Psalm 90:10

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 10. The days of our years are threescore years and ten. Moses himself lived longer than this, but his was the exception not the rule: in his day life had come to be very much the same in duration as it is with us. This is brevity itself compared with the men of the elder time; it is nothing when contrasted with eternity. Yet is life long enough for virtue and piety, and all too long for vice and blasphemy. Moses here in the original writes in a disconnected manner, as if he would set forth the utter insignificance of man's hurried existence. His words may be rendered, "The days of our years! In them seventy years": as much as to say, "The days of our years? What about them? Are they worth mentioning? The account is utterly insignificant, their full tale is but seventy."

And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow. The unusual strength which overleaps the bound of threescore and ten only lands the aged man in a region where life is a weariness and a woe. The strength of old age, its very prime and pride, are but labour and sorrow; what must its weakness be? What panting for breath! What toiling to move! What a failing of the senses! What a crushing sense of weakness! The evil days are come and the years wherein a man cries, "I have no pleasure in them." The grasshopper has become a burden and desire faileth. Such is old age. Yet mellowed by hallowed experience, and solaced by immortal hopes, the latter days of aged Christians are not so much to be pitied as envied. The sun is setting and the heat of the day is over, but sweet is the calm and cool of the eventide: and the fair day melts away, not into a dark and dreary night, but into a glorious, unclouded, eternal day. The mortal fades to make room for the immortal; the old man falls asleep to wake up in the region of perennial youth.

For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. The cable is broken and the vessel sails upon the sea of eternity; the chain is snapped and the eagle mounts to its native air above the clouds. Moses mourned for men as he thus sung: and well he might, as all his comrades fell at his side. His words are more nearly rendered, "He drives us fast and we fly away;" as the quails were blown along by the strong west wind, so are men hurried before the tempests of death. To us, however, as believers, the winds are favourable; they bear us as the gales bear the swallows away from the wintry realms, to lands

"Where everlasting spring abides
And never withering flowers."

Who wishes it to be otherwise? Wherefore should we linger here? What has this poor world to offer us that we should tarry on its shores? Away, away! This is not our rest. Heavenward, Ho! Let the Lord's winds drive fast if so he ordains, for they waft us the more swiftly to himself, and our own dear country.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 10. It is soon cut off, and we fly away. At the Witan or council assembled at Edwin of Northumbria at Godmundingham (modern name Godmanham), to debate on the mission of Paulinus, the King was thus addressed by a heathen Thane, one of his chief men: -- "The present life of man, O King, may be likened to what often happens when thou art sitting at supper with thy thanes and nobles in winter time. A fire blazes on the hearth, and warms the chamber; outside rages a storm of wind and snow; a sparrow flies in at one door of thy hall, and quickly passes out at the other. For a moment and while it is within, it is unharmed by the wintry blast, but this brief season of happiness over, it returns to that wintry blast whence it came, and vanishes from thy sight. Such is the brief life of man; we know not what went before it, and we are utterly ignorant as to what shall follow it. If, therefore, this new doctrine contain anything more certain, it justly deserves to be followed." --Bede's Chronicle.

Verse 10. The time of our life is threescore years and ten (saith Moses), or set it upon the tenters, and rack it to fourscore, though not one in every fourscore arrives to that account, yet can we not be said to live so long; for take out, first, ten years for infancy and childhood, which Solomon calls the time of wantonness and vanity ( Ecclesiastes 11:1-10 .), wherein we scarce remember what we did, or whether we lived or no; and how short it is then? Take out of the remainder a third part for sleep, wherein like blocks we lie senseless, and how short is it then? Take out yet besides the time of our carking and worldly care, wherein we seem both dead and buried in the affairs of the world, and how short is it then? And take out yet besides, our times of wilful sinning and rebellion, for while we sin, we live not, but we are "dead in sin", and what remaineth of life? Yea, how short is it then? So short is that life which nature allows, and yet we sleep away part, and play away part, and the cares of the world have a great part, so that the true spiritual and Christian life hath little or nothing in the end.

--From a Sermon by Robert Wilkinson, entitled "A Meditation of Mortalitie, preached to the late Price Henry, some few daies before his death", 1612.

