Psalm 90 A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
This will be my 9th sermon from the Psalms. This book has been one in which I’ve turned to time and again when I have struggled to make the connection between what I know is true in my mind, and what I feel is true in my heart. Too often when I’m struggling with trials or sin, my head knows what is true and right, but my emotions are having a hard time syncing up with that. What is true in my head doesn’t feel true in my heart. The psalms deal with emotions.
Emotions can be used for great good or great evil. Proper, God-exalting feelings find their roots in powerful, God-revealed truths. That is what the psalms are after. When your mind and your heart are synced together in the truth of God’s Word, it becomes a powerful motivation for affectionately pursuing God in obedience. Sustained, intense, ever-increasing obedience does not come from a sense of doing what you ought to do (duty). Sustained, intense, ever-increasing obedience comes from the emotions of love, joy and hope in God.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you (Psalm 73:25).” Our aim in this life should be nothing less than finding pleasure in knowing and obeying God. That’s what the Psalms are for in fighting the fight of faith. Let’s pray to ask God help us to know the truth in this Psalm with our heads and be satisfied in it with our hearts.
News flash- you are going to die. At some point, that 10 ounce muscle in your chest that beats about 100,000 times a day, and carries life-giving blood to all the different places of your body, will stop working. People will come to a funeral for you. You will be buried in the ground, and you body will return to the dust that God created the first man from.
Now of course, that really isn’t a news flash. We know we will die, but we either tend to not think about it or are too scared to think about it. Maybe you don’t see the point in spending time thinking about dying. However, that is what this psalm of Moses does. It is meant to cause you to consider the brevity of your life and the everlastingness of God. This is not pleasant but it is necessary. And for those who seriously consider Psalm 90, the payoff will lead to pleasantness that will carry you into eternity with God, when that heart beats its last.
With that cheery introduction, let’s set the table on Psalm 90 before we move through these 17 verses. The book of Psalms contains five smaller books within it. Each smaller book has a general theme that runs through all its psalms. Psalm 90 is the beginning of book 4 and is considered a first response to the problems raised in book 3. Book 3 is dark and raises many difficult questions. If you have suffered trials and thought seriously about God, you’ve had these similar questions. How long will God’s wrath last on his people? Doesn’t God understand how frail we as humans are? Is God true to his justice and unfailing love? Is God still just when he does not take vengeance on those who do evil? Book 3 of the Psalms is bleak.
Psalm 90 through Psalm 106 are an unpacking of the answers to those questions. Psalm 90 was written by Moses as an expression of grief and sorrow over something bad that has happened. Picture Israel, in Numbers 14, when they were about to enter the promised land that God was to give them. The spies brought back a report that the land was inhabited by strong men and the city was fortified. The congregation of Israel responded with loud crying and complaining against Moses, because God had led them out of the safety of Egypt and into apparent death in the wilderness by the sword of their enemies.
Israel sinned against God, and God promised that all those who grumbled and doubted the goodness of God would not enter that promised land. That is the backdrop to have in mind as we move through Psalm 90. This Psalm deals with the greatness of God, the brevity of life, the seriousness of God’s wrath and what we are to do with all of that heavy reality.
GOD AND TIME (Vs. 1-6)
Verse one says, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” This truth is the basis for the rest of the prayer. If God can’t be the place we go to as a refuge, a home, an oasis; than we can’t ask him for anything. For Moses, if God was only the judge of Israel, there would be only judgement. That isn’t the whole story. God is their judge, but he is also their dwelling, because God had chosen Israel as his children.
Moses, in this prayer, is giving praise to the Creator and Ruler of the universe (the meaning of LORD in this verse) for being Israel’s dwelling place in all generations. We see that God is to be the place that his children live, to see his glory and praise his greatness. You do not live in your house one day a week. You live there by spending the majority of your life in or around your home. That is what God is for his people. A dwelling.
Our thoughts, and feelings and actions ought to be in response to a life that is dwelling in the Creator and Ruler of the universe. But as Israel was standing on the brink of the Jordan River, and looking at the danger that was in front of them, they chose to dwell on their own fears and worries, instead of dwelling on God.
