Psalm 90:3
You turn man to destruction; and say, Return, you children of men.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) Thou turnest . . .—Probably we must render, Thou turnest man to dust; and sayest, Turn, sons of Adami.e., one generation dies and another succeeds (see Psalm 104:29-30), the continuance of the race being regarded as distinctly due to Divine power as the Creation, to which there is probably allusion.

The LXX. suggest as the true reading, “Turn not man to dust, but say rather,” &c.

Psalm 90:3. Thou turnest man to destruction — But as for man, his case is far otherwise; his time is short; and though he was made by thee happy and immortal, yet for his sin thou didst make him mortal and miserable. And sayest — Or, didst say, that is, pronounce that sad sentence, Return, ye children of men, namely, to the dust, out of which ye were taken.90:1-6 It is supposed that this psalm refers to the sentence passed on Israel in the wilderness, Nu 14. The favour and protection of God are the only sure rest and comfort of the soul in this evil world. Christ Jesus is the refuge and dwelling-place to which we may repair. We are dying creatures, all our comforts in the world are dying comforts, but God is an ever-living God, and believers find him so. When God, by sickness, or other afflictions, turns men to destruction, he thereby calls men to return unto him to repent of their sins, and live a new life. A thousand years are nothing to God's eternity: between a minute and a million of years there is some proportion; between time and eternity there is none. All the events of a thousand years, whether past or to come, are more present to the Eternal Mind, than what was done in the last hour is to us. And in the resurrection, the body and soul shall both return and be united again. Time passes unobserved by us, as with men asleep; and when it is past, it is as nothing. It is a short and quickly-passing life, as the waters of a flood. Man does but flourish as the grass, which, when the winter of old age comes, will wither; but he may be mown down by disease or disaster.Thou turnest man to destruction - In contradistinction from his own unchangeableness and eternity. Man passes away; God continues ever the same. The word rendered "destruction" - דכא dakkâ' - means properly anything beaten or broken small or very fine, and hence, "dust." The idea here is, that God causes man to return to dust; that is, the elements which compose the body return to their original condition, or seem to mingle with the earth. Genesis 3:19 : "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The word "man" here, of course, refers to man in general - all people. It is the great law of our being. Individual man, classes of people, generations of people, races of people, pass away; but God remains the same. The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, "Thou turnest man to "humiliation;" which, though not the sense of the original, is a true idea, for there is nothing more humiliating than that a human body, once so beautiful, should turn back to dust; nothing more humbling than the grave.

And sayest, Return, ye children of men - Return to your dust; go back to the earth from which you came. Return, all of you without exception; - kings, princes, nobles, warriors, conquerors; mighty people, captains, and counselors; ye learned and great, ye honored and flattered, ye beautiful and happy, ye youthful and vigorous, and ye aged and venerable; whatever is your rank, whatever are your possessions, whatever are your honors, whatever you have to make you lovely, to charm, to please, to be admired; or whatever there is to make you loathsome and detestable; ye vicious, ye profane, low, grovelling, sensual, debased; go all of you alike to "dust!' Oh, how affecting the thought that this is the lot of man; how much should it do to abase the pride of the race; how much should it do to make any man sober and humble, that he himself is soon to turn back to dust - unhonored, undistinguished, and undistinguishable dust!

3. to destruction—literally, "even to dust" (Ge 3:19), which is partly quoted in the last clause. But as for man, his case is far otherwise, his time is short; and though he was made by thee a happy creature, and should have been immortal, yet upon and for his sin thou didst make him mortal and miserable.

Sayest, or, didst say, i.e. pronounce that sad sentence here following,

Return, O men, to the dust, out of which you were taken, Genesis 3:19 Psalm 146:4 Ecclesiastes 12:7. Thou turnest man to destruction,.... Or to death, as the Targum, which is the destruction of man; not an annihilation of body or soul, but a dissolution of the union between them; the words may be rendered, "thou turnest man until he is broken" (b); and crumbled into dust; thou turnest him about in the world, and through a course of afflictions and diseases, and at last by old age, and however by death, returns him to his original, from whence he came, the dust of the earth, which he becomes again, Genesis 3:19 the grave may be meant by destruction:

and sayest, return, ye children of men, or "Adam"; from whom they all sprung, and in whom they all sinned, and so became subject to death; to these he says, when by diseases he threatens them with a dissolution, return by repentance, and live; and sometimes, when they are brought to the brink of the grave, he returns them from sickness to health, delivers them from the pit, and enlightens them with the light of the living, as he did Hezekiah: or this may refer to the resurrection of the dead, which will be by Christ, and by his voice calling the dead to return to life, to rise and come to judgment; though some understand this as descriptive of death, when by the divine order and command man returns to his original dust; thus the frailty of man is opposed to the eternity of God. Gussetius understands all this of God's bringing men to repentance, contrition, and conversion; and takes the sense to be,

"thou turnest till he becomes contrite, and sayest, be ye converted, ye sons of Adam;''

which he thinks (c) best agrees with the mind of the Apostle Peter, who quotes the following passage, 2 Peter 3:8. Some, as Arama observes, connect this with the following verse; though men live 1000 years, yet they are but as yesterday in the sight of God.

