect to dwell with Him eternally, for we are creatures of time, without life in ourselves.
3 Thou turnest man to destruction {lit., powder, dust};
and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
{Gen 3:19}
4 For a thousand years in thy sight [are but] as yesterday when it is past,
and [as] a watch in the night.
(cp. 2Pet 3:8)
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.
Return, ye children of men {lit., children of Adam, Gen 3:19} -
God is sovereign. He sets the limits of our lives.
  • A thousand years... or a day. Methuselah lived 969 years, almost 1000. Yet, he has vanished off the scene. His life is concluded in five sentences in the Bible. Whether we live 10 or 1000 years, it is the same percentage of eternity. Where is life, when it has ended? God controls our personal vanishing points.
  • Moses would have been acutely aware of the brevity of life, for a million people died during those 40 years in the wilderness, "carried away as with a flood..." averaging 70 funerals a day.
  • Thus, to invest in a vanishing vapor is to engage in an empty endeavor (eg., Psa 39:5; Ecc 3:19). No sooner is a man formed from the dust, than God says 'Go back where you came from.' (v.6)
Moses, Why do your people die like flies in the wilderness?
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].
for we are consumed by thine anger...
The people of Israel were cut down due to their unbelief.
  • They had refused to enter the promised land, due to unbelief in God and fear of 'giants in the land' (Num 13:32- 14:4). Therefore, the Lord caused them to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until the unbelieving generation perished (Num 14:19-23).
  • They rebelled against the leaders whom God appointed over them. They accused Moses and Aaron: "Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?" (Num 16:3)
    'But,' some may say, 'personal choice, even when rooted in unbelief, is a private matter. In the situations mentioned above, the people refused to follow God's leaders due to a cautious desire to avoid conflict and to protect their children. Why should God be angry?'
       Because they knowingly refused God's Word, which was spoken for their good. (eg., 1Sam 15:23)
Thou hast set our inquities before thee, our secret sins...-
Nothing is hid from the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Heb 4:12,13)
  • 'our secret sins' on earth are open scandal in heaven, for they undermine the authority of the ever-living One.
  • 'our iniquities' {ie., our impurities}... even those hidden from, or excused by other men, are blatant offenses to God, for they are illuminated in the light of the 'countenance' {ie., before the 'Face', in the 'Presence') of the Holy One, whose Person is pure moral integrity. In Him, there is no darkness at all... nor, can any impurity exist in His Presence (1Joh 1:5,6).
    Illustration: The rays of sun light have a purifying influence. Bacteria and other disease causing pathogens are destroyed with exposure to the sun. It's hard to see the destruction of microscopic microbes. But have you ever observed that the heat of the sun makes short work of maggots, in the exposed bottom of a garbage container?
for all our days are passed away in thy wrath {ie., hot anger}...
So, is that where we dwell: "in thy wrath"?
     If God is our dwelling place, then we are continually under the glare of His Holiness.
     The sun is not angry with maggots, but its standard of purity is not bent to suit them.
     God is right to be angry with us, for, unlike maggots, our impurities are willful. Rom 1:18
...we spend our years as a tale {lit., as a moan, a futile sigh, a passing thought}...
The unbelieving Israelites thought God's treatment of them, under the desert sun, to be harsh. But they had chosen to disobey God... thinking that they would avoid war, and preserve their children. How much better it would have been, if they had chosen to trust Him and obey!
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.
12. So teach [us] to number our days,
that we may apply [our] hearts unto wisdom.
the days of our years... soon cut off, and we fly away.
God has limited the length of our sojourn in the land of sin. He knows the trouble that we would bring upon ourselves, if we lived 1000 years. He has bracketed our days (to about 70 or 80 years), and mercifully allows them to grow more difficult with time, to warn us of their fleeting nature.
who knoweth the power of thine anger...- or, 'who considers the intensity of your wrath?'
Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we blame everyone but ourselves for our troubles: Moses, God, the food, the water... while our troubles spring from the depth of iniquity in our own hearts.
even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath...
The greater our appreciation, understanding, and awe of God... the more we realize who He is, the more we will tremble for our unholy condition, before the Holy One. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding" (Prov 9:10). See Luk 12:5
so teach us to number our days...-
The numbering of our days is not so much to know how old we will get, or how long we will live, but to realize that our days are numbered, so that we would reverence the One who has set the number of our days. Psa 39:4; Eph 5:15-17
...that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.-
True wisdom is in knowing the Lord. Prov 2:2-6; Jer 9:23,24; 1Cor 1:30,31
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.
Return, O LORD, how long?... let it repent thee {ie., let your wrath toward us, be turned}...-
The word for 'repent' {HB=nacham} is used in several ways, in Scripture. Sinners are urged to 'repent' (ie., to turn from their sin to the Savior). But God is perfect. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. There is no shadow of turning with Him. In what way does God 'repent'?
