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THE ascription of this psalm in the title to Moses must be admitted to be very remarkable. No other psalm is so ascribed. Nor indeed is a date given to any other earlier than the time of David. The psalm itself, however, when examined, is found to accord with the traditional date. Professor Cheyne notes in it a "roughness," which is presumably a sign of antiquity. Ewald says of it, "The poem has in it something uncommonly striking, solemn, sinking into the depth of the Godhead. In contents and language it is throughout original and powerful; and, as it is undoubtedly very old, it would have been universally considered as correctly derived from Moses, had we known exactly the reasons which guided the collector." Hengstenberg, Kay, professor Alexander, and Dean Johnson accept unhesitatingly the Mosaic authorship.
The psalm is termed, "A Prayer of Moses, the man of God." It is, however, only in part a "prayer," Meditation occupies the opening portion (Psalms 90:1-6); complaint follows (Psalms 90:7-11); it is only with Psalms 90:12 that prayer begins. (For the application to Moses of the phrase, "man of God," see Deuteronomy 33:1; Joshua 14:6; Ezra 3:2.)
Lord, thou hast been our Dwelling place in all generations; or, "our habitation" (see Psalms 91:9); comp. Psalms 32:7, "Thou art my Hiding place." For well nigh forty years Moses had had no fixed material dwelling place.
Before the mountains were brought forth (comp. Proverbs 8:25). The "mountains" are mentioned as perhaps the grandest, and certainly among the oldest, of all the works of God. Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world; literally, or thou gavest birth to the earth and the world (comp. Deuteronomy 32:18). Even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God (comp. Psalms 93:2; Proverbs 8:23; Micah 5:2; Habakkuk 1:12).
Thou turnest man to destruction; or, "to dust" (comp. Genesis 3:19). And sayest, Return, ye children of men; i.e. "return once more, and replenish the earth." There may be an allusion to the destruction of mankind by the Deluge, and the repeopling of the earth by the descendants of Noah, as Dr. Kay supposes; or the meaning may be that God is continually bringing one generation of men to an end. and then setting up another, having the same control over human life that he has over inanimate nature (Psalms 90:2).
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday. Time has no relation to God; it does not exist for him. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8) Therefore we must not judge his methods of working by our own. When it is past; rather, as it passes. And as a watch in the night. To the sleeper a night watch seems gone in a moment.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood. This verse is to be connected with Psalms 90:3, "Thou sweepest mankind away;" i.e. removest them from the earth, when it pleases thee. They are as a sleep. Fantastic, vague, forgotten as soon as it is over. In the morning they are like grass which groweth up (comp. Psalms 37:2; Psalms 72:16; Psalms 92:7; Psalms 103:15; Isaiah 40:7).
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withered (comp. Psalms 102:4, Psalms 102:11 Psalms 103:15; Isaiah 40:7; James 1:10, James 1:11).
For we are consumed by thine anger. From the general reflections, and the general consideration of human weakness, which have hitherto occupied him, the psalmist proceeds to speak particularly of the weakness and sin of himself and his own people, which have brought upon them a painful visitation. God's anger is hot upon them, and has "consumed" them—not utterly, but so that they are greatly "troubled" and cast down. By thy wrath are we troubled. The expressions used suit the time of the later wanderings in the wilderness, when the generation that had especially sinned was being gradually "consumed," that it might not eater the Holy land.
Thou hast set our iniquities before thee. Instead of hiding his face from their iniquities, turning away from them and overlooking them, God has placed them steadily "before him," in the full searching and scorching light of his own purity and holiness. And not only has he done this with the sins which they know of, and whereof their consciences are afraid; but he has set their secret sins also in the light of his countenance. (On man's "secret sins," comp. Psalms 19:12, and the comment ad loc.)
For all our days are passed away in thy wrath; or, "under thy wrath"—"whilst thou art still angry with us" (comp. Deuteronomy 32:15-25). We spend our years—rather, bring our years to an end (Hengstenberg, Kay, Revised Version) as a tale that is told; rather, as a reverie, or "as a murmur."
The days of our years are three score years and ten. This seems a low estimate for the time of Moses, since he himself died at the ago of a hundred and twenty (Deuteronomy 34:7), Aaron at the age of a hundred and twenty-three (Numbers 33:39), and Miriam at an age which was even more advanced (Numbers 20:1; comp. Exodus 2:4). But these may have been exceptional cases, and we have certainly no sufficient data for determining what was the average length of human life in the later period of the wanderings. The suggestion has been made that it was probably even shorter than that here mentioned. And if by reason of strength they be four score years; i.e. "if, through exceptional strength in this or that individual, they occasionally mount up to four score years." Yet is their strength labour and sorrow; rather, yet is their pride then but let, our and vanity. They may boast of their age; but what real advantage is it to them? After seventy, the years draw nigh when each man is forced to say, "I have no pleasure in them" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Moreover, even if we live to eighty, our life seems to us no more than a span, so soon does it pass away, and we take our departure.
Who knoweth the power of thins anger? Who can duly estimate the intensity of God's anger against such as have displeased him? Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath; rather, or who can estimate thy fury as the fear of thee (i.e. the proper fear) requires? The verse is exegetical of Psalms 90:9, and is intended to impress on man the terribleness of God's anger.
From complaint the psalmist, in conclusion, turns to prayer—prayer for his people rather than for himself. His petitions are,
(1) that God will enable his people to take to heart the lessons which the brevity of life should teach (Psalms 90:12);
(2) that he will cease from his anger, and relent concerning them (Psalms 90:13);
(3) that he will once more shower his mercies upon them, and cause their affliction to be swallowed up in gladness (Psalms 90:14, Psalms 90:15);
(4) that he will show his glorious doings to them and to their children (Psalms 90:16);
(5) that he will let his beauty rest upon them (Psalms 90:17); and
(6) that he will bless their doings, and establish them (Psalms 90:17).
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. "Teach us," that is, "so to reflect on the brevity of life, that we may get to ourselves a heart of wisdom," or a heart that is wise and understanding.
Return, O Lord, how long? rather, turn, O Lord; i.e. "turn from thy anger—how long will it be ere thou turnest?" And let it repent thee concerning thy servants. God "is not a man, that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19); and yet from time to time "it repents him concerning his servants" (Deuteronomy 32:36; Psalms 135:14). He relents, that is, from his fierce anger, allows himself to be appeased, and has compassion upon those who have provoked him.
Oh satisfy us early with thy mercy; literally, satisfy us in the morning with thy mercy; i.e. "after a night of trouble, give us a bright morning of peace and rest." That we may rejoice and be glad all our days; rather, and we will rejoice and be glad, etc.
Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us. Proportion our time of joy to our time of sorrow: as the one has lasted many long years, so let the other. And the years wherein we have seen evil; or, "suffered adversity."
Let thy work appear ante thy servants, end thy glory unto their children. The "work" and the "glory" are the same thing—some vast exertion of the Divine power and majesty, which will result in great good to his people. If we accept the Mosaic authorship of the psalm, the establishment of Israel in the laud of Canaan may reasonably be taken as the "work" spoken of.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us (comp. Psa 45:1-17 :24, "Thou art fairer than the children of men;" Psalms 27:4, "To behold the beauty of the Lord;" Isaiah 33:17, "Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty"). The "beauty of God" is upon us when we see and realize the loveliness of his character. And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it. The repetition adds nothing, except it be emphasis. God is asked, finally, to "establish the work" in which his servants are engaged—to bless it; that is, to advance it and prosper it. The nature of the "work" is not mentioned.
Psalms 90:1, Psalms 90:2
The fundamental truths of all religion.
"Lord, thou hast been our Dwelling place," etc. This psalm is a monument of spiritual power. It possesses in eminent. degree the perennial freshness which so wonderfully belongs to Scripture. Generations pass. Centuries mount up into thousands of years; but this ancient psalm lifts up its voice with undecaying strength and sweetness. It reminds us of a granite pillar which casts its unchanging image on a river which flows past, as it has flowed for ages. The inscription, cut thousands of years ago, is unworn by the finger of time; it is clear and sharp, as if cut yesterday. The psalm has been spoken of as "perhaps the most sublime of human compositions, the deepest in feeling, the loftiest in theologic conception, the most magnificent in its imagery" (Isaac Taylor). Even those who question the tradition that it was written by Moses (perhaps more from the habit of questioning than for any solid reason) are utterly at a loss to suggest who else can have been its author. Whether Moses or not, he "wrote as he was moved by the Holy Ghost." These opening verses express the fundamental truths of all religion. the eternal existence of God; the dependence of all other existence on him as Creator, and our personal relation to him as our Almighty Father and Friend—"our Dwelling place in all generations."
I.THE ETERNITY OF GOD. His underived, unchangeable, self-existent being; independent of time. "From everlasting … thou art God." The Hebrew word means "duration," past or future; here, evidently, unlimited duration, or, as we say, eternity. The eternity of God, like his immensity, his omniscience, omnipotence, one of the truths reason cannot grasp, but is compelled to affirm. If we try to think of boundless, actually infinite space, we are baffled. Yet the moment we try to imagine a bound, thought overleaps it. So we cannot comprehend a past eternity; yet the moment we suppose a beginning, we cannot help asking—What was before that? The greatest philosopher of Germany thought he had got rid of the perplexity by asserting that time and space have no existence except in our minds. But this ignores the plain fact that the whole universe, from the movement of suns and systems to the growth of a grain of seed or the ticking of a watch, is based on the reality of time and space, and governed by them. Faith accepts what reason cannot grasp; and falls down and worships "him that liveth forever and ever."
II. THE DEPENDENCE OF ALL OTHER EXISTENCE ON THE SELF-EXISTENT, THE ETERNAL. "Ere ever thou hadst formed," etc. All things, God excepted, had a beginning (Hebrews 11:3; Revelation 4:11; Romans 11:36). Here, again, philosophy has striven hard to get rid of the necessity for creation; to lead us to believe matter and force eternal, and the parents of life, order, beauty, happiness. But the deepest science assures us that the universe in its present state is far enough from either immutable or everlasting; that life can spring only from life; and that the primary material of the universe—atoms, or whatever else we like to call it—bears as clearly the marks of being fitted to its work, by weight, measure, number, exact proportion, as the rudder and screw of a ship, or the beam and flywheel of a steam engine. Science, which is nothing but the study of God's plans and methods of working, leads us back from all vain imaginings to the throne of God. Our deepest thought, our widest, most searching questionings of nature, cannot take us outside of St. Paul's simple, profound declaration, "In him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
III. OUR PERSONAL RELATION TO GOD. "Lord, thou hast been our Dwelling place." Our Refuge, our Rest, our Home. All that we can learn of God, or conjecture concerning him, would profit us nothing, if we do not say, "This God is our God forever and ever" (Psalms 48:14). The same word and thought meet us in the sublime blessing (Deuteronomy 33:27). (Internal confirmation of Mosaic authorship.) The thought of God dwelling with his people, is frequent; the great purpose of the tabernacle, with its covering cloud, and all connected with it, was to impress this idea (for the highest fulfilment of which, see Ephesians 2:22; Revelation 21:3). But here God is himself our Habitation. The whole range of Gentile religious thought cannot (I believe) produce a parallel to this tender, attractive, yet glorious representation of God as the Eternal Home of his people. In that most mournful, though beautiful psalm, in which the psalmist can see nothing but the frailty and vanity of human life, and Faith struggles not to lose her hold, he thinks of himself as "a sojourner" with God (Psalms 39:12). His fainting faith would have revived, had he said, "No! a sojourner with men, a pilgrim on earth; but at home with thee!"
1. How close, tender, full of encouragement, is this relation! To what does the heart cling more lovingly, trustfully, restfully, than to our home?
2. This looks beyond this fleeting life, the shadowy brevity of which is so powerfully contrasted, throughout the psalm, with the opening thought of God's eternity. We are never to leave home (cf. Psalms 48:14). Our Guide till death; our God forever. Compare our Lord's argument (Luke 20:37, Luke 20:38).
3. The unity of the Church: "all generations" of the long succession of believers have one Home (Hebrews 11:13, Hebrews 11:16, Hebrews 11:40).
4. Our Lord Jesus claims to sustain this relation (John 15:4-7; 1 John 2:28).
Nothing perishes. Nothing is forgotten. Things lost to us are found elsewhere. Things that seem to perish do but pass into new forms. The bursting bubble, the smoke scattered by the wind, the fallen leaf trampled into the mire, vanish from our sight and sense; but the atoms of which that puff of smoke is made are as old as the world, and will endure while the world endures. The image of that bubble, with its lovely colours, most lovely just before it bursts, may remain in our memory, or may exercise the thought of scientific minds, for years. The bud which the perished leaf nourished may grow into a bough that will be green when generations have passed; and the dust into which the dead leaf moulders may feed new life. How much more in the spiritual realm! The acted deed, the spoken word, the conscious thought, may seem to perish the instant it comes to birth. Memory may blot it that moment from her tablet. But it is indestructible. It survives in its results. There is a memory in which nothing ever fades; an eye nothing is quick enough to escape or baffle; a light from which no secret thing is hid. "Thou hast set," etc.
I. SIN NATURALLY SEEKS CONCEALMENT. The first impulse of the first sinners—very foolish, but very natural—was to hide themselves from God (Genesis 3:8-10). Some sins those who commit them are anxious to hide from human knowledge. Shame is the natural attendant of consciousness of wrong doing. Only the most hardened and debased "glory in their shame." Other sins, through self-ignorance, self-deceit, carelessness, or dulness of conscience, are a secret from the sinner himself (Psalms 19:12). Some sins—e.g. fraud of all kinds—are possible only by concealment. Self-interest, not shame merely, prompts secrecy. So subtle is sin, that it often disguises itself as virtue. Covetousness poses as prudence, spite as candour, pride as a delicate sense of honour, obstinate ill temper as honest independence, envy, malice, and all uncharitableness, as zeal for truth and for God. Even the sincerest Christian has cause to pray, "Who can understand," etc.? (Psalms 19:12).
II. NO SIN IS HIDDEN FROM GOD. An appalling contrast! What darker hiding place conceivable than the secret, silent depth of the heart? But not only is it transparent to God's view (Psalms 139:1, Psalms 139:12), he brings our secrets to light in the full blaze of omniscience. Elsewhere the "light of God's countenance" means his favour, the sunshine of his loving kindness. But that is a different word in Hebrew; the one used here means not mere sunshine, but the sun (Genesis 1:14 Genesis 1:16). God's knowledge of men's sins is such as is possible to God alone; he knows each sin in its motives, its exact magnitude, its issues in the sinner himself and towards others, its desert. Yet this tremendous thought has its side of comfort. "He knoweth our frame" (Psalms 103:14)—our weakness, ignorance, temptations. His justice excludes harshness. He "has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth."
III. THIS KNOWLEDGE IS NOT TO BE KEPT SECRET. It is to be published to the universe (Ecclesiastes 12:14). The frequent detection and punishment of the most carefully concealed crimes is a faint anticipation of "the day" (Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:23).
IV. SIN CANNOT BE HIDDEN; BUT IT CAN BE "COVERED." (Psalms 32:1; Psalms 85:2.) It can be "blotted out" (Isaiah 43:25; Acts 3:19), "washed" (Psalms 51:2; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Revelation 7:14). Only he who knows our sins could forgive or atone (Romans 5:8).
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The Lord our Dwelling place.
There is no need to doubt the assigned authorship of this psalm. It is in entire harmony with the facts and surroundings of Moses' and Israel's life in the wilderness. Observe—
I. THE BLESSED FACT. The Lord our Dwelling place, which this psalm tells of at its beginning. Weary wanderers as the Israelites were, with no settled resting place, here today, gone tomorrow, how blessed for them that there was refuge, a dwelling place, a home, in God! And this, Moses and such as he had realized and may realize still.
1. Here there may be, there is, perpetual change; but in God a settled abode.
2. Here, weariness and turmoil; in God, rest and peace.
3. Here, continual disappointment; in God, the soul's satisfaction. (Cf. Psalms 63:5.)
4. Here, perpetual peril; in God, perfect security.
5. Here, the coldness and enmity of men; in God, unfailing sympathy and love. Yes, God is the Home of the believing soul.
II. THE SUSTAINING POWER OF THIS FACT. It enables us to meet with calmness the heart breaking events of life. The psalmist enumerates a number of them.
1. The brevity of our life. (Psalms 90:3-6.)
2. The real cause of human misery. (Psalms 90:7.) It is our sin, and God's displeasure thereat. Hence is it (Psalms 90:9) that the sense of that displeasure overwhelms us as with lightning flash, and our lives are as a breath. And so all life is sad, even at the best (Psalms 90:10).
3. The fearfulness of the Divine anger. (Psalms 90:11.) "Who knoweth the might of thine anger and thy wrath, according to the fear that is due unto thee?" (Perowne). None can even rightly estimate it, much less overestimate it.
III. THE RELIEVING PRAYER TO WHICH IT LEADS.
1. That we may not miss the instruction which these sad facts should impart. The "wisdom" craved is that we may make the Lord our Dwelling place.
2. For brighter days. (Psalms 90:13-15.)
3. For the promised salvation—the work and the glory of God (Psalms 90:16).
4. For the beauty of holiness. There had been none of this in Israel in all these many years.
5. That life may be worth living. Not a perpetual disappointment, such as it had been hitherto, but that the work of their hands might be established (Psalms 90:17). Such are some of the prayers which the soul whose home is in God will be led to offer in view of the brevity, the frailty, and the sinfulness of life. Let the Lord be our Dwelling place, and all is well. "Our life is hid with Christ in God."—S.C.
The glorious habitation.
It has been remarked that we have Moses presented to us in three aspects—as poet (see his song at the Red Sea); as preacher (see Deuteronomy and elsewhere); and as a man of prayer (see the closing verses of this psalm). These three characters are not often combined, but when they are they make the subject of them very powerful with God for man, and with man for God. And the secret of his eminence in each character was that his spirit's home was in God. Note—
I. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? How can the Lord be our Dwelling place?
1. It is evident that a spiritual dwelling place is meant. It is not a material habitation, such as the body needs, but one for the spirit of man.
2. And the Lord is such a Dwelling place for our spirits. For if we be such as Moses was, men of God, then God will be our spirits' home, because there they continually abide. Christ said, "Abide in me," and this they do, as a man's home is his dwelling place. And chiefly because it is there he not only dwells, but loves to dwell. Home is not a mere place: it is only home when love dwells there. A man's habitation may be a hell for him, and it will be if it be without love. But it is his home when his affections centre there, when it contains those whom he dearly loves, and who in like manner love him. Then, whether rich or poor, great or small, a palace or a pauper's hut, it is yet his home. Now, God is the home of his people, not alone because they do dwell there, but because they love to dwell there (cf. Psalms 63:1-11.; Psalms 43:3, Psalms 43:5).
3. For in God there is rest for our intellects. Even unbelievers have recognized this. A French philosopher in the days of the Revolution said, "If it could be shown that there was no God, we should have to invent one." They felt that for the satisfaction of the understanding God was a necessity. In him we can see the adequate Cause and Creator of all things, and in his wisdom and power and goodness the mind finds rest.
4. And in him also there is met the cravings of our affections. Even the contemplation of God in his spiritual attributes, in his exalted character, has been found to be full of delight to God's servants; but how much more when he is revealed to us in Christ! Then the heart goes out to him in a great rush of affection, as it beholds his infinite purity and goodness and love as these are seen in Christ our blessed Redeemer. The heart of the believer gazes upon him until it grows toward him as the flowers grow toward the sun.
5. And the will—that lordliest faculty of our nature—finds in him its Inspiration, Strength, and Guide, and loves to lose itself in the will of God. Thus is the Lord our Dwelling place, our spirit's Home, where it dwells, and loves to dwell.
II. WHO ARE THEY THAT DWELL IN GOD? St. John, in his First Epistle, lays down the marks of these blessed ones.
1. They are they who dwell in love. (1 John 4:16.) He who loveth not his brother cannot dwell in God, nor God in him.
2. They who possess the Spirit of God. (1 John 4:13.)
3. They who openly confess him. (1 John 4:15.)
4. They who keep his commandments. (1 John 3:24.) Thus may we test our right to say, "Lord, thou hast been our Dwelling place."
III. WHAT COMES OF THIS DWELLING IN HIM?
1. The unity of God's people.
2. The world's conversion, when it sees all God's people thus united (John 17:21).
IV. HOW CAN WE ENTER INTO AND ABIDE IN THIS BLESSED HOME? (John 14:6.) Christ is the Way. Give yourselves up to him.—S.C.
God's estimate of a thousand years.
I. THE GROUND OF THIS ESTIMATE. It is the eternity of God. He who is from everlasting to everlasting—God, the Eternal. There never was a period in which he was not. He is more permanent than the most changeless things.
1. History teaches us this. Push back so far as we can into the remote past, there we find the sure proof of the Divine existence and work.
2. Science teaches it yet more powerfully. Whether we investigate the old rocks beneath our feet, or gaze upon the stars on high, both alike tell of vast ages, millenniums upon millenniums, in which they have had their being, and alike they proclaim God.
3. Revelation affirms the same.
II. ITS REASONABLENESS. Human analogies help us here. For our ideas of time are:
1. According to our own length of life. To short-lived creatures, such as the insects, a day appears a vast stretch of time; but to us, the days of whose years are three score years and ten, and perhaps four score years, a day is scarcely any time at all. We think a great deal of half a century, but what would one like Methuselah have thought of it? Only an insignificant fraction of his life, not needing to be much counted of. The angels of God also, what are our centuries to them? Above all, God the Eternal, how could it be otherwise than that a thousand years should be to him as one day?
2. According to the magnitude and multiplicity of those matters which demand and occupy our attention. There are people who live in very limited spheres, and who have scarcely anything to do—the idle rich, and many more. Their one idea is how to kill time; they hardly know how to get through it—their days are miserably long. But take the man of affairs, who has large responsibilities resting upon him, the statesman, the merchant, the governor of wide areas and of great numbers of men;—these have so much to attend to that the days are all too short and too few, and are gone long before they can accomplish what they have to do. Apply this to the idea of God. How vast his dominion! how infinite the demands upon his thought and energy! To him, therefore, a thousand years would be as one day.
3. Happiness or misery also cannot but affect our estimate of time. The sufferer tossed with pain, the prisoner in his dungeon, the exile, the miserable ones of all kinds,—how long, how wearisome, are their days (Job 7:4; Psalms 130:6; Luke 16:23-25)! On the other hand, the happy ones,—how time flies with them! And God is the blessed God—"the blessed and only Potentate." All that. can contribute to his joy is present to him increasingly; the evil that exists is but the evolution of good. Why should he not be blessed? Our sad days of pain, therefore, which seem to us like a thousand years, he knows not, but only the joy which reverses such estimate of time.
III. ITS BENEFICENT REMINDERS. All truths of Scripture have practical bearings, and this one assuredly has.
1. It deepens in us the spirit of holy reverence. (Psalms 8:3, Psalms 8:4.)
2. It loosens the power of this world over us. What poor things are all the world's gifts, when seen in the light of God the Eternal!
3. It bids us be patient, and not fret ourselves at the seemingly slow progress of good.
4. It ministers unspeakable consolation. We die, and leave our loved ones and our work; but God ever liveth, and they are in his charge.—S.C.
As a tale that is told.
Yes, it is true; we do spend our lives as is here said. I know the word rendered "tale" may bear other meanings—a thought, a breath, a meditation, a numbering (Exodus 5:8). But this in our text sets forth the psalmist's thought as well as, if not better than, any other. His view of life is a very sad one, and is by no means true as concerns the blessed dead who die in the Lord. Their lives are not all "labour and sorrow;" still less are they "all passed away in" God's wrath; nor are they so vain and worthless as, in his sadness, the psalmist represents them. His idea, in the similitude he here employs of "a tale," has in view the brevity, the trifling character, the speedy forgetfulness into which they fell; but these are not all the characteristics of a tale that is told. Oriental peoples are very fond of short bright stories, and one who can tell such stories well is ever welcome amongst them. The psalmist had no doubt often heard such recitals, and he says—So is man's life. Well, it is so—
I. IN THAT OUR DAYS ARE SOON OVER. The tale that was told was never long, but soon done, and room made for another. And so is it with our life, even at the longest, and especially that portion of our life which is of paramount importance—the formative character fixing years. How soon they are over! And the life takes its bent and bias from them, and generally continues so to the end. In the tale of most lives you know very soon how it will go on. The child is father to the man, and you can generally foretell how it will wind up. Let such as are young, therefore, take heed to their days, the days of their youth—they are all-important.
II. IN ITS VARIED CHARACTER. There are tales told that are poor, mean, hurtful, not worth the telling; that stain the imagination, that incite to evil, and are doomed to a speedy and contemptuous oblivion. But there are others of an entirely different character. And so it is with men's lives—some evil, some blessed and good.
III. IF EITHER IS TO BE WORTHY, THE ESSENTIAl, ELEMENTS ARE THE SAME.
1. Energy and activity.
3. Character must be revealed.
4. The aim must be generous and high.
5. It must end well.—S.C.
Man' s underestimate of God's anger.
"Who knoweth," etc.?
I. SOME DO NOT KNOW IT AT ALL. They do not believe in God at all, or in a very faint way. Hence they turn at once to what they term "natural causes," when the judgments of God are abroad in the earth. "The fool hath said in his heart," etc.
