Bible Commentaries
Psalms 90

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Verses 1-2


Psalm 90 is the first psalm of the fourth book of Psalms which includes Psalms 90-106. We can compare Book 4 to the book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. Numbers is about the journey of the people of God through the wilderness. That is also the subject of this fourth book of Psalms. That is expressed in this psalm in a special way.

It is the only psalm that is mentioned as having been penned by Moses. As a result, it is also the oldest psalm. It is recognizably related to the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-Matthew :). Moses, the leader of Israel during the wilderness journey between Egypt and the promised land, is used here by the Holy Spirit as the first author of the series of psalms describing the wilderness journey in this fourth book of Psalms. In it he is also the mouth of the faithful remnant in the end times. The wilderness journey is a picture of the purifying of the people (Psalm 90) resulting in the faithful remnant who will inherit the land (Psalm 91).

It is quite possible that Moses wrote this psalm toward the end of the wilderness journey. A whole generation had left Egypt, all of whom over the age of twenty – with the exception of Joshua and Caleb – had died. Miriam, who became a leper, also died, as did Aaron. Moses was the last one left, and he was denied entry into the promised land.

We can imagine Moses being deeply impressed both by the perishableness of man and by the greatness and eternal attributes of his God. About both he writes in this psalm. He has recorded in it this prayer which testifies to a deep understanding of the relationship between a perishable, void man and the great God of eternity.

In Psalm 91 we see, in contrast to puny, perishable man, the dependent Man, Christ. This contrast is teaching and example for the faithful remnant in the end times, the characteristics of which we also find in Psalm 91. As an introduction to Book 4, these two psalms speak respectively of darkness and death (Psalm 90) and light and life (Psalm 91). Psalm 90 is about the first man, Psalm 91 about the second Man, Christ, as Example for the faithful remnant of Israel.

As in Psalm 1, these two psalms are about the two paths that a person can take: the path of man without God in Psalm 90 and the path of the second Man, Christ, in Psalm 91. That they belong together is also seen at the beginning and end of both psalms. They both begin with “dwelling (place)” (Psalms 90:1; Psalms 91:1) and both end with “satisfy” (Psalms 90:14; Psalms 91:16).

Division of the psalm

1. Introduction: Who God is (Psalms 90:1-Exodus :).
2. What God does (3x “You”: Psalms 90:3; Psalms 90:5Psalms 90:8) (Psalms 90:3-2 Samuel :).
3. Teaching for the mortal man (Psalms 90:11-2 Kings :).
4. Prayer (Psalms 90:13-Esther :).

The Eternal God

This psalm is a prayer of Moses (Psalms 90:1). It is a prayer because he addresses God throughout the psalm. It is the only psalm of his in Psalms and therefore the oldest psalm. He is called “the man of God” here (cf. Deuteronomy 33:1; Joshua 14:6; 1 Chronicles 23:14; 2 Chronicles 30:16; Ezra 3:2). “Man of God” is an expression used in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles to designate a seer or prophet.

Moses here represents the voice of the whole people of God, which is evident from the use of the words “our” and “we”. In doing so, we must remember that God’s people are the God-fearing part of them, the part that God acknowledges in His rights and wants to uphold in the midst of an apostate people. This is what characterizes a man of God.

When Moses wrote the psalm is not known. When we read the psalm, we get the impression that he is speaking about the wilderness journey. It is plausible that he wrote the psalm at the end of it. During the journey through the wilderness, an entire generation perished, though God remained the dwelling place or refuge for His people.

Psalms 90:1-Exodus : form the introduction to the psalm. In these verses, we read the confession Who God is. It begins in Psalms 90:1 with “Lord, You have been …” and ends in Psalms 90:2 with “… You are God”. Moses in his prayer addresses the “Lord”, Adonai, the sovereign Ruler of the universe. He acknowledges that the Lord has “been a dwelling place” to His people (Psalms 90:1). The word for “refuge” or “shelter” [that is how the Septuagint translates the Hebrew word] is here translated as “dwelling place”.

