Of the 150 psalms that constitute the largest book in the Bible, Moses penned only one, so we approach Psalm 90 with particular interest. What was so significant about the prayer of this one who spoke face to face with God (Exodus 33:11), that his prayer would later be included in this important collection?
The psalm is introduced as “A prayer of Moses, the man of God,” telling us the kind of literature this is and identifying its author. Verses 1-2 focus on the character and sovereignty of God. He is transcendent (“even from everlasting you are God”), He is the Creator of all (“…you gave birth to the earth and the world”), and at the same time He is intimately involved with His creation (“You have been our refuge” [Heb., maon]). Because of who He is identified to be in verses 1-2, it is inarguable that He has the right to deal with His creation as the next verses describe.
Verse 3-11 consider God’s rightful judgment on mankind. God is active in the physical death of men (3), and in the coming and going of generations (5-6). Verse 7 accounts for His activity in the physical death of men. That death is judgment, and an aspect of being “consumed” by His anger and “dismayed” by His wrath. Why the judgment? God has set the iniquities of mankind in His presence (8) – they are ever before Him. In short, none can hide from Him. Because of His judgment (9), days turn (Heb., panah) or decline, and years finish with a moaning (Heb., hegeh). Human life is fleeting, short, laborious, and sorrowful (10), as a result of God’s judgment on the iniquities mentioned in verse 8. This is all just a glimpse of the power of His anger, and His fury is proportional to the fear that is due Him (11).
While this appears to be a very bleak situation, it is vital that we remember Moses’ opening stanza: “Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations” (1). God is holy, sovereign, transcendent, and fearsome, but these traits do not contradict the reality of His graciousness, and Moses appeals to that graciousness in the concluding verses of the psalm.
“Cause us to know (hiphil [causative] imperative, hiyodah) to count rightly our days, that we may cause ourselves (hiphil, [causative] wenabia), to come in to a heart of wisdom” (12).
Moses requests that God grant the proper perspective for His servants to consider the brevity of our days so they may use those days wisely. Moses appeals to God that He return and be sorry on behalf of His servants (13), and that He completely and utterly satisfy (piel [intensive] imperative, shebe’anu) His servants with His lovingkindness (14). Moses asks that God proportionally make His servants glad according to the afflictions of the years (15), and adds, “that it –your work – may be seen to your servants, and your glory to their children” (16). Finally, Moses requests the favor of Adonai Elohenu (the Lord our God) be on His servants, and emphatically requests twice – in the imperative – that God “make firm” the work of their hands.
In verses 12-17 Moses uses seven imperatives when talking to God: cause us to know, return, be sorry, satisfy us, make us glad, make firm, and make firm. He is emphatically requesting action on God’s part. But it is quite notable that Moses requests action on God’s part to enable action on the part of His servants:
Cause us to number our days – that we might cause ourselves to come into a heart of wisdom.
Completely satisfy us in the morning – that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Moses expected that God’s grace would enable His servants to respond with wisdom, joy, and worship. Moses asked the Lord for specific intervention, in order that God’s servants would respond to God the right way.
When we ask God to intervene in our lives and the lives of others, what is our ultimate desire? Is it so that we can simply enjoy more pleasures (as in James 4:3), or is it so that we can respond to Him in a more fitting way? As we embark on a new year – however much of it He allows to experience on this earth – perhaps we can be ever aware of the brevity of our days, so that we can respond properly to Him. If we are constantly and consciously aware of the reality of our situation, we have an opportunity to walk wisely, making the most of the opportunity He has given us.