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Psalm 90: Teach us to Number our Days

May 29, 2022

Teacher: Phil Sasser
Series: A Heart for God
Scripture: Psalm 90

Psalm 90

May 29, 2022

Phil Sasser

Introduction

Opening Remarks

Reading of Scripture: Donna Burnett

Introduce Psalm 90

Psalm 90 marks the beginning of Book IV in the Book of Psalms. Most of them were written with the intent that they would be sung during their time of worship. And so has this one.

This Psalm was written by Moses making it the oldest in the entire Book of Psalms. And it makes Moses the oldest Psalmist as far as we know. It’s not the only song that Moses wrote. One appears in Exodus 15 and was written to celebrate God’s victory of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. The other Song of Moses appears in Deuteronomy 32 which is really a prophecy of warning as the nation prepares to go in to Promised Land.

But Psalm 90, while containing some similarities to Deuteronomy differs. It is a lament complete with a complaint and an appeal to God for mercy.

It was written just before Moses dies. Moses is looking back over his life, in a way, and the nation of Israel for the past 40 years. He soars in the first two verses as he considers God. But then his reflection has a somber tone from verses 3-12 as he considers mankind.

He wants us to remember that life is a fleeting and fragile thing.

And here’s the key. In light of human frailty our fleeting lives can only have real value and purpose if we live wisely before the everlasting God.

Outline:

1.    The Eternality of God

2.    The Frailty of Mankind

3.    Mankind under God’s Wrath

4.    A Prayer for God’s Mercy and Grace

Prayer

Transition: With the exception of Isaiah 40 there is no other passage in the Bible so contrasts the greatness of God with the fragility of humans.  Moses begins with God.

The Infinite power and eternality of God. (Psalm 90:1-2)

Moses knew of the greatness or God and of how uncertain life is. There is no permanence. Everything is changing, except God. Nothing about God ever changes: his power, his wisdom, his knowledge. When God looks into the future, he never learns anything. Moses knew that God is our only permanent refuge and hope and so he begins by addressing him as such.

Look at verse 1

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

It is an interesting opening. He addresses God as our dwelling place to nation that had no dwelling place. They were strangers in Egypt and now they’ve been wandering around the wilderness for 40 years. Going from campsite to campsite.

God has been their home. The Hebrew word place is often translated Refuge. Where you have what you need. Where you rest. Where you are safe.

Moses opens this Psalm with a declaration: Lord, you have been our dwelling in all generations. From generation to generation. Going all the way back to Abraham. You, O Lord have provided what we need. You, O Lord have given us rest. You, O Lord have kept us safe. You have been a dwelling place to a people that had no permanent dwelling place.

And Moses wants to ensure that Israel always views God that way. Even when they get to the Promised Land.

There is none like God, O Jeshurun,
    who rides through the heavens to your help,
    through the skies in his majesty.
The eternal God is your dwelling place,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:26-27)

Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress. (Psalm 71:3)

Christians have rightly identified with this nomadic existence under the care of our Heavenly Father. We’ve seen that during the 1 Peter series, when Peter addresses the Christians as elect exiles, aliens, sojourners.

In the Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11, the writer says this about the patriarchs:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

God is our refuge, our shelter, our provision, our hope.

So, Christians have consistently through the ages sung this Psalm sometimes at funerals and sometimes during crises. This Psalm inspired Isaac Watts 300 years ago to write one of the great hymns of the church.

O God our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come.

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home.

Verse 2:

Before the mountains were brought forth,

or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

From everlasting to everlasting you are God.

It is no temporary dwelling place. Our dwelling place existed before he brought forth the mountains. When you think of something that has permanence, a mountain is apt representative. Moses’ testimony is that it is our God created them and formed earth and he has always existed. From everlasting to everlasting. That is why we can trust him. He’s not going anywhere. He’s all-powerful, and, in Christ, he is for us.

The Frailty of Humanity: Over and against the Eternal and all-powerful God, Moses now describes the frailty and fragility on people.

Verse 3

You return man to dust
    and say, “Return, O children of man!

God can return man to dust simply by saying “Return.”

Moses is drawing from the creation account that tells us in Genesis 2:7 “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

After Adam sinned, God pronounced the curse on Adam which ends with Genesis 3:19

By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

Verse 4 continues to show the contrast between ephemeral man and the eternal God.

Text:

For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

1,000 years is like day in the sight of God. Peter quotes this doesn’t he in second epistle.

1,000 years to God is like last watch of the night before sunrise.

Moses continues to show the fragility ephemeral nature of humans.

“You sweep them away as with a flood” Although this may speak about the great flood in Noah’s day, it seems to refer to a flash flood. You never see it coming and it sweeps you away.

  • The sweeping can be slow and sure like the great flood. But often it comes out of nowhere and is severe in its nature.
  • All of us have been hit by this severe sweeping with the tragic events in Uvalde, TX on this past week.
  • Life is very fragile. Some of you may have been brought to this awareness in a very personal way recently. And you didn’t see this coming. Things haven’t gone the way you expected. And sometimes they REALLY don’t go the way you expected. Some of you know my story about nearly dying a couple of years ago. I went to the hospital with some breathing difficulty which was diagnosed as viral pneumonia. On Sunday afternoon in February 2020, when I wasn’t responding well to the treatment but I wasn’t planning on dying until the ICU came in said rather abruptly, “You’re dying, and if you need say anything to anybody, you got about 2 hours left.” There’s bad days and then there really bad days.
  • And Moses is not content to just say, people get old and die. He attributes it to the action of God himself.

“They are like a dream.” Or a short sleep. Our existence here on earth is like a nap.

In Verses 5-6 Moses likens people to grass. Like grass that is renewed in the morning with the dew and flourishes but by the end of the day, the hot sun has caused it to fade and it withers.

That is what human existence is like.

Talk about death

Death is something that we usually don’t like to talk about. But it’s good for us to consider it from time to time.

I don’t mean in a strictly morbid sense, like some in the culture do.  They seem adopt one of a couple of tendencies:

  • One is to avoid thinking about it.
  • Another is to treat death as natural. Accept it.
  • Another is to fight against it. The poet Dylan Thomas said “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
  • Another is to rush toward it and see it as a friend. Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper. Don’t think that way. Death is an enemy. The last enemy.

I think God would have us consider death from time to time, but to do it with our Bibles in our hands. That we might approach it with faith and not fear and panic.

Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher and thinker of the early 18th century, made a number of resolutions, which are worth reading sometime.  Especially for you, young people.

“9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” – Jonathan Edwards

Personal Testimony: I come from a long line of fathers who thought long and hard about death and dying.

Psalm 90 is in the Bible, so that we might think well about death and from that consideration, as we shall see, number our days aright and gain a heart of wisdom.

That’s what Moses is doing for most of Psalm 90. Most biblical scholars believe that Moses wrote Psalm 90 after the events of Numbers chapter 20. Three significant things happened in Numbers 20. One is the death of Moses’ sister Miriam, the prophetess. She might have been the sister that watched over Moses as an infant when he was placed in a basket and floated down the river for pharaoh’s to find. The second is the death of his brother Aaron. Aaron was older that Moses and his closest confidant. Aaron was 123 years old when he died. And thirdly, Moses himself is disqualified from entering the Promised Land for disobeying God at Meribah. Moses died a disappointed man. Now, just before he dies, he is perhaps reflecting on his ministry. “What was it all for??”

Mankind under God’s Wrath (vs. 7-12)

Not only were they under the curse of the fall, the nation had rebelled 40 years earlier when the spies came back with an evil report. Instead of going into the promised land…

Verse 7 &8 The effect of their sin on their life & heart under the wrath of God.

Context: Not only the curse of Adam, but also the unique curse of the nation of Israel

Moses is now in the final stretch to the Promised Land. Now he reflects on how they got where they are.  If you know your Bible you know that what happened 40 years ago when the nation of Israel refused to obey God and go into the Promised Land to which he had led them. They rebelled at Kadesh-Barnea after the spies that had been sent into the land returned and told the leaders that they shouldn’t try to go because the inhabitants were too much for them and they wanted to go back to Egypt. Then the judgment of God came:

  • Numbers 14:26-35

And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ 35 I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”

An entire generation died in the next 40 years, while the nation wandered in the desert of what is now Saudi Arabia.

Numbers 1:46 tells us that there were 603,550 men over the age of 20 who were able to go to war. I’m not sure what that extrapolates to in terms of the total population.  Maybe 2-3 million people total. But 1.2 million people over the age of 20 and they all died in 40 years.

With that context in mind let’s read verse 7.

“We are brought to an end by your anger” shows the effect of the judgment of God on the nation. We are consumed by your anger. “In this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die” (Numbers 14:35).

“by your wrath we are dismayed” Overwhelmed by your wrath and its effect.

Look at verse 8: “You have set our iniquities before you and our secret sins in the light of your presence.” So, God’s wrath doubly intense both by reason of its intensity and effect, but also by its justice.

“…and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice…” (Numbers 14:22). Their iniquities just kept piling up.

“Our secret sins in the light of your presence.” (Verse 8) Let that rest on you a bit.  How many secret sins do we have? They’ll be in the light of his presence.

“In the end that Face which is the delight or terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us…, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised.” – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Verses 9 &10 The effect on their work

Verse 9: “For all our days pass away under your wrath…” There wasn’t a day that went by that they didn’t feel the weight of God’s wrath.

“we bring our years to end like a sigh.” Moses is expressing the futility of 40 years in the wilderness. They had nothing to show for it. There were no high points. No cities built. No great accomplishments. Only despair in the end. Life ends with a whimper or a murmur—a sigh.

Verse 10: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.” For us that seems about right, but Moses is probably comparing their present life span with that of the patriarchs. Mankind was originally created to live forever. Adam sinned by still lived 930 years. But as time passed and sin continued, our lifetimes have been shortened. And so, 70-80 is about right. But remember Moses lived to be 120. Aaron lived to be 123. Joshua 110.       

People always underestimate the wrath of God when they sin.

Look at verse 11: “Who considers the power of your anger and your wrath according to the fear of you?” This rhetorical question is intended to show that nobody really has enough respect for the anger of God. People live for the moment and either think that God doesn’t see or doesn’t care, if they even believe in God. In spite of all the signs of God’s disapproval, the message never seems to register until God brings it home to us. And then we might be tempted to think that whatever bad happens isn’t connected to our sin. That’s not just an OT thing. Christians need to connect the dots as well.

 The Apostle Paul helps the Corinthians think about it.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)

Knowledge of this should affect us, especially as we come to the Lord’s Table. And not only then.

And when we discern that we are being disciplined by the Lord, what do we do? We try to get God’s wisdom. That’s what he wants us to do.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).

 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

In Psalm 90, verse 12 is the hinge. It gives us the takeaway for verses 7 to 12.

Text:

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.

What does “number our days” mean.  Well obviously, he isn’t talking about being able to count the number of days you’re alive. I did that though; I’ve been alive 26,823 days counting today.

What he means consider carefully how we’re living our lives. As we saw in 1 Peter 1, we are to live lives of holiness as long as we live. Everyday. Our lives going forward can be tremendously affected by what we do today.

It means, make the most of everyday, with respect to love and obedience to God.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

Moses’ prayer for mercy and grace.

The cry for mercy (verse 13) – The Remainder of the Psalm is Moses’ prayer for a reversal of what has gone on before.

Text: verse 13

Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!

Return, O Lord! How long?

  • In verse 3, God says to man return to the dust, but here Moses speaks to God and says Return to us. You who have turned your back on us in judgment, turn again to us in mercy.
  • Have pity on your servants. No longer treat as we deserve but instead have mercy on us.
  • When Moses addresses God it is as Lord, indicating a relationship. Just as in verse 1 where he Lord

The appeal for joy. (Verses 14-15)

Look at verse 14: Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

One of the key words for us in this whole Psalm is here in verse 14.  Moses prays that God would satisfy them in the morning with his steadfast love.  The Hebrew word that is translated “steadfast love” is the word chesed.  It is a wonderful word. It is a word that should make us sing and jump for joy when we read it because it is directed at all those who are in Christ. But it is a loaded word. One of the most loaded in the Bible. So, it is translated here in the English as “steadfast love.” It is also translated “lovingkindness,” “love and faithfulness,” “unfailing love,” “faithful love,” “steadfast love,” and “loyal love,” and “covenant love.” It is a word that describes how God relates to us in the Covenant of Grace. One writer I read called it “God’s tenacious solidarity.” Another called it God’s never-stopping, never-giving up, always and forever love.

So, Moses appeals to God to “Satisfy us in the morning” And that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many days as we have seen evil.” What is the basis of such an appeal: the (c)hesed of God.  The Covenant Love of God.

It is an appeal to the Covenant of Grace that God has made with his people. O the covenant had different manifestations, but it was always a covenant of grace through faith. And for those who had faith in God, God promised his blessings.

The Covenant of Grace was ultimately effectuated by the blood of Jesus. God’s steadfast love; his never-stopping, never-giving up, always and forever love. It is established in Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant.

And while the Psalm was written 1500 years before the cross, it made the promises sure to those live by faith in Moses’ time.

Moses died not having received the promise. He was forbidden from the entering the Promised Land. But don’t Moses. At the Mount of transfiguration, who did they see with Jesus: Moses and Elijah.

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love.” Notice the comparison between the morning in verses 5 & 6 and the morning here. In 5 & 6 mankind flourishes in the morning but is gone by evening. The Steadfast love of the Lord doesn’t fade. And those that have received it don’t fade either.

For those who are satisfied in the morning with God’s steadfast love are made glad for as many days as they were afflicted, and for as many years as they had seen evil. And that’s just a poetic indication eternity.

 Here is the question for you: Will you be satisfied with the steadfast love of the Lord? Will you put your trust in him? Will you have a heart for God. Will you believe in him? Will you number your days and get a heart of wisdom? Will you live for him? Because death is not the end. It is only the beginning of eternal life.

 You know you were made for him. Will you delight in him?

“Great are you, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is your power, and of your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of your creation desires to praise you—man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that you resist the proud—yet man, this part of your creation, desires to praise you. You move us to delight in praising you; for you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” – Augustine, The Confessions.

 If you are here today with a restless heart, there is only One who can satisfy you: Jesus Christ, the Lord.

 In verse 15, he continues to plead for a reversal of the effects of God’s just judgment.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.

Instead of the dismay in verse 7, he says “make us glad”

Finally, Moses makes an appeal for meaningful lives instead of lives of futility.

Look at verses 16 and 17:

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!

Moses’ prayer ends with an appeal for God’s work to be displayed to his servants and his “glorious power” to the next generation. Not that they hadn’t seen his power, for although God may have “seemed” to have turned his back on Israel, he had cared for them in wilderness. He made the manna fall every day. He gave them water to drink from a rock. He had protected them from foreign armies. Their shoes and clothing didn’t wear out; for FORTY YEARS.

But Moses is jealous for the next generation to see what their parents saw God do particularly in the Exodus.

And then, in verse 17, he prays for the grace of the Lord our God to be upon them. The Lord OUR GOD. Accentuating the covenant relationship with God that the people of Israel had. The Lord OUR GOD. Because he is their God, grace is available.

And he prays for God’s favor to be upon them. Having already prayed for mercy, or pity, in light of their sin, Moses prays for God’s grace. His unmerited favor.

If mercy means not getting the judgment that you do deserve, then grace is getting God’s favor that you don’t deserve.

Moses prays for God’s grace to make what he has been trying to do for God worthwhile. Moses has been at it for 40 years, and it wasn’t an easy 40 years. He is yearning for permanence. We were created for a reason. We should desire that our lives to have meant something. We all long for permanence. Moses didn’t want his life to have been wasted. And it wasn’t. God answered his prayer. He served the purposes of God in his generation and we are still benefiting from that. Not only this Psalm but the first 5 books of our Bibles were written by Moses.

What has God given you to do in this generation? What is your calling? Have you thought in those terms? Are you doing what he’s called you to do? Will it last?

To worship God and serve his people. Whether it is your own family or the church, your vocation. We should pray that God would establish the works of your hands.

Conclusion

In light of our human frailty and certain death—it is appointed for a man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)—how should we live?

We should live entrusting ourselves to God, believing that Jesus died for our sins.

Live every day in light of eternity.

Avoid the waste that comes from sinful living.

Labor for the lasting, not the passing:

Closing Prayer

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