When we think of the word “dwelling place” we can think of safety and protection (Deuteronomy 33:27). A dwelling place is a refuge. The verse from Deuteronomy 33 is among the last words of Moses, spoken just before his death. This underscores the close connection between the prayer of Psalm 90, the song of Deuteronomy 32, and the blessing of Deuteronomy 33.

The Lord has not only been a refuge for His people as a whole, but also “in all generation” (Deuteronomy 32:7). Each generation has its own difficulties, but the Lord, Adonai, has always been there for them. He is the same refuge for each generation, no matter how different the circumstances may be for a subsequent generation. One generation goes and another comes, but God does not change. Therefore, no generation is without Him as its refuge.

The God of generations is the eternal God (Psalms 90:2). He has no beginning. Everything outside of Him has a beginning. That beginning was brought about by Him. “Apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). “Before the mountains were born”, that is, had risen from the earth, He was there, for the mountains were made by Him. He was there because He “gave birth to the earth and the world” (cf. Proverbs 8:22-Ezekiel :). “The earth” is mentioned in distinction from the heavens and the sea. By “the world” is meant the part of creation where people live.

“Even from everlasting to everlasting” He is God. He was and is and will be eternally God. He is the Eternal, the eternally Being, the I AM. There is no period of time that can be imagined when He was not there. Nor is it possible to think of a period when He will not be there. He is always the Present One. This is beyond our human thinking.

The creation of the universe has not changed or limited Him in any way. Even if the old creation will perish by fire, that will not change or limit Him in any way. That there is an eternal, unchanging God gives man the only and at the same time all stability in a changing world and changing generations.

Verses 3-6

Mortal Man Versus God

We see another particular construction of the psalm:
Psalms 90:3 “You”… Psalms 90:4 “for”…
Psalms 90:5 “You”… Psalms 90:7 “for”…
Psalms 90:8 “You”… Psalms 90:9 “for”…
That is, Psalms 90:4 is reasoning for Psalms 90:3 and so on.

In great contrast to the eternal, unchanging, unlimited God stands man with his limited life span. Because of man’s sin, death has entered the world. The judgment of God is that He causes “man” to “turn … into dust”. Man has no “authority over the day of death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). That control only God has. Man who recognizes that and accepts God’s judgment, who acknowledges that he is dust, will live (Genesis 18:27; Job 42:6).

The word “dust” here is not the same as in Genesis 3 (Genesis 3:19). Here it means “grit”, something that is pulverized. It says something not only about the matter, that it is dust, but also about the way it is nullified, pulverized, and that as a result of sin. It underscores the temporality and volatility of the life of a perishable human being.

God has pronounced the death sentence. He acts accordingly when He says: “Return, O children of men” (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Psalms 104:29). This command rings out at every death since the statement in paradise after the Fall: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). It applies without exception to all children of men. A person may have done well for yourself in the world, may be so proud of his achievements, or may have looked so beautiful, the day is fast approaching when he will return to his origin: the dust from which he was made.

The command “return” means that man, created by God – not evolved – will one day have to return to his Maker to give account before Him. Hence this call. Adam left his dwelling with God (Psalms 90:1) and thus became a mortal man (Psalms 90:3). He sinned, and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). To restore this situation, God had to send His Son as the second Man. We see this in Psalm 91.

No one escapes that return. There is no doubt about that (Hebrews 9:27). That Enoch and Elijah escaped it is because God withdrew them from this judgment by taking them to Himself alive. In this we see an example of the rapture of the church, that is, the rapture of the believers who are living on earth at that time. At the coming of the Lord for His church, they will be changed, while those who have fallen asleep in Christ will be raised (1 Thessalonians 4:14-Job :).