They didn’t remember that “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God (v.2).” The strong men that inhabited Canaan were made by a God infinitely stronger. The wood and stone that fortified the city they were supposed to overthrow, were formed out of nothing by the God who called them to conquer it. Verse two here shows us that God takes second place in nothing! He is never runner up. He is God!
God crafted and sculpted the entirety of Canaan. He made them. He had more power than them. He existed before they ever did. Canaan had a beginning. Israel had a beginning. God had no beginning. We can’t wrap our heads fully around how that is even possible because we are so limited within the constraints of beginnings and endings of time.
He can control the outcome of a battle of a few men with big muscles behind thick walls. But Israel’s hearts were not dwelling on the greatness of God. They feared that their lives would be in the hands of the Canaanites, when in reality the end of their lives were determined by God.
“You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man! (v.3)’” While God has no beginning and no end, our bodies have a beginning and an end. We will die and return to the dust of the earth. This was the result of the curse in Genesis 3:19. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are as dust, and to dust you shall return.” God declares the ending of our lives.
When you die, it will be because God had declared it. Our hearts will give out. The cancer will come in. The car crash will happen. But none of it will be a surprise to God. Some of us in this room may not finish out the year of 2021. We sit here this morning not knowing when our time will end. God is the holder of that knowledge alone, and he not only holds the knowledge of it, but he controls the decisive act of it. “The Lord kills and brings to life (1 Samuel 2:6).”
As a cop, I’ve been to so many situations where death has come suddenly and unexpectedly. The car strikes the bicyclist. The heart attack hits the healthy 53 year old. The river claims the swimmer. And death comes expectedly too, as the family gathers around the 93 year-old grandma who breathes her last. Whether suddenly or expectedly, death comes at the hand and command of a God who has had no beginning and will have no end.
Moses then praises God for being outside the constraints of time. “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers (vs. 4-6).”
Time is of zero consequence to God. It is to us. We can’t escape it. Time marks when you are born. Time marks the rhythms of our lives as we live out our week (that is why you are here at church on a Sunday). Time will mark when you die. When I’m at a scene where we’ve tried CPR, but have been unsuccessful, we mark it with a time of death.
To God though, a thousand years is like a day. One thousand years ago Mahmud of Ghanzi began a series of raids into Northern India. Norsemen setup settlements in North America for the first time. Giant volcanoes erupted along the Chinese-Korean border. Robert of France invaded the Duchy of Burgundy. To God that was as but yesterday.
Peoples, nations and kingdoms come and go. Kingdoms topple. Empires fall. America will fall in line with the rest of the other great nations that have come and gone. And to God, this is like yesterday’s news. He is from everlasting to everlasting. He is outside of the ticking seconds of the clock.
To God a thousand years is like a flood that sweeps everything away in its path. No kingdom remains. No person remains. To God a thousand years is like a dream. Over in a moment. To God a thousand years is like grass. Where I live, the soil is very sandy, so the grass gets crisp really fast in the summer. I hate it! I want my grass to look green and lush. But I suppose I can take a lesson from my burned up grass. When I see it getting torched up by the hot July summer sun, I can remind myself that is like my life. Or that is the Roman Empire or that is like Alexander the Great. Even though he conquered the whole world, he sprouted up for a while, glistened, and then withered and faded away.
Like Israel, we forget to dwell and rest and take refuge in the truth that God controls all his creation and controls the time that governs it.
GOD AND ANGER (Vs 7-11)
Now Moses moves into another heavy truth. The truth that God’s display of anger through the curse of death is an ever present reality we live with, because of our rebellion against God. “For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you (vs. 7-10).”
We can’t fully comprehend the fierceness of God’s wrath, but we would do well to spend more time in our lives considering it in his Word. The fury of God’s wrath also reveals with greater wonder the favor of his mercy. Let’s consider that fury. What does God’s wrath look like on display?
We see a picture of God’s judgement and wrath on display vividly in the plagues he brought on Egypt. Psalm 78 recounts this for us. God’s judgement turned rivers into blood. God’s judgement caused Egypt to experience swarms of biting insects. Grasshoppers and hail destroyed all their food and all these plagues culminated with the first born sons in the land dying. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:9). His wrath and fury and judgement take second place to no one.
