Psalm 90:10
The days of our years are three score years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
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(10) Yet is their strength . . .—The LXX. (and so Vulg.) appear to have had a slightly different reading, which gives much better sense: “Yet their additional years are but labour and sorrow.” The old man has no reason to congratulate himself on passing the ordinary limit, of life.

For it is soon cut off.—This seems hardly to give, as it professes to do, a reason for the fact that the prolongation of life beyond its ordinary limit brings trouble and sorrow, and we are compelled to see if the words can convey a different meaning. Literally the clause is, for (or thus) passeth haste, and we fly away (like a bird), which may be rendered, thus there comes a haste that we may fly away; i.e., even though we may have prayed for an extension of life, it brings with it such weariness that we long at last to escape—a fact sufficiently true to experience.

“Yet are these feet, whose strengthless stay is numb,

Unable to support this lump of clay,

Swift winged with desire to get a grave.”


Psalm 90:10. The days of our years — Of the generality of mankind, in that and all following ages, some few persons excepted, are threescore years and ten — Which time the ancient heathen writers also fixed as the usual space of men’s lives. And if by reason of strength — That is, more than ordinary strength of constitution, which is the common cause of longer life; they be — In some individuals; fourscore years — At which age few indeed arrive; yet is their strength — Their strongest and most vigorous old age; labour and sorrow — Filled with troubles and griefs from the infirmities of age, the approach of death, and the contingencies of human life. For it is soon cut off — Our strength doth not then decline by slow degrees, as it doth in our flourishing age, but decays apace; we do not then go, nor run toward death, as we do from our very birth, but we fly swiftly toward it, or, fly away like a bird, as the word נעפה, nagnupha, here used, signifies. “If the time here specified by Moses be thought too short a term for the general standard of human life in those early ages, yet it suits well with the particular case of the Israelites in the wilderness, whose lives were shortened by an express decree, so that a great number of them could not possibly reach the age of seventy; and those who did, probably soon felt a swift decay.” — Dodd.90:7-11 The afflictions of the saints often come from God's love; but the rebukes of sinners, and of believers for their sins, must be seen coming from the displeasure of God. Secret sins are known to God, and shall be reckoned for. See the folly of those who go about to cover their sins, for they cannot do so. Our years, when gone, can no more be recalled than the words that we have spoken. Our whole life is toilsome and troublesome; and perhaps, in the midst of the years we count upon, it is cut off. We are taught by all this to stand in awe. The angels that sinned know the power of God's anger; sinners in hell know it; but which of us can fully describe it? Few seriously consider it as they ought. Those who make a mock at sin, and make light of Christ, surely do not know the power of God's anger. Who among us can dwell with that devouring fire?The days of our years - Margin, "As for the days of our years, in them are seventy years." Perhaps the language would better be translated: "The days of our years! In them are seventy years;" or, they amount to seventy years. Thus the psalmist is represented as reflecting on human life - on the days that make up the years of life; - as fixing his thought on those days and years, and taking the sum of them. The days of our years - what are they?

Are threescore years and ten - Not as life originally was, but as it has been narrowed down to about that period; or, this is the ordinary limit of life. This passage proves that the psalm was written when the life of man had been shortened, and had been reduced to about what it is at present; for this description will apply to man now. It is probable that human life was gradually diminished until it became fixed at the limit which now bounds it, and which is to remain as the great law in regard to its duration upon the earth. All animals, as the horse, the mule, the elephant, the eagle, the raven, the bee, the butterfly, have each a fixed limit of life, wisely adapted undoubtedly to the design for which they were made, and to the highest happiness of the whole. So of man. There can be no doubt that there are good reasons - some of which could be easily suggested - why his term of life is no longer. But, at any rate, it is no longer; and in that brief period he must accomplish all that he is to do in reference to this world, and all that is to be done to prepare him for the world to come. It is obvious to remark that man has enough to do to fill up the time of his life; that life to man is too precious to be wasted.

And if by reason of strength ... - If there be unusual strength or vigor of natural constitution; or if the constitution has not been impaired or broken by toil, affliction, or vicious indulgence; or if the great laws of health have been understood and observed. Any of these causes may contribute to lengthen out life - or they may all be combined; and under these, separately or combined, life is sometimes extended beyond its ordinary limits. Yet the period of seventy is the ordinary limit beyond which few can go; the great mass fall long before they reach that.