II. MOST MEN HAVE SOME IDEA OF IT.
1. From the Bible. The records of God's wrath are there writ large—the Fall; the Flood; the destruction of Egypt; the deaths in the wilderness, which were probably the occasion of this psalm.
2. From what they see. Vice and villainy come down with a crash from time to time, and men are forced to confess, "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth."
3. From sad experience in their own hearts and lives.
4. From the frenzied fears of many godless ones when death seizes them. Their last awful hours betray the knowledge of God's wrath.
III. BUT NONE KNOW IT ACCORDING TO THE FEAR OF GOD THAT IS DUE.
1. They cannot, because of the limitation of human faculties.
2. But they will not know it as they might and should. The thought of it is a terror and torment to them.
3. But they must, if they are to be saved. If we see not our need of Christ, we shall never seek him. "Spirit of God's most holy fear," come to us, that we may come to thee!—S.C.
The right numbering of our days.
There are certain seasons which come round to men—birthdays, anniversaries, the close of the year, and the like—which seem to compel some sort of numbering of our days. The giddiest, the most thoughtless and worldly, are, for the moment, constrained to recollect the flight of time, the passing away of their life. Like as in dead of night, in the heart of a great city, when its business is hushed, and the traffic of its streets is still, the almost solitary passenger, though thinking of quite other things, is startled and arrested by the sudden simultaneous sounding of the hour of the night from the multitudinous clocks and bell towers which are on every hand. In the rush and roar of the midday business, when the full tide of the city's trade is sweeping on, their stroke and chime would hardly have been heeded. But in this quiet hour, when all is still, the boom of the cathedral bell or the chime from yonder tower floats along the deserted streets, and the wayfarer cannot but take notice that another hour is gone. So in the quiet of thought, to which such seasons as those I have referred to incline us, the evident fact of the passing away of our days strikes upon our mind, and leads us to some sort of numbering of our days—a numbering which may or may not be profitable, and which can only be so according to the manner in which it is done. And this is the teaching of our text. It craves the teaching of God, that we may so number our days as to apply, etc. That, then, is the right numbering of our days which leads us to apply our hearts unto wisdom. Therefore let us inquire—
I. WHAT IS THIS WISDOM TO WHICH WE SHOULD APPLY OUR HEARTS? It is that which leads us to so use this life as the preparation for the life eternal. This life is our school, our training ground, the scene of our education for eternity. What folly, then, to waste and squander such a season! We chide sternly the boy who wastes his school time, but how many men throw away the opportunities which are given to them in this school of life to prepare them for the real life which awaits us when this is over! To the foolish child we say, "School time does not come twice." To many men the same needs to be said. But we shall never use this life aright until we have surrendered our wills—given our hearts—to God, that by his wonder working grace he may cleanse, and sanctify, and keep, and use them for himself. Then all will be well.
II. HOW DOES THE RIGHT NUMBERING OF OUR DAYS LEAD TO THE APPLYING OF OUR HEARTS TO WISDOM? Because it makes us realize how transitory our life is. This is the burden of this psalm. But to really see this, to absolutely believe it, as few do, is to think but little of this world.
1. Of its riches and glory. For if I know—not merely think, but know certainly—that I must have done with them all in a very little time, shall I care very much for them? Would a prisoner in the condemned cell be greatly elated if, the day before his death, he was left a fortune? Would any struggle as they do for this world's wealth if they knew that their lease of it was so brief?
2. And so, too, of this world's sorrows. Should we be so moved by them if we knew how little time they lasted? The martyrs were wont to strengthen their minds by this thought as they anticipated their cruel tortures and death. Paul says, "Our light afflictions which are but for a moment." Hence he who rightly numbers his days lives above the world, is independent of it, is free from its terrible down drag and tyranny.
3. And he will, knowing the transitoriness of this life, seek for that which is eternal.
III. WHY ARE WE SO SLOW TO NUMBER OUR DAYS?
1. Because we do not like the task. It breeds melancholy and fearful thoughts.
2. We persuade ourselves there is no need. We shall have plenty of time (cf. the rich fool).
3. We so love the world.
4. Doubt. The teachings of Holy Scripture and the Church are dimly seen, or doubted, or, it may be, absolutely denied. Many more than we think are practical atheists. Therefore we need to pray, "So teach us to number our days," or else we shall never do it at all.—S.C.
The secret of satisfaction.
I. MAN CRAVES FOR SATISFACTION. He may have many advantages and gifts, much wealth, friends, health, and much beside; and these may divert, interest, and absorb him; but they cannot really satisfy. His soul will hunger still.
II. GOD'S MERCY ALONE CAN MEET THAT CRAVING. For:
1. It puts out of the way all that hinders our satisfaction. The sense of guilt; the tyranny of sin; the burden of care; the fear of death.
2. It brings along with it the true elements of the soul's satisfaction. Sense of acceptance with God; uniform victory over sin; perfect peace; the will and power to bless others; communion with God; abiding hope.
III. BUT IT MUST BE SOUGHT EARLY. "In the morning" is the literal rendering.
1. Each day should be begun with the seeking with all intensity this blessed mercy of God.
2. But especially should each life be so begun. The parents for their child at its birth; the child itself as soon as it is able to understand. What ills will be escaped, what good ensured, if this be done!
IV. THE RESULT SHALL BE THE BLESSED LIFE—heaven before you get there.—S.C.
Make us glad.
None can overestimate the blessing that God's gift of gladness is to us. How it sweetens intercourse, encourages work, lightens our burdens, and helps us over many a difficult place! But there are forms of gladness to which no praise can be given. The laughter of fools is like "the crackling of thorns under a pot"—so says Ecclesiastes. And the gladness of evil men over evil has poison in it, notwithstanding all its loudness. And all mere man made gladness is without permanence or power to really help. The gladness that is of God's making, that is what the psalmist prayed for, and for which we also may well pray. Therefore let us observe its elements, in what it consists. And the following verses of the psalm clearly tell this.
I. GOD'S WORK MUST APPEAR TO US. That is, God's salvation—for that is emphatically his "work," and must be seen by us, and seen as our salvation. Here is the primary essential of all true gladness.
II. HIS GLORY ALSO. "And thy glory unto," etc. That is, God must be seen to be the delight and joy of the soul. David speaks of God as "God, my exceeding joy." This is what is craved in Psalms 63:1-11, "To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have," etc. The soul must learn to delight itself in the Lord, as it will if the glory of God be seen.
