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Bible Commentaries

Trapp's Complete Commentary

Psalms 90

Verse 1

Psalms 90:1 « A Prayer of Moses the man of God. » Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

A Prayer of Moses ] Made by him, belike, when he saw the carcases of the people fall so fast in the wilderness; committed to writing for the instruction of those that were left alive, but sentenced to death, Numbers 14:26-38 , and here fitly placed as an illustration of that which was said in the precedent psalm, Psalms 89:48 , "What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah."

Ver. 1. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place ] In all our troubles and travels through this wilderness, and before, we have not been houseless and harbourless, for "Thou hast been our dwelling place," our habitacle of refuge, as some render it, Maon. habitaculum tutum. We use to say, A man’s house is his castle. The civil law saith, De domo sua nemo extrahi debet, aut in ius vocari, quia domus tutissimum cuique refugium atque receptaculum, No man ought to be drawn out of his house at the suit of another; because his house is his safest refuge and receptacle. He that dwelleth in God cannot be unhoused, because God is stronger than all; neither can any one take another out of his hands, Joh 10:29 Here, then, it is best for us to take up as in our mansion house, and to seek a supply of all our wants in God alone. It was a witty saying of that learned Picus Mirandula, God created the earth for beasts to inhabit, the sea for fishes, the air for fowls, the heaven for angels and stars. Man, therefore, hath no place to dwell and abide in but the Lord alone. See Eze 11:16 2 Corinthians 6:8-10 .

Verse 2

Psa 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou [art] God.

Ver. 2. Before the mountains were brought forth ] And they were made at the creation, not cast up by the flood, as some have held. Moses first celebrateth God’s eternity, and then setteth forth man’s mortality; that the one being set over against the other, as Solomon speaketh in another case, Ecclesiastes 7:14 , God may be glorified, and man comforted, which is the main end of the Holy Scriptures, Romans 15:4 , and far beyond those consolatiunculae Philosophicae.

Verse 3

Psa 90:3 Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.

Ver. 3. Thou turnest man to destruction ] Ad minutissimum quiddam, so Beza rendereth it, to a very small business, to dust and powder. Others, ad contritionem vel contusionem, by turning loose upon him various diseases and distresses; thou turnest him out of the world, Ecclesiastes 1:13 . And generally, thou sayest of all and singular sons of men,

Return, ye ] Your bodies to the earth, according to the decree, Genesis 3:17-19 , your souls to God, that gave them, Ecclesiastes 12:7 . And here the course of man’s life is compared, saith one, to a race in a tilt or tourney, where we soon run to the end of the race, as it were, and then return back again. Intelligit Moses vitam humanam similem esse gyro, saith another. Man’s life is compared to a ring or round; we walk a short round; and then God gathers us in to himself. One, being asked what life was? made an answer answerless, for he presently turned his back and went his way. We fetch here but a turn, and God saith, "Return, ye children of men." This some make to be an irony; as if God should say, Live again, if ye can. Some apply it to the resurrection, others to mortification and vivification.

Verse 4

Psa 90:4 For a thousand years in thy sight [are but] as yesterday when it is past, and [as] a watch in the night.

Ver. 4. For a thousand years in thy sight, &c. ] q.d. Live men a longer or shorter space, Serius aut citius, thou endest their days; and in comparison of thine eternity, Puncture est quod vivimus et puncto minus, it is a small span of time that the longest liver hath upon earth, 2Pe 3:8 Psalms 39:5 . Non multum sane abest a nihilo. Some would hence infer, that the day of judgment shall last a thousand years; fides sit penes authores.

When it is past ] We judge better of the shortness of time, when it is past.

And as a watch in the night ] Which is but three hours’ time; for soldiers divide the night into four watches, and our life is full of the darkness of error and terror.

Verse 5

Psa 90:5 Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are [as] a sleep: in the morning [they are] like grass [which] groweth up.

Ver. 5. Thou carriest them away as with a flood ] Suddenly, violently, irresistibly, by particular judgments, besides that general necessity of dying once, Hebrews 9:27 . This is set forth by a treble comparison, of floods, sleep, and flowers here; and indeed the vanity and misery of man’s life is such, as cannot sufficiently be set forth by any similitudes. See Psalms 90:9-10 .

They are as a sleep ] Or dream; the dream of a shadow ( σκιας οναρ ), saith Pindarus, the shadow of smoke, saith another.

They are like grass ] An ordinary comparison, Isa 40:6 Jam 1:10-11

Verse 6

Psa 90:6 In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.

Ver. 6. In the morning it flourisheth ] So doth man in his prime and vigour, his bones full of marrow, his breasts of milk.

In the evening it is cut down ] So is man by death’s mortal scythe, which moweth down the lilies of the crown as well as the grass of the field. In the evening grass will cut better, and the mowers can better work at it.

Verse 7

Psa 90:7 For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.

Ver. 7. For we are consumed by thine anger ] Justly conceived for our sins, Psalms 90:8 . This is a cause of death that philosophy discovereth not, as being blind, and not able to see far off, and therefore cannot prescribe any sufficient remedy against the tear of death, such as is here set down, Psalms 90:12 , but such as made Cicero complain, that the disease was too hard for the medicine, and such as left men either doubtful (Socrates, for instance) or desperate, and devoid of sense, as Petronius in Tacitus, Qui in ipsis atriis morris delicias quaesivit, solaced himself with singing such light sonnets as this;

Vivamus men Lesbia atque amemus,

Rumoresque senum severiorum

Onmes unius aestimemus assis.