I know this is heavy to think about. We live in a society today that is surrounded with good things like modern medicine, and a 911 system, and ambulances. We have smooth highways and comfy cars that carry us from one point to another in ease. We have air conditioning to cool us off in the summer and furnaces that keep us warm in the winter. We have food in the fridge. I have a fan in my bedroom and a white noise machine that helps me sleep in comfort.
These things can cause us to forget the brevity of our life and the wrath of God on sin. Let’s spend time considering and pondering this. The ticking clock of death is meant to keep in front of you the realities of God’s judgement on sin. The lull of comfort will cause us to forget that our time in life here is short. We are here for maybe 7 or 8 decades. That will go quick. Kids, you probably feel like your life is crawling by. I remember I did! Now I am 38 and I look back on the last decade and am amazed at how fast it went! Many of us in this room have watched our grandparents or parents breath their last with a heavy sigh. Life went by very fast for them.
The fact that we will die is meant to be a visible reminder of God’s judgement he put on the world when sin entered into it through Adam and Eve. It is the display of his wrath. And if this seems cruel to you on the part of God, pray for God to reveal to you how great our sin is in his eyes. Our sins are on full display before him. The darkest and dirtiest of our sins are fully known by him. Nothing escapes the light of his presence.
We would do well to consider the brevity of our life and the judgement of God on our sin. Don’t brush this off. Now, before death comes, is the time to consider the weightiness and seriousness of it.
GOD AND LIFE (Vs. 12-17)
What are we to do with all this? What should be our conclusion? Do we walk around moping and depressed at the reality that we have sinned and are under God’s wrath and judgement? Thankfully, Moses didn’t stop writing at verse 11 and we can see what God inspired his conclusion to be. Moses prays for God to do five things in light of what he has just written.
1. Pray for an awareness of the brevity of life that leads to a heart of wisdom.
“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (v. 12).”
The way you are taught something is by spending time studying, learning and practicing. Learning involves the intentional spending of your time on a subject. Moses is demonstrating the first step of how we should respond. Spend time thinking on and meditating over Psalm 90 in prayer. Don’t quickly move on to the business of your life this week without thinking about death, wrath and judgement. Let your prayer be Psalm 39:4, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!”
To get a heart of wisdom is to have your thinking and your emotions and your actions rightly respond to the truth of this psalm. It is to pray, “O God you are from everlasting to everlasting and I want my dwelling place to be with you. I am but dust and burned out grass. God let me know the brevity of my days. Let me grasp the seriousness of your wrath and judgement on sin. Let me fear you and not be lulled into the snooze button of things around me that seek to compete for my affections that should be fixed on you.”
The seriousness of God’s wrath calls for a serious pursuit of wisdom in this short life with all our heart. The heart is the seat or the center of your affections. We ask God to help us consider the shortness of our lives, that we may know how to have right affections in doing what God has called us to do in obedience. Life is short. Live it fully for God.
A heart full of wisdom is more satisfying than your bank account flush with cash. A heart full of wisdom is more fulfilling than a nice house. A heart full of wisdom is more lasting than your retirement account. A heart full of wisdom is more safe than living in a nice and quiet neighborhood. What are you pursuing most? Wisdom or wealth? Wisdom or comfort? Where does your heart dwell and what does it ponder?
May we be a people here at Grace whose lives continue to look different from the world because we number our days. May what dominates our thinking and feeling in this life be the brevity of it and need to live with holy ambition in light of it.
2. Pray for God’s compassion and presence.
“Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! (v. 13)”
Moses is pleading for God to turn back with compassion towards his people despite their sin. Israel sought the safety, comfort and pleasure in places other than God. They wanted to return to the slavery of Egypt because of the appearance of safety and security they had there, in comparison to the dangers that they saw in Canaan. They did the opposite of verse 12! They numbered their days and said, “Why did we leave Egypt and follow Moses out to the wilderness to get killed?” As a result, Israel experienced God pulling back on his presence and his work among them.
It is a warning for us too. It is a warning for Christians to run to the cross again and again, remembering Christ’s death as sufficient payment for our sin. It is a warning to the unbeliever to also run to the cross for the first time in repentance and believing on Jesus to have new life in him. Do not dwell in your sin. Dwell in the cross. Dwell in the presence of God. This is what it means to number your days to gain a heart of wisdom.
