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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Psalms 90

Verse 1

Psalms 90:0.

Moses, setting forth God's providence, complaineth of human fragility, divine chastisements, and brevity of life: he prayeth for the knowledge and sensible experience of God's good providence.

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.

Title. האלהים אישׁ למשׁה תפלה tephillah lemosheh iish haelohim.— Mr. Peters is of opinion, that both this and the following psalm were composed by Moses, for the instruction and consolation of the people in the wilderness; and the present chiefly for the use of those whose lot was to die there, as will appear more fully from the subsequent notes. The Chaldee title asserts, that it was composed by Moses, when the people tempted God in the wilderness. This begins the fourth Book of the Psalms.

Verse 3

Psalms 90:3. Thou turnest man to destruction The sacred writer first puts the people in mind of the eternity of God, the never-failing refuge of his faithful servants in all ages; and this in a very noble strain of poetry: after which it follows in this verse, Thou wilt turn man: [Heb. דכא עד אנושׁ תשׁב tasheb enosh ad dakkaa. Make him return to the small dust;] and thou wilt say, Return, ye sons of men: This is literally the translation, and the sense seems plain and clear: "Though mortal man must at thy command return to the earth, out of which he was formed, nay, even to dust; yet at thy command he shall again revive. Thou wilt say, Return, ye sons of Adam." This sense is further confirmed by what follows, Psalms 90:4. For a thousand years in thy sight, are but as yesterday; for it will pass; or, as a watch in the night, a still shorter space of time: plainly intimating, that, though the future resurrection might be at a thousand or ten thousand years distance, yet this was nothing, compared with the eternity of God. St. Peter, using the like phrase, and upon a like occasion, tells us, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, 2 Peter 3:8. See Peters.

Verse 5

Psalms 90:5. Thou carriest them away as with a flood Agreeable to the ideas in the foregoing verses, death is here considered as a sort of sleep; from whence they should awake in the morning, fresh and flourishing as an herb: and I think we have this image of a resurrection exhibited to us more than once in the prophets. Thou sweepest them away as with a flood; they shall be as a sleep: in the morning they shall be as the herb which renews itself. In this sense the verb ףּחל chalap, is used here, and so in the following verse, where there is a turn of thought and expression very remarkable and poetical. For the sacred writer, from giving them this glimpse of their future resurrection and renovation, returns to take a view of their present dying and distressful condition; and this in the same metaphor, and with a repetition which is very beautiful: a repetition, I mean, of the delightful part of the contemplation; (for we love to dwell upon what is pleasing to us;) but followed with a reflection sad and gloomy. "Yes," says he, "in the morning it flourishes and renews itself; at evening it is down, and dried up; and this last,—as he goes on,—is a just image of our present case. The evening of our life comes on apace; for we are consumed by thine anger," &c. Psalms 90:7-10.

Verse 9

Psalms 90:9. We spend our years as a tale that is told Or, We end our years as a thought.

Verse 10

Psalms 90:10. The days of our years are, &c.— If this may be thought too short a term for the general standard of human life in those early ages, as one would infer from hence that Moses could not be the author of this psalm, yet it suits well with the particular case of the Israelites in the wilderness, whose lives were shortened by an express decree, so that a great number of them could not possibly reach the age of seventy; and those who did, probably, soon felt a swift decay.

Verse 11

Psalms 90:11. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? &c.— i.e. "In proportion to the fear and reverence which is due to thee, as the great Lord and Sovereign of the world; so may the transgressors of thy law expect their punishment." Something seems here intimated beyond the punishments of this world; for these are what men feel and experience. But who knows the dreadful punishments of a future? Well therefore is this reflection followed by a devout prayer, Psalms 90:12. So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom! meaning, no doubt, that wisdom, which alone is such, in the sense of Holy Scripture, the fearing God, and keeping his commandments; that so, by making a right use of this short, uncertain space of time allotted to us here, we may through grace prepare ourselves the better for a future state. The following verses to the end are equally suitable to the condition of the persons for whom they were intended. It evidently appears from what has been said, that the Israelites in the wilderness, when cut off from all hopes of an earthly Canaan, and the promises of this life, were not left destitute of better hopes, or without the knowledge of a Redeemer, and a life to come; and that God's leading them through this great and terrible wilderness, to humble them, and to prove them, that he might do them good (as he says himself) in their אחרית Acharith, must be understood, according to the most natural sense of the word, in their future state.

Verse 13

Psalms 90:13. Return, O Lord! how long Return, O Lord! how long [will it be first]? Mudge: giving rather the meaning, than the emphatical energy of the original; which is best expressed by the abruptness of our version.

Verse 17

Psalms 90:17. And let the beauty, &c.— Let the countenance of the Lord our God smile upon me; and prosper thou the work of our hands. Green. Bishop Hare and Houbigant have observed, that the four words at the end of the verse, which are here left untranslated, are only a repetition of the foregoing words; which neither the Vatican copy of the LXX acknowledges, nor the metre admits.

REFLECTIONS.—This psalm opens,

1. With an acknowledgment of God's goodness to his people. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. From the days that Abraham first at his command left his native land, God had provided for him and his seed, and made them to dwell in safety. Christ our Lord is every believer's rest: in him by faith we dwell; safe under the covert of the wings of his love we abide, protected from every storm.

2. He adores God as the everlasting Jehovah, the consideration of whose eternity administers the greatest consolation to his faithful people; for whatever they meet with of disappointment or misery in this transitory and perishing world, they have in him an ever-living God, a never-failing portion; the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
3. He owns the disproportion between the eternal God and the longest-lived of all the sons of men. All comparison fails between finite and infinite, between time and eternity: all the events of time are equally present with God; so that respecting the coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the body, the length of time they may be deferred, is not the least objection to either.
4. He describes the frailty of man even in his best estate; Thou carriest them away as with a flood, swiftly, suddenly, irresistibly, as in the deluge, they are as a sleep, their life insensibly spent, and at best to the sinner but a pleasing dream, which at death vanishes: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning of youth it flourisheth, and groweth up; beauty, vigour, wealth, prosperity make them appear like the verdant field, but momentary is the joy: in the evening it is cut down and withereth, the beauty fades, the strength fails, the possessions vanish; when death, the mower, puts in the sickle, and under disease, or age, the enfeebled body bends to the tomb. Note; (1.) The vanity of earthly enjoyments, and the folly of seeking happiness in things so fleeting and unsatisfactory. Shall we exchange an eternity of blessedness for the pleasures of a dream? (2.) They who look often in their glass, should look oftener into their coffin; this will check the pride of beauty. (3.) If our hour is so short, it becomes us to improve it as it flies, and not dream our life away, lest Death awaken us at last in terrible surprise, instead of finding us watching, and prepared for his summons.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 90". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.