III. THE BEAUTY OF THE LORD OUR GOD MUST BE UPON US. That is, the graciousness, gentleness, and goodness of the Lord's character; its purity, holiness, truth, and righteousness;—these, which constitute the beauty of the Lord, and which are so mighty in their attraction, that one asks, "Whom have I in heaven but thee?" (Psalms 16:1-11.); these must be upon us. They are the adornment of the doctrine of God our Saviour. They were, and are, all seen in Christ, and they irresistibly draw all men unto him. And unless in some measure they are upon us, God cannot make us glad. Their absence kills all gladness.
IV. OUR WORK MUST BE ESTABLISHED. "Thework of our hands, establish thou it." To know that we are not labouring in vain, that when we let down the net Christ will give the draught, yea, does so; this is his establishing our work, and by it God does make us glad.
CONCLUSION. Pray this prayer for your own sake, for your work's sake, for Christ's sake; for gladness wins many hearts.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
God a Dwelling place.
God our Home; the soul's Home. There seem to be no sufficient reasons for rejecting the Mosaic authorship of this psalm; but this much appears to be certain—the associations of the time of Moses form the machinery of the psalm; and there are no other associations which fit to it so well. During the last forty years of his life, and during the long years of the desert wanderings for Israel, the people had no home, no resting place; they were constantly moving to and fro; and yet God was caring for them, preserving them from harm; God was their Home. A modern preacher has said, "There is one thing runs through the whole of the Scriptures which is above every other that was ever before the Hebrew mind—it is that in which God is represented as the Dwelling place of his people, as the Home of the soul. It is an awful, incomprehensible, infinite thought; yet we can feel it and know it, not in the same sense as if we were Buddhists or Brahmins, hut, while awed by the grandeur, never losing our personality in the infiniteness of the thought. All things in nature seem to abide ever, constant and unchangeable, but they only seem. All things have the stamp of insecurity upon them; but how confidently secure God's people stand in the eternal relationship of God to them!" See what thoughts we associate with home, and how far these may be applied to God as our "Home," our "Dwelling place."
I. HOME IS A PLACE OF RELATIONSHIPS. Man enters into a variety of connections with his fellows; but his relationships, sanctified by love and service, centre in his home. Relationship to God as "our Father" makes his house our home, and our brothers' home.
II. HOME IS A PLACE OF SECURITY. It is our sanctuary. There we feel not only that none will harm us, but that none ever want to harm us. We even feel that nothing can harm us if we only are safe at home. And nothing ever can harm the soul that is in the shelter of the "everlasting arms."
III. HOME IS A PLACE OF PERSONAL INTERESTS. Each one is concerned in the best welfare of each of the others. It is full of mutual love service. Nothing is paid for, save by responsive love and service. So God may be thought of as personally concerned, personally interested, in all for whom he finds a home.
IV. HOME IS A PLACE OF REST. For those wearied and worn by toil or by trouble. So we sing, "Oh rest in the Lord!"
V. HOME IS A PLACE OF REFUGE. To which the traveller gladly returns from the fatigue and peril of the way. To which the erring child, the prodigal, turns in the penitent hour. So God is the Home of the sinful soul, ever the Father.—R.T.
The past, present, and future eternity of God.
"There is something in the psalm that is wonderfully striking and solemn, acquainting us with the profoundest depths of the Divine nature" (Ewald). In contrast with the ever-passing, ever-changing generations, God is the Abiding, Never-changing One. Independent of all things that exist, God is before all, and is the absolute Creator and Controller of all. The mountains have ever been man's best image of the stable and permanent, yet he is helped to conceive of God as before the mountains, more stable than the mountains, more enduring than the mountains. "From everlasting to everlasting" is, poetically, "from hidden time to hidden." There are time measures which we can use. There are eternity measures of which we can only think; they are now beyond our mental grasp. The eternity measures alone can be properly applied to God. Two things are the subjects of meditation in the first two verses of this psalm—the Divine independence, and the Divine relations. God is the Absolute Being—the "I am." God is in gracious, voluntary, relations—the "God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob." Beyond us as the subject suggested may be, it does us good to try our minds with it, and fill our souls with the wonder and the glory of it.
I. GOD WAS BEFORE ALL THINGS. Philosophers try to persuade themselves that matter is eternal; or they fix upon the atom, or upon water, as the essential primary thing. They are always driven back behind their conclusions, and urged to say whence comes the atom or the moisture. There is no consistent thinking that does not bring us to the conclusion that there was some self-existent, immaterial Being, who was the absolute originator of all material existence, and still exists in complete and conscious independence of everything he has made. He is beyond and above all the chances and changes of his own handiwork.
II. GOD IS IN ALL THINGS. Separable from them, but voluntarily interested in them. The life and light of all this wondrous world we see. The poetical faculty discerns his presence. Human experience attests his practical working. The religious sentiment opens the eyes, and makes the recognition of God easy. When we say all things, we mean absolutely all, not merely those which we are pleased to call religious.
III. GOD WILL BE AFTER ALL THINGS. This can but appeal to faith. To us the time is inconceivable when things will no longer exist. Conceive the time when material things exist no longer, you must think of God as still the One Being. In the One who never passes, never changes, we may put the perfect trust.—R.T.
The lesson of the grass.
"And fade away suddenly as the grass." The strength of this poetical figure can only be fully recognized, by those who, know the. peculiarities of grass in the hot Eastern countries. "In the East one night's rain works a change as if by magic. The field at evening was brown, parched, and as a desert; in the morning it is green with the blades of grass. The scorching hot wind blows upon it, and again before evening it is withered."
I. A LESSON FROM THE FRAILTY OF THE GRASS, It is little more than a blade. Compare with plant, shrub, or tree. A delicate trembling thing. It comes too suddenly, and grows too quickly, to give us any impression of strength. So the apostle reminds us that "all flesh" is as frail as grass. We are here today, tremble today, and are gone tomorrow. "Surely every man's life is but a vanity."
II. A LESSON FROM THE PERILS OF THE GRASS. From insect, from flood, from drought, from wind, from the scythe of the mower. So are the perils that attend human life many and varied. Hereditary tendencies, diseases, results of vice, unhealthy situations and occupation, accidents. Well did the hymn writer say—
"Strange that a harp of thousand strings
Should keep in tune so long."
A considerable proportion of a population die in infancy or in youth; a vast proportion die of preventible disease; an alarming proportion die of Divine judgments on sinful indulgence; and a considerable proportion die through the uncertainty that attaches to the working of man-made machinery. "In the midst of life we are in death." "Be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh."
