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.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
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!
Life is Short
Psalm 90 is the work of Moses. Moses probably wrote this psalm when he was very old, and was about to finish his journey in the wilderness. Psalm 90 is considered to be the oldest of the psalms. Over the years, Moses saw thousands of his fellow countrymen die in the wilderness because of their unbelief. Naturally, he was filled with emotion and lamented that life was short. Of course, Moses’s purpose in writing this psalm was not to lament life, but to teach us about God, and how to spend our short and painful life on earth in a meaningful way.
Psalm 90 can be divided two major sections. The first section is verses 1-12, with a theme focused on life’s emptiness and absurdity. Moses opens with the words: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” (v. 1) Because the Israelites were displaced, living in the wilderness with no fixed home, they found it even more valuable to have God as their permanent dwelling place.
Humans, however, are mortal. To describe how short life is, Moses used the image of grass, which sprouts and grows in the morning, and is cut down and dried up in the evening. (vv. 3-6) Because humans are cut off from God, the source of life and the Creator of our living souls, men and women are doomed to die. Even if one person reaches 70 or even 80 years if they are strong, those years are but the blink of an eye compared to the eternity in God. (v. 10)
We Need God’s Wisdom
On one hand, Moses is lamenting life as short and pitiful. On the other, Moses feels and experience’s God’s eternal and unchanging love. Because of this, Moses prays to God and asks him for a heart of wisdom (v. 12). He asks for wisdom so that we as humans might understand that the suffering and death we face is due to God’s wrath against sin. Our lives are corrupted by sin, and it is our sin that causes life’s shortness. (v. 11) Knowing what the problem is allows us to solve it. Knowing that our sin leads to death, we can call on God’s grace to forgive our sins, and ask him to save us from death.
We cannot save ourselves on our own, but can only look to God’s grace and mercy. Because of this, Moses prays that God will return and, in his grace, make the night pass quickly and the dawn come sooner. Then we will be able to “rejoice and be glad.” (vv. 13-14)
Verse 12 is the turning point of the psalm. Moses asks God to give him wisdom and teach him how to number his days. Moses prays for four things: first, that the sum of the joy of our hearts will be equal to the sum of our sufferings (v. 15); second, that God’s love will be made known to his servants (v. 16); third, that we do not forget our children, but that our children also experience God’s lovingkindness (v. 16); and fourth, that God’s kindness and glory will prompt us to accomplish his will. (v. 17)
Christians today need a correct understanding of faith and life in order to know how to spend their time on earth and not waste their precious years of life. We need not fear the inevitability of death, nor lament life’s shortness. We know we are in the hands of the living God. He is full of love, mercy, grace, and glory. Through his forgiving love, he will purify and establish all that our hands have done.
Shu Cao is a pseudonym for a pastoral intern at a church in southwest China.