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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Psalms 90

Verses 1-17

Psalms Book IV

(Psalms 90-106)

Psalms 90

The Frailty of Man

Scripture v. 1-17:

This psalm was written by Moses about 1500 B.C., near the end of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. Its theme is the frailty of man and the beauty of life in comparison with the eternity of God. This is also the first Psalm of the Fourth Book of Psalms , 90-106, which corresponds with Numbers of the Pentateuch.

Verse 1 asserts that the Lord had been Israel’s real dwelling place or "home refuge," in all generations, especially since they had left Egypt, where they had had no home, except tents, for some forty years earlier. God was (existed as) their home, their true refuge and soul-retreat, Deuteronomy 33:27; Exodus 33:12; Psalms 89:1; Psalms 91:1; Isaiah 4:6.

Verse 2 declares that before the mountains were "brought forth", or that the Lord had "formed" the earth and the world, (terms used regarding the manner of a child’s birth), from everlasting to everlasting God existed. Thus His eternity is certified in contrast with the frailty and brevity of man’s existence, Job 38:4-6; Proverbs 8:25; Psalms 33:11; Deuteronomy 32:40. See too Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:15; Hebrews 3:6.

Verse 3 states that God, by decree, turns men to destruction (physical death) the penalty of depravity or original sin, Romans 5:12; James 1:15; Hebrews 9:27. It is added that He says, "return, ye children of men,", certifying that He not only assures the resurrection of all men from the grave, as well as the replenishing of the earth with men, to take the place of those who die, Genesis 3:16-19; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Job 10:9; Job 4:19; 2 Samuel 14:14. Of such one wrote:

"One by one God sends His call,

One by one the workers fall;

One by one by God’s own grace,

Other workers take their place;

The workers fall ... The work goes on,"


Verse 4 adds " for a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. 1) Time is "eternal now", with God who sleeps not, and knows the whole of life as a "present now;" 2) Time is temporary, fleeting, like a "watch in the night" that is soon gone, overtaken by death to man, and bird, and beast; one can’t beat death! Romans 5:12; Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27; Hebrews 13:8; 2 Peter 3:8; Psalms 39:5; Exodus 14:24; Matthew 14:25.

Verses 5, 6 further relate that all men at best are soon gone, as swept away by a flood-torrent in an unexpected cloud-burst, Isaiah 25:4; and as sleep or a dream; Each is gone, life is over before we are aware of it, Job 20:8; Job 22:16. Beauty of life is further compared with rapid growing grass that is changed overnight, flourishes at sunrise, then is cut down, withered and gone by nightfall, in the evening, Isaiah 40:6; Psalms 92:7; Psalms 103:15; Job 14:2; James 4:14-15; 1 Samuel 20:3.

Verses 7-9 explain that man’s beauty and frailty of life is a result of Divine judgment for sin. Man is consumed by God’s anger and troubled because of His wrath against one’s sin, Deuteronomy 8:5; 2 Kings 22:13; Psalms 102:10.
Verse 8 asserts that God has set man’s iniquities before him, even his secret sins are open to His countenance, His observation, with wrath; So that none can sin and escape without either repentance or judgment, or sometimes both, Jeremiah 16:17; Job 14:17: Psalms 130:3; Proverbs 15:11; Psalms 19:12; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Kings 17:9; Isaiah 29:15; 1 Corinthians 4:4-5; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.
Verse 9 concludes that all man’s days are spent under God’s wrath, and his years as a tale that is told, waiting with meditation to be filled, even in death to await heaven or hell, for which ever man has prepared in this life, Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:41;1 Chronicles 28; 1 Chronicles 9 : Psalms 78:33; Genesis 47:9; Psalms 102:11.

Verse 10 seems to set forth that life after the flood-curse was reduced to about 70 years expectancy, or eighty by reason of strict obedience to the laws of God; But even in lengthened days there were and are increasing pain and sorrows, so that all soon pass, Deuteronomy 5:33. Life at the best, in the tabernacle of flesh, is a temporary dwelling or tenting place, in comparison with life hereafter, 2 Corinthians 5:1; Genesis 5:29; Genesis 47:9.

Verse 11 laments the power of God’s just judgment anger against man’s willful sin; Though death brings those who have received the Lord to an hour of assured gain, victory, and liberation, Hebrews 2:15; 2 Corinthians 5:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:8, of the inevitableness of death,

Thomas Gray wrote:

"The boast of heraldry, The pomp of power,

And all that beauty, all that wealth are gone,

Await alike the inevitable hour ...

The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

Verse 12 appeals "So teach us to number our days," or to know our days are numbered (limited)," that we may apply our hearts (affections) unto wisdom, Job 28:28; Deuteronomy 4:6; Deuteronomy 32:19.

Men, wise men, make plans before they make a long journey; They prepare for it. And heaven is a long-way-journey from sin and this life, and only such as make preparations and a reservation for that place of rest before death will reach it safely. On the breeze of the early morning air, under noonday sun, or the evening, or midnight darkness, death soon comes to all, to require the soul. Life’s beauty calls for man to prepare, Amos 4:12. Seven things set forth the brevity of man’s life:

1. A shadow, 1 Chronicles 29:15; Job 8:9; Job 14:2.

2. A flying shuttle, Job 7:6.

3. A swift messenger’s post, Job 9:25.

4. A hand’s breadth, Psalms 39:5; Psalms 89:47.

5. A weaver’s web, Isaiah 38:12.

6. A vapor, James 4:14.

7. Grass, cut down, withered, Psalms 90:3-6; Psalms 102:11; Isaiah 40:7; Isaiah 51:12.

It is so true that:

"This world can never give the bliss for which men sigh,

“Tis not the whole of life to live, nor all of death to die."

2 Corinthians 5:1; Revelation 21:8.

Verse 13 appeals "Return, O Lord how long?" How long will you be angry with us? "And let it repent thee concerning thy servants," Exodus 32:12. God is the same God of love when He punishes for sin as when He comforts and restores joy to the penitent sinner. But He would not be holy, righteous, or just if He did not punish sin in the sinner, before turning to give him joy, and comfort, See? Psalms 94:3; Psalms 135:14. See also Exodus 32:14; Deuteronomy 32:36; Psalms 6:3; Psalms 106:45; Psalms 135:11; Hosea 11:8.

Verses 14, 15 plead for the Lord to satisfy Israel early (very soon) with His mercy, that they might rejoice and be glad all the rest of the days of their lives, Psalms 46:5; Deuteronomy 12:7; Deuteronomy 21:8.
Verse 15 asks that Israel be given gladness in harmony with the days wherein He had afflicted them, even the (40) years wherein they had seen or beheld evil, God’s chastening hand over them as they had wandered about and their elder men had nearly all died in the wilderness because of their unbelief, 2 Chronicles 30:21; Deuteronomy 8:5; Psalms 31:10.

Verse 16 prays, "Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children," a compassionate desire of Moses for his people Israel, though he was soon to be taken in death and leave them, Numbers 14:15-24; Psalms 44:1; Habakkuk 3:2; Let it be noted that great men live and die interested not only in their own generation but also in that one to follow, as Paul, 2 Timothy 4:1-8; as Peter, 2 Peter 1:12-15. See also Psalms 8:3; Psalms 44:1; Psalms 77:12; Psalms 92:4; Exodus 24:17; Isaiah 61:7.

Verse 17 concludes by Moses’ strong prayer that God will let His beauty be upon (seen in) Israel and establish the work of their hands in Israel to His glory, as set forth Isaiah 26:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; Deuteronomy 24:19; See too 2 Chronicles 15:15; 2 Chronicles 20:20.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Psalms 90". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. 1985.