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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Psalms 90

Verses 1-6

Moses began by attributing eternality to Yahweh. All generations of believers have found Him to be a protective shelter from the storms of life. God existed before He created anything, even the "world" (Heb. tebel, lit. the productive earth). This Hebrew word is a poetic synonym for "earth" (Heb. ’eres, i.e., the planet).

God outlasts man. He creates him and then sees him return to "dust" (Heb. dakka, lit. pulverized material). From God’s eternal perspective 1,000 years are as a day is to us (2 Peter 3:8). This does not mean that God is outside time. Time simply does not bind or limit Him as it does us. All events are equally vivid to Him. Time is the instrument we use to mark the progression and relationship of events. God’s personal timeline has no end, whereas ours stretches only about 70 years before we die.

Human life is therefore quite brief compared to God’s eternality. A watch in the night was about four hours long. The years of our lives sweep past, as something a flood might carry off, before we can retrieve them. Our lifetime is similar to one day from God’s perspective or as a flower that only blooms for one day. Life is not only brief but frail.

Verses 1-12

1. The transitory nature of human life 90:1-12

Verses 1-17

IV. BOOK 4: CHS. 90-106

Moses composed one of the psalms in this section of the Psalter (Psalms 90), and David wrote two of them (Psalms 101, 103). The remaining 14 are anonymous. Book 4 opens with a psalm attributed to Moses, and it closes with one in which Moses is the dominant figure. Prominent themes in this book include the brevity of life, Yahweh’s future reign on the earth and proper human response to that hope, and Yahweh’s creative and sustaining power. So one might think of Book 4 as the book of Moses, but perhaps a better title would be "the book of the King."

Psalms 90

The psalmist asked God to bless His people in view of life’s brevity. This "one of the most magisterial of the psalms" [Note: Brueggemann, p. 110.] has been called a communal psalm of trust.

"The psalms of trust are written for the express purpose of declaring the psalmist’s trust in God. . . . A second element of the psalms of trust or confidence is the invitation to trust issued to the community. . . . A third element of this group of psalms is the basis for trust. . . . A fourth element in the psalms of trust is petition. . . . Given the nature of the psalmist’s faith, it is not surprising that in at least two instances a fifth element enters the psalm. The worshiper makes a vow or promise to praise the Lord (Psalms 16:7; Psalms 27:6 b; Psalms 115:17-18). . . . The sixth element, and next to the declaration of trust, the most frequent component of the psalms of trust, is the interior lament. It is not a lament as such, but the remnant of one." [Note: Bullock, pp. 168-70.]

Bullock considered Psalms 115, 123-26 as other community psalms of trust. [Note: Ibid., p. 169.] The superscription attributes the authorship of this psalm to Moses (cf. Deuteronomy 33:1). It is evidently the only one he wrote that God preserved in the Psalms. The content suggests that he may have written it during the wilderness wanderings, possible at Pisgah (Deuteronomy 34). In any case, it is probably one of the oldest of the psalms if not the oldest. Brueggemann believed that this psalm was attributed to Moses but not necessarily written by him. [Note: Brueggemann, p. 110.]

"In an age which was readier than our own to reflect on mortality and judgment, this psalm was an appointed reading (with 1 Corinthians 15) at the burial of the dead: a rehearsal of the facts of death and life which, if it was harsh at such a moment, wounded to heal. In the paraphrase by Isaac Watts, ’O God, our help in ages past’, it has established itself as a prayer supremely matched to times of crisis." [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, pp. 327-28.]

Verses 7-12

Humans only live a short time because God judges the sin in their lives (cf. Romans 6:23). God knows even our secret sins. They do not escape Him, and He judges us with physical death for our sins.

Assuming Moses did write this psalm, it is interesting that he said the normal human life span was 70 years. He lived to be 120, Aaron was 123 when he died, and Joshua died at 110. Their long lives testify to God’s faithfulness in providing long lives to the godly, as He promised under the Mosaic Covenant.

Since our lives are comparatively short we should number our days (Psalms 90:12). Moses meant we should realize how few they are and use our time wisely (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:1-7). Notice how often Moses mentioned "our days" or the equivalent in this psalm (Psalms 90:4-6; Psalms 90:9-10; Psalms 90:12; Psalms 90:14-15).

"The pivotal point of the text, I suggest, is the goal of a ’heart of wisdom’ (Psalms 90:12)." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 111. ]

A heart of wisdom refers to discernment of Yahweh’s purposes.

Verses 13-15

The psalmist asked God to have compassion on His sinful people. He wanted Him to balance judgment for sin with the loyal love He had promised them. Then they could live their brief lives with joy and gladness.

"In spite of the ’black border’ around this psalm, the emphasis is on life and not death." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p. 256.]

Verses 13-17

2. The compassionate nature of divine love 90:13-17

Verses 16-17

Moses also wanted God to display His majesty or splendor to His servants. He may have meant the splendor that God would demonstrate by extending mercy to them. When the Israelites saw God’s work of showing mercy they could proceed with their work knowing that God would bless it. Even though their lives would be brief, they could derive some pleasure from their work knowing that God would give it some relative permanence.

We might title this psalm, "Reflections on the Brevity of Life." Life is short because we are sinners. Even the most godly person dies eventually (except for Enoch, Elijah, and Christians alive at the Rapture). God removed the guilt of our sins when Jesus Christ died on the cross. He imputes the effects of that work to a person when he or she trusts in Christ as Savior. However, the consequences of sin still follow. Chief among these is physical death. Nevertheless God extends His mercy to humankind and allows us to live as long as we do. His mercy enables us to enjoy life and make a profitable contribution to our world.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 90". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.