Bible Commentaries
Psalms 90

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

Psalms 90:1-17.-A meditation: the Lord our dwelling-place, the counterpoise to our transitory life: death, the wages of sin (Psalms 90:1-10); prayer: as men so little know the connection of our dying frailty with God's mighty anger against our sins, God teach us it so that we may apply our hearts to the wisdom which shrinks from sin (Psalms 90:11-12); return from thy wrath as the people turn to thee; comfort us according to the shortness of life wherein thou hast afflicted us (Psalms 90:13-17).

Title. - The man of God - implies that Moses' high character and office are a guarantee for the inspired authority of the psalm. His word is to be reverently heeded, as the Word of God Himself. It is a title applied also to David, Elijah, and Elisha in the Old Testament, and to Timothy in the New Testament. Compare Deuteronomy 33:1; Joshua 14:6. The time of the psalm was probably (Psalms 90:13-15) toward the close of the 40 years' wandering in the desert. The people, after long chastisement, beg mercy. God answered them in the triumphs miraculously vouchsafed at their entrance into Canaan. Here, as in Genesis 2:1-25; Genesis 3:1-24, death is set forth as the result of sin. The limitation of life to 70 or 80 years accords with the fact, that most of the generation that perished in the wilderness were from 20 to 40 years of age in leaving Eygpt, and 40 more years in the wilderness - i:e., in all, 70 or 80 years at death. Moses, the leader whom the prophets followed, gave also the first movement to psalm poetry, (Deuteronomy 32:1-52; Deuteronomy 33:1-29.)

Psalms 90:1-5.-The First division of the First part: meditation. The transitoriness of life points us to Yahweh as our only permanent abode.

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. This verse contains the theme: Psalms 90:2-5, the ground on which it rest. Nowhere else is the term "dwelling place" [ maa`own (H4583)] applied to God, except here and Psalms 91:9, and Deuteronomy 33:27: cf. Isaiah 4:6. How naturally was the image suggested by the sense of the value of a fixed habitation, which the homeless condition of the Israelites would force upon them in the wilderness!

Verse 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. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting thou (art) God. As man's weakness is connected with his mortality, so God's omnipotence follows necessarily from His eternity. "The mountains," by their majestic height and unshaken stability, give the impression of antiquity and unchangeableness. Compare Genesis 49:26, "the everlasting hills;" Deuteronomy 33:15; Habakkuk 3:6. "The earth" is this globe below, in contrast to the heavens above. "The world" [ teebeel (H8398)] is the habitable earth, the fruit-bearing earth, as contrasted with the sea (Psalms 24:1, note). The earth was created on the second day; the habitable earth or 'dry land' [the prose Hebrew term, yabaashaah (H3004)] on the third day (Genesis 1:6-13; Psalms 104:5-9). God was not merely before the mountains, the earth, and the world, but He was their Creator. His eternity implies His omnipotent Creatorship; because the things which came into being after Him could not originate themselves. So in Isaiah 44:6, from the eternity of Yahweh, His being the only God is deduced, "I am the First, and I am the Last, and beside me there is no God."

Thou (art) God - rather, 'thou (art) O God.' The context require us to understand that what is predicated of God is, that He is "from everlasting to everlasting," whence follows His omnipotence; in contrast to man's mortality, whence follows his weakness.

Verse 3

Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.

Thou turnest man to destruction - literally, to the state of being crushed to pieces [ dakaa' (H1793)] Genesis 3:19 is alluded to here, as the next words prove.

And sayest, Return, ye children of men - i:e., return to your original state. "Unto dust shalt thou return" (Psalms 104:29; Psalms 103:14; Ecclesiastes 12:7). To explain "return" as referring to a return to life would not suit the connection, which has reference only to man's speedy mortality.

Verse 4

For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. The "For" introduces the reason which establishes the speedy mortality of man, alleged in Psalms 90:3. To us, men a life of 70 years in prospect seems of immense length. But let us view this the natural term of life with the eyes of God: let us regard time not as those who belong merely to time, but, as God, from the standpoint of eternity, then how short, how soon gone does such a brief span seem! "For (not to say seventy or eighty years, even) a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday!" God sees our life in its true brevity, such as one day, and that day just past, is to man. Nay, it is but as the night watch, which to those who are asleep appears as but a moment. The day, divided as is into times of varied occupation, seems comparatively long; but the night watch passes while we are unconscious. The night was anciently divided into three watches. The middle watch is mentioned in Judges 7:19; the morning watch in Exodus 14:24; which proves this division of the night to be as old as Moses. It is not the eternal years of God that are directly brought forward in contrast to show the shortness of man's life; but the latter is shown by contrasting long life as it appears man's eyes, and as it appears in the eyes of God: though no doubt it is because God is eternal that even a thousand years (which are so much, beyond man's span) appear so short to Him. 'As to a very rich man a thousand sovereigns are as one penny, so to the eternal God a thousand years are as one day' (Bengel). So 2 Peter 3:8.

Verse 5

Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.

Thou carriest them away as with a flood - as one is unexpectedly and irresistibly wept away with a flood, the product of a storm of rain (cf. Isaiah 25:4). Hebrew, 'a rain torrent against a wall,' sweeping it away. Probably the deluge was in the Psalmist's mind: as the deluge swept every living thing away, so one generation after another is carried away.

They are as a sleep. There is a play upon sounds in the Hebrew of sleep and (Psalms 90:4), [ shaaniym (H8141)

... sheenaah (H8142)]. 'Sleep ceases ere we can perceive it or mark it; because before we are aware that we have slept, sleep is gone ended.' So is our life: 'before we are rightly conscious of being alive, we cease to live' (Luther). (Psalms 73:20, "As a dream when one awaketh.")

