Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Psalms 90

Verses 1-17

The fourth book of Hebrew psalms opens here. The characters of the composition are majestic and sublime beyond imitation. The Chaldaic says, that this was a prayer of Moses, when the Hebrews were cut off in the desert. See note on Psalms 90:10.

Psalms 90:1 . Our dwelling-place, עון on, or as the Gothic, wone, to dwell, to inhabit, to co-inhabit: the reference is to the mercyseat. The LXX, Vulgate, and other Versions read, “place of defence,” or refuge; for in God is our refuge, even from the strokes of divine justice.

Psalms 90:3 . Thou turnest man to destruction. Hebrews דכא dakka. This word in the Arabic signifies dust; and is supposed by Michäelis to have the same signification in the Hebrew; for which however there is no sufficient authority. It is therefore by no means clear, that this text relates to the resurrection of the human body. Yet many so understand it.

Psalms 90:4 . A thousand years. According to the chronology of the Samaritan pentateuch, it was about a thousand years from the flood to the time of Moses. See on Genesis 11:13.

Psalms 90:10 . The days of our years are threescore years and ten. This is a Hebraism, like that which Jacob used to Pharaoh when telling his age: “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years.”

Genesis 47:9. This affords a presumptive proof that the author of Genesis, and of this psalm, is the same Moses. But it has been objected, that Moses and other contemporaries lived more than eighty years. Answer, some did; yet the judges and the kings did not live longer; and the judges immediately succeeded Moses, and Joshua his contemporary. It is now only about one in a hundred thousand that exceeds a hundred years.

Psalms 90:14 . Oh satisfy us early with thy mercy. Cheer and revive us after visitations for sin, as the earth is revived with showers of rain.


Moses evidently composed this psalm when his mind was deeply impressed with some awful visitation on the people of Israel. They were cut off with the pestilence, with the burning, with the serpents, and all but two fell by the common sentence at Kadesh. It is really difficult to enter into the fine and impressive sentiment of the prophet. He associates himself with a sinful and suffering people; and conscious that there is no retreat from God, he flies with confidence to the arm of vengeance for protection. Lord, thou hast been our refuge, our hiding place, from one generation to another: since the day that Abraham left Haran to this time, thou hast protected us by thy power. Therefore thou alone art our rock and everlasting defence.

He next views God as the father of eternity, the maker of the world, and the judge of all the earth. In comparison of his existence, all the long-lived fathers died in infancy; and their children covering the earth, with passions unreined, were turned to destruction by the deluge. And though it were then about a thousand years since they fell, God, pitying human nature, had said, return, convertimini filii hominum, come again ye children of men. And lo, the earth was filled with people, and somewhat better than the old world.

Moses, the more to prevail with God to mitigate the punishments of Israel, finely expatiates on the shortness and calamities of life. As the peaceful flocks will often couch near a river, and on a soil somewhat elevated, till they are insulated and carried away by the rising flood, so the wicked, fattening at ease, and blinded by attachment to life, are surrounded and swept away by the visitations of God. Thus the life of man, short and calamitous in itself, is shortened as the watch in the night, and all his boasted works vanish as a vision, and are forgotten as a tale. In another view, though man flourish as the grass refreshed with the morning dew, and youth bloom as the flower at noon, the scythe of war or pestilence cuts him down, and he withers away.

Moses is careful to glorify God by connecting Israel’s punishment with Israel’s sins. All their iniquities and secret sins were brought into open court. He trembled, and exclaimed, Who knoweth the power of thine anger; for the terrors of punishment correspond with the terrors of conscience. Prout terribilis es, furorem tuum; as thou art terrible in majesty, so is thy anger in the day of visitation. Earthly judges punish open crimes, but the allseeing Judge takes cognizance of secret sins.

Moses prays that we may be so instructed by the brevity of life, and all its afflictions, as to apply our hearts unto wisdom. And what better wisdom can we learn than what this psalm suggests? To revere the eternity of God, to take refuge in him, to build nothing on a life so short and uncertain, to pray for pardon and purity, and to do every action of life with a view to futurity, and the approbation of God. So shall the beauty or glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us. His presence will be with us, as the cloud was on Israel; and he will instruct both us and our children in the glory of his works.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 90". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.