A Prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. 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.
It is believed that Moses wrote Psalm 90 as a prayer for God’s mercies during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness – probably, on the “occasion of the sentence passed upon Israel in the wilderness for their unbelief, murmuring, and rebellion, that their carcasses should fall in the wilderness, that they should be wasted away by a series of miseries for thirty-eight years together, and that none of them that were then of age should enter Canaan. …” (Matthew Henry). Some commentators are of the view that the patriarch penned this prayer to be used daily by the people in their tents or by the priests during their ministry in the tabernacle.
The psalm is entitled: “A Prayer of Moses the man of God.” The description of Moses as “the man of God” is found in other passages of the Old Testament (Deut 33: 1; Josh 14: 6; Ezra 3: 2; I Chron 23: 14; II Chron 30: 16). The patriarch had proven himself time and again to be a faithful and responsible servant of God. When confronted with difficult situations in the wilderness journeys, Moses always turned to God for help. In fact, Psalm 90 is only one of Moses’ many prayers. Some of his other prayers are recorded in Exodus 5: 22-23, 32: 11-13 and Numbers 11: 11-23 during the wilderness journey to Canaan.
The theme verse is found in verse 12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” – a sobering verse which is often quoted in year-end sermons and funeral services.
One may ask, “How do we number our days?” Albert Barnes aptly answers: “The prayer is, that God would instruct us to estimate our days aright: their number; the rapidity with which they pass away; the liability to be cut down; the certainty that they must soon come to an end; their bearing on the future state of being.”
With each new dawn, a man has one day less to live; he is one day nearer the grave. But this was not the particular emphasis of the psalmist. In context, “to number our days” is to consider how few they are, and how brief our life in this world. It implies a careful watching over our time, with the same care and attention we would give to managing our finances. It requires us to make the best use of our God-given time on earth. It means we conscientiously manage our time so that we spend it wisely and meaningfully to the glory of God and the blessing of our fellow men.
What lessons can we learn from our meditation of this psalm?
o God’s eternity vs man’s frailty (vv 1-6)
In this psalm, Moses comforted himself with thoughts of God’s eternity (v 1). Though the Israelites abided in tents in their wilderness wanderings, they could draw comfort from the Lord Who was their eternal Refuge and Strength (v 2).
As the sovereign Creator, He has absolute control over the whole universe. God created man out of the dust and to dust he would return at the command of his Creator (v 3). Here, the psalmist seemed to allude to God’s sad sentence upon Adam when he fell into sin: “for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen 3: 19). With the fall of our first parents, all men are born with a sinful, depraved nature, and all must die: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5: 12).
Indeed, our life on earth is brief and uncertain. In verses 4-6, the psalmist lamented the frailties of human life. Verse 4 aptly describes the contrast between the eternal God and mortal man. Though a man may live to a ripe old age – as in the case of Methuselah who lived nearly a thousand years (Gen 5: 27) – his many years are, in the sight of God, as nothing but merely “a watch in the night” which lasts only three short hours. Human life is so fragile that it can be extinguished at any moment: “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” (Ps 146: 4).
Like a torrential flood that sweeps away all before it, so the Lord bears away every succeeding generation and removes them from the face of the earth (v 5). Like grass, man will flourish for a short while and soon perish (v 6). “We are not cedars, or oaks, but only poor grass, which is vigorous in the spring, but lasts not a summer through. What is there upon earth more frail than we!” (Matthew Poole).
Man is a helpless creature whose earthly existence is but for a time only. Despite today's scientific and medical advancements, none can ever halt the aging process that ultimately ends in death.
It is a sobering fact that we may not live to see another day, for such is the frailty of our flesh. When we go to bed tonight, will we awake to behold the dawn of a brand new day? How many souls have died in their sleep and slipped silently into a lost eternity?
Brethren, let us be mindful that our lives are in the Lord’s hands. It is by His mercies that we are not consumed (Lam 3: 22). Realising how fleeting our days are, let us always be ready to meet our Lord. As exhorted by the apostle Peter, let us “give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (I Pet 1: 10). While the Lord gives us breath and strength, let us live for Him and occupy ourselves meaningfully for His glory. (… to be continued)