Psalm 90 is a particularly unique one; at face value it appears relatively similar to the others which extol the greatness of God, underscore the sins of His people, and plead for His mercy and pity. As is always the challenge when writing blog after blog, I tried to find a unique angle on whatever Psalm I’m assigned but was having a rather difficult time of it. Each Psalm is different, if only subtly so sometimes. What is it about Psalm 90 that sets it apart from the rest?
The answer finally came to me as I read it and its commentaries with fresh eyes; this is “A prayer of Moses, the Man of God.” I glossed over this single, slightly smaller line more times than I care to admit, even when I wrote out the entire Psalm by hand a week ago. It is this line of authorship that changes the way you read it, for “If we connect it with any particular time in the life of Moses, the best suggestion is the time described in Numbers 20. “The historical setting is probably best understood by the incidents recorded in Numbers 20: (1) the death of Miriam, Moses’ sister; (2) the sin of Moses in striking the rock in the wilderness, which kept him from entering the Promised Land; and (3) the death of Aaron, Moses’ brother.” (James Montgomery Boice)
This is one of three songs of Moses and the only one found in the Psalms. The other two are found in Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 32. Knowing how great and many the trials of Moses and the Israelites were gives us fresh eyes and a new perspective when we read the following 17 verses. These include four parts that, though they are separate, bleed from one into the next. Moses begins by acknowledging God as the dwelling of Israel, the one and true eternal God who holds all things in His hands. He goes on to humble himself and others before God, pointing out the frailty and lowly nature of mankind as well as their sin and wretchedness, all in contrast to the might and perfection of this eternal God. Moses then submits to the righteous judgement of God before appealing once again to God’s mercy – “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
Given that this Psalm is most likely written by Moses himself makes it the oldest Psalm in the entire book! In it we see the enormity of what was at hand for himself as Israel’s leader: a righteous, perfect, gracious, just, holy God and a stubborn, stiff-necked, obstinate, grumbling, selfish, sinful Israel. Moses had a special relationship with God, as like a friend and faithful servant. He knew exactly who Israel had committed themselves to all the way back on the slopes of Mount Sinai. He also knew full-well the duplicitous nature of those whom he led. Both of these realities are wrapped up in Psalm 90 where we see a declaration of God’s holy nature in full contrast with mankind’s evil nature. There is no attempt to sugar-coat sin, no attempt to escape the right and good justice of God.
One can sense that the words Moses recorded in this particular Psalm are not the first or even tenth time he prayed them. It appears that he had a deep understanding of the problem of sin and the condition of the human heart borne of many fiery trials and judgements; the sons of Asaph, the wandering in the wilderness, and more. This understanding served him as a vantage point with which he could see beyond the concerns for the day – he saw the futility of those who seek to cover their own sin, the brevity of the human life, and the holiness of God as the end of all things. He also saw the kindness and patience of God, His willingness to forgive and show mercy, and His supremacy as the one true eternal God.
More than that, Moses was able to see that there is a desperate need for wisdom amongst the people of Israel. He pleads for them to gain such a perspective as his in which they might see the reality of their own human frailty; “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” To know that we are dust and to dust we shall return is to acknowledge that, even in the strength of youth, we all must one day come to an end. We are not mighty, nor are we strong, nor are we good, “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.” To live each day with this knowledge is to confront the end we all must face and the God before which we all must stand. To live like this is to depend daily on Him, to see our sin for what it is and repent, and to submit to His authority.
Each day we are crowded with an infinite number of things that threaten to obscure our vision of, and relationship with, God Almighty. Each day there are new to-dos, emails, notifications, and activities. Each day there are new temptations, pains, struggles, and hurts. There are unlimited ways in which we can distract ourselves from focusing on what truly matters; God Almighty and our relationship with Him. Now obviously we cannot only think about God, for we have children to pick up, tasks to accomplish, friends to see, and so on. We must not be so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly use! It all comes down to priorities. When you start your day, do you check your phone first or do you take a moment, breathe deeply, and thank God for another day? Do you spend any time with Him in prayer each day or do you insist that you are too busy? Do you seek to justify your sins, no matter how small, or do you submit all things to Him in penitence, thanksgiving, and humility?
My brothers and sisters, each one of us who know Christ ought to know Him as the highest importance in our life. We dare not put up idols in His place, for the days are evil and time is short. We are here but for a breath, so let us make each breath count – in an intimate, loving, ongoing relationship with Him!
Oh God, we thank you for the cool and rainy days of this month. Thank you for the roof over our head and the food we have to eat. Thank you for the technology that brings us all closer together. Please, Lord, let none of these things become a hindrance to seeing you or an excuse to avoid spending time with you. Stir us up to greater love, first for you and then spilling out to others. Let us base not only our goals but our each and every day around your presence. Amen!
Song: Psalm 90 - Satisfy Us With Your Love (Shane & Shane)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.