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Bible Commentaries

Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms

Psalms 90

Verses 1-17

Psalms 90:1-17. Title. " Moses, the man of God," (Marg. Ref.) the prophet Moses, and not one of the same name in after ages, as some have imagined, may very reasonably be supposed to have composed this most instructive and affecting psalm, when the generation of Israel, which God had by him brought out of Egypt, was sentenced to fall in the wilderness ; or when he had witnessed in a great degree the execution of that sentence. (Notes, Numbers 13:14:) It is not indeed improbable that it was used at the tabernacle, as well as published among the people, during that solemn season, when death marched his rounds among them in so remarkable a manner. It seems to have been preserved along with the books of Moses, and afterwards to have been inserted in the book of psalms. To obtain the most interesting view of this picture, so to speak, we must consider Moses as the principal figure ; and carefully advert to his peculiar circumstances at that season. The sentiments indeed of the psalm are never unsuitable to our situation in this world ; but they would be peculiarly adapted to the case of a pious man, in a time of pestilence, when tens of thousands were swept away on every side of him. (Note, Psalms 91:3-8.)

V. 1,2. The Israelites were shut up in the desert, and not allowed to find habitations in the promised land, or in any cultivated region ; but the Psalmist recollected, that even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were strangers and pilgrims in Canaan. Indeed God himself had, in all ages, been the Home, Rest, Safety, and Comfort of his people : and into that " Dwelling-place " they might enter by faith and prayer, even in the wilderness ; (Notes, John 6:52-58. 1 John 4:13-17 ) seeing he was the same self-existent, all sufficient, and almighty God ; the same holy, just, merciful, and faithful God, even before he had " created " the heavens and the earth ; " yea, from eternity to eternity.

(Notes, Psalms 103:15-18. Genesis 1:1. Exodus 3:14. Deuteronomy 33:27-28. Is. 57. 15, 16. Hebrews 13:7-8.)

V. 3- 6. When man sinned, his Creator sentenced him " to return to the dust from whence he was taken." Adam, however, and several of his descendants lived almost a thousand years : but in the sight of the eternal God this was but as yesterday ; and it was soon past like a watch, or three hours of the night, which glides away while men sleep. (Notes, Genesis 3:17-19. P. O. Psalms 5:1-2. Note, 2 Peter 3:8.) Thus the Lord turned them to destruction as well as their more short-lived posterity ; and the human race had all along been swept away by death as by an impetuous torrent : life appeared but a sleep ; and all earthly prosperity only resembled the verdure and variegated hues of the meadow in a summer’s morning; which before night was cut down by the scythe, and withered by the sun. (Notes, Psalms 39:5-6. Psalms 103:11-18. Is. 40: 6- 8. James 1:9-11; James 4:13-17. 1 Peter 1:23-25.) The word translated, " Thou carriest them away as with a flood," may be rendered, " Thou over-flowedst them ; " and may be considered as a reference to the desolations of the general deluge.

V. 7- 10. The Israelites had provoked the Lord, by their unbelief and rebellion, to " swear in his wrath that " they should not enter ’"’ Canaan : and this passage may refer to those events. Accordingly they were swept away by the anger of God, in so extraordinary a manner, that they were kept in constant trouble,of mind by the dread of his judgments. Not only were their open transgressions punished with awful judgments destroying thousands at once ; but their " secret sins," or the iniquities of their youth, (as some render the word,) were called to remembrance by their righteous Judge. Thus their days and years were turned away from hope and comfort by the wrath of God : they were spent to little purpose ; and soon came to an end, as a tale, a meditation, a waking dream. (Note, Numbers 26:62-65.) Perhaps the lives of men in general were at this sera reduced to about the present limits : for after the death of Moses and Joshua, few instances of a much longer life occur in the scripture. At least it was thus with that generation of Israel ; very few of whom would exceed, and most would come short of eighty years. The verses however are equally applicable to the general state of human nature. (Marg. Ref.)

