Verse 4. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past. A thousand years! This is a long stretch of time. How much may be crowded into it, -- the rise and fall of empires, the glory and obliteration of dynasties, the beginning and the end of elaborate systems of human philosophy, and countless events, all important to household and individual, which elude the pens of historians. Yet this period, which might even be called the limit of modern history, and is in human language almost identical with an indefinite length of time, is to the Lord as nothing, even as time already gone. A moment yet to come is longer than "yesterday when it is past", for that no longer exists at all, yet such is a chiliad to the eternal. In comparison with eternity, the most lengthened reaches of time are mere points, there is in fact, no possible comparison between them.
And as a watch in the night, a time which is no sooner come than gone. There is scarce time enough in a thousand years for the angels to change watches; when their millennium of service is almost over it seems as though the watch were newly set. We are dreaming through the long night of time, but God is ever keeping watch, and a thousand years are as nothing to him. A host of days and nights must be combined to make up a thousand years to us, but to God, that space of time does not make up a whole night, but only a brief portion of it. If a thousand years be to God as a single night watch, what must be the life time of the Eternal!
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 4. A thousand years, etc. As to a very rich man a thousand sovereigns are as one penny; so, to the eternal God, a thousand years are as one day. --John Albert Bengel, 1687-1752.
Verse 4. The Holy Ghost expresses himself according to the manner of men, to give us some notion of an infinite duration, by a resemblance suited to our capacity. If a thousand years be but as a day to the life of God, then as a year is to the life of man, so are three hundred and sixty-five thousand years to the life of God; and as seventy years are to the life of man, so are twenty-five millions five hundred and fifty thousand years to the life of God. Yet still, since there is no proportion between time and eternity, we must dart our thoughts beyond all these, for years and days measure only the duration of created things, and of those only that are material and corporeal, subject to the motion of the heavens, which makes days and years. --Stephen Charnock.
Verse 4. As yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. He corrects the previous clause with an extraordinary abbreviation. For he says that the whole space of human life, although it may be very long, and reach a thousand years, yet with God it is esteemed not only as one day, which has already gone, but is scarcely equal to the fourth part of a night. For the nights were divided into four watches, which lasted three hours each. And indeed by the word night, it is meant that human affairs in this life are involved in much darkness, many errors, dangers, terrors, and sorrows. --Mollerus.
Verse 4. As a watch in the night. The night is wont to appear shorter than the day, and to pass more swiftly, because those who sleep, says Euthymius, notice not the lapse of time. On account of the darkness also, it is less observed; and to those at work the time seems longer, than to those who have their work done. --Lorinus.
Verse 4. A watch in the night. Sir John Chardin observes in a note on this verse, that as the people of the East have no clocks, the several parts of the day and of the night, which are eight in all, are given notice of. In the Indies, the parts of the night are made known as well by instruments of music in great cities, as by the rounds of the watchmen, who with cries, and small drums, give them notice that a fourth part of the night is passed. Now as these cries awaked those who had slept, all that quarter part of the night, it appeared to them but as a moment. --Harmer's Observations.
Verse 4. -- The ages and the dispensations, the promise to Adam, the engagement with Noah, the oath to Abraham, the covenant with Moses -- these were but watches, through which the children of men had to wait amid the darkness of things created, until the morning should dawn of things uncreated. Now is "the right far spent, and the day at hand." --Plain Commentary.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- Contemplate the lengthened period with all its events.
- Consider what He must be to whom all this is as nothing.
- Consider how we stand towards Him.