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The man of God appealing to Jehovah, who, through all generations, is the resource of His people.
(v. 1) The psalm opens with a sublime appeal to Jehovah as the dwelling place of His people. The man of God looks back over all the generations of God's people. He sees, as it were, Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, as pilgrims and strangers without any certain dwelling place; he recalls the years of the wilderness wanderings when Israel was without a home and without a country, exposed to dangers and perils, and, throughout all these generations, he sees that Jehovah has been the home and refuge of His people.
The man of God takes his stand on the blessed fact that God is the resource of His people. In the light of this fact he can face the frailty and failure of God's people, and on this fact every utterance of his appeal is based.
(vv. 2-6) Having stated the ground of his confidence in appealing to God, the psalmist draws a contrast between the eternal God and mortal man. God is the unchangeable God, the same before the world was as now. Creation may pass, yet God remains. The One who is our resource is everlasting and unchanging - “From eternity to eternity thou art God” (JND).
In contrast to God the psalmist sees the mortality of man and the passing of time. God is immortal, but man is mortal and returns to dust (JND). In the sight of God there is no time as men count time. A thousand years in the sight of God are as soon gone as yesterday, or as a watch in the night.
Moreover, a world that seems to be established for ever is carried away by a flood, and like men in a sleep, those swept away are unconscious of all that transpires on earth. With all their brave show of glory and power, men perish like grass that flourishes and grows for a day, but is cut down and withered by night. Joseph, in his day, was made “ruler over all the land of Egypt,” but the last we hear of Joseph is that “he was put in a coffin in Egypt” ( Gen_50:26 ). All the glory of man ends in the dust of the grave and in the darkness of death. Such is frail and fallen man, for the man of God is speaking of the natural man, not of the spiritual; of the first man, not of the second; of the earthly not of the heavenly.
(vv. 7-10) Faith, however, looks above the changing circumstances of time and sees, through all these things, the ways of God in His governmental dealings with His people in view of His purpose. Hence there is the confession of sins, both open and secret - all are before God - and there is the consciousness that sins justly incur the governmental dealing of God. If we wither, if our days pass away, it is but the due reward of our deeds. Thus in condemning ourselves we justify God in His dealings with us. It may be that by reason of strength our years are lengthened out beyond the allotted span of threescore years and ten, but even so, the strength that we are proud of, and the years that we boast in, will only bring labour and vanity.
(vv. 11-12) This recognition of God's wrath against sin will be according to the measure of our fear of God. Fear is the outcome of the knowledge, and recognition, of God as He is according to truth. The more we recognize the holy character of God the deeper will be our sense of His hatred of sin. “Dost thou not fear God,” says the thief on the cross; and realizing who God is, he realizes also the holy wrath of God against sin, for he immediately adds, “We receive the due reward of our deeds” ( Luk_23:40-41 ). Thus the man of God desires that “we may acquire a wise heart” (JND), for a wise heart is one that fears God. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God.
(v. 13) With the fear of God, and the confession of sin, there comes confidence in God. Thus at once the man of God appeals to Jehovah for His blessing. So the thief on the cross, with the fear of God in his heart, and the confession of sins upon his lips, can at once turn with confidence to the Lord and say, “Lord remember me.” In like spirit the psalmist can say, “Return, Jehovah: how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. Satisfy us early with thy loving-kindness” (JND).
Faith recognizes that it is God's purpose to bless His people, and therefore faith knows there must be an end to the time of affliction and sorrow in the governmental ways of God. Thus faith says “How long?” This is the language of faith and hope - of faith in the purpose of God to bless, and hope that reaches out to the coming blessing.
(vv. 14-15) Faith, growing yet bolder, can say, “Satisfy us early with thy loving-kindness.” Faith looks to God, not to failing men or passing circumstances, to give everlasting satisfaction. Nevertheless, faith realizes that satisfaction can only be given to a guilty sinner on the ground of grace, hence the cry is, “Satisfy us with thy loving-kindness.” The glorious end is that “we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” So the psalmist prays, “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, according to the years wherein we have seen evil.”
(v. 16) If, however, God acts in grace, it must be on the ground of His own work. So at once there is the prayer, “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy majesty unto their sons.” The efficacy of His work rests on the majesty of His Person. To sully the majesty of His Person is to belittle the efficacy of His work.
(v. 17) Moreover, the blessing that is secured by God's work must far transcend the requirements of our need, and the deliverance from sorrows by the way. The end is that the beauty of the Lord will be upon us, or as the Christian can say, “Conformed to the image of His Son.” Then, when blessing has been secured by grace, we shall find that the work of our hands will be established. The works of self-righteousness will pass, but the works that flow from grace will be established. Not a cup of cold water given for Christ's sake will be forgotten.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Psalms 90". "Smith's Writings". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany