PSALM 90 OVERVIEW.
Title. A Prayer of Moses the man of God. Many attempts have been made to prove that Moses did not write this Psalm, but we remain unmoved in the conviction that he did so. The condition of Israel in the wilderness is so preeminently illustrative of each verse, and the turns, expressions, and words are so similar to many in the Pentateuch, that the difficulties suggested are, to our mind, light as air in comparison with the internal evidence in favour of its Mosaic origin. Moses was mighty in word as well as deed, and this Psalm we believe to be one of his weighty utterances, worthy to stand side by side with his glorious oration recorded in Deuteronomy. Moses was peculiarly a man of God and God's man; chosen of God, inspired of God, honoured of God, and faithful to God in all his house, he well deserved the name which is here given him. The Psalm is called a prayer, for the closing petitions enter into its essence, and the preceding verses are a meditation preparatory to the supplication. Men of God are sure to be men of prayer. This was not the only prayer of Moses, indeed it is but a specimen of the manner in which the seer of Horeb was leant to commune with heaven, and intercede for the good of Israel. This is the oldest of the Psalms, and stands between two books of Psalms as a composition unique in its grandeur, and alone in its sublime antiquity. Many generations of mourners have listened to this Psalm when standing around the open grave, and have been consoled thereby, even when they have not perceived its special application to Israel in the wilderness and have failed to remember the far higher ground upon which believers now stand.
SUBJECT AND DIVISIONS. -- Moses sings of the frailty of man, and the shortness of life, contrasting therewith the eternity of God, and founding thereon earnest appeals for compassion. The only division which will be useful separates the contemplation Psalms 90:1 - 11 from the Psalms 90:12-17 there is indeed no need to make even this break, for the unity is well preserved throughout.
Verse 1. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. We must consider the whole Psalm as written for the tribes in the desert, and then we shall see the primary meaning of each verse. Moses, in effect, says -- wanderers though we be in the howling wilderness, yet we find a home in thee, even as our forefathers did when they came out of Ur of the Chaldees and dwelt in tents among the Canaanites. To the saints the Lord Jehovah, the self existent God, stands instead of mansion and rooftree; he shelters, comforts, protects, preserves, and cherishes all his own. Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the saints dwell in their God, and have always done so in all ages. Not in the tabernacle or the temple do we dwell, but in God himself; and this we have always done since there was a church in the world. We have not shifted our abode. Kings' palaces have vanished beneath the crumbling hand of time -- they have been burned with fire and buried beneath mountains of ruins, but the imperial race of heaven has never lost its regal habitation. Go to the Palatine and see how the Caesars are forgotten of the halls which echoed to their despotic mandates, and resounded with the plaudits of the nations over which they ruled, and then look upward and see in the ever living Jehovah the divine home of the faithful, untouched by so much as the finger of decay. Where dwelt our fathers a hundred generations since, there dwell we still. It is of New Testament saints that the Holy Ghost has said, "He that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in God and God in him!" It was a divine mouth which said, "Abide in me", and then added, "he that abideth in me and I in him the same bringeth forth much fruit." It is most sweet to speak with the Lord as Moses did, saying, "Lord, thou art our dwelling place", and it is wise to draw from the Lord's eternal condescension reasons for expecting present and future mercies, as the Psalmist did in the next Psalm wherein he describes the safety of those who dwell in God.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. The correctness of the title which ascribes the Psalm to Moses is confirmed by its unique simplicity and grandeur; its appropriateness to his times and circumstances; its resemblance to the Law in urging the connection between sin and death; its similarity of diction to the poetical portions of the Pentateuch, without the slightest trace of imitation or quotation; its marked unlikeness to the Psalms of David, and still more to those of later date; and finally, the proved impossibility of plausibly assigning it to any other age or author. --J.A. Alexander.
Title. A prayer of Moses. Moses may be considered as the first composer of sacred hymns. --Samuel Burder.
Title. The Psalm is described in the title as a prayer. This description shows, as Amyraldus saw, that the kernel of the Psalm in the second part, and that the design of the first is to prepare the way for the second, and lay down a basis on which it may rest. --E.W. Hengstenberg.
