Psalm 90:13
Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent you concerning your servants.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(13) Return.—Better, turn, either from anger (Exodus 32:12), or merely as in Psalm 6:4, “turn to thy servant.”

Plainly we have here the experience of some particular epoch, and a prayer for Israel. From his meditation on the shortness of human existence the poet does not pass to a prayer for a prolonged life for himself, like Hezekiah, but for some intervention in relief of the suffering community of which he forms. part.

How long?—See Note, Psalm 74:9.

Let it repent thee.—Better, have pity on. (See Deuteronomy 32:36.)

Psalm 90:13-17. Return, O Lord — To us in mercy. How long? — Understand, wilt thou be angry? Or, will it be ere thou return to us? Let it repent thee, &c. — Of thy severe proceedings against us. O satisfy us early with thy mercy — That is, speedily, or seasonably, before we be utterly consumed. Make us glad, &c. — Our afflictions have been sharp and long, let not our prosperity be small and short. Let thy work appear to thy servants — Declare to all the world, that thou hast not quite forsaken us thy servants, but wilt still work wonders for us; and thy glory unto their children — Do more glorious and magnificent things for our children. Let that great and glorious work of giving thy people a complete deliverance, which thou didst long since design and promise, be at last accomplished and manifested in the sight of the world. And let the beauty of the Lord be upon us — His favourable countenance, gracious influence, and glorious presence. And establish the work of our hands upon us — Or, in us. Do not only work for us, but in us; enlighten our minds, and renew our hearts by thy Holy Spirit, that we may turn, and constantly cleave to thee, and not revolt and draw back from thee, as we have frequently done, to our own shame and undoing. 90:12-17 Those who would learn true wisdom, must pray for Divine instruction, must beg to be taught by the Holy Spirit; and for comfort and joy in the returns of God's favour. They pray for the mercy of God, for they pretend not to plead any merit of their own. His favour would be a full fountain of future joys. It would be a sufficient balance to former griefs. Let the grace of God in us produce the light of good works. And let Divine consolations put gladness into our hearts, and a lustre upon our countenances. The work of our hands, establish thou it; and, in order to that, establish us in it. Instead of wasting our precious, fleeting days in pursuing fancies, which leave the possessors for ever poor, let us seek the forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance in heaven. Let us pray that the work of the Holy Spirit may appear in converting our hearts, and that the beauty of holiness may be seen in our conduct.Return, O Lord - Come back to thy people; show mercy by sparing them. It would seem probable from this that the psalm was composed in a time of pestilence, or raging sickness, which threatened to sweep all the people away - a supposition by no means improbable, as such times occurred in the days of Moses, and in the rebellions of the people when he was leading them to the promised land.

How long? - How long shall this continue? How long shall thy wrath rage? How long shall the people still fall under thy hand? This question is often asked in the Psalms. Psa 4:2; Psalm 6:3; Psalm 13:1-2; Psalm 35:17; Psalm 79:5, et al.

And let it repent thee - That is, Withdraw thy judgments, and be merciful, as if thou didst repent. God cannot literally "repent," in the sense that he is sorry for what he has done, but he may act "as if" he repented; that is, he may withdraw his judgments; he may arrest what has been begun; he may show mercy where it seemed that he would only show wrath.

Concerning thy servants - In respect to thy people. Deal with them in mercy and not in wrath.

13. (Compare Ps 13:2).

let it repent—a strong figure, as in Ex 32:12, imploring a change in His dealings.

Return, O Lord, to us in mercy; for thou seemest to have forsaken us and cast us off.

How long; understand, wilt thou be angry; or, will it be ere thou return to us?

Concerning thy servants; i.e. of thy severe proceedings against us, and change thy course and carriage to us. Return, O Lord,.... Either from the fierceness of thine anger, according to Aben Ezra and Jarchi; of which complaint is made, Psalm 90:7, or unto us, from whom he had departed; for though God is everywhere, as to his being and immensity, yet, as to his gracious presence, he is not; and where that is, he sometimes withdraws it; and when he visits again with it, be may be said to return; and when he returns, he visits with it, and which is here prayed for; and designs a manifestation of himself, of his love and grace, and particularly his pardoning mercy; see Psalm 80:14.

how long? this is a short abrupt way of speaking, in which something is understood, which the affection of the speaker would not admit him to deliver; and may be supplied, either thus,

how long wilt thou be angry? God is sometimes angry with his people, which, when they are sensible of, gives them a pain and uneasiness they are not able to bear; and though it endures but for a moment, yet they think it a long time; see Psalm 30:5. Arama interprets it,

"how long ere the time of the Messiah shall come?''

