Psalm 90: God’s Timing and our Time

Psalm 90

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
    and say, “Return, O children of man!”
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.

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.
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!

Bluebonnet | Mercer Botanical Garden | March 2023

Do you remember waiting for your 13th birthday to come around? You’d be a teenager! How about your 16th or your 21st? Compare that with waiting for your 40th, 50th, or 70th? When you’re a kid you’re sure there are 1000 days between birthdays. As an older adult, you’re not sure there are even 100. Time is relative. How long does it take to get a dentist appointment for a tooth ache? Much longer than it does to receive the bill afterwards!

Moses, the author of this psalm, speaks of time in this manner:

For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

He is convinced that God’s timing is so very well beyond ours that watching man live and die is like watching grass spring up in the morning only to see it wither away in the afternoon sun. He sounds almost rueful. It’s as though he thinks God has little care for us mere mortals whose lives span 70 or 80 years. He is certainly aware of our need to view life from mortality’s perspective. We need to number our days. We need to consider our urgent need for God’s mercy and grace. We need to reckon with our mortality and God’s ultimate judgment.

The title of this psalm is A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. That is not the commentary or attribution of modern translators, but the inscription of the psalm in the text itself. Some consider these to be inspired along with the text of the psalm. It makes sense that Moses wrote this prayer/psalm. Events in his life such as the death of his sister Miriam, and his brother Aaron, along with his being barred from entering the Promised Land would certainly form a strong background for such sentiment as is expressed in this psalm. These events are written in the book of Numbers, chapter 20. And the reference to God bringing forth the mountains and forming the earth and the world certainly echo Moses’ account of creation in Genesis. 

In any case, however, these words apply to us all. For we all suffer disappointment. We all lose loved ones. We all fail to make it to the Promised Land this side of eternity. And we all wait. And God works on his own time schedule and perspective.

A roadmap to the future would be a hindrance, not a help to faith. And God desires that we wait in faith. In fact the idea behind waiting in the biblical sense is tied up in two other facets of the word. We hope while we wait. And we trust while we hope. Hoping, trusting, and waiting go hand in hand. So when it’s not clear how soon or not God is going to act, we must simply wait. And hope. And trust.

However long the days may seem to us now, we look forward to the eternal day of God’s presence and salvation fully experienced. And looking for God’s steadfast love to shine forth, we can pray,

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.

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