Title. A prayer of Moses. Moses was an old and much tried man, but age and experience had taught him that, amidst the perpetual changes which are taking place in the universe, one thing at least remains immutable, even the faithfulness of him who is "from everlasting to everlasting God." How far back into the past may the patriarch have been looking when he spake these words? The burning bush, the fiery furnace of Egypt, the Red Sea, Pharaoh with his chariots of war, and the weary march of Israel through the wilderness, were all before him; and in all of them he had experienced that "God is the Rock, his work perfect, all his ways judgment" ( Deuteronomy 32:4 ). But Moses was looking beyond these scenes of his personal history when he said, "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations." ( Deuteronomy 32:7 ), and we may be sure that he was also looking beyond them when he indited the song, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Yes; he was casting in his mind how God had been the refuge of Jacob and Isaac, of Abraham, Noah, and all the patriarchs. Moses could take a retrospect of above a thousand years, which had all confirmed the truth. I can do no more. At this point of time I can look back to the days of Moses and Joshua and David, and descending thence to the days of the Son of God upon earth, and of Paul and Peter, and all the saints of the Church down to the present hour; and what a thousand years avouched to Moses, three thousand now avouch to me: the Lord is the dwelling place of those that trust in him from generation to generation. Yes; and to him who was the refuge of a Moses and an Abraham, I too in the day of trouble can lift my hands. Delightful thought! That great Being who, during the lapse of three thousand years, amidst the countless changes of the universe, has to this day remained unchanged, is MY God. --Augustus F. Theluck, in "Hours of Christian Devotion", 1870.
Whole Psalm. Although some difficulties have been started, there seems no reason to doubt that this Psalm is the composition of Moses. From the remotest period his name has been attached to it, and almost every Biblical scholar, from Jerome down to Hengstenberg, has agreed to accept it as a prayer of that "man of God" whose name it has always carried. If so, it is one of the oldest poems in the world. Compared with it Homer and Pindar are (so to speak) modern, and even King David is of recent date. That is to say, compared with this ancient hymn the other Psalms are as much more modern as Tennyson and Longfellow are more modern than Chaucer. In either case there are nearly five centuries between. --James Hamilton.
Whole Psalm. The 90th Psalm might be cited as perhaps the most sublime of human compositions -- the deepest in feeling -- the loftiest in theologic conception -- the most magnificent in its imagery. True is it in its report of human life -- as troubled, transitory, and sinful. True in its conception of the Eternal -- the Sovereign and the Judge; and yet the refuge and hope of men, who, notwithstanding, the most severe trials of their faith, lose not their confidence in him; but who, in the firmness of faith, pray for, as if they were predicting, a near at hand season of refreshment. Wrapped, one might say, in mystery, until the distant day of revelation should come, there is here conveyed the doctrine of Immortality; for in the very complaint of the brevity of the life of man, and of the sadness of these, his few years of trouble, and their brevity, and their gloom, there is brought into contrast the Divine immutability; and yet it is in terms of a submissive piety: the thought of a life eternal is here in embryo. No taint is there in this Psalm of the pride and petulance -- the half uttered blasphemy -- the malign disputing or arraignment of the justice or goodness of God, which have so often shed a venomous colour upon the language of those who have writhed in anguish, personal or relative. There are few probably among those who have passed through times of bitter and distracting woe, or who have stood -- the helpless spectators of the miseries of others, that have not fallen into moods of mind violently in contrast with the devout and hopeful melancholy which breathes throughout this ode. Rightly attributed to the Hebrew Lawgiver or not, it bespeaks its remote antiquity, not merely by the majestic simplicity of its style, but negatively, by the entire avoidance of those sophisticated turns of thought which belong to a late -- a lost age in a people's intellectual and moral history. This Psalm, undoubtedly, is centuries older than the moralizing of that time when the Jewish mind had listened to what it could never bring into a true assimilation with its own mind -- the abstractions of the Greek Philosophy.
With this one Psalm only in view -- if it were required of us to say, in brief, what we mean by the phrase -- "The Spirit of the Hebrew Poetry" -- we find our answer well condensed in this sample. This magnificent composition gives evidence, not merely as to the mental qualities of the writer, but as to the tastes and habits of the writer's contemporaries, his hearers, and his readers; on these several points -- first, the free and customary command of a poetic diction, and its facile imagery, so that whatever the poetic soul would utter, the poet's material is near at hand for his use. There is then that depth of feeling -- mournful, reflective, and yet hopeful and trustful, apart from which poetry can win for itself no higher esteem than what we bestow upon other decorative arts, which minister to the demands of luxurious sloth. There is, moreover, as we might say, underlying this poem, from the first line to the last, the substance of philosophic thought, apart from which, expressed or understood, poetry is frivolous, and is not in harmony with the seriousness of human life: this Psalm is of a sort which Plato would have written, or Sophocles -- if only the one or the other of these minds had possessed a heaven descended Theology. --Isaac Taylor.
Verse 1. Lord. Observe the change of the divine names in this Psalm. Moses begins with the declaration of the Majesty of the Lord (Adonai) but when he arrives at Ps 90:13, he opens his prayer with the Name of grace and covenanted mercy to Israel -- JEHOVAH; and he sums up all in Psalms 90:17 , with a supplication for the manifestation of the beauty ~[n of "the Lord our God" (JEHOVAH, ELOHIM). -- Christopher Wordsworth.
Verse 1. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place. Many seem to beg God's help in prayer, but are not protected by him: they seek it only in a storm, and when all other means and refuges fail them. But a Christian must maintain constant communication with God; must dwell in God, not run to him now and then. --Thomas Manton.
Verse 1. This exordium breathes life, and pertains to a certain hope of the resurrection and of eternal life. Since he calls God, who is eternal, our habitation, or to speak more clearly, our place of refuge, to whom fleeing we may be in safety. For if God is our dwelling place, and God is life, and we dwellers in him, it necessarily follows, that we are in life, and shall live for ever ... For who will call God the dwelling place of the dead? Who shall regard him as a sepulchre? He is life; and therefore they also live to whom he is a dwelling place. After this fashion Moses, in the very introduction, before he lets loose his horrible thunderings and lightnings, fortifies the trembling, that they may firmly hold God to be the living dwelling place of the living, of those that pray to him, and put their trust in him.
It is a remarkable expression, the like of which is nowhere in Sacred Scripture, that God is a dwelling place. Scripture in other places says the very opposite, it calls men temples of God, in whom God dwells; "the temple of God is holy", says Paul, "which temple ye are." Moses inverts this, and affirms, we are inhabitants and masters in this house. For the Hebrew word !w[m properly signifies a dwelling place, as when the Scripture says, "In Zion is his dwelling place", where this word (Maon) is used. But because a house is for the purpose of safety, it results, that this word has the meaning of a refuge or place of refuge. But Moses wishes to speak with such great care that he may shew that all our hopes have been placed most securely in God, and that they who are about to pray to this God may be assured that they are not afflicted in this work in vain, nor die, since they have God as a place of refuge, and the divine Majesty as a dwelling place, in which they may rest secure for ever. Almost in the same strain Paul speaks, when he says to the Colossians, "Your life is hid with Christ in God." For it is a much clearer and more luminous expression to say, Believers dwell in God, than that God dwells in them. He dwelt also visibly in Zion, but the place is changed. But because he (the believer), is in God, it is manifest, that he cannot be moved nor transferred, for God is a habitation of a kind that cannot perish. Moses therefore wished to exhibit the most certain life, when he said, God is our dwelling place, not the earth, not heaven, not paradise, but simply God himself. If after this manner you take this Psalm it will become sweet, and seem in all respects most useful. When a monk, it often happened to me when I read this Psalm, that I was compelled to lay the book out of my hand. But I knew not that these terrors were not addressed to an awakened mind. I knew not that Moses was speaking to a most obdurate and proud multitude, which neither understood nor cared for the anger of God, nor were humbled by their calamities, or even in prospect of death. -- Martin Luther.