Yet is their strength - Hebrew, "Their pride." That of which a man who has reached that period might be disposed to boast - as if it were owing to himself. There is, at that time of life, as well as at other times, great danger lest that which we have received from God, and which is in no manner to be traced to ourselves, may be an occasion of pride, as if it were our own, or as if it were secured by our own prudence, wisdom, or merit. May it not, also, be implied here that a man who has reached that period of life - who has survived so many others - who has seen so many fall by imprudence, or vice, or intemperance - will be in special danger of being proud, as if it were by some special virtue of his own that his life had been thus lengthened out? Perhaps in no circumstances will the danger of pride be more imminent than when one has thus passed safely through dangers where others have fallen, and practiced temperance while others have yielded to habits of intemperance, and taken care of his own health while others have neglected theirs. The tendency to pride in man does not die out because a man grows old.

Labour and sorrow - The word rendered "labour" - עמל ‛âmâl - means properly "toil;" that is, wearisome labor. The idea here is, that toil then becomes burdensome; that the body is oppressed with it, and soon grows weary and exhausted; that life itself is like labor or wearisome toil. The old man is constantly in the condition of one who is weary; whose powers are exhausted; and who feels the need of repose. The word rendered "sorrow" - און 'âven - means properly "nothingness, vanity;" Isaiah 41:29; Zechariah 10:2; then, nothingness as to worth, unworthiness, iniquity - which is its usual meaning; Numbers 23:21; Job 36:21; Isaiah 1:13; and then, evil, adversity, calamity; Proverbs 22:8; Genesis 35:18. This latter seems to be the meaning here. It is, that happiness cannot ordinarily be found at that period of life; that to lengthen out life does not add materially to its enjoyment; that to do it, is but adding trouble and sorrow.

The ordinary hopes and plans of life ended; the companions of other years departed; the offices and honors of the world in other hands; a new generation on the stage that cares little for the old one now departing; a family scattered or in the grave; the infirmities of advanced years on him; his faculties decayed; the buoyancy of life gone; and now in his second childhood dependent on others as he was in his first; how little of happiness is there in such a condition! How appropriate is it to speak of it as a time of "sorrow!" How little desirable is it for a man to reach extreme old age! And how kind and merciful the arrangement by which man is ordinarily removed from the world before the time of "trouble and sorrow" thus comes! There are commonly just enough people of extreme old age upon the earth to show us impressively that it is not "desirable" to live to be very old; just enough to keep this lesson with salutary force before the minds of those in earlier life; just enough, if we saw it aright, to make us willing to die before that period comes!

For it is soon cut off ... - Prof. Alexander renders this, "For he drives us fast;" that is, God drives us - or, one seems to drive, or to urge us on. The word used here - גז gāz - is commonly supposed to be derived from גזז gâzaz, to cut, as to cut grass, or to mow; and then, to shear, sc. a flock - which is its usual meaning. Thus it would signify, as in our translation, to be cut off. This is the Jewish interpretation. The word, however, may be more properly regarded as derived from גוז gûz, which occurs in but one other place, Numbers 11:31, where it is rendered "brought," as applied to the quails which were brought or driven forward by the east wind. This word means, to pass through, to pass over, to pass away; and then, to cause to pass over, as the quails were Numbers 11:31 by the east wind. So it means here, that life is soon passed over, and that we flee away, as if driven by the wind; as if impelled or urged forward as chaff or any light substance is by a gale.

10. Moses' life was an exception (De 34:7).

it is … cut off—or, "driven," as is said of the quails in using the same word (Nu 11:31). In view of this certain and speedy end, life is full of sorrow.

The days of our years; either,

1. Of the Israelites in the desert, who being twenty years old, and some, thirty, some forty, some fifty years old, when they came out of Egypt, and dying in the wilderness, as all of that age did, Numbers 14:29, a great number of them doubtless died in their seventieth or eightieth year, as is here implied. Or rather,

2. Of the generality of mankind, and the Israelites no less than others, in that and all following ages, some few persons excepted, amongst whom were Moses, and Caleb, and Joshua, who lived a hundred and twenty years; which is therefore noted of them as a thing singular and extraordinary. This sense suits best with the following words, and with the scope of Moses; which was to represent the vain and transitory condition of men in this life, and how much mankind was now sunk below their ancestors, who commonly lived many hundreds of years; and that the Israelites, though God’s peculiar people, and endowed with many privileges, yet in this were no better than other men; all which may be considered, either as an argument to move God to pity and spare them, or as a motive to awaken and quicken the Israelites to serious preparations for death, by comparing this with Psalm 90:12.