III. A LESSON FROM THE BRIEF LIFE OF THE GRASS. Growing up in the morning, and withered by night, it has but its little day in which to do its work. There can be no wasting of the few moments, the "little while," which represent the human life of even the longest lived. The brevity of our life puts supreme importance into the passing moment. "Now is the accepted time."
IV. A LESSON FROM THE MISSION OF THE GRASS. Frail as it is, brief as is its life, the grass has its work; and it has but to be faithful to the measure of power it has, and the length of time it abides. It has a mission to the soil, to the atmosphere, to the cattle, and to man. So we have our mission; it is precise to our powers; it is limited to the time of our sojourn. And, however little, it fits into the great plan of God for the well being of the race.—R.T.
The word used is a singular one, and may be rendered "our secret" (character). "God needs no other light to discern our sins by but the light of his own race. It pierceth through the darkest places; the brightness thereof enlighteneth all things, discovers all things. So that the sins that are committed in deepest darkness are all one to him as if they were done in the face of the sun. For they are done in his face, that shines more, and from which proceeds more light than from the face of the sun. So that this ought to make us the more fearful to offend; he sees us when we see not him, and the light of his countenance shines about us when we think ourselves hidden in darkness." "These words have a singular force if written by Moses, who saw the splendour of God, and carried away upon his person its manifest tokens."
I. SECRET SIN REGARDED AS THAT WHICH WE WOULD GLADLY CONCEAL FROM OTHERS. Secrecy is always suspicious. "He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." Secrecy may be duty; in public spheres it may be wise policy; but when a man, in private life, does not wish any one to know what he is doing, he is generally found to be doing something wrong. The burglar, the coiner, the sensualist, want secrecy. They work in the dark; they go under feigned names; they hide themselves in the great cities; they devise all sorts of excuses to account for their time. If they succeed in deceiving their fellows, surely their ways and works are "naked and open" to God, whose "eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good."
II. SECRET SIN REGARDED AS THAT WHICH WE TRY TO CONCEAL FROM OURSELVES. This point requires more searching treatment.
1. Natural disposition, and errors in education, prevent men from recognizing the sinfulness of their own sins.
2. Conscience may be blunted so that it is no longer keen to witness against sin.
3. Strong will to continue in sin sets men upon persuading themselves that their sin is not sin. Illustrate from the sins of drinking, slandering, envying, etc. A man may deceive himself, but God quickly tears away his "refuges of lies." God knows the man who does not know himself. He puts the secrets into the "light of his countenance."
III. SECRET SIN REGARDED AS THAT WHICH WE TRY TO CONCEAL FROM GOD. As did Adam, by hiding among the trees. Men say, "The Lord shall not see;" but no man ever yet succeeded in closing the eye of Heaven. Men's most desperate effort is to assert and prove that there is no God, and so no observer of their sin. They never really succeed. Infidelity is the hopeless attempt to get rid of a God who sees, and will be sure to judge.—R.T.
Brief life as judgment on sin.
This is the point that is specially present to the mind of the author of the psalm; and it is the point specially impressed by the historical associations of the psalm. "Human transitoriness, the creature made subject to vanity, death in its much-disregarded connection with sin,—these and the awful contrast, God's eternity, his absolute disposition of men's lives, his mindfulness of their misdeeds, are here the theme of melancholy contemplation." Recall the fact that during the thirty-eight years of the Israelite wanderings in the wilderness, they were subject to an extraordinary mortality, which was a direct judgment of Jehovah on their rebellion. A whole generation was punished, for the sin at Kadesh, by premature death. All from twenty years old and upward perished during the following years, so that only two representatives of the entire generation, Caleb and Joshua, actually entered the promised land. It is true that Moses himself lived to be a hundred and twenty years old, but his generation could not have reached a higher standard than seventy or eighty years. The truth that "the wages of sin is death" is forcibly illustrated by the historical record of the wilderness generation. We may trace the Divine wisdom in giving the judgment on sin this particular form, of shortened life.
I. PROLONGED LIFE GIVES OPPORTUNITY FOR INCREASE OF SIN. See the case of the antediluvian sinners, who went on sinning through long lives until they became hopelessly corrupt, and had to be swept away by the Flood. It may, indeed, be a severe judgment to prolong a life, and a gracious judgment to shorten it.
II. THE LOVE AND CLINGING TO LIFE MAKE SHORTENING LIFE A VERY EFFECTIVE JUDGMENT. Love of life is natural to man. It is the expression of his consciousness of immortality, only it leads him to want his immortality here. The things which man begins to do make it extremely trying to have to leave them unfinished. Life means pleasant relationships, which man feels it a very bitter thing to break off.
III. MAN'S UTTER HELPLESSNESS IN THE PRESENCE OF EARLY DEATH MAKES THIS FORM OF JUDGMENT SPECIALLY HUMILIATING. To conquer, rise above, mate and master everything, is man's supreme passion. Early death is God—it may be the neglected God—mastering him.—R.T.
Length of life a doubtful good.
Yet every one wishes to live long. Every one imagines for himself an old age; and an ideal human life includes it. And yet there are but few who have the experience of old age who would really wish others to share it. Not without good reason did the ancients say, "Those whom the gods love die young." Length of life is a doubtful good, because—
I. THE AGED ARE PUT ASIDE FROM THE ACTIVITIES OF LIFE. Life goes past them: opinions change; customs change; business is changed. The old man no longer fits; he must stand aside; if he persists in keeping his place, he ruins his business, and worries everybody. It is hard to have to live on into a time when we shall no longer be of any use.
II. THE AGED MUST BEAR THE BURDEN OF FAILING POWERS. See the description of old age in Ecclesiastes. See the force of the terms "labour" and "sorrow" in the text. The necessary weakening of the bodily faculties is accompanied—save in very extreme cases—with corresponding failing of mental powers, and a trying limitation of human interests. The old man ceases to belong to his day, and lives over again his childish years. Sometimes aged helplessness, with disease, is most pitiful.
III. THE AGED SOMETIMES HAVE TO BEAR THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE SINS OF YOUTH. All sins of sensuality and self-indulgence carry their inevitable penalties; and if the pressure of them be delayed by a well regulated manhood, they come on a man with a rush when the vitality is lowered by advancing age. A man bears "the sins of youth in the bones of old."
