Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: Psalm 90



Death and eternity are the two great existential questions facing mortal man, and nothing accentuates the differences between God and man than this stark reality.  God is eternal, immortal; man dies.  Between the two modes of existence there is no comparison.

Moses was struck by this fact as he led the children of Israel through the wilderness.  What had begun as an exciting adventure turned into a moral tragedy, which led God to pronounce the frightful sentence that a whole generation of Israelites would perish in the wilderness.  Soon after this, or perhaps when it was all over, Moses was led to pen the words of Psalm 90, a somber reflection on death and eternity.

But Moses begins by reflecting on God’s eternity:

“Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth,

Or ever You formed the earth and the world,

Even from everlasting, You are God.”

(Ps. 90:1,2; NKJV).

Theologians have long speculated that God stands outside of time.  But that is a philosophical concept, drawn from secular sources.  It is not really found in the Bible.  Rather, the Bible portrays God as existing for an endless succession of ages.  Moses looks at the mountains, the every epitome of strength and durability, and points out that even they at one time did not exist.  But God was there long before even that.  God was there before even the earth itself existed.

“Before the mountains were brought forth,

Or even You had formed he earth and the world,

Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

The word translated “everlasting” (olam) means a long period of time in either the past or the future.  Thus the idea here is that the duration of God’s existence defies human comprehension.  In that regard He is infinitely greater than anything that we have ever experienced in the created reality.

Likewise from God’s perspective what seems like a long time to us is nothing to Him.

“For a thousand years in Your sight

Are like yesterday when it is past,

And like a watch in the night”  (v. 4).

For us eighty years is a lifetime.  A thousand years is virtually unimaginable.  But to Someone who has existed from all eternity, however, it is scarcely the blink of an eye.

Man, however, must confront his own mortality.  And this is the result of the sentence which God pronounce on us:

“You turn man to destruction,

And say ‘Return, O children of men.’”  (v. 3)

Moses goes on to compare human existence to a dream or to grass, something that is here today and vanishes without a trace tomorrow.  Herein lies the melancholy fact of human existence: as full of life and vitality as we may be today, there is nothing we can do to stop the approach of death.  Eventually we must all die, and will be nothing more than a tombstone in a cemetery.

All of this should lead us to a profound humility in the presence of God.  Here we are, frail, mortal creatures of the dust, here today and gone tomorrow, standing before God who is infinite, immortal and eternal.  His eternity should overwhelm us, and we should have a proper sense of our own relative insignificance.

But secondly, God’s eternity should inspire our confidence in Him.  We are subject to injury and disease, hunger and privation.  Our grasp on life is tenuous at best, and the best of human aids may fail us when we need them the most.  But God is eternal, untouched by the vicissitudes of human existence.  He will always be there, always able to help.  And, indeed, Moses ends his psalm by appealing to God for His help.

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,

And establish the work of our hands for us . . .”  (v. 17).

But most importantly of all, the eternity of God should cause us to value Him far above every earthly, created thing.  Earthly things are finite, vulnerable to injury, and finally pass away.  God is the eternal good, infinite perfection, untouched by earthly weakness and frailty.  Which would we rather have?  Only a fool would choose the former.

As the English Puritan Stephen Charnock put it, “And truly, since nothing but God is eternal, nothing but God is worth the loving; and we do but a just right to our love, to pitch it upon that which can always possess us and by possessed by us; upon an object that cannot deceive our affection, and put it out of countenance by a dissolution.”

And that consideration should be enough to arrest any temptation to sin.  Again Charnock put it this way: “What transitory pleasures will not the thoughts of God’s eternity stifle?  When this work [i.e., meditating on God’s eternity] busieth a soul, it is too great to suffer it to descend, to listen to sleeveless errand from hell or the world.  The wanton allurements of the flesh will be put off with indignation.  The proffers of the world will be ridiculous when they are cast into the balance with the eternity of God, which sticking in our thoughts, we shall not be so easy a prey for the fowler’s gin.”  Charnock concludes by saying, “Let us therefore, often meditate upon this, but not in a bare speculation, without engaging our affections, and making every potion of the divine eternity end in a suitable impression upon our hearts.”  Amen!


    New Year’s Day is a time when we reflect on the passage of time, the end of one year and the beginning of the next. We look back over the past year, often filled with its trials and difficulties, and we look forward to the coming year, resolving somehow to do better. But too often our view of things encompasses just those two years. Sometimes we need to look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves, what are we accomplishing in life as a whole?

    It is not a new question. In fact, over three thousand years ago Moses asked essentially the same question. In Psalm 90 he gives us a meditation on the meaning of life, and basically asks the question, how does it all add up in the cosmic scheme of things?

    The occasion of the psalm was tragic. Moses had been called by God to lead the nation of Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land of Canaan. Yet things had not gone so well after their departure from Egypt. On several occasions the people had sinned and provoked God to anger. Finally, when they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land they lost heart and revolted against Moses. At the bottom of their revolt was a lack of faith in God Himself, a lack of confidence that God would fulfill His promises. In response God decreed that none of the adults alive at that time would enter Canaan – they would wander in the wilderness until all of them had died. The whole story can be found in Numbers chapters 13 and 14.

    Thus Moses had the sad occasion of witnessing the generation of people he had led out of Egypt perishing in the wilderness without ever receiving the promised blessing. And Moses realized that this sad turn of events was all the result of the people’s sin. A more disheartening circumstance is hard to imagine.

    Thus Moses approaches God in prayer and intercedes on behalf of the people. But what could he say? The facts of the case were already perfectly well known to God, and the guilt of the people was undeniable. Moses had to make his appeal on some other basis.

    Moses begins by addressing God this way: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations’ (Ps. 90:1; ESV). Here he draws attention to the kind of relationship that Israel had enjoyed with God in the past. God had always been their “dwelling place” – His abiding presence was their comfort and security, their refuge in the time of distress. It was this relationship that had been disrupted by the recent turn of events.

    Moses then acknowledges God’s sovereignty. He is the eternal God – “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (v.2), and the destiny of mankind is in His hands – “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!'” (v. 3). Moses is stuck in particular by the contrast between God’s eternity and man’s mortality – “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past’ (v. 4), and as for man he is like a mere dream, or like the frail grass in the dry Middle Eastern climate – here today and gone tomorrow.

    Then Moses frankly acknowledges that Israel’s (and by extension all of mankind’s) predicament is directly the result of sin: “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence” (v. 8). The result is that “all our days pass away under your wrath” (v. 9). Human life has become fragile and fleeting. We are here perhaps seventy or eighty years, and our time here on earth is often marked by “toil and trouble” (v. 10).

    Having frankly acknowledged the nation’s predicament, Moses then makes his plea for their pardon. He asks God to “Have pity on your servants” (v. 13). He looks forward to a restoration of the nation’s relationship with God, with all the blessings that that entails. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (v. 14). He asks that God’s work in their midst might become evident to all, and that He would “establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (v. 17).

    The point of it all is this: “Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?” (v. 11). God is certainly a God of love, but let it never be forgotten that He is also the Almighty; He is our Creator, and He is absolutely holy – He hates sin and is resolved to deal with it. This does not meant that we ought to spend our days here on earth in perpetual gloom; but God wants us frankly to acknowledge our sin and confess it, so that communion with Him can be restored and that we might be able to “rejoice and be glad all our days.” Life is ultimately about a relationship with God, and that relationship should result in heartfelt peace and joy.

    This new year, let us learn “to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). Let us make each of the days that remain to us here on earth count for God’s glory and our own eternal happiness!