Threescore years and ten; Which time the ancient heathen writers also fixed as the usual space of men’s lives.

By reason of strength, i.e. by the strength of their natural constitution; which is the true and common cause of longer life.

Their strength; their strongest and most vigorous old age. Or, their excellency, or pride; that old age which is their glory, and in which men do commonly glory.

Labour and sorrow; filled with troubles and griefs from the infirmities of age, the approach of death, and the contingencies of human life.

It, either our age or our strength,

is soon cut off; it doth not now decline by many degrees and slow steps, as it doth in our young and flourishing age, but decayeth apace, and suddenly flieth away.

We fly away; we do not now go to death, as we do from our very birth, nor run, but fly swiftly away like a bird, as this word signifies. The days of our years are threescore years and ten,.... In the Hebrew text it is, "the days of our years in them are", &c. (a); which refers either to the days in which we live, or to the persons of the Israelites in the wilderness, who were instances of this term of life, in whom perhaps it first took place in a general way: before the flood, men lived to a great age; some nine hundred years and upwards; after the flood, men lived not so long; the term fixed then, as some think, was an hundred and twenty years, grounding it on the passage in Genesis 6:3, but now, in the time of Moses, it was brought to threescore years and ten, or eighty at most: of those that were numbered in the wilderness of Sinai, from twenty years and upwards, there were none left, save Joshua and Caleb, when the account was taken in the plains of Moab; see Numbers 14:29, so that some must die before they were sixty; others before seventy; and perhaps all, or however the generality of them, before eighty: and, from that time, this was the common age of men, some few excepted; to the age of seventy David lived, 2 Samuel 5:4, and so it has been ever since; many never come up to it, and few go beyond it: this is not only pointed at in revelation, but is what the Heathens have observed. Solon used to say, the term of human life was seventy years (b); so others; and a people called Berbiccae, as Aelianus relates (c), used to kill those of them that lived above seventy years of age, having exceeded the term of life. The Syriac version is, "in our days our years are seventy years"; with which the Targum agrees,

"the days of our years in this world are seventy years of the stronger;''

for it is in them that such a number of years is arrived unto; or "in them", that is, in some of them; in some of mankind, their years amount hereunto, but not in all: "and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years"; through a good temperament of body, a healthful and strong constitution, under a divine blessing, some may arrive to the age of eighty; there have been some instances of a strong constitution at this age and upwards, but not very common; see Joshua 14:11, for, generally speaking, such who through strength of body live to such an age,

yet is their strength labour and sorrow; they labour under great infirmities, feel much pain, and little pleasure, as Barzillai at this age intimates, 2 Samuel 19:35, these are the evil days (d), in which is no pleasure, Ecclesiastes 12:1, or "their largeness or breadth is labour and sin" (e); the whole extent of their days, from first to last, is spent in toil and labour to live in the world; and is attended with much sin, and so with much sorrow:

for it is soon cut off; either the strength of man, or his age, by one disease or incident or another, like grass that is cut down with the scythe, or a flower that is cropped by the hand; see Job 14:2,

and we fly away; as a shadow does, or as a bird with wings; out of time into eternity; from the place of our habitation to the grave; from a land of light to the regions of darkness: it is well if we fly away to heaven and happiness.

(a) "in ipsis", Pagninus, Montanus; "in quibus vivimus", Tigurine version, Vatablus. (b) Laertius in Vita Solon. p. 36. Herodotus, l. 1. sive Clio, c. 32. Macrob. in Somno Scipionis, l. 1. c. 6. p. 58. & Plin. Epist. l. 1. Ep. 12. & Solon. Eleg. apud Clement. Alex. Stromat. l. 6. p. 685, 686. (c) Vat. Hist. l. 4. c. 1.((d) "----tristisque senectus et labor----". Virgil. Georg. l. 3. v. 67. (e) "amplitudo eorum", Montanus.

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be {i} fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

(i) Meaning according to the common state of life.

10. The punctuation of A.V. is misleading. Render:

The days of our years—therein are threescore years and ten,

And if we be of much strength, fourscore years:

And their pride is but travail and misery,

For it is swiftly past, and we have taken flight.

