The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness on account of their unbelief in the power of God to give them the Promised Land. During that time the people had time to consider their actions and the consequences – to think about the big issues of life and death. In that setting ‘Moses the man of God’ penned the only psalm attributed to him. We consider Psalm 90 Man’s fragility and God’s grace.
1. The eternity of God (v1-2)
Moses begins with a ringing affirmation of faith – ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations’ (v1). The name used here indicates God’s sovereignty over all things. He is a ‘dwelling place’ – a place of security and wellbeing. This is full of assurance for his people. Our natural spiritual condition, expelled from paradise, is homelessness. The Lord promises his people ‘I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). The crucial truth about God here is his eternity. He stands behind and above the material creation, outside of time (v4). Time changes neither him nor his relationship to us.
2. The brevity of life (v3-6)
Against this theological background Moses presents a powerful picture of the brevity of life. ‘You turn men back to dust’ (v3) – recalling Genesis 3:19. The brevity of life is the result of divine action – the end of man’s life comes by his decree and at his time. God stands outside time – ‘a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone past’. In contrast – ‘You sweep them away as with a flood’ (v5 ESV). We are helpless and cannot turn the clock back. We cannot know when he has decreed our end.
3. The sinfulness of man (v7-12)
The brevity of life is traced to its source – ‘We are consumed by your anger’ (v7). Moses describes the solemn reality of man’s sinfulness and the consequent wrath of God. Death is rooted in God’s wrath, which is the response of a holy God to sin (see Habakkuk 1:13). Our days are limited, but it is not shortness that is the main issue. Note ‘trouble and sorrow’ (v10) and the reason for that – ‘All our days pass away under your wrath’. But there is a word of hope in v12 with its appeal to God ‘Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom’. By God’s grace our whole perspective on life and death may be transformed. Our situation is not hopeless.
4. The grace of God (v13-17)
Hope is found in looking in faith to the Lord. ‘Relent, O Lord!’ (v13) – total dependence on his gracious action is essential. He is ‘the Lord’ – now the covenant name. He will never forsake his people and saves every repentant sinner. ‘Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love’ (v14). This is the love we experience in Christ who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). We can ‘sing for joy and be glad’. He can revive the forgiven, who become fruitful workers. Trouble is not victorious over grace.