Bible Focus: Psalm 90
A prayer of Moses, the man of God.
Lord, you have been our refuge in every generation. Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, you are God. You return mankind to the dust, saying, “Return, descendants of Adam.” For in your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that passes by, like a few hours of the night. You end their lives; they sleep. They are like grass that grows in the morning—in the morning it sprouts and grows; by evening it withers and dries up.Psalm 90:1-6 CSB
When I was a young man, time seemed like an endless road stretching out in front of me. If I thought of death, it was about death happening to other people, especially older people who were two or three generations ahead. I couldn’t fathom my own parents dying, much less envision my own death happening someday.
Then one day, when I was in my early twenties, I received the tragic news that my dad had died. Before then, I hadn’t had anyone that close to me pass away. He was 48. Nine years after that, my wife Ann suddenly got very sick, and died shortly afterwards. She was 32.
Those two deaths, especially the second one, forced me to face my own mortality. Not everyone lives long enough to reach old age. Accidents happen. Violence never ceases. Disease runs rampant. People make tragic life choices. And even if I somehow dodge all of these mortal ills, my life here is still short, and will one day come to an end.
I’m now 52 years old. I’ve lived on this earth almost four years longer than my dad, and almost twenty years longer than Ann. Yet I am very aware that the clock is ticking and that my personal midpoint is probably well behind me. According to the averages, I’ll die sometime in my late seventies or early eighties, which would mean that I’ve lived roughly two-thirds of my life down here. I probably have at least 20-25 years left, but of course I cannot be certain. My death will come one day, and the only one who knows that day is God.
The book of Psalms contains sacred Israelite prayers and songs that were collected and preserved over several centuries. Psalm 90 was one of the earliest Psalms, and it might be the oldest. It’s the only psalm that the Biblical text attributes to Moses. His prayer in Psalm 90 asked God to teach people that their life is short and their days are numbered, so that they might be open to receiving something even more valuable from God.
For we are consumed by your anger; we are terrified by your wrath. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days ebb away under your wrath; we end our years like a sigh. Our lives last seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years. Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow; indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away. Who understands the power of your anger? Your wrath matches the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.Psalm 90:7-12 CSB
Moses was a mortal man who walked closely with the eternal God. God granted Moses 120 years of strong life (Deut 34:7). Moses knew such a lifespan was highly unusual. But Moses also knew that any human life was short compared to God’s eternal perspective, and he knew that death was a consequence of sin (Gen 3:19). So his prayer in Psalm 90 asked that God would make the people aware of these things, which would result in them wisely seeking God’s mercy, which would then place them in the best possible place to receive God’s favor.
LORD—how long? Turn and have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your faithful love so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days. Make us rejoice for as many days as you have humbled us, for as many years as we have seen adversity. Let your work be seen by your servants, and your splendor by their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands— establish the work of our hands!Psalm 90:13-17 CSB
Here’s the good news: Jesus is the one who has ultimately and completely answered this prayer. He showed God’s compassion and faithful love, and he showed the splendor of God’s grace and mercy. Jesus has finished God’s work of salvation in the cross and resurrection. He has also established forever the work of those who believe in him and serve him.
That doesn’t mean that this life will be easy for those of us who believe in Jesus. However, nothing can truly keep us from being satisfied and joyful in God. We can also remember that this earthly life is short compared to the eternal life we have in Jesus. If we’ve trusted in him, then no matter how many days and years of hardship we have, there will always be many more days and years of joy to come.
Featured image by Naveen Kumar on Unsplash.