Our lifetime (Genesis 47:8-9) is but short at best; and all its ostentation, all upon which man prides himself, does but bring trouble and has no real value (Job 5:6). Is the Psalmist thinking of the contrast between the triumphant utterance of Numbers 23:21, “Misery hath not been beheld in Jacob, nor travail been seen in Israel,” and present experience? For taken flight cp. Job 20:8.Verse 10. - The days of our years are three score years and ten. This seems a low estimate for the time of Moses, since he himself died at the ago of a hundred and twenty (Deuteronomy 34:7), Aaron at the age of a hundred and twenty-three (Numbers 33:39), and Miriam at an age which was even more advanced (Numbers 20:1; comp. Exodus 2:4). But these may have been exceptional cases, and we have certainly no sufficient data for determining what was the average length of human life in the later period of the wanderings. The suggestion has been made that it was probably even shorter than that here mentioned. And if by reason of strength they be four score years; i.e. "if, through exceptional strength in this or that individual, they occasionally mount up to four score years." Yet is their strength labour and sorrow; rather, yet is their pride then but let, our and vanity. They may boast of their age; but what real advantage is it to them? After seventy, the years draw nigh when each man is forced to say, "I have no pleasure in them" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Moreover, even if we live to eighty, our life seems to us no more than a span, so soon does it pass away, and we take our departure. The poet begins with the confession that the Lord has proved Himself to His own, in all periods of human history, as that which He was before the world was and will be for evermore. God is designedly appealed to by the name אדני, which frequently occurs in the mouth of Moses in the middle books of the Pentateuch, and also in the Song at the Sea, Exodus 15:17 and in Deuteronomy 3:24. He is so named here as the Lord ruling over human history with an exaltation ever the same. Human history runs on in דּר ודר, so that one period (περίοδος) with the men living contemporaneous with it goes and another comes; the expression is deuteronomic (Deuteronomy 32:7). Such a course of generations lies behind the poet; and in them all the Lord has been מעון to His church, out of the heart of which the poet discourses. This expression too is Deuteronomic (Deuteronomy 33:27). מעון signifies a habitation, dwelling-place (vid., on Psalm 26:8), more especially God's heavenly and earthly dwelling-place, then the dwelling-place which God Himself is to His saints, inasmuch as He takes up to Himself, conceals and protects, those who flee to Him from the wicked one and from evil, and turn in to Him (Psalm 71:3; Psalm 91:9). In order to express fuisti היית was indispensable; but just as fuisti comes from fuo, φύω, היה (הוה) signifies not a closed, shut up being, but a being that discloses itself, consequently it is fuisti in the sense of te exhibuisti. This historical self-manifestation of god is based upon the fact that He is אל, i.e., might absolutely, or the absolutely Mighty One; and He was this, as Psalm 90:2 says, even before the beginning of the history of the present world, and will be in the distant ages of the future as of the past. The foundation of this world's history is the creation. The combination ארץ ותבל shows that this is intended to be taken as the object. ותּחולל (with Metheg beside the e4 of the final syllable, which is deprived of its accent, vid., on Psalm 18:20) is the language of address (Rashi): that which is created is in a certain sense born from God (ילּד), and He brings it forth out of Himself; and this is here expressed by חולל (as in Deuteronomy 32:18, cf. Isaiah 51:2), creation being compared to travail which takes place amidst pains (Psychology, S. 114; tr. p. 137). If, after the example of the lxx and Targum, one reads as passive ותּחולל (Bttcher, Olshausen, Hitzig) from the Pulal חולל, Proverbs 8:24, - and this commends itself, since the pre-existence of God can be better dated back beyond facts than beyond the acts of God Himself, - then the conception remains essentially the same, since the Eternal and Absolute One is still to be thought of as מחולל. The fact that the mountains are mentioned first of all, harmonizes with Deuteronomy 33:15. The modus consecutivus is intended to say: before the mountains were brought forth and Thou wast in labour therewith.... The forming of the mountains consequently coincides with the creation of the earth, which is here as a body or mass called ארץ, and as a continent with the relief of mountains and lowlands is called תבל (cf. תבל ארץ, Proverbs 8:31; Job 37:12). To the double clause with טרם seq. praet. (cf. on the other hand seq. fut. Deuteronomy 31:21) is appended וּמעולם as a second definition of time: before the creation of the world, and from eternity to eternity. The Lord was God before the world was - that is the first assertion of Psalm 90:2; His divine existence reaches out of the unlimited past into the unlimited future - this is the second. אל is not vocative, which it sometimes, though rarely, is in the Psalms; it is a predicate, as e.g., in Deuteronomy 3:24.

