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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Psalms 90

Verse 1

Psalms 90:1

This is, beyond fair doubt, the oldest Psalm in the whole Psalter. It is the work, not of David, but, as the inscription tells us in the Bible version, of Moses. Especially like Moses is the union of melancholy and fervour which meets us here the fervour of the intrepid servant of God dashed by the melancholy which followed on his great disappointments. In this verse he is the spokesman and representative of all that is good and great in the past annals of mankind. He is speaking for the living; he is speaking also for the dead. The spiritual experience which these words represent is continually deeper and wider; and they are repeated at this moment by more souls in heaven and earth than ever before souls which have found in them the motto and the secret of life, whether in struggle or in victory "Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another."

I. "Our refuge." In the Bible version more accurately it is "our dwelling-place." God is the home of the soul of man. The soul finds in the presence of God a protection against the enemies which threaten it with ruin in the rough life of the outer world. In this sense David cries, "I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength." Besides this idea of protection from evils without, the word suggests a place where care is thrown aside, where the affections expand themselves freely and fully, where loving looks, and kindly words, and gentle deeds are the order of the day. When God is said to be the refuge or the home of man, it is meant that God gives to man his best and tenderest welcome, that God alone is the Being in whom man finds perfect repose and satisfaction for all the faculties and sympathies of his nature.

II. Contrast this idea of the relation between God and the man's soul with the three fundamental relations in which we men stand to Him as our Maker, our Preserver, and the end or object of our existence. Here in this word "refuge" or "home" we have another and a much more tender relation of God to the human soul. He who bade us be, He who keeps us in being, He towards whom our whole being should tend, is also our true and lasting resting-place. He is the one Being within whose life we can find and make a lasting home.

III. "Lord, Thou hast been our refuge." This is the spirit of the very noblest occupation in which we can engage; it is the spirit of prayer. This acknowledgment underlies all the forms which the soul's intercourse with God is wont to take. Prayer is always, in its widest sense, an act by which the soul of man, here amid these changing scenes of time, seeks its true home and resting-place in seeking God. And as such it always ennobles men, not less now than in the earliest days of man's history. Our gilded civilisation is no sort of protection against the widespread misery around us, "the changes and chances of this mortal life," which are the lot of us all. The realities of life force us to look beyond it, to cry, with Moses, "Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another."

H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 920.

References: Psalms 90:1 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i., No. 46; M. B. Riddle, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 324.

Verses 1-2

Psalms 90:1-2

Scripture certainly emphasises in many places the frail and fleeting aspect of life; the thought of man's mortality runs as a wail through many a psalm, and touches with pathos the heart of the prophet in his brightest visions. But then there is always in Scripture another side of the picture; and this is the higher, and in the sense of Scripture the truer, side. The good is the original, the substantive of which evil is the inversion. The good is being; the evil is but negation of being.

I. This Psalm, so venerable in its materials that it has been attributed to Moses, is in the main a psalm of mortality; and yet its primary thought is not mortality, but eternity. It opens with the note of eternal being. The idea of the eternal stands as a great light in front of the darkness. Man is mortal, but God is; and God is the Eternal, the home, the dwelling-place, of all generations. This is the grand peculiarity of Hebrew and of Christian thought, that God is first, man only second; that the eternal Being is the true Being, the present visible or transitory being only the derivative being, appearing and then vanishing away, according to the direction of the other.

II. But there is more in this brief word than the general assertion of eternal being, and of a great primary power directing, controlling, all nature and all life. The character of this Being is further so far defined. It is represented not only that God is, but that He is personal. The idea of God is everywhere noted by the personal pronouns "I;" "Thou;" "I am that I am;" "I am the Lord, and there is none else." The word "personality" simply means that God is moral; that He is a character as well as an energy; that He is a Being full of affection, and care, and thoughtful and deliberate love. He is not only Creator: He is Father. The assurance is that we have a supreme Heart above us, responsive to our hearts; that there is a spiritual home encompassing us, a life that changes not with the varying pulses of our thought and feeling.

J. Tulloch, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i., p. 297.

References: Psalms 90:1 , Psalms 90:2 . A. M. Fairbairn, The City of God, p. 35.Psalms 90:1-12 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 59. Psalms 90:2 . A. Mursell, Old Testament Outlines, p. 131.

