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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the Bible

Psalms 90

Psalms 90:0

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASBNKJVNRSVTEVNJB
God's Eternity and Man's TransitorinessMT IntroA Prayer of Moses the man of GodThe Eternity of God, and Man's FrailtyPrayer for Deliverance From National AdversityOf God and Human BeingsOn Human Frailty
Psalms 90:1-2Psalms 90:1-2Psalms 90:1-2Psalms 90:1-2Psalms 90:1
Psalms 90:2
Psalms 90:3-6Psalms 90:3-6Psalms 90:3-6Psalms 90:3-6Psalms 90:3-4
Psalms 90:5-6
Psalms 90:7-12Psalms 90:7-12Psalms 90:7-10Psalms 90:7-8Psalms 90:7-8
Psalms 90:9-10Psalms 90:9-10
Psalms 90:11-12Psalms 90:11-12Psalms 90:11
Psalms 90:12-13
Psalms 90:13-17Psalms 90:13-17Psalms 90:13-17Psalms 90:13-17
Psalms 90:14-15
Psalms 90:16-17

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This Psalm proclaims YHWH's eternality (i.e., Psalms 90:1-2, Psalms 90:4) and mankind's transitoriness (i.e., Psalms 90:3, Psalms 90:5-6, Psalms 90:9-10).

B. Israel's sins (i.e., Psalms 90:8) caused YHWH to bring judgment to His people (i.e., Psalms 90:7, Psalms 90:9, Psalms 90:11). They pray for His mercy to return (i.e., Psalms 90:12, Psalms 90:13-17).

C. This Psalm has several words used in doubles.

1. turn back, return - BDB 996, KB 1427, Hiphil imperfect and then Qal imperative, Psalms 90:3

2. be glad. . .make us glad - BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal cohortative and then Piel imperative

3. seen. . .appear - BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal perfect, then Niphal imperfect used in a jussive sense

4. confirm. . .confirm - BDB 465, KB 464, both Polel imperatives

D. Surprisingly the MT introductory note has Moses as the author. These notes do not appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls but they do appear in the Septuagint. They are ancient Jewish traditions but not originally part of the inspired text. Possible reasons this Psalm is identified with Moses are

1. obvious allusion to Genesis 3:19 (i.e., different words for dust but same concept)

2. possible allusion between

a. Psalms 90:2, “birthing” and Deuteronomy 32:6, Deuteronomy 32:18

b. Psalms 90:2, the eternality of God and Deuteronomy 32:40

c. Psalms 90:13b, pity and Deuteronomy 32:36

3. In Book IV of Psalms, Moses' name appears several times (cf. Psalms 99:6; Psalms 103:7; Psalms 105:26; Psalms 106:16, Psalms 106:23, Psalms 106:32) and only once in the first three Books (i.e., Psalms 77:20).

In the whole of the fourth division of the Psalter (Psalm 90-106) only three Psalms have the traditional author given.

a. Psalms 90:0, Moses

b-c. the Psalms of 103 and 104 are attributed to David

The LXX attributes all but Psalms 90:0 to David.

E. This Psalm has several words (and phrases) denoting time.

1. in all generations, Psalms 90:1

2. from everlasting to everlasting, Psalms 90:2

3. a thousand years, Psalms 90:4

4. yesterday, Psalms 90:4

5. a watch in the night, Psalms 90:4

6. in the morning, Psalms 90:5, Psalms 90:6, Psalms 90:14

7. towards evening, Psalms 90:6

8. all our days, Psalms 90:9, Psalms 90:14

9. our years like a sigh, Psalms 90:9

10. the days of our lives, Psalms 90:10

11. seventy years, Psalms 90:10

12. eighty years, Psalms 90:10

13. number our days, Psalms 90:12

14. how long will it be, Psalms 90:13

15. according to the days, Psalms 90:15

16. years we have seen evil, Psalms 90:15

Verses 1-2

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 90:1-2 1Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. 2Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

Psalms 90:1-2 This strophe introduces three theological truths.

1. Israel is and was YHWH's special people (i.e., since the call of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3).

2. YHWH is the eternal God, no beginning, no end (cf. Psalms 9:7; Psalms 29:10; Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12; Jude 1:25; Revelation 1:8, Revelation 1:17; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13; see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM).

3. YHWH is the creator of the physical world for His own purposes (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan).

Psalms 90:1 “Lord” The NASB 1970 edition had “Lord” (i.e., YHWH) but the MT has Adon (cf. Psalms 90:17). The NASB 1995 edition corrects this. The NKJV, TEV, and REB also have Lord (YHWH), which is found in Psalms 90:13.