God instituted units of time like years and days for man at creation (Psalms 90:4). Man is bound by time. He Himself does not have this bondage or limitation. He is above time, He is not bound to it, we are. With Him one day is a thousand years and vice versa (2 Peter 3:8). To Him, “a thousand years … are like yesterday when it passes by”. One day passes quickly. It is like “a watch in the night” – a watch is only four hours (cf. Judges 7:19; Lamentations 2:19). Those four hours of sleep are passed by in no time. God’s doing is not determined by time, but He Himself determines the time of everything (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:1). He Himself is the eternal Unchangeable One of Israel (1 Samuel 15:29).

People’s lives are swept away by God like flood, like they fall asleep (Psalms 90:5). When a man sleeps, he has no sense of time. When he wakes up, several hours have passed, without him noticing and without him accomplishing anything. That is how fleeting, empty, vacuous his life is. He can be so active outwardly, but his life is dragged along and swept away, leaving nothing substantial behind. It is all in vain, it dissolves into nothingness. Thus man’s life passes like a vapor without him realizing its brevity.

Another picture is that of the grass sprouting anew. When people wake up in the morning, they are like the grass that sprouts anew. During the course of the day, the grass grows and blooms. When evening comes, “it fades and withers away” (Psalms 90:6). This picture is taken from the condition of the grass in the Middle East. When the chamsin, that is the hot wilderness wind, blows during the day, the grass dries up in no time. In this respect man is no different than grass: his life is short (Psalms 103:15-Nehemiah :; Isaiah 40:6-Ruth :; 1 Peter 1:24).

Verses 7-12

Life Passes Quickly

Death is a natural process, but not as God intended during creation. It is God’s judgment (Psalms 90:7) on sin (Psalms 90:8). Death came into the world through sin and is the reward God has attached to sin (Romans 5:12; Romans 6:23; Genesis 2:17). Moses, throughout the wilderness journey of forty years, saw all die who were twenty years and older at the exodus, except Joshua and Caleb. This included Miriam and Aaron. And also Moses himself was not allowed to enter the promised land because of his sin.

Because of God’s anger over their unbelief, they have been consumed (Psalms 90:7; Numbers 14:28-Joel :). It has been a long, terrible journey, with a number of deaths each day. Each death is a demonstration of God’s wrath, overwhelming them with terror. The issue is not how long a person lives, but that his end is the result of God’s wrath. This is true for everyone (cf. Romans 3:23), but especially for the people during the wilderness journey.

Every death has reminded them of their “iniquities” (Psalms 90:8). They say of them that God puts them before His eyes as the reason for His death judgment. God cannot pretend that no sin has been committed. He constantly sees them and deals with them according to the requirement of His holiness. Even their hidden sins He puts in the light of His presence. Nothing is hidden from Him (Jeremiah 16:17; Hebrews 4:13). His light reveals everything; nothing can hide from it. When the Lord Jesus returns to earth as Judge, “His eyes” will be like “a flame of fire” looking right through every person (Revelation 1:14).

Psalms 90:7 and Psalms 90:9 run in parallel. As a result, Psalms 90:7-1 Samuel : form a pyramid, with Psalms 90:8 being the climax. This is a literary help to underscore and emphasize Psalms 90:8. The message is clear: our momentary lives must awaken us so that we may become aware of our sinfulness, including sins done in secret, for nothing is hidden from God.

Thus all their days pass because of God’s fury (Psalms 90:9). All their days, not a day excepted, they bear God’s wrath because of their iniquities. They spend their years with the speed of “a sigh”. This is the short-lived, miserable life of mortal man who is aware that he is human and that God alone is God. The word “sigh” means groan, it does not only mean ‘momentary’, it also means to grow weary, yes despondent. A sigh of despondency is let out. It is as Jacob says it to Pharaoh: “Few and unpleasant have been the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9).

The concatenation of days continues for man on average “seventy years” (Psalms 90:10). Psalms 90:10 is an underlining of Psalms 90:9. Both verses are about “days” and “years”: “days” emphasize the brevity of life, “years” emphasize the prolonged travails of life. After seventy years, the curtain falls for man. “If due to strength”, he may even live on for a few more days, so that he may live “eighty years”.