Verses 1-17

Psalms 90:0

This Psalm sets out with the definite statement of a theologic doctrine: the doctrine of the eternity of God.

I. This splendid thought of the Divine eternity is made to touch the shifting and inconstant character of our earthly state by the single word "dwelling-place." Here God's eternity opens itself to our needs.

II. A correct view of the eternity of God conveys warning as well as comfort. (1) The eternal power of God convicts us of helplessness. (2) The eternal being of God convicts us of delusions. "Teach us to number our days," etc.

III. In Psalms 90:7-10 man is represented not as unfortunate, but as guilty , not as the victim of accident, but as the subject of punishment.

IV. The last five verses bring us back to the starting-point of the Psalm. Whither shall a sinful, short-lived man flee but to a holy and eternal God? Thither turns the prayer of these last five verses, and turns with hope and confidence. Man is the subject of God's wrath, but there is mercy with Him to satisfy him who flees from the wrath to come.

M. R. Vincent, Gates into the Psalm Country p. 199.

References: Psalms 90:0 A. B. Bruce, Expositor, 1st series, vol. ix., p. 361; F. Tholuck, Hours of Devotion, p. 483.

Verse 3

Psalms 90:3

Two of the greatest lessons which Christ came to teach us were the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Look at man in himself, look at man as he makes himself by yielding to and aiding in the fraud and malice of the devil, and hardly any language can be too bitter to describe his baseness and his degradation. But look at man in the light of revelation; look at him under the triple, overarching rainbow of faith, hope, and love; look at him ransomed and ennobled into filial relationship with God, and you will see at once where men have learnt their high faith in their own being and the dignity of God's image upon them, and who it is that has taught them to speak in such noble accents about themselves. To lose faith in man is to lose faith in God, who made him; to lose faith in man's nature is to lose faith in your own. Notice some rules by which we may hold fast our faith in all human nature, and so help, it may be, to ameliorate the race.

I. Let us believe, or try to believe, that there is a good side in every man.

II. Let us sometimes turn away altogether from the thoughts of bad men to the galaxy of heavens wherein shine the clustered constellations of saintly lives. Read the lives and actions of these children of light.

III. Above all, as the best of all rules, think constantly of Christ, and fix your eye on Him. The only measure of a perfect man is the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

IV. The most sure way to justify our faith and hope in human nature is to justify it in ourselves. We can do this; we can do all things through Christ, that strengthens us.

F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 321.

References: Psalms 90:3 , Psalms 90:4 . Archbishop Thomson, Lincoln's Inn Sermons, p. 1.Psalms 90:4 . A. Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 11.

Verses 7-17

Psalms 90:7-17

I. In this passage we find: (1) an exercise of penitential faith or believing repentance; (2) an exercise of believing appropriation and assurance.

II. The three petitions in Psalms 90:16 and Psalms 90:17 point to work or entering into work as being the peaceable fruit of righteousness. (1) The Lord's work comes first. These praying men of God, penitent and believing, ask Him to give them and their children a sight of that and an insight into its glory. (2) The second petition is a prayer for personal holiness. It represents that holiness as being intimately connected on the one hand with the Lord's causing His work and His glory in it to appear unto us, and on the other hand with our being enabled so to work ourselves as to warrant our asking God to establish the work of our hands. (3) In virtue of the Divine blessing, the work of these men acquires a character of stability, permanence, endurance, contrasting strangely with the vanity of their wilderness state.

R. S. Candlish, The Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 209.

Reference: Psalms 90:8 . C. Short, Expositor, 1st series, vol. ix., p. 150.

Verse 9

Psalms 90:9

No part of the ancient Scriptures is less obsolete than this Psalm. It is a picture still true to nature. Human life, viewed generally, has not since brightened up into a scene of joy and triumph. The text seems to express both a necessary fact and a censure. The rapid consumption of our years, their speedy passing away, is inevitable. But they may be spent also in a trifling manner, to little valuable purpose, which would complete the disconsolate reflection on them by the addition of guilt and censure.