NASB, NKJV, NRSV“dwelling place” TEV“home” NJB, JPSOA, REB, LXX“refuge”

The MT has “dwelling places” (מעון, BDB 732 I, cf. Psalms 71:3). The NASB margin mentions “place of refuge” (מעוז, BDB 731, cf. Psalms 27:1; Psalms 37:40) as an ancient option. Both concepts are mentioned together in Psalms 91:9 in parallel.

Psalms 90:2 The first two poetic lines personify physical creation in terms of human birth metaphors.

1. born, cf. Job 15:7; Proverbs 8:25

2. give birth, literally “writhe in the pain of child birth,” BDB 297, Polel #2; it is used of YHWH birthing Israel in Deuteronomy 32:6, Deuteronomy 32:18

“earth. . .world” These are parallel and have no intended distinction (cf. Psalms 19:4; Psalms 24:1; Psalms 33:8; Psalms 77:18). I do not think the second word stands for the universe. The Bible is about this planet. For the first word, see Special Topic: Land, Country, Earth.

“from everlasting to everlasting” This is one of several idiomatic phrases that express the eternality of YHWH. His name, YHWH, means “the ever-living, only-living One, cf. Exodus 3:14).

For “everlasting” (BDB 761) see the Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

I am often asked where God came from. The Bible does not address this question but begins with God's existence and activity in Genesis 1:1. Our curiosity must wait! Be careful of speculation in the absence of revelation!

Verses 3-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 90:3-6 3You turn man back into dust And say, “Return, O children of men.” 4For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night. 5You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades and withers away.

Psalms 90:3-6 As the first strophe emphasizes YHWH's eternality, this strophe asserts mankind's transitoriness and frailty. This is highlighted in the third strophe (Psalms 90:7-12) by the reality of YHWH's judgment on Israel. Even the special people of God reap the consequences of sin!

Psalms 90:3 This verse makes a reality statement (i.e., humans die, cf. Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:14, Genesis 3:16) and parallels it with the same word (BDB 996, KB 1427) in an imperative statement. Human death was not the will of God or the natural cycle of His planet but the direct result of human sin! See Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., pp. 1176-1177.

This current world was not the original intent of YHWH but the result of Genesis 3:0.

“O children of men” Because of the obvious allusion to Genesis, this could be “children of Adam” (NJB, cf. Psalms 8:4).

Psalms 90:4 This is idiomatic language for YHWH's eternity (cf. 2 Peter 3:8). This shows that time indicators can function as figurative idioms (i.e., “day” of Genesis 1:0, see Special Topic: Day (yom)). Time is not a limiting factor to Deity as it is to humanity!

For “thousand” see Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THOUSAND (eleph)

“watch in the night” In the OT the night was divided into three watches (i.e., military way of dividing the length of time soldiers stood guard). By the NT the Jews of Palestine had adopted the Roman division of four night watches.

1. OT - Exodus 14:24; Judges 7:19; 1 Samuel 11:11; Lamentations 2:19

2. NT - Matthew 14:35; Mark 13:35

Psalms 90:5 “like a flood” Raging water was often used metaphorically of human troubles. However, here the word may be the single usage of a word meaning, “put an end to life” (KB 281 I; NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 1150), following an Arabic root and not related to the Hebrew root, “pour out” (BDB 281, KB 281 II).

“asleep” Sleep (BDB 446) is an OT idiom for death. The first occurrences relate to leaders being gathered to their families (i.e., Deuteronomy 31:16). It came to be an idiom for all who die (i.e., Psalms 13:3; Daniel 12:2; Isaiah 26:19). This idiom does not imply an unconscious state between death and resurrection.

“Like grass” This is a recurrent metaphor for mankind (cf. Job 14:2; Psalms 102:11; Psalms 103:15; Isaiah 40:6; 1 Peter 1:24, 1 Peter 1:25). As seasonal plants appear in spring and disappear in winter, so too, mankind's brief life span!

In some texts it refers to the destruction of the wicked (cf. Job 18:16; Psalms 37:2). Seasonal grass will reappear (i.e., there is hope for faithful followers), but the wicked are gone forever.

It is contextually possible that this Psalm is referring to premature death (i.e., esp. Psalms 90:10d).

Verses 7-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 90:7-12 7For we have been consumed by Your anger And by Your wrath we have been dismayed. 8You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence. 9For all our days have declined in Your fury; We have finished our years like a sigh. 10As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away. 11Who understands the power of Your anger And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You? 12So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Psalms 90:7-12 This strophe clearly admits that YHWH's judgment on His people is the direct result of their sin. However, His people trust and hope in the basic character of Godmercy! To me, Psalms 103:8-14 is a sure hope in the character of God (cf. Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 4:31; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 86:15; Psalms 145:8).

Psalms 90:7 “anger” Notice the variety of words used to describe YHWH's reaction to covenant disobedience.