     This word has a range of meanings. It is variously translated as: repent, be comforted, be eased, be reconciled. God must judge sin because it is contrary to His holiness. Our sin troubles Him, because we are out of order. But if sinners could be made holy, the cause of His wrath would be 'eased' or 'comforted.' Thus, the prayer "Let it repent thee concerning thy servants," might be restated: 'Turn us into Your servants, who no longer grieve Your heart.'
Moses prayed that prayer before us... and he asked 'how...?'
  • How could God turn from His righteous wrath against sin, to bless the sinner?
    God revealed the answer in the pattern of the Tabernacle, which He gave to Moses. There was only one entrance to the holy courtyard. Anyone who approached was immediately confronted with the altar of sacrifice. There, a substitute (eg., a lamb, or goat) was slain, symbolically acknowledging the sinner's guilt and sin's penalty (death). The blood of the sacrifice, sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy Place, provided atonement {a covering} for sin (eg., Lev 16:15,16; 17:11). By this temporary measure, God could be merciful to the sinner, who confessed that he deserved death for his sin, as he trusted God to provide a final propitiation of sin.
  • How long? - From Moses' day, 2500 years would pass, until that propitiation.
    The word 'propitiation' {GK=hilasterion}, in Rom 3:24,25; 1Joh 2:2; and 4:10, is the same word translated as 'Mercy-seat' in Heb 9:5. Far more than a covering, propitiation is the purging of sin. In His sacrifice, Christ 'took away' sin (Heb 9:24-28; 10:14). Therefore, in Christ, the sinner finds reconciliation with God (Col 1:20-22).
O satisfy us early with thy mercy {HB=chesed, lovingkindness, cp. Psa 36:7,8; 103:3-5}...-
God has extended His lovingkindness to us in Christ. Whereas, we belonged to the 'kingdom of darkness' (which is under His wrath), He has translated us into the Kingdom of His Son (who is blessed forever). See Col 1:12-14.
     In Christ, God has satisfied our need for mercy, far beyond what we could ask or think. Considering the long wait for this satisfaction (from the time of Moses), the word 'early' {HB=boqer, early, dawn, morning} seems not to mean 'soon.' Rather, it may refer to the dawn of a new day when the redeemed would live under God's favor.
that we may rejoice and be glad... - See 1Joh 1:3,4
make us glad according to... the years wherein we have seen evil.-
This is recompensing joy, which fills up that which was wasted. Israel's 40 wasted years in the wilderness were caused by their sin. The Lord had chastened His erring people less than they deserved. When the time was right, He brought the children (of the unbelievers who perished in the wilderness) into the land He had promised to their forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey. Enjoying His blessings they forgot the wasted years, and any desire to return to Egypt.
     Likewise, believers today, while ashamed of their time spent in unbelief, look to the Lord to accomplish His purposes in their lives. Rom 6:20-22; Php 3:13,14
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.
Let thy work appear {be seen} unto thy servants...
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses dwelt in tents, anticipating that the 'things hoped for' would eventually be seen. They did not receive the fulfillment of those promises in their lifetimes (Heb 11:13). Yet, they taught their children to watch for them. God is faithful to His promises. He even brought the children of unbelievers into His land (Num 14:30,31; Josh 4:22-24).
     Today also, believers watch for Christ's return and the fulfillment of many promises, which have not yet been seen. But we should see evidence of His transforming power, as he changes us from what we were into the likeness of Christ (eg., 1Cor 6:11).
and thy glory [appear] unto their children.
God's glory relates to His Person. As His power works within us, His Person should be revealed through our lives.
     How wonderful: if our children could see the LORD's beauty in our love for Him... in our desire to understand and obey His Word... in our trust in Him in every circumstance... in our submission to Him... in our wholehearted service to Him... (eg., Psa 29:2)
Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us...-
  • His unflinching righteousness, under which we once cowered and thought it harsh...
  • His unfailing love and mercy, which turned us to Him...
    These beauties, will rest "upon us" if we abide in Him. Joh 15:4
the work of our hands establish thou it...-
Our brief lives are soon cut off, like mown grass (v.5). The things that we have thought and done... The empires that we have built, the wealth that we have accumulated... all of that will follow us to the grave and perish.
     Only what is done for (and 'by') Christ will last. God has a purpose for everyone whom He has saved (Eph 2:10). For those who submit to Him, He will bring that purpose to fruition (Php 2:13; 1Cor 3:7).
     Moses' hands left no buildings or pyramids in his memory. But because He made His dwelling place in the LORD, Moses' hands left something of far greater value and permanence:
  • The written Word of God... which God has used, through countless generations, to bring people into right relationship with Him, so that they, too, can dwell rejoicing in Him who has revealed Himself to us. Isa 55:11

This Concludes the study in Psalm 90.
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