Verse 10. Threescore years and ten. It may at first seem surprising that Moses should describe the days of man as "Threescore years and ten." But when it is remembered, that, in the second year of the pilgrimage in the wilderness, as related in Numbers 14:28-39 , God declared that all those who had been recently numbered at Sinai should die in the wilderness, before the expiration of forty years, the lamentation of Moses on the brevity of human life becomes very intelligible and appropriate; and the Psalm itself acquires a solemn and affecting interest, as a penitential confession of the sins which had entailed such melancholy consequences on the Hebrew nation; and as a humble deprecation of God's wrath; and as a funeral dirge upon those whose death had been preannounced by the awful voice of God. -- Christopher Wordsworth.

Verse 10. There have been several gradual abbreviations of man's life. Death hath been coming nearer and nearer to us, as you may see in the several ages and periods of the world. Adam, the first of human kind, lived nine hundred and thirty years. And seven or eight hundred years was a usual period of man's life before the Flood. But the Sacred History (which hath the advantage and preeminence of all other histories whatsoever, by reason of its antiquity) acquaints us that immediately after the Flood the years of man's life were shortened by no less than half ... After the Flood man's life was apparently shorter than it was before, for they fell from nine hundred, eight hundred, and seven hundred years to four hundred and three hundred, as we see in the age of Arphaxad, Salah, Heber: yea, they fell to two hundred and odd years, as we read of Peleg, Reu, Serug, and Tharah; yea, they came down to less than two hundred years. In the space of a few years man's life was again cut shorter by almost half, if not a full half. We read that Abraham lived but one hundred and seventy-five years, so that man's age ran very low then. See the account given in Scripture of Nahor, Sarah, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph (who died at a hundred) which confirms the same. And again the third time, man's life was shortened by almost another half, viz., about the year of the World 2,500, in Moses' time. For he sets the bounds of man's life thus: "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." Psalms 90:10 . Eighty years is the utmost limit he sets man's life at, i.e., in the most ordinary and common account of man's life. Though some are of the opinion that these words do not give an account of the duration of man's life in general, but refer to the short lives of the Israelites in the wilderness, yet I do not see but it may take in both; and Moses who composed the Psalm, lived a hundred and twenty years himself, yet he might speak of the common term of man's life, and what usually happened to the generality of men. --John Edwards.

Verse 10. Their strength is labour and sorrow. Most commonly old age is a feeble estate; the very grasshopper is a burden to it. Ecclesiastes 12:5 . Even the old man himself is a burden, to his wife, to his children, to himself. As Barzillai said to David, "I am this day fourscore years old: and can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink? can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women?" 2Sa 19:35. Old age, we say, is a good guest, and should be made welcome, but that he brings such a troop with him; blindness, aches, coughs, & c.; these are troublesome, how should they be welcome? Their strength is labour and sorrow. If their very strength, which is their best, be labour and grief, what is their worst? --Thomas Adams.

Verse 10. Their strength is labour and sorrow. --

Unnumbered maladies his joints invade,
Lay siege to life, and press the dire blockade. --Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784.

Verse 10. Their strength. Properly, the pride of the days of our life is labour and sorrow -- i.e., our days at their best. --Barth's "Bible Manual".

Verse 10. We fly away.

Bird of my breast, away!
The long wished hour is come.
On to the realms of cloudless day,
On to thy glorious home!
Long has been thine to mourn
In banishment and pain.
Return, thou wandering dove, return,
And find thy ark again!
Away, on joyous wing,
Immensity to range;
Around the throne to soar and sing,
And faith for sight exchange.
Flee, then, from sin and woe,
To joys immortal flee;
Quit thy dark prison house below,
And be for ever free!
I come, ye blessed throng,
Your tasks and joys to share;
O, fill my lips with holy song,
My drooping wing upbear. --Henry Francis Lyte, 1793-1847.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 10.

  1. What life is to most. It seldom reaches its natural limits. One half die in childhood; more than half of the other half die in manhood; few attain to old age.
  2. What life is at most. "Threescore years", etc.
  3. What it is to most beyond that limit. "If by reason", etc.
  4. What it is to all. "It is soon cut off", etc.

--G.R.

Read Psalm 90:10