1. anger, Psalms 90:7a, Psalms 90:11 - BDB 60 I

2. wrath, Psalms 90:7b - BDB 404

3. fury, Psalms 90:9, Psalms 90:11 - BDB 720

Remember, the Bible uses human vocabulary to describe God. It is always metaphorical and limited. See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN (ANTHROPOMORPHISM). Psalms 103:0 helps me balance His anger and love! Jesus is the ultimate expression of His character and promises!

NASB, NJB“dismayed” NKJV, TEV“terrified” NRSV“overwhelmed” JPSOA“terror-struck”

This verb (BDB 96, KB 111, Niphal perfect) denotes the fear of death and judgment (cf. Psalms 30:7; Psalms 104:29; NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 610-611). Sin has temporal and eschatological consequences!

Psalms 90:8 “the light of Your presence” Light is a biblical symbol of goodness, revelation, health. God is light (cf. 1 Timothy 6:16; James 1:17; 1 John 1:5). His personal presence is expressed by the idiom of the light of His countenance (cf. Psalms 4:6; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 44:3; Psalms 67:1; Psalms 80:3, Psalms 80:7, Psalms 80:19; Psalms 89:15; Psalms 104:2; Psalms 119:135).

Psalms 90:11 “according to the fear that is due You” The word “fear” (BDB 432) can be misunderstood. It denotes respect, reverence, piety (see Special Topic: Fear). The frail and transitory acknowledge the eternal, Holy One! Notice how Proverbs uses this concept (cf. Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:26-27; Proverbs 15:16; Proverbs 19:23; Proverbs 22:4; Proverbs 23:17).

Psalms 90:12 Once we realize our frailty and His permanence, then and only then, can we live a life of joy, peace, and trust. Our hope is completely in Him. Our service to Him brings meaning to life!

1. teach us - BDB 393, KB 390, Hiphil imperative

2. that we may present - BDB 97, KB 112, Hiphil imperfect used in a cohortative sense

“heart” See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEART.

Verses 13-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 90:13-17 13Do return, O Lord; how long will it be? And be sorry for Your servants. 14O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us, And the years we have seen evil. 16Let Your work appear to Your servants And Your majesty to their children. 17Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Psalms 90:13-17 This final strophe is full of repentant prayer requests based on YHWH's character.

1. return, Psalms 90:13 - BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperative, cf. Psalms 90:3 - we return to dust, He returns to mercy!

2. be sorry for, Psalms 90:13 - BDB 636, KB 688, Niphal imperative

3. satisfy us, Psalms 90:14 - BDB 959, KB 1302, Piel imperative

a. that we may sing for joy - BDB 943, KB 1247, Piel cohortative

b. be glad - BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal cohortative

4. make us glad, Psalms 90:15 - BDB 90, KB 1333, Piel imperative

5. let Your work appear to Your servants, Psalms 90:16 - BDB 906, KB 1157, Niphal imperfect used in a jussive sense

6. Your majesty to Your children, Psalms 90:16 - assumes the same verb as #5

7. let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, Psalms 90:17 - BDB 224, KB 243, Qal jussive

8. confirm for us the work of our hands, Psalms 90:17 - BDB 465, KB 464, Polel imperative

9. #8 is repeated

Notice how many verbs in this strophe begin with ש

1. return, Psalms 90:13 - BDB 996

2. satisfy, Psalms 90:14 - BDB 959

3. sing for joy, Psalms 90:14 - BDB 943

4. be glad, Psalms 90:14 - BDB 970

5. make us glad, Psalms 90:15 - BDB 970

6. we have seen, Psalms 90:15 - BDB 906

7. be manifest, Psalms 90:16 - BDB 906

Psalms 90:13 “how long will it be?” This is a recurrent question (cf. Psalms 6:8; Psalms 13:1; Psalms 74:10). Believers experiencing the pains and problems of this life cry out to God!

Be sure that revelation, not circumstances, define your worldview and trust in God. Circumstances come and go but God remains!

Psalms 90:14 “lovingkindness” See Special Topic: Lovingkindness (hesed).

Psalms 90:15 This verse is a prayer request that the years of future blessing will match the years of past afflictions.

Notice the psalmist recognizes that Israel's problems are God-sent because of her sins (i.e., Psalms 31:10; Psalms 39:11)!

Psalms 90:16-17 Notice that Psalms 90:16 focuses on YHWH's works and Psalms 90:17 on the faithful followers' works. YHWH's deliverance allows His people to prosper from generation to generation. Sin destroys everything!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why do the ancient Jewish traditions assert Mosaic authorship of this Psalm?

2. List the ways the Psalm is alluding to Genesis 3:0.

3. In one sentence state the central truth of this Psalm.

4. Is Psalms 90:10 speaking of death at the end of a long life or premature death?

5. List the prayer requests of Psalms 90:13-17.

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Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 90". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-90.html. 2021.