IV. THE AGED OFTEN FIND THEIR HEAVIEST TROUBLE TO BE THE LONELINESS IN WHICH THEY ARE LEFT. He who has had troops of friends dies at last tended by the hireling. Loved ones die away or remove out of reach. The old man often says, as did the Revelation William Jay, of Bath, in his advanced years, "My burying ground is richer than my church." To sensitive, affectionate souls, aged loneliness must be the supreme woe. Wife, children, friends, gone on before. How the old man must say to himself continually—
"What is my nest to me?—my empty nest?"
V. THE AGED SOMETIMES HAVE TO BEAR DISTRESSING CIRCUMSTANCES AS WELL AS BODILY FRAILTY. To live on means exhausting the savings; to be unable to earn; to have none to work for us. But life is in the Lord's hands, not ours. "If life be long, we will be glad, that we can long obey."—R.T.
Numbering our days.
That cannot mean merely counting them. Whether they are to be few or many we know not. The rich and self-centred farmer thought he could count his days, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years" But the truth was that for him there was not even a "tomorrow." "This night thy soul shall be required of thee." We can value, estimate, appraise our days. We can realize their responsibilities, their work, their possibilities, their issues. When should the numbering work be done? Will it do to leave it until we are on the threshold of eternity? In this matter "now is the accepted time." Number them as you number the days of a holiday time, so that you may crowd every day with the best and worthiest things. Number them aright, and you will not fail to ask grace of God, saying, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
I. Days, to be well numbered, must be ESTIMATED IN THE LIGHT OF ETERNITY. How changed a thing life would become to us if there were no eternity! Compare two lives, one without, and one with, the thought of eternity.
1. Days may seem many; they are really but few. Seventy years is but a little while to look back on. See striking Bible figures of our life—weaver's shuttle; passing shadow; shepherd's tent; breath of mouth in winter. The generations are like the changing sentinel watch in the night.
2. Days may seem to go slowly; they really hurry by. "Thou carriest them away as with a flood." Swifter than the post.
3. Days may seem to be made up of little things; really there is nothing little; because everything has its bearing on the future, on character; and everything has eternal issues. It is a cause with a consequence. A little pebble may make ripples that shall never die away.
II. Days well numbered will not allow THE PUTTING OFF OF DUTY. Every day has its work. There is no possible overtaking the ends of life, save in daily faithfulness. If we are faithful every day, life cannot be unfinished. A faithful man can be stopped at any time. He wants no time in which to get himself ready.
III. Days well numbered must seem TOO SOLEMN FOR UNAIDED SELF-EXERTION. The man who rightly values them will tremble to step on them alone. Even the lesser claims of life overwhelm a thoughtful spirit. We all fail to be what we desire to be, even in common life. Much more the higher. We have a soul to save, a crown to win; and there should be jewels in the crown. Can we do it alone?—R.T.
Psalms 90:16, Psalms 90:17
Prayer for Divine revealing of the mystery of life.
This prayer, as referable to the Israelites, is a presage of the end of their pilgrimage, of their forgiveness, and of their settlement in Canaan. The issue of present Divine dealings was a glory which could only come to the children of the Mosaic generation. But Moses could properly pray that what God was actually then doing—his work by his disciplinary dispensations—might at once be revealed to his servants. To know what God is doing with us is our best help in bearing what burdens God lays upon us. And when we do know, we can even pray God to keep on his corrective work, whatever it may cost us, and let our children realize the issues. The "beauty" of the Lord may be taken as the Divine favour; or it may be a figure for the glory of the Divine presence. The prayer seems to embrace two things.
I. THAT GOD'S PURPOSE SHOULD BE MADE TO APPEAR. "Thy work." That prayer is constantly rising from the hearts of men. We are always wanting to know the meaning of life; the meaning of our lives; the meaning of our lives at particular times. What is God doing with us? Unto what, into what, is God leading us? This is only made known in answer to prayer, which reveals to God an attitude of mind and feeling to which his purpose and his work can be explained. God holds the key to every life story.
II. THAT MAN'S WORK SHOULD BE ESTABLISHED. This is the prayer of those who feel the uncertainty of life, and fear that they will be unable to complete what they have begun. The prayer may take two forms.
1. Permit me to finish the work I have started.
2. Let my children carry on to completion my work. Do not let it be lost and useless, as an unfinished thing. "Establish thou the work of our hands upon us" "When Moses prays that the 'children' of the present generation may see God's glory, he perhaps has in mind the exclusion of the latter from entrance into the land of Canaan. It was only to their children that this, the culminating and most glorious blessing, was to be vouchsafed."—R.T.
Prayer and work.
"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."
I. THAT GOOD MEN ARE ENGAGED IN IMPORTANT WORK. God has a work to do; and the psalmist prays that it may be made manifest to their eyes. We desire to see God's work—the revelations and exercises of his great power and love. But the thought here is of our work.
1. It is divinely appointed. Not self-chosen. The great aim of it is the same as God's—to save men, by our giving them all possible help.
2. This work gives to life its chief value and interest. Living for the bodies and souls of others is intrinsically more valuable than all the private ends we pursue.
II. GOOD MEN FEEL ANXIOUS FOR THE SUCCESS OF THEIR WORK. They want it established, made strong, prospered. Even as they aim to succeed in their temporal work. On account of the intrinsic importance of the work itself. Because of the consequences of the work in the future. "And thy glory unto their children." Good men think not only of their own future, but of the future of Christ's Church. Because of our future. It will soon be of the utmost consequence to us whether our work has been established or not. Have we done anything, are we doing anything, that will last—of a beneficent kind?
III. GOOD MEN FEEL THAT THE SUCCESS OF THEM WORE DEPENDS ON THE BLESSING OF GOD. "Let thy beauty be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands." If our work is to be strong—be established—the strength must come from God. The utmost we can do is to accomplish the outward conditions of success; but God alone can reach the heart of the sinner and sufferer to cleanse and comfort. Our work ought to be beautiful, but God alone can give the beauty. If our work be the work of gratitude, love, humility, and self-sacrifice, it is God that has made it beautiful.
IV. THAT THE DIVINE BLESSING ON OUR WORK IS OBTAINED BY PRAYER.
1. God has made prayer necessary to the success of spiritual work. Christ taught this constantly, "Pray ye the Lord of the harvest," etc.; "Thy kingdom come."
2. As a matter of experience, the men who have prayed most over their work have succeeded best. Their prayer expressed their earnestness and faith—trust and spirit of dependence. Observe how work and prayer are here conjoined, Prayer useless where there is no work on hand.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 90". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany