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Scripture reading – Psalm 90

We depart from the Book of Numbers to consider Psalm 90 for today’s Scripture reading. Psalm 90 is a prayer of intercession and a song of praise that was authored by Moses and is the oldest of the Psalms. Indeed, it would have been one of the psalms heard in the Temple and sung by the people when they assembled in the wilderness before the Tabernacle.

Scholars generally place Psalm 90 about the time Israel rebelled and turned back from the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14). The context is most likely when the people began murmuring against the LORD, and He threatened to “smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them” (Numbers 14:11-12). Moses implored the LORD to spare the congregation (Numbers 14:13-19), and I believe Psalm 90 memorialized that occasion.

Psalm 90 – Great is the LORD!

The LORD had proven to Israel that He was a “dwelling place,” a refuge, a safe place (90:1). He had revealed He was the Creator (90:2a) and had set the foundations of the mountains and “formed the earth and the world” (90:2). He is “from everlasting to everlasting,” the Sovereign God of eternity (90:2). Indeed, man is temporal, and destined for “destruction” (90:3). Nevertheless, the God of Israel is a righteous judge, and in His sight, “a thousand years…are but as yesterday” (91:4).

What is man? (Psalm 90:4-12)

When I was young, I did not fully grasp the meaning of Psalm 90:4. There, Moses wrote, “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (90:4). I have come to know too well the fleeting of time, and life. I have seen lives and even a generation pass, and it seemed “as a watch in the night” (90:4).

Imagine the emotions that swept over Moses. He gazed upon the sea of humanity that was Israel. Because of their rebellion, Moses realized all but two (Joshua and Caleb) that were 20 years and older would perish in the wilderness (90:5-8). They would never see the land God had promised the nation for an inheritance (90:9).

You might recall that the longevity of human life at the beginning of Creation and recorded in Genesis was often 800 to 900 years (Genesis 5). Yet, as Moses wrote Psalm 90, we read that he reflected on the brevity of life cut short by sin. He pondered how some lived “threescore years and ten” (70) and reflected how others, “by reason of strength,” live “fourscore years” (90:10). Yet, their lives are a testimony of toil and disappointment and are “soon cut off” (90:10).

Understanding the brevity of life and having provoked and witnessed the wrath of the LORD (90:11), Moses urged the people: So teach us to number our days [make them count], that we may apply [give] our hearts [understanding; i.e., thoughts] unto wisdom” (90:12).

Psalm 90 concluded with Moses appealing to the LORD to “return” to His people and favor them with His mercy (90:13-14). He longed for the afflictions and sorrows to be lifted, and Israel once again “rejoice and be glad” (90:14-15).

Closing thoughts:

How different would life be if you knew the day, hour, and year God has appointed for your death? (Hebrews 9:27) Every day is a gift of God’s loving grace and should be numbered and treasured. If we did so, would we not find the things that consume our thoughts and time to be trivial? On the other hand, we might regard the moments to which we are prone to give little thought as sacred and to be savored.

Thus, in light of the temporal nature of life, let us set aside pettiness and be grateful for the day the LORD has given. Let the passion of our heart reflect Moses’ prayer:

“Let the beauty [grace, and favor] of the Lord our God be upon us: And establish thou [LORD] the work of our hands upon us; Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it. (90:17)

Questions to consider:

1) What attributes of God did Moses list in Psalm 90:1-2?

2) What metaphors (images) did Moses use to describe human life? (Psalm 90:5-6)

3) Understanding the brevity of life, what are two things you can do to establish the right priorities? (90:12)

4) What did Moses pray the people would see concerning the LORD? (Psalm 90:16-17)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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