or "how long wilt thou hide thyself?" when he does this, they are troubled; and though it is but for a small moment he forsakes them, yet they count it long, and as if it was for ever; see Psalm 13:1, or "how long wilt thou afflict us?" as the Targum; afflictions come from the Lord, and sometimes continue long; at least they are thought so by the afflicted, who are ready to fear God has forgotten them and their afflictions, Psalm 44:23, or "how long wilt thou defer help?" the Lord helps, and that right early, at the most seasonable time, and when difficulties, are the greatest; but it sometimes seems long first; see Psalm 6:3,

and let it repent thee concerning thy servants; men are all so, of right, by creation, and through the benefits of Providence; and many, in fact, being made willing servants by the grace of God; and this carries in it an argument for the petition: repentance does not properly belong to God; it is denied of him, Numbers 23:19, yet it is sometimes ascribed to him, both with respect to the good he has done, or promised, and with respect to the evil he has brought on men, or threatened to bring; see Genesis 6:6, and in the latter sense it is to be understood here; and intends not any change of mind or will in God, which cannot be; but a change of his dispensations, with respect to desertion, affliction, and the like; which the Targum expresses thus,

"and turn from the evil thou hast said thou wilt do to thy servants:''

if this respects the Israelites in the wilderness, and their exclusion from Canaan, God never repented of what he threatened; he swore they should not enter it, and they did not, only their children, excepting two persons: some render the words, "comfort thy servants" (f); with thy presence, the discoveries of thy love, especially pardoning grace, and by removing afflictions, or supporting under them.

(f) "consolare", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus.

Return, O LORD, {m} how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.

(m) Meaning, will you be angry?

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
13. A combined reminiscence of Exodus 32:12 and Deuteronomy 32:36. Cp. too Psalm 6:3-4. Return is the most obvious rendering; but the passage in Ex. suggests that the meaning may be, Turn from thy wrath; how long wilt thou be angry? Cp. Psalm 80:4. God’s change of attitude is spoken of in Scripture after the manner of men as repenting or relenting; not of course that He can regret His course of action, or be subject to mutability of purpose.

13–17. Prayer for such a restoration of God’s favour to His people as will gladden the members of it through the brief span of life. Perhaps the connexion with the preceding verses is the hope that Israel’s resipiscence may prepare the way for Jehovah’s return.Verse 13. - Return, O Lord, how long? rather, turn, O Lord; i.e. "turn from thy anger - how long will it be ere thou turnest?" And let it repent thee concerning thy servants. God "is not a man, that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19); and yet from time to time "it repents him concerning his servants" (Deuteronomy 32:36; Psalm 135:14). He relents, that is, from his fierce anger, allows himself to be appeased, and has compassion upon those who have provoked him. Psalm 90:5-6 tell us how great is the distance between men and this eternal selfsameness of God. The suffix of זרמתּם, referred to the thousand years, produces a synallage (since שׁנה is feminine), which is to be avoided whenever it is possible to do so; the reference to בני־אדם, as being the principal object pointed to in what has gone before, is the more natural, to say the very least. In connection with both ways of applying it, זרם does not signify: to cause to rattle down like sudden heavy showers of rain; for the figure that God makes years, or that He makes men (Hitzig: the germs of their coming into being), to rain down from above, is fanciful and strange. זרם may also mean to sweep or wash away as with heavy rains, abripere instar nimbi, as the old expositors take it. So too Luther at one time: Du reyssest sie dahyn (Thou carriest them away), for which he substituted later: Du lessest sie dahin faren wie einen Strom (Thou causest them to pass away as a river); but זרם always signifies rain pouring down from above. As a sudden and heavy shower of rain, becoming a flood, washes everything away, so God's omnipotence sweeps men away. There is now no transition to another alien figure when the poet continues: שׁנה יהיוּ. What is meant is the sleep of death, Psalm 76:6, שׁנת עולם, Jeremiah 51:39, Jeremiah 51:57, cf. ישׁן Psalm 13:4. He whom a flood carries away is actually brought into a state of unconsciousness, he goes entirely to sleep, i.e., he dies.

