Psalm 90 (English Standard Version)
From Everlasting to Everlasting
“Psalm 90 is one of the most magisterial of the psalms.”
A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
Moses taught the people of Israel to pray, and put words into their mouths which they might make use of in turning to the Lord. Moses is here called the man of God, because he was a prophet, the father of prophets, and an eminent type of the great prophet.
–Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1710
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.
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.
2 Peter 3:8-9 (ESV)
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
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.
Psalm 90 has long been used at funerals and burials.
There was a young lady from Guam,
Who said, “Now the sea is so calm,
I will swim, for a lark.”
But she met with a shark —
Let us now sing the ninetieth psalm.
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.
Verse 9 in the King James Version — For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.
“A tale that is told.” That rings a bell. I wonder if Shakespeare didn’t have Psalm 90 in front of him as he wrote Macbeth’s soliloquy (Act V, scene v):
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
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.
from Whispers of His Power,
by Amy Carmichael
Some time ago I was given two big pieces of soap, and I use both every day. For a while I saw very little difference in either, but gradually I saw that both were just a little less. Of course one can’t at the same time both give and keep, and soap is always giving. Every time you use it, it gives you something of itself, so naturally it becomes less and less.
Did you ever think of life as a piece of soap? Every day, hour, minute, it is giving you something of itself. Soon it will have given all, and then there won’t be any more of it here. When we are young we think things will go on just as they are forever. But they don’t.
Next time you use your soap, will you think of the little prayer in Psalm 90:12?
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.
My father taught me to say, as soon as I awakened in the morning, “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” And my mother often said, “Today is the best day of my life.” When I questioned her once for saying it so often, she explained, “But today is the only day I have. Yesterday is gone, and who knows about tomorrow?” My parents were both children of the Depression. They had to be terribly frugal most of their lives. Death and disappointment were frequent visitors in their experiences. But they lived out the verses above, in that they were glad even in the days that included affliction.
If you are basing your joy on your circumstances, on your present situation, on sunny breezes and the comfortable situation you inhabit, then following this command day in and day out will not be easy. But if you are satisfied with God’s mercy, if you do not forget the joy of Christ risen! — then you will find, even in the dark days, the glory of the Lord present in your heart.
May God help us to put our confidence and our joy in Christ, who alone is worthy of all our praise!
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!
So our situation is not finally defined by dust and grass, but by the One who brings us and keeps us home safely.
The hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” a paraphrase of Psalm 90, was written by Isaac Watts in 1719. It is sung HERE by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. The choral piece is sandwiched between two partial keyboard pieces using the tune, St. Anne. If you feel cheated at the end and want to hear all of J. S. Bach’s beautiful Fugue in E-Flat (St. Anne) BWV 552, go to youtube and you can listen to a wide variety of renditions; I recommend it!