In the morning they are like grass which groweth up, [ chaalap (H2498)] - literally, 'to glide through,' as plants sprout up through the soil. The margin takes it, 'is change,' as in Psalms 102:26. So Hengstenberg translates, 'in the morning it vanishes like grass.' The 'it' is the figurative "sleep" - i:e., man. But thus a second image is heaped upon the first, which seems not so likely. In Job 14:7 the verb is translated "sprout again." Moreover, in Psalms 90:6, it would cause complete confusion to translate 'is vanished,' or 'changed.'

Verse 6

In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.

In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. The contrast is between the morning state of the grass and the evening state. The "it" is the figurative grass - i:e., man (Job 14:2; Psalms 103:15-16).

Verses 7-10

And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow - i:e., if one be possessed of an unusually strong constitution, and thereby his years reach fourscore. The Hebrew for the second "strength" [ raahªbaam (H7296)] is different from that for the first "strength:" it means rather pride; that on which they pride themselves, their distinguishing boast. Translate, 'yet is their matter of pride labour and vanity.' Hengstenberg translates for "sorrow" [ 'aawen (H205)] 'wickedness'-namely, what one suffers from the wickedness of others; as Abel from Cain. 'Their pride is only suffering and wickedness.' Compare Genesis 47:9, Jacob's words to Pharaoh, "Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been;" and Genesis 5:29, Lamech's speech. The assertion here refers not to the period beyond seventy years, as some take it, but to life as a whole under such favourable conditions of strength and longevity: even so it is but hardship and vanity.

For it is soon cut off - like grass mown. So the Hebrew [ gaaz (H1468), from gaazaz (H1494), to shear], Psalms 72:6. But Gesenius translates, 'it (the whole matter) passes away' [from guwz (H1468)]. Hengstenberg takes the verb impersonally, 'there is the being driven away:' 'we are driven away.'

Verses 11-12

Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.

-The Second part, First division. The mysterious relation of death to sin, as its wages, is little, if at all, known by man; therefore the Psalmist prays, God so teach us it as to lead us to wisdom of the heart.

Verse 11. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? - Who knows aright thy powerful anger, as manifested in the brevity of our existence, and the power that death is permitted to have over us? In this sad lament over man's insensibility, in not perceiving in this his short-lived and miserable state the expression of God's just wrath against man's sin, there is involved the desire that God would take away man's insensibility; the corresponding prayer follows in Psalms 90:12.

Even according to thy fear, (so is) thy wrath - according to thy dreadfulness, so is thy wrath against sin. Rather omit so is (not in the Hebrew), and translate, 'Who knoweth ... thine, anger, and thy wrath in proportion to thy fear? - i:e., in proportion to what reverential fear of thee requires. So "thy fear" is used (Psalms 5:7).

Verse 12. So teach us to number our days. The same Hebrew is used for "teach" here as is used for "knoweth," Psalms 90:11. Translate, 'How to number our days, so make us to know.' The "so" [ keen (H3651)] marks the infinite importance of this knowledge, which is to be learnt only from God, not by natural ability. The object for which he wishes God to 'make us men know how to number our days' is in order that we may 'know the power of God's anger,' as caused by our sin, and manifested in our short-lived and miserable existence (Psalms 90:11), and so - "that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom"

That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom - literally, 'that we may make to come to us a wise heart,' or 'that we may make wisdom to come (into) our heart.' The "wisdom" meant is that which flows from a right consideration of the brevity of life, and our guiltiness as the cause of God's, anger against us; and consists in "fearing God" and "departing from evil" (Job 28:28). The sentiment in this psalm of Moses is in beautiful and undesigned coincidence with Moses' historical book (Deuteronomy 32:19), Compare also Deuteronomy 4:6. By such "wisdom" the way is prepared for God to grant the following prayer, that He would return and gladden us with His mercy.

Verses 13-17

Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.

-The Second division of the Second part. Prayer for God's mercy as the source to us of joy, and of the establishment of our work.

Verse 13. Return - from the wrath which now lies upon us. So Exodus 32:12.

How long? - how long wilt thou be angry with us?

And let it repent thee concerning thy servants. Parallel to the Pentateuch, "The Lord shall repent Himself for His servants;" on which rests Psalms 135:14. God is said to repent when, having first vindicated His justice in punishing sin, He then gives the sinner joy instead of sadness. The language is phenomenal, and relates to things as they appear to us. God is the same unchanging God of justice and of love alike when He comforts as when He punishes.

Verse 14. O satisfy us early with thy mercy. "Early" - literally, in the morning, as in Psalms 46:5.

Verse 15. Make us glad according to the days ... the years wherein we have seen evil. A special Hebrew form of termination for "days" occurs here, as also in Deuteronomy 32:7, and in both places in connection with years" [ yªmowt (H3117) ... shªnowt (H8141): the connection suggested the special ending]; an undesigned coincidence and proof of Moses' authorship of this psalm. 'In proportion as thou hast for many days and years afflicted us, so for many days and years gladden us.' God does infinitely better for His people. "For your shame ye shall have double" (Isaiah 61:7).

Verse 16. Let thy work appear unto thy servants - thy work of saving and gladdening us (Psalms 90:15; Psalms 92:4; Habakkuk 3:2).

And thy glory unto their children - thy glorious power as the source of joyful deliverance.

Verse 17. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us - (see note, Psalms 26:4) - His beautiful dealing toward His people in grace, wisdom, and love.

And establish thou the work of our hands upon us - give success to all that we undertake in our temporal and spiritual concerns (cf. Deuteronomy 24:19). The words, "upon us," imply that the blessing upon our work must come from above.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 90". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.