This is also to be seen from Psalm 90:3, Psalm 90:4, when Psalm 90:3 now more definitely affirms the omnipotence of God, and Psalm 90:4 the supra-temporality of God or the omnipresence of God in time. The lxx misses the meaning when it brings over אל from Psalm 90:2, and reads אל־תּשׁב. The shorter future form תּשׁב for תּשׁיב stands poetically instead of the longer, as e.g., in Psalm 11:6; Psalm 26:9; cf. the same thing in the inf. constr. in Deuteronomy 26:12, and both instances together in Deuteronomy 32:8. The poet intentionally calls the generation that is dying away אנושׁ, which denotes man from the side of his frailty or perishableness; and the new generation בּני־אדם, with which is combined the idea of entrance upon life. It is clear that השׁיב עד־דּכּא is intended to be understood according to Genesis 3:19; but it is a question whether דּכּא is conceived of as an adjective (with mutable aa), as in Psalm 34:19, Isaiah 57:15 : Thou puttest men back into the condition of crushed ones (cf. on the construction Numbers 24:24), or whether as a neutral feminine from דּך ( equals דּכּה): Thou changest them into that which is crushed equals dust, or whether as an abstract substantive like דּכּה, or according to another reading (cf. Psalm 127:2) דּכּא, in Deuteronomy 23:2 : to crushing. This last is the simplest way of taking it, but it comes to one and the same thing with the second, since דּכּא signifies crushing in the neuter sense. A fut. consec. follows. The fact that God causes one generation to die off has as its consequence that He calls another into being (cf. the Arabic epithet of God el-mu‛ı̂d equals המשׁיב, the Resuscitator). Hofmann and Hitzig take תּשׁב as imperfect on account of the following ותּאמר: Thou didst decree mortality for men; but the fut. consec. frequently only expresses the sequence of the thoughts or the connection of the matter, e.g., after a future that refers to that which is constantly taking place, Job 14:10. God causes men to die without letting them die out; for - so it continues in Psalm 90:4 - a thousand years is to Him a very short period, not to be at all taken into account. What now is the connection between that which confirms and that which is confirmed here? It is not so much Psalm 90:3 that is confirmed as Psalm 90:2, to which the former serves for explanation, viz., this, that God as the Almighty (אל), in the midst of this change of generations, which is His work, remains Himself eternally the same. This ever the same, absolute existence has its ground herein, that time, although God fills it up with His working, is no limitation to Him. A thousand years, which would make any man who might live through them weary of life, are to Him like a vanishing point. The proposition, as 2 Peter 3:8 shows, is also true when reversed: "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years." He is however exalted above all time, inasmuch as the longest period appears to Him very short, and in the shortest period the greatest work can be executed by Him. The standpoint of the first comparison, "as yesterday," is taken towards the end of the thousand of years. A whole millennium appears to God, when He glances over it, just as the yesterday does to us when (כּי) it is passing by (יעבר), and we, standing on the border of the opening day, look back upon the day that is gone. The second comparison is an advance upon the first, and an advance also in form, from the fact that the Caph similitudinis is wanting: a thousand years are to God a watch in the night. אשׁמוּרה is a night-watch, of which the Israelites reckoned three, viz., the first, the middle, and the morning watch (vid., Winer's Realwrterbuch s. v. Nachtwache). It is certainly not without design that the poet says אשׁמוּרה בלּילה instead of אשׁמרת הלּילה. The night-time is the time for sleep; a watch in the night is one that is slept away, or at any rate passed in a sort of half-sleep. A day that is past, as we stand on the end of it, still produces upon us the impression of a course of time by reason of the events which we can recall; but a night passed in sleep, and now even a fragment of the night, is devoid of all trace to us, and is therefore as it were timeless. Thus is it to God with a thousand years: they do not last long to Him; they do not affect Him; at the close of them, as at the beginning, He is the Absolute One (אל). Time is as nothing to Him, the Eternal One. The changes of time are to Him no barrier restraining the realization of His counsel - a truth which has a terrible and a consolatory side. The poet dwells upon the fear which it produces.

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