I. The instruction supplied by all our years has been to little purpose if we are not become fully aware of one plain fact: that which was expressed in our Lord's sentence, "Without Me ye can do nothing;" in other words, that it is only through the medium of God that we can effectually attempt any of the most important things, because we have a nature that is unadapted to them, repugnant to them, revolts from them. Therefore, if during the past year we failed in the essential point of imploring the Divine Spirit to animate us, well might we fail in the rest.

II. Sentiments of a grateful kind should be among the first to arise in every one's meditation on the past year. If we have no right estimate and feeling for the past mercies of God, how are we to receive present and future ones with a right feeling? For future duty we shall want to have motives. Think, if all the force that should be motive could be drawn, in the form of gratitude, from one year's mercies of God and, as it were, converged to a point, what a potent motive that would be! We have to look back over the year to collect this force.

III. Another consideration is that our last year has added to an irrevocable account. It has passed into the record of heaven, into the memory of God.

IV. Our year has been parallel to that of those persons who have made the noblest use of it. Why were the day, the week, the month, of less value in our hands than in theirs?

V. Another reflection may be on our further experience of mortal life and the world. We have seen it, tried it, judged it, thus much longer. Our interest upon it is contracted to so much narrower a breadth. At first we held to life by each year of the whole allotment; but each year withdrawn cut that tie, like the cutting in succession of each of the spreading roots of a tree. There should in spirit and feeling be a degree of detachment in proportion.

VI. The year departed may admonish us of the strange deceptiveness, the stealthiness, of the flight of time. Each period and portion of time should be entered on with emphatically imploring our God to save us from spending it in vain.

J. Foster, Lectures, 1st series, p. 292.

References: Psalms 90:9 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 354; A. Raleigh, From Dawn to the Perfect Day, p. 379; R. D. B. Rawnsley, Sermons in Country Churches, 1st series, p. 299.

Verse 10

Psalms 90:10

It is a paradox, and yet, like many other paradoxes, a truism also, to say that death generally alters, sometimes reverses, the whole estimate of a life. It will scarcely be doubted that in such cases the second judgment, if not absolutely just, is the more just in comparison. The true judgment is the ultimate, not the intermediate. This is a difference real and practical for us the living. If the presence or absence of certain qualities or principles is to make a life good or evil, honourable or of ill report, in the retrospect of it from the graveside or from the judgment-seat, what ought it to be now? How shall we so live now as to be pronounced then to have lived the right life? Take, out of a multitude, three characteristics.

I. Disinterestedness. When the criterion of this Psalm is applied to any life, we shall see at once that it must be fatal to a selfish life. Disinterestedness is the first condition of the everlasting man. He sees himself one link, a very insignificant link, in a chain which binds together two eternities. He cannot fall down and worship the link. He must be true, he must be righteous, or he breaks the chain. For the chain is let down from the throne of God, and it fastens together unintelligible else the union God the Creator and God the Judge.

II. The second condition of an immortal life is that it is religious. In general it is the religious man who survives death. I believe that when death is once past, even earth is just. I believe that earth itself does homage only to dead saints. When ambition is in the dust, history appreciates virtue, applauds faith. The life that is to live after death, whether on earth or in heaven, must be a religious, a Christian, life.

III. The life which earth shall immortalize is a life not of power so much, but of love. We are all by nature worshippers, idolaters, bondmen, of power. It is not power, not wit, not genius, still less success of office or honour, it is love, which makes a man immortal. For his love's sake, for his tenderness, for his sympathy, you will forgive him many a fault and many a shortcoming; you will retain his memory long as life lasts for that one word, that one line, that one look, which told you that he understood you, that he felt for you, that he was your friend.

C. J. Vaughan, Words of Hope, p. 206.

Verse 11

Psalms 90:11

I. When I consider the difficulties which lie in the way of our measuring the anger of God, I conclude that it is chiefly His steady and orderly goodness which has thrust His displeasure out of sight. So far as one can see from the present arrangements of the world, it is God's way to withdraw for the most part from our view the sterner features of His character, while He puts forward and emphasises everywhere His gracious and fruitful goodness. (1) The mere power or strength of God is itself rather concealed than thrust upon us. It hides itself behind the order within which He is pleased to exert it. (2) The extent to which God's strength might come to be at the service of His anger, and be used by Him to destroy, is still more closely veiled from us by the uniform beneficence of His creation. Only occasionally does nature suggest wrath. Her deliberate arrangements are all inspired by goodness. (3) The experience which we have had of God in our own lives is to the same effect; our bitter days we count upon our fingers, our happier ones by years. Judgment is God's strange work; but His tender mercies are over all His works.

II. By what line shall we fathom the unknown severity of Jehovah? Seeing that God intends His latent wrath to remain as yet concealed from us and hath Himself been at pains to conceal it, by what means shall we search it out? The writer of this Psalm puts into our hand a standard of comparison which, though insufficient, is at least approximative. The wrath of God, he says, is "according to His fear;" to His fearfulness, that is, or His fitness for inspiring in the bosoms of men an awful and sacred dread. Whatever suggests to our minds the enormous strength of God as against our weakness, suggests how terrific His wrath may be if He will. (1) Susceptible souls are sometimes under favourable conditions wrought to fear by the mere vastness, or mystery, or loneliness of God's material works. According to this fear of Him, so is His wrath. (2) The mass of men are too unimaginative or too stupid to be much moved by the mere sublimity of God's everyday creation. They need occasional outbursts of unwonted violence to prick their hearts to fear Him. In their coward hearts terror suggests judgment; and according to His fear, so is to them His wrath. (3) In order to estimate the capacity of wrath in the Almighty, we need to know more than His strength, more than His material terribleness. One event in history expresses to the full the moral terribleness of God. The Passion of Jesus Christ is the crown of all terrible things, and the supreme measure not only of God's mercy, but quite as really of God's severity. According to His fearfulness, so is His wrath.

J. Oswald Dykes, Sermons, p. 205.

Reference: Psalms 90:11 . H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2593.

Verse 12

Psalms 90:12

(with 2 Kings 20:11 )

The Bible is God's dial, by which we have to measure life.

I. The dial must be so placed as to receive the rays of the sun. Every line will then come into use.

II. The dial of Ahaz was a public instrument intended for all the people of Jerusalem. The Bible is for all.

III. Clouds would sometimes obscure the sun, and then the dial of Ahaz was in shadow. Clouds sometimes come between the mind and God's book, but the Sun of righteousness never sets, and there is a silver lining in the darkest cloud of the Christian's experience.

IV. The sun went backwards, and not forwards, on the dial of Ahaz, as a sign to King Hezekiah that he would get well again. With God all things are possible.

J. H. Wilson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 24.

References: Psalms 90:12 . J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 4th series, p. 2; E. J. Hardy, Faint, yet Pursuing, p. 159; R. Lee, Sermons, p. 268; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xv., p. 24; D. Burns, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 68; Short Sermons for Family Reading, p. 329. Psalms 90:14 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 513; C. J. Vaughan, Harrow Sermons, 2nd series, p. 66; J. H. Wilson, The Gospel and its Fruits (C.S.), p. 75; J. Sherman, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 125.Psalms 90:15-17 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1701.

Verse 16

Psalms 90:16

This Psalm has a threefold interest: of subject, of authorship, and of association. It touches the most solemn, most momentous, most affecting point in the life of man. Its author is "Moses the man of God." It has been heard by us when standing in the presence of death.

I. The words of the text are in substance the prayer of Moses in Exodus, "I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory." They find their echo in Philip's prayer on the night of the Passion, "Lord, show us the Father." They are the cry of a soul feeling its want of Him in whom, known or unknown, averse or loving, it must live, and move, and have its being.

II. "Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants." "The Father worketh hitherto, and I work." Ill were it for the universe if the working hand were to rest one moment. God works everywhere and in all things, but man sees it not; it needs a separate work of God, as the text implies, to show His work. And therefore Moses prays this prayer for his people.

III. "And their children Thy glory." The glory spoken of is the self-manifestation of God. The far-reaching eye, the self-forgetting love, of the man who saw, but must not enter, the land of rest and of inheritance, looked onward into Israel's future, and while he prayed for the generation that was, thought also of the children that were yet unborn. "Show their children Thy glory," is a petition after the very heart of God, who takes it into the deepest and safest treasure-house of His own promises, and brings it forth thence in boundless blessing, when the lips which framed it have been silent for ages in death.

C. J. Vaughan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 46.

Reference: Psalms 90:16 . J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages of the Psalms, p. 208.

Verses 16-17

Psalms 90:16-17

I. The prayer of the Psalmist is not the prayer of the wearied, disappointed prophet, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life," but the prayer of one who looks forward, of one who would fain build what will be continued by them that come after. "Show Thy servants Thy work, and their children Thy glory." Amid all that is fleeting and perishable, make us to know what Thou doest; and for our children we can ask no richer gift. The work of God is the glory of God.

II. The "work" of God and the "glory" of God are shown to us when we care to know that neither we nor our fellows are left alone in the world without a heavenly Friend and heavenly guidance, when we bring ourselves to believe, and to rejoice in the belief, that God Himself is acting on all these human hearts, urging them to turn to Him, and to love Him, and to seek the good of others by aiding others also to love Him more.

III. Then the concluding utterance follows naturally. Once let us believe in our hearts that God is working in the world, and then it becomes an axiom that we too, in our humble measure, have a work to do, a work lofty and ennobling because it is done for Him and with Him, because we are in truth admitted to very co-operation with God.

H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, 1st series, p. 424.

References: Psalms 90:16 , Psalms 90:17 . G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 241; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 51.

Verse 17

Psalms 90:17

I. What is the beauty of God? The excellence of His character. The meaning of all beauty is to image the holiness and excellence of God. The perception of beauty has been given us not, as some suppose, for enjoyment merely, but to bind us to the infinite, to make it more difficult for man to lose himself in time and sense, and to woo him to a heavenly perfection. The beauty of God is His love, mercy, patience, faithfulness. The justice of God, too, which may well appear to sinful man only terrible, has truly a grand beauty. Viewed from a higher point, the terrible in God is the beautiful, for it is seen to be a form of love. Once in the history of this sinful world infinite beauty appeared. Once God contracted Himself into the limits of our nature and walked the earth. Divine loveliness spoke and acted among us, shone through the eyes and lived in the actions and sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a perception of the beauty of God, a delight in it, a desire after it, which distinguish the spiritual man from others. They may feel that God is great and right; he feels that God is beautiful. A sense of the Divine beauty gives an elevation to all life, and clothes it with a certain infinite halo of gladness. Nothing can greatly afflict a soul that has a steady vision of the Divine beauty. Such a soul rises freely above temptation, heaven has entered into it, and it finds it easy to keep the road to heaven.

II. The beauty of God as reflected in man. The true beauty of God in man is not to be estimated at a glance. One must take in the whole range of human nature. He must certainly not forget the relations to God, and to the future, and to men as spiritual beings. There is something sad about all mere natural beauty. Its forgetting of 'God is melancholy. Its blindness to the future and to all the height, and depth, and breadth of being is melancholy. There is always a suggestion of joy and hope about spiritual beauty. It speaks of a wide horizon. It is the beauty of a day in spring, having a hold of the future, while struggling with east winds and rain, looking on to summer, and not back upon it, as do the fairest autumn days. (1) Benevolence is the essential element of beauty. It is love that is lovely. (2) Strength is the natural and genuine root of love; and if there be anything fair to look upon that is not associated with this, but is rather a tender, delicate grace, inseparable from feebleness of principle or purpose, it must be somewhat of the nature of a sickly flush. (3) Unity is an element of beauty. Our nature must grow into unity by the power of a central life. (4) But unity must never be so understood as to seem in conflict with freedom. The beautiful is free, expansive, flowing. We are emancipated by the sight of God. The thought of eternity and infinitude takes away our limitation. (5) Joy is an element of beauty. The joy we get by looking to Christ is healing and softening. It is a joy from beholding beauty of the loftiest and tenderest kind, and must be productive of beauty. (6) Repose is not less an element of beauty. How powerfully this element of calm strikes us in the life of our Lord. Those who inherit His peace cannot but inherit something of His beauty. (7) Naturalness and unconsciousness must be added as necessary to all the elements of beauty. The beauty of life is life. We do not make beauty. It grows. We must not seek it directly, else we shall certainly miss it.

J. Leckie, Sermons Preached at Ibrox, p. 288.

References: Psalms 90:17 . G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 273; A. P. Peabody, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 355.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 90". "Sermon Bible Commentary".