3. Pray for a satisfying experience of God’s steadfast love, that leads to rejoicing and gladness even in affliction.
“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many days as we have seen evil (vs. 14-15).”
Despite all the heavy things Moses has written, his response is not despair. It is filled with hope in these last four verses. The weightiness of verses 2-13 leads to great hope here. I hope you feel that.
The people of Israel that doubted God’s ability to overcome their enemies were punished severely. They did not enter the promise land and they were told they would die in the wilderness before being allowed to enter. But the people who did trust in God’s promises like the spy Caleb, still endured affliction and evil because of other Israelites sin. His entrance into the promise land was delayed because of his people’s doubting of God.
We can experience affliction and evil because of sin we have outrightly committed, such as Israel did. And we can experience affliction and evil because of others sin, as Caleb did. We will experience both in this life. How does Moses respond when God deals out punishment to Israel for their sin? Does he pull away from God’s presence? No, he pushes in! He asks God to satisfy them and cause them to rejoice and be glad.
The word “morning” here has a meaning of renewed joy after a time of affliction. Whether we are receiving discipline from God for sin, or whether we are simply experiencing the painful effects of sin in this life, do not fall into the trap of moving away from God in prayer, in the Word, in worshiping him. Those are specifically the times we ought to press in and ask God for him to do a good work in our hearts so that we have right emotions and affections. That is what Moses is asking God. “God please make us feel rightly about you in the midst of these hard times.”
As a cop, I’ve had a front seat to so much evil and affliction. I’ve seen horrible things and seen humans do despicable acts. I don’t know how I’d sort any of it out or make sense of any of it, without God’s Word. I have to fight against emotional numbness with what I’ve seen by asking God to satisfy my soul in him. God’s Word isn’t merely academic reading, or scholarly thinking, or for theological writing. It is that, but it is more than that. It is boots-on-the-ground, real-world, soul-sustaining, life-giving, joy-producing air that you are meant to breathe. My wife, and Pastor Dave, and guys in my Discipleship Group, can testify first and foremost that I have failed at living out verses 14 and 15 perfectly. However, I want to keep fighting to find gladness and happiness in God’s presence, despite the evil and affliction around me. And when it happens, when I taste that gladness; what sweet air that is to breathe.
We do not need to lose heart. Whether we sin or whether we experience the effects of sin from others, we can hope in God. The darkness is not the last chapter. The light is.
4. Pray for the ability to see God’s glorious power at work in your life and in the world around you, as his servant.
“Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children (v. 16).”
God’s providence is always at work. The good things that he is causing to happen through his sovereign acts are there. Pray that God gives you the spiritual eyes to see them in their glorious power, as a servant of God.
Have you ever planned to go to some magnificent overlook, hoping for a breathtaking view? Whether it be the top of a mountain, or an ocean seascape, or to the top of a skyscraper; you go to see a glorious view. You go to be awed. And when you get there you can’t see a thing because it is covered in fog or clouds.
The same is true with seeing God’s glorious power. The breathtaking view is there, but at times we find it hard to see because of the fog of affliction and evil. So what do we do? We come back to the overlook again and again, praying for God to sweep the fog away that we may have a heart of wisdom that sees what he’s doing. God is always at work in these short lives that we live.
The evils and affliction I’ve seen as a cop make me long for the day of justice, when God will settle all accounts. No unjust act will go unpunished at the judgement seat of God. Every act of domestic violence, every act of rape, every act of preying on the weak will either find justice at the cross or justice in hell. And I pray that as God’s servant of limited justice in this life, I may have eyes to see God’s ultimate, perfect justice that he will render out eternally.
Where do you find your heart seeing only the visible, temporary situations around you that seem bleak or hopeless or fearful? As you go through your day, do stop to consider that you are God’s servant? Your life is meant to glorify him through glad service? Pray verse 16 to God and keep coming back to the overlook again and again. God will lift the fog.