Seventy years is not a long time and the extra ten years is not an eternity either. He is doing his best to enjoy the years he has been given. But what does it accomplish at all? The honest conclusion must be: even “their pride is [but] labor and sorrow”. The “pride” are the things from which he has still had some pleasure, whatever that may be, but from which he has never experienced real satisfaction.

Then suddenly it is over, finished, “soon it is gone”. “And we fly away” means that life has flown away as if it were chaff blown away by the wind. If you ask an elderly person what his or her life has been like, you will almost always get the same answer: soon it is over.

The Preacher depicts life as a precious golden bowl suspended from heaven with a silver cord (Ecclesiastes 12:6). It is connected to above, the heavens. Life is connected to God. He has given man his breath of life. However, when the silver cord is removed, when it breaks, the golden bowl collapses to the earth and is shattered beyond repair. The light of life is completely extinguished. After the end of life comes the encounter with God. Man is called to prepare for it: “Prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12).

Before the psalmist continues with the final section, his prayer to God to confirm the work of his hands (Psalms 90:13-Esther :), he first draws the lesson and conclusion from what he has seen from God in Psalms 90:11-2 Kings :. This holds an important lesson for us, that before we can pray according to the will of God, we must first come to know Him.

Who “understands the power” of God’s “anger and … fury” with which he ends people’s lives, whether they are strong or weak, lonely or numerous, poor or rich (Psalms 90:11)? No man knows it. The same answer applies to the question of whether anyone knows “the fear that is due” God. No man knows. Or at least Someone does, namely the Lord Jesus. He has experienced the anger from God as the judgment on the sins of all who believe in Him. He has been in the fire of God’s judgment, yet without being consumed by it.

The purpose of these questions is to cause man to think. He is to contemplate his futility and the emptiness of his life. As a result, he should come to the awareness that during his short and difficult life he lives under the judgment and anger of God on sin. He must come to see the connection that exists between sin and mortality. This should drive him toward God, to seek Him and be ready to meet Him, his Creator.

It draws the foolishness of man. Those who know the power of God’s anger and fury will immediately repent of their sins to God. God’s anger against sin is great. Those who realize this, will realize how much God is to be feared. And therein lies the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10), a wisdom that bows to the righteous anger and fury of God over sin.

A fool says in his heart: There is no God (Psalms 14:1). This does not mean that he is an atheist; it does mean that in the practice of his life he does not take into account the living God. Moses is not a fool. He is wise; he has a wise heart. He fears God. He asks God to teach His people to number their days in such a way that they become aware of how quickly their days are passing (Psalms 90:12).

God alone can give that teaching so that they can get the right view, His view, of life, which is so short. It accentuates the vast difference between the eternal God and finite man. Those who become aware of this acquire “a heart of wisdom”. A heart of wisdom focuses on God, Who is busy with His care for him every day (cf. Matthew 28:20).

Verses 13-17

Confirm the Work of Our Hands

Moses is the mouth of the remnant who learned the lesson of life. Moses learned the lesson during the forty-year wilderness journey and became wise. The faithful remnant of Israel will learn that lesson during the great tribulation by the antichrist and the disciplining of God through the prophetic Assyrian that follows.

Moses has become wise and so he boldly prays to the “LORD” and asks Him: “Do return” (Psalms 90:13). It is the call to the LORD for mercy. This is the opposite of what God said to the children of men in Psalms 90:3. True wisdom appeals to God to return in grace from His death judgment and to return in grace to His people. It is precisely the mortality of the people that makes it necessary for God to commit Himself to them. Otherwise there is no hope.

The remnant has repented, it has returned to God. Therefore, it can ask God if He will return to them now. This is consistent with the promise God gives in Zechariah 1: “The LORD was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you,” says the LORD of hosts”” (Zechariah 1:2-Leviticus :).