Verse 1. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place, etc. In this first part the prophet acknowledgeth that God in all times, and in all ages hath had a special care of his saints and servants, to provide for them all things necessary for this life; for under the name of "dwelling place", or mansion house, the prophet understandeth all helps and comforts necessary for this life, both for maintenance and protection. For the use of such houses was wont to be not only to defend men from the injury of the weather, and to keep safely, within the walls and under the roof all other things necessary for this life, and to be a place of abode, wherein men might the more commodiously provide for all other things necessary, and walk in some calling profitable to their neighbour and to the glory of God; but also to protect them from the violence of brute beasts and rage of enemies. Now the prophet herein seems to note a special and more immediate providence of God: (for of all kind of people they seemed to be most forsaken and forlorn); that whereas the rest of the world seemed to have their habitations and mansions rooted in the earth, and so to dwell upon the earth; to live in cities and walled towns in all wealth and state; God's people were as it were without house and home. Abraham was called out of his own country, from his father's house, where no doubt he had goodly buildings, and large revenues, and was commanded by God to live as a foreigner in a strange country, amongst savage people, that he knew not; and to abide in tents, booths, and cabins, having little hope to live a settled and comfortable life in any place. In like manner lived his posterity, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs, wandering from place to place in the land of Canaan; from thence translated into the land of Egypt, there living at courtesy, and as it were tenants at will, and in such slavery and bondage, that it had been better for them to have been without house and home. After this for forty years together (at which time this Psalm was penned) they wandered up and down in a desolate wilderness, removing from place to place, and wandering, as it were in a maze. So that of all the people of the earth, God's own people had hitherto lived as pilgrims and banished persons, without house or home; and therefore the prophet here professes that God himself more immediately by his extraordinary providence, for many ages together had protected them, and been as it were a mansion house unto them; that is, the more they were deprived of these ordinary comforts of this life, the more was God present with them, supplying by his extraordinary and immediate providence what they wanted in regard of ordinary means. The due consideration of this point may minister matter of great joy and comfort to such children of God as are thoroughly humbled with the consideration of man's mortality in general, or of theirs whom they rely and depend upon in special. --William Bradshaw, 1621.
Verse 1. Our dwelling place. God created the earth for beasts to inhabit, the sea for fishes, the air for fowls, and heaven for angels and stars, so that man hath no place to dwell and abide in but God alone. --Giovanni della Mirandola Pico, 1463-1494.
Verse 1-2. -- The comfort of the believer against the miseries of this short life is taken from the decree of their election, and the eternal covenant of redemption settled in the purpose and counsel of the blessed Trinity for their behoof, wherein it was agreed before the world was, that the Word to be incarnate, should be the Saviour of the elect: for here the asserting of the eternity of God is with relation to his own chosen people; for Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations, and thou art God from everlasting to everlasting, is in substance thus much: -- Thou art from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God in purpose and affection toward us thy people, and so thou art our God from everlasting, in regard of thy eternal purpose of love, electing us, and in regard of thy appointing redemption for us by the Redeemer. --David Dickson.
Verse 1-2. If man be ephemeral, God is eternal. --James Hamilton.
O Lord, thou art our home, to whom we fly,
And so hast always been, from age to age;
Before the hills did intercept the eye,
Or that the frame was up of earthly stage,
One God thou wert, and art, and still shall be;
The line of time, it doth not measure thee.
Both death and life obey thy holy lore,
And visit in their turns as they are sent;
A thousand years with thee they are no more
Than yesterday, which, ere it is, is spent:
Or as a watch by night, that course doth keep,
And goes and comes, unawares to them that sleep.
Thou carriest man away as with a tide:
Then down swim all his thoughts that mounted high;
Much like a mocking dream, that will not bide,
But flies before the sight of waking eye;
Or as the grass, that cannot term obtain,
To see the summer come about again.
At morning, fair it musters on the ground;
At even it is cut down and laid along:
And though it shared were and favour found,
The weather would perform the mower's wrong:
Thus hast thou hanged our life on brittle pins,
To let us know it will not bear our sins. --Francis Bacon.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. The near and dear relation between God and his people, so that they mutually dwell in each other.
Verse 1. The abode of the church the same in all ages; her relation to God never changes.
- The soul is at home in God.
- Originally. Its birth place -- its native air -- home of its thoughts, will, conscience, affections, desires.
- Experimentally. When it returns here it feels itself at home: "Return unto thy rest", etc.
- Eternally. The soul, once returned to this home, never leaves it: "it shall go no more out for ever."
- The soul is not at home elsewhere. "Our dwelling place", etc.
- For all men.
- At all times. He is ever the same, and the wants of the soul substantially are over the same. --G.R.