From this point the poet certainly does pass on to another figure. The one generation is carried away as by a flood in the night season, and in the morning another grows up. Men are the subject of יחלף, as of יהיוּ. The collective singular alternates with the plural, just as in Psalm 90:3 the collective אנושׁ alternates with בני־אדם. The two members of Psalm 90:5 stand in contrast. The poet describes the succession of the generations. One generation perishes as it were in a flood, and another grows up, and this also passes on to the same fate. The meaning in both verses of the חלף, which has been for the most part, after the lxx, Vulgate, and Luther, erroneously taken to be praeterire equals interire, is determined in accordance with this idea. The general signification of this verb, which corresponds to the Arabic chlf, is "to follow or move after, to go into the place of another, and in general, of passing over from one place or state into another." Accordingly the Hiphil signifies to put into a new condition, Psalm 102:27, to set a new thing on the place of an old one, Isaiah 9:9 [10], to gain new strength, to take fresh courage, Isaiah 40:31; Isaiah 41:1; and of plants: to send forth new shoots, Job 14:7; consequently the Kal, which frequently furnishes the perfect for the future Hiphil (Ew. 127, b, and Hitzig on this passage), of plants signifies: to gain new shoots, not: to sprout (Targum, Syriac), but to sprout again or afresh, regerminare; cf. Arab. chilf, an aftergrowth, new wood. Perishing humanity renews its youth in ever new generations. Psalm 90:6 again takes up this thought: in the morning it grows up and shoots afresh, viz., the grass to which men are likened (a figure appropriated by Isaiah 40), in the evening it is cut down and it dries up. Others translate מולל to wither (root מל, properly to be long and lax, to allow to hang down long, cf. אמלל, אמל with Arab. 'ml, to hope, i.e., to look forth into the distance); but (1) this Pilel of מוּל or Poēl of מלל is not favourable to this intransitive way of taking it; (2) the reflexive in Psalm 58:8 proves that מלל signifies to cut off in the front or above, after which perhaps even Psalm 37:2, Job 14:2; Job 18:16, by comparison with Job 24:24, are to be explained. In the last passage it runs: as the top of the stalk they are cut off (fut. Niph. of מלל). Such a cut or plucked ear of corn is called in Deuteronomy 23:25 מלילה, a Deuteronomic hapaxlegomenon which favours our way of taking the ימולל (with a most general subject equals ימולל). Thus, too, ויבשׁ is better attached to what precedes: the cut grass becomes parched hay. Just such an alternation of morning springing froth and evening drying up is the alternation of the generations of men.

The poet substantiates this in Psalm 90:7. from the experience of those amongst whom he comprehended himself in the לנוּ of Psalm 90:1, Hengstenberg takes Psalm 90:7 to be a statement of the cause of the transitoriness set forth: its cause is the wrath of God; but the poet does not begin כי באפך but כי כלינו. The chief emphasis therefore lies upon the perishing, and כי is not argumentative but explicative. If the subject of כלינוּ were men in general (Olshausen), then it would be elucidating idem per idem. But, according to Psalm 90:1, those who speak here are those whose refuge the Eternal One is. The poet therefore speaks in the name of the church, and confirms the lot of men from that which his people have experienced even down to the present time. Israel is able out of its own experience to corroborate what all men pass through; it has to pass through the very same experience as a special decree of God's wrath on account of its sins. Therefore in Psalm 90:7-8 we stand altogether upon historical ground. The testimony of the inscription is here verified in the contents of the Psalm. The older generation that came out of Egypt fell a prey to the sentence of punishment, that they should gradually die off during the forty years' journey through the desert; and even Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb only excepted, were included in this punishment on special grounds, Numbers 14:26., Deuteronomy 1:34-39. This it is over which Moses here laments. God's wrath is here called אף and חמה; just as the Book of Deuteronomy (in distinction from the other books of the Pentateuch) is fond of combining these two synonyms (Deuteronomy 9:19; Deuteronomy 29:22, Deuteronomy 29:27, cf. Genesis 27:44.). The breaking forth of the infinitely great opposition of the holy nature of God against sin has swept away the church in the person of its members, even down to the present moment; נבהל as in Psalm 104:29, cf. בּחלה, Leviticus 26:16. It is the consequence of their sins. עון signifies sin as the perversion of the right standing and conduct; עלוּם, that which is veiled in distinction from manifest sins, is the sum-total of hidden moral, and that sinful, conduct. There is no necessity to regard עלמנוּ as a defective plural; עלמים signifies youth (from a radically distinct word, עלם); secret sins would therefore be called עלמות according to Psalm 19:13. God sets transgressions before Him when, because the measure is full and forgiveness is inadmissible, He makes them an object of punishment. שׁתּ (Ker, as in Psalm 8:7 : שׁתּה, cf. Psalm 6:4 ואתּ, Psalm 74:6 ועתּ) has the accent upon the ultima before an initial guttural. The parallel to לנגדּך is למאור פּניך. עור is light, and מאור is either a body of light, as the sun and moon, or, as in this passage, the circle of light which the light forms. The countenance of God (פני ה) is God's nature in its inclination towards the world, and מאור פני ה is the doxa of His nature that is turned towards the world, which penetrates everything that is conformed to God as a gracious light (Numbers 6:25), and makes manifest to the bottom everything that is opposed to God and consumes it as a wrathful fire.

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