This hope of return is echoed in the question “how long [will it be]?” It has been so long that God has – rightly – withdrawn from His people. Moses, in great humility and at the same time with great urgency, asks if God will be sorry for the judgment He had to bring upon His servants. To be sorry here means that God will go back on His decision to exterminate the people (Exodus 32:10). The pleading ground is what the LORD Himself said (Deuteronomy 32:36; cf. Psalms 135:14). They are “Your servants”, are they not? That indicates how much they are dependent on Him and have become willing to serve Him.

Next, Moses asks if the LORD will allow a new day in their history to dawn for the people (Psalms 90:14). That day is to begin with the “lovingkindness” of the LORD. lovingkindness, chesed, is the LORD’s faithfulness to His covenant, the blessings He gives by virtue of that covenant. He cannot give them on the basis of the old covenant, that is, on the basis of works of the law. He can only give them on the basis of the new covenant, that is, on the basis of the shed blood of Christ, the blood of the new covenant. That blood is so rich that its blessings flow not only to Israel but also to New Testament believers, the church of the living God (2 Corinthians 3:6-Job :).

When the remnant is satisfied by Him with the blessings of the new covenant “in the morning” – that is, when a new day has dawned, the day of the realm of peace – it will remain so throughout the day or throughout the time of the realm of peace. It will be like the manna that the people also received every morning in the wilderness as food for the whole day and of which they were allowed to eat to satiety (Exodus 16:21).

As a result, they will “sing for joy and be glad” during “all our days”. This is contrasted with “all our days” declining because of the fury of God (Psalms 90:9). Every day of life will then be filled with rejoicing and gladness over all of God’s favors. As in Psalms 90:9-2 Samuel :, there is talk of “days” and “years” here. Days speak of quantity and years speak of quality.

Moses asks God to make them glad according to the days He has afflicted them (Psalms 90:15). The affliction under which they have groaned has been brought upon them by God. Moses knows and acknowledges that. God alone can change that. Therefore, he asks if God will offset the years of evil He has brought upon them with years of joy. The days and years of joy must come from God just as much as the days of tribulation have come from Him.

Moses here asks in humility. What God gives far exceeds what He asks. What He gives, let the days of tribulation and the years of evil be forgotten, no more will be thought of them (Isaiah 65:17). We see in Job, for example, that after his suffering he gets back double what he lost (Job 42:10; Job 42:12Job 1:3; cf. Isaiah 61:7; Zechariah 9:12). For us, everything is even richer. We may know that the “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 8:18).

Moses’ final questions to God are about God’s work, “Your work”, and their work, “the work of our hands”. He begins with God’s work on His servants (Psalms 90:16). God is constantly forming His servants. His goal is that He recognizes Himself in them. Where God’s work is seen, His glory is seen. Moses asks if the “majesty” of the LORD will also be seen over “their children”, that is, the next generation.

For that to happen, everything must be removed from the lives of the servants and their children that prevents Him from being visible in their lives. He will confirm that work. The result will be visible to all when He sends the Lord Jesus and all His own with Him to the earth (Philippians 1:6; Philippians 1:10-1 Kings :).

In asking that “the favor of the Lord our God” will be upon them, Moses is asking about the coming of the Messiah (Psalms 90:17). At His coming, not only does God’s work become visible, but “the favor of the Lord” comes upon His people. God’s favor is not only something to rejoice in, but is also a powerful motive to work for Him. God’s response is found in Psalm 91.

When we consider all that He has done for us, we will do everything He asks of us and involve Him in everything we do. We will ask Him for His blessing on our work as confirmation of His approval of it. At the same time, this involves the realization that what we do is good only if God confirms the work of our hands (Psalms 127:1).

We will also realize that the works we may do are works He has “prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). This awareness and desire for His confirmation is so great that the request for confirmation is repeated, the repetition being preceded by an emphatic “yes”.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 90". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.