5. Pray God’s beautiful favor to be upon your work for his glory and your joy.
“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! (v.17)”
Those who see themselves as glad servants of God turn away from their sin and turn to the good work he has given them to do in this life. Short lives don’t mean we coast, soaking up as much as we can get for ourselves. In the economy of God, short lives are meant to help us plead with God that he would bless the work he has given us to do. That he would make it beautiful, prosperous, helpful to other people, so that he gets glory and we get joy.
Tomorrow is Monday. For many adults here, you will begin a new work week. Parents, you will begin another week of raising up your kids in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. And at times that work is very hard and very painful. Yet it is good. Kids, it is another week of playing with friends or doing chores or being a member of your sports team. Singles, it is another week of walking in the good work God has given you to do. There will be works to be done this week. Washing dishes. Mowing grass. Closing business deals. Criminals to be arrested. Neighbors to love. People to pray for and and pray with. Missionary newsletters to read and pray over. Places to drive to. Doctors visits to be had. Decisions to be made. In all of it, as you go in and out of these works, these deeds and actions, pray for God’s kindness and favor and beauty to be on the work you do.
Israel wanted to go back to the slavery of Egypt, as they stood before the daunting work of conquering Canaan. They failed to see themselves as servants of God, and wanted to go back to be slaves of Egypt. They wanted to go back to helping build an earthly kingdom for another people, rather than building up their own nation through the covenant God had given to Abraham. God had good work for them to do in his promise land, but they failed to pursue the heart of this verse. Yes God had given them hard, dangerous, and risky work to do. But it was meant for them to do it in a way that would glorify God, and give them great gladness and joy in their hearts.
Grace Church, as God’s redeemed people, the work we are given to do in this life is good work. We toil amidst evil and affliction, but we can have deep, genuine, glad affection in the work, as we pray for God to show his favor upon it. Whatever deeds you have to do this week, pray Psalm 90:17 as you go throughout your day. When you drive in to work or login to work remotely, pray for God to show his favor upon you and make firm the work of your hands. As you go to that doctor’s visit and face the reality that your body is sick or getting old, pray for God’s favor and to establish the work of your hands. He may show favor by healing you. Or he may show favor by helping you rejoice and give glory to him, even as your days are passing away and you approach death.
Grace Church, Psalm 90 is not meant for you to merely agree with it in your mind as truth. Psalm 90 is after your affections. Your emotions. Proper, God-exalting feelings find their roots in powerful, God-revealed truths. When those are synced together, it becomes a powerful motivation for loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. You are meant to feel the weightiness and the goodness of this chapter and not leave here unchanged today.
All I have said leaves one more thing to ask yourself. Why? Why can we come before God, despite our sin, and pray these five things. On what grounds can we have the audacity to ask God to bless our work and cause our hearts to be glad, when we have sinned against him and deserve his wrath and judgement? Israel deserved nothing good from God, yet here was Moses asking God for favor. Why should God have given it to them? Why should God give it to us?
The Apostle Peter give us the answer, and gives us even more clarity than Israel had as to the reason we can ask God for his favor and hope in him. In 2 Peter 3:8, Peter quotes Psalm 90 by saying, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed”
Peter is using Psalm 90:4 to show that God is not slow to fulfill his promises in his return. He is not slow, rather he is patient and his desire is that not one person should perish in hell, but that all would come to repentance of sin and trust in him.
In the time of Psalm 90, Jesus stood outside of time, as Israel stood on the edge of Canaan. Yet, at the right time, Jesus entered in to time and took on human form. Jesus lived within the constraints of days and weeks and months, and that time led up to the time in which he would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Jesus took on the full weight of the fierceness and harshness of God’s wrath so that we may experience God’s forgiveness and mercy, not his wrath and punishment.
The offer is here. Have you received it? Have you received the gift of eternal life, repented of your sin, and put your hope in Christ. If you haven’t, let Psalm 90 and 2 Peter 3 awaken your heart to new life in Christ. The offer is to dwell with Jesus for eternity, after this short 70 or 80 years of life here.
Because of Jesus’ death for our sins, Moses and Israel, and Peter and us, can come into the presence of God, and plead for these five things that we see in Psalm 90. Plead to God for them. And may God be our dwelling place in this brief life, before we see our Savior face to face for all eternity.