V. 11. This verse is thus rendered by some learned men : " Who knoweth the power of thy anger ? or of thy " wrath, according as thou art terrible ? " That is, ’ Who is there, that fears the wrath of the Almighty, in proportion to the degree in which it ought, in all reason, to be dreaded ? or in due proportion to his fear of mortal men when possessed of power ? Who does not fear the wratl of powerful men too much, and the wrath of almighty Got; too little ? when in fact, the latter cannot be feared according to its terribleness. Who is sufficiently afraid of offending God, or earnest in seeking to be reconciled to him ? We know the worst which the most powerful men, when most enraged, can do ; they can kill the body, and nothing more : but who knows or can conceive the worst, which the Almighty and everlasting God can do against the objects of his righteous indignation ? (Marg. Rcf. Notes, Matthew 10:27-28. Hebrews 10:28-31, v: 31.)’ According as men do more or less tremble at thy judgments ; so dost thou more or less execute them.’ Bp. Hall.

V. 12. The shortness, uncertainty, and sorrows of life, as the effects of the powerful wrath of God against the sins of men ; when considered in connexion with the doctrine of an eternal state of future retribution, and that of salvation by the mercy and grace of God, through the promised Redeemer ; are suited to teach men true wisdom : and Moses prayed, that he, and all his people, might be taught by the Lord himself duly to lay them to heart ; that, by meditation, prayer, and a constant application of the whole soul and all its powers, to the pursuit of heavenly wisdom, as their one object, they might both be wise unto salvation, and glorify God, and do good to men, while they waited for the speedy approach of death.

(Notes, Psalms 39:1-4. Psalms 5:4. Deuteronomy 32:29.)

V. 13- 17. The Israelites, notwithstanding their transgressions, were the Lord’s people and avowed worshippers, and he had many faithful servants among them. These no doubt thought the time very long, during which they continued under the severe rebukes of God, without the accustomed tokens of his favour. They therefore prayed along with Moses, that for their sakes he would at length change his conduct towards the nation : (Notes, Genesis 6:6-7. Deuteronomy 32:36:) and, though the sentence respecting Canaan was irreversible ; that he would yet without delay satisfy their souls with the comforts of his mercy and grace ; which would enable them to spend their few remaining days in holy joy, and counterbalance their long continued afflictions. They further besought the Lord that he would cause them again to witness his works of power and mercy in behalf of the nation, as an earnest of those more glorious displays, which were to be afforded to their children ; and that " the beauty of the Lord their God might be upon " them." This implies a request, that he would appear to them in his tabernacle, " the beautiful sanctuary : " that

he would continue his ordinances among them, which were their glory and beauty ; but especially that he would shine upon them with the beams of his holiness, which is his beauty ; that, like the moon irradiated and beautified by the reflected beams of the sun, they might be made to shine in the beauty of holiness as derived from him.

(Notes, 1. 1, 2. Psalms 149:4. P. O. Note, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.) Thus Moses, Aaron, and others, especially desired that the Lord would prosper and establish their work, though they must die, and leave it unfinished; that their pious and zealous endeavours might have their full effect, by rendering the Israelites a holy and a happy people ; which would best prepare them for the conquest of Canaan, and for the blessings which God had engaged to bestow on the nation, and that this might continue and be established for generations long to come. ’ Except thou guide us with thy Holy ’ Spirit, our enterprises can have no good success. (Marg. Ref.) ’


The favour and protection of God are the only suitable rest and comfort of the soul, in this evil world : and in Christ Jesus he is become the Refuge and Dwelling-place, to which we may repair, whenever pursued by the accusations of conscience, or the unkindness of men; when wearied with the cares and toils of life ; or disquieted by sickness and the prospect of death. (Note, Proverbs 18:10-11.) His truth, love, and power are eternal and immutable ; and this habitation can never fail those who resort to it for rest and peace : for " his mercy is on them that " fear him from generation to generation." Compared with him, who " from everlasting to everlasting is God " alone, how do the most renowned of the human race shrink into insignificance! The longest life, which men have passed on earth, has been but as " a watch of the " night ; " and then the word of the Almighty has remanded their bodies to their original dust. What images in nature then can sufficiently illustrate the brevity of our present span of life ? the impetuous current of time hurries mortals, as in a sleep, into eternity, where most of them first awake, and lift up their eyes : and all the external splendour and gaiety, which excite the envy, the desires, or the admiration of the thoughtless beholder, are destroyed and withered as in a moment. (Note, Luke 16:22-23.) So that the supposed pleasure of a worldly life passes as a " tale that is told," and generally, taken altogether, it proves a doleful tale. Few in comparison reach the seventy years assigned as the date of man’s present life ; and if a small number linger out a longer space, their lives are but a continuation of labour and sorrow, and soon they are " cut off and fly away." But wherefore has the Lord, as it were, made all men thus in vain? (Note,Psalms 89:46-48.) To this enquiry the scriptural, and the only rational answer is, that we are a company of condemned criminals, and arc thus " troubled and consumed " by his anger ; " lie has his eye upon our most secret sins, as well as our more open iniquities, on the past, as well as the present: and therefore we pass our days in his deserved wrath. The sentence of temporal death is gone forth, and is irreversible, however the time and circumstances of it may vary. This indeed is very little, compared with " the wrath to come : " yet alas ! how few seem to understand or regard the powerful wrath of that God, who is able to destroy body and soul in hell ; though no apprehensions can possibly equal the terror of it ! Instead then of wasting our precious fleeting days in pursuing the phantoms of the world, which elude our grasp, and will leave their possessors for ever poor ; we should employ ourselves in seeking forgiveness of sins and an inheritance in heaven. Let us earnestly pray, that the Lord would so teach us to consider the shortness and uncertainty of life, and the proportion of it which is already past ; perhaps thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, or more of our three-score years and ten ; that we may apply our hearts to this true wisdom. A proper attention to this " one " thing needful " will prove us wise to eternity, whatever else be renounced or neglected : but inattention to it will stigmatize us as fools for ever, though we should gain the whole world. (Note, Luke 12:15-21.) If this grand interest be safe, the shortness of life may rather be matter of mutual congratulation than condolence : and as to the evils that we feel or witness, persevering prayer will prevail either for a mitigation of them, or comfort under them. Whatever else be withheld, the mercy and favour of our God will satisfy our souls : and in communion with him we may " rejoice and be glad all our days," even in this miserable world. ’ These are the days wherein God afflicted us, ’ these the years wherein we see evil : but he will hereafter ’ make us glad according to them. ..." These light afflicttions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far ’ " more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Then ’ shall our joy be increased, and receive an additional relish, from the remembrance of our former sorrow ; then ’ shall we bless the days and the years, which exercised our ’ faith, and perfected our patience ; and then shall we bless ’ God, who chastised us for a season, that he might save ’ us for ever.’ Bp. Home. In the mean while, we should lay ourselves out to do what good we can in this evil world, and especially to such as are likely to survive us ; earnestly and constantly praying, that the work of redeeming love may be more and more made known, in its glory and efficacy, to our souls ; that we may more fully experience the sanctification and consolation of the Holy Spirit ; that the beauty of holiness, even the divine image, may be evidently visible in all our character and conduct ; that the same blessings, in still larger proportion, may be extended to our children and more remote posterity ; that the Lord would " establish the works of our hands upon us," when we are about to be taken from them, can no more do any thing respecting them, and perhaps are leaving them in an unfinished, unsettled, and unpromising situation. This especially should be our prayer, if employed in the sacred ministry, or other important services ; and also that he would illuminate his church with the light and beauty of his truth and purity, and establish the Redeemer’s kingdom and work throughout the whole earth.

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Bibliographical Information
Scott, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 90". Scott's Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms. 1804.