And by thy wrath are we troubled ] Consternati sumus, Death stings us and sticks us; the motion and mention of it is terrible to us, through sense of sin and fear of wrath, Hebrews 2:15 . Symmachus et Aquila transtulerant acceleravimus.

Verse 8

Psa 90:8 Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret [sins] in the light of thy countenance.

Ver. 8. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee ] As a judge doth the misdeeds of a malefactor, together with the proofs and evidences.

Our secret sins ] Which we either never took notice of or had utterly forgotten (the sins of our youth, some render it, but not so well), those sins which we had hoped to have secreted, such was our hypocrisy.

In the light of thy countenance ] This light thou hast made use of for the discovery of our inmost evils, those that lie most up in the heart of the country, as it were, as the murmurings and misbelief of our hearts, &c., these thy pure eyes, more clear and radiant than the sun itself, have plainly discerned. Nature teacheth us that the fiery eye needeth no outward light, but seeth extramittendo, by sending out a ray, &c.

Verse 9

Psa 90:9 For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale [that is told].

Ver. 9. For all our days are passed away ] Heb. do turn away the face. See Psalms 90:3 .

We spend our years as a tale that is told ] The grace whereof is brevity, q.d. dicto citius. Some render it, as a thought, that ariseth and passeth. To this sense the Greek poet;

Aιφα γαρ ωστε νοημα παρερχεται αγλαυς ηβη .

The Chaldee hath it, Ut flatus oris in Hyeme, as the breath of one’s mouth in winter. See James 4:14 .

Verse 10

Psa 90:10 The days of our years [are] threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength [they be] fourscore years, yet [is] their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

Ver. 10. The days of our years are threescore, &c. ] So Solon in Laertius saith, the term of man’s life is seventy years, this few exceed, and fewer attain to. To the same sense speaketh Macrobius also (Lib. 1., Som. cap. 6), saying, Septies deni anni a Physicis creditur meta vivendi, et hoc vitae humanae perfectum spacium terminatur, &c. The Fathers lived longer; but as men’s wickedness increased, so their days decreased; and now their lives are daily shortened, the generations despatch away, that the world may the sooner come to an end. If Moses and Aaron of old, and Iohannes de temporibus, and some few others of latter time, live longer, even to a hundred or more, these are singular examples, and it is of the generality that the psalmist here speaketh.

And if by reason of strength, &c. ] One readeth it thus; And if by fortitude fourscore years, even their latitude is labour and sorrow; that is, this enlarging of the time bringeth nothing but labour and misery, because now the body is diseased (Dr Major).

For it is soon cut off ] As a web, or as grass.

And we fly away ] As a bird upon the wing, or as an hour of the day.

Qui nescit quo vita modo volat, audiat horas;

Quam sit vita fugax, nos docet iste sonus.

I am not eternity, said Epictetus, but a man; that is, a small part of the whole, as the hour is of the day; I must therefore come and go away as the hour doth (Enchirid.).

Verse 11

Psa 90:11 Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, [so is] thy wrath.

Ver. 11. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? ] None doth, since it is such as no man can either avoid or abide; and such is men’s stupidity, that few will believe till they feel it; no, though their lives be so short and uncertain.

Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath ] Ira tua non est minor timore nostro; let a man tear thee never so much, he is sure to feel thee much more, if once he fall into thy fingers.

Verse 12

Psa 90:12 So teach [us] to number our days, that we may apply [our] hearts unto wisdom.

Ver. 12. So teach us to number our days ] The philosopher affirms, that man is therefore the wisest of creatures, because he alone can number, Bruta non numerant. But in this divine arithmetic of numbering our days (to the which all other is not to be compared, no, though we could, as Archimedes boasted, number the stars of heaven, or the sands by the sea shore), God himself must be our teacher, or we shall never do it to purpose. R. Solomon observeth, that the word כן rendered "so" here, if taken as numeral letters, maketh seventy, and the years of our life are seventy; out of which, say other Rabbis, if we deduct the time of childhood and youth, which is vanity, the time of sleep, repose, repast, and recreation (which is more than the one half), and the time of affliction and grief which we enjoy not, what a poor pittance will life be reduced unto!

That we may apply our hearts ] Heb. that we may cause them to come; for naturally they hang off, and make strange.

Unto wisdom ] To the true fear of God, and mortification of sin, which is the sting of death, and makes it a trap door to hell. This is hard to do, but must be done; or men are undone for ever. To live with dying thoughts is the way to die with living comforts.

Verse 13

Psa 90:13 Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.

Ver. 13. Let it repent thee ] Or, comfort thou thy servants.

Verse 14

Psa 90:14 O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Ver. 14. O satisfy us early ] As thou didst our fathers with manna.

Verse 15

Psa 90:15 Make us glad according to the days [wherein] thou hast afflicted us, [and] the years [wherein] we have seen evil.

Ver. 15. Make us glad according ] Let us have a proportion at least.

Verse 16

Psa 90:16 Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.

Ver. 16. Let thy work appear ] Thy proper work, which is to show mercy; for to do justice is thy work, thy strange work, Isaiah 28:21 .

And thy glory unto their children ] That they at least may enter into the land of Canaan, according to Numbers 14:31 .

Verse 17

Psa 90:17 And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

Ver. 17. And let the beauty of the Lord, &c. ] i.e. The bounty; the Italian rendereth it, La Giocondita, jucunditas Domini sit in nos.

And establish thou the work, &c. ] Thus we had all need to pray; for,

Nullius est felix conatus et utilis unquam,

Consilium si non detque iuvetque Deus.

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Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Psalms 90". Trapp's Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.