(b) "convertes hominem usque ad contritionem", Montanus; "donec conteratur", Musculus, Tigurine verion; "donee sit contritus", Vatablus; "ut sit contritus", Junius & Tremellius. (c) Ebr. Comment. p. 158.

Thou {d} turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.

(d) Moses by lamenting the frailty and shortness of man's life moves God to pity.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. The thought here is not merely that man’s life is infinitely brief in contrast to the eternity of God, but that it is absolutely at His disposal. The Psalmist plainly refers to Genesis 3:19, though he chooses different words to emphasise his point: Thou makest mortal man return to atoms. Enôsh denotes man in his frailty (Psalm 103:15): dakkâ, lit. pulverisation, implies the dissolution of the body into its constituent elements.

and sayest, Return &c.] Two interpretations deserve consideration: (1) ‘Return to the dust whence ye were taken,’ cp. Psalm 146:4; Job 10:9; Job 34:15. (2) ‘Return into being,’ a call to new generations to appear on the stage of history (Isaiah 41:4). Cp. P.B.V. “Again thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men.” In favour of (2) it is urged that and sayest implies fresh action on the part of God: and that the antithesis of the rise of new generations as the old pass away is more forcible than the synonymous parallelism of (1): but (2) involves a somewhat strained interpretation of Return, and the evident allusion to Genesis 3:19 is in favour of (1). The interpretations Return to Me (cp. Ecclesiastes 12:7), and Return to life in the resurrection, are untenable.Verse 3. - Thou turnest man to destruction; or, "to dust" (comp. Genesis 3:19). And sayest, Return, ye children of men; i.e. "return once more, and replenish the earth." There may be an allusion to the destruction of mankind by the Deluge, and the repeopling of the earth by the descendants of Noah, as Dr. Kay supposes; or the meaning may be that God is continually bringing one generation of men to an end. and then setting up another, having the same control over human life that he has over inanimate nature (ver. 2). After this statement of the present condition of things the psalmist begins to pray for the removal of all that is thus contradictory to the promise. The plaintive question, Psalm 89:47, with the exception of one word, is verbatim the same as Psalm 79:5. The wrath to which quousque refers, makes itself to be felt, as the intensifying (vid., Psalm 13:2) לנצח implies, in the intensity and duration of everlasting wrath. חלד is this temporal life which glides past secretly and unnoticed (Psalm 17:14); and זכר־אני is not equivalent to זכרני (instead of which by way of emphasis only זכרני אני can be said), but אני מה־חלד stands for מה־חלד אני - according to the sense equivalent to אני מה־חדל, Psalm 39:5, cf. Psalm 39:6. The conjecture of Houbigant and modern expositors, זכר אדני (cf. Psalm 89:51), is not needed, since the inverted position of the words is just the same as in Psalm 39:5. In Psalm 89:48 it is not pointed על־מה שׁוא, "wherefore (Job 10:2; Job 13:14) hast Thou in vain (Psalm 127:1) created?" (Hengstenberg), but על־מה־שּׁוא, on account of or for what a nothing (מה־שׁוא belonging together as adjective and substantive, as in Psalm 30:10; Job 26:14) hast Thou created all the children of men? (De Wette, Hupfeld, and Hitzig). על, of the ground of a matter and direct motive, which is better suited to the question in Psalm 89:49 than the other way of taking it: the life of all men passes on into death and Hades; why then might not God, within this brief space of time, this handbreadth, manifest Himself to His creatures as the merciful and kind, and not as the always angry God? The music strikes in here, and how can it do so otherwise than in elegiac mesto? If God's justice tarries and fails in this present world, then the Old Testament faith becomes sorely tempted and tried, because it is not able to find consolation in the life beyond. Thus it is with the faith of the poet in the present juncture of affairs, the outward appearance of which is in such perplexing contradiction to the loving-kindness sworn to David and also hitherto vouchsafed. חסדים has not the sense in this passage of the promises of favour, as in 2 Chronicles 6:42, but proofs of favour; הראשׁנים glances back at the long period of the reigns of David and of Solomon.

(Note: The Pasek between חראשׁנים and אדני is not designed merely to remove the limited predicate from the Lord, who is indeed the First and the Last, but also to secure its pronunciation to the guttural Aleph, which might be easily passed over after Mem; cf. Genesis 1:27; Genesis 21:17; Genesis 30:20; Genesis 42:21, and frequently.)

The Asaph Psalm 77 and the Tephilla Isaiah 63 contain similar complaints, just as in connection with Psalm 89:51 one is reminded of the Asaph Psalm 79:2, Psalm 79:10, and in connection with Psalm 89:52 of Psalm 79:12. The phrase נשׂא בחיקו is used in other instances of loving nurture, Numbers 11:12; Isaiah 40:11. In this passage it must have a sense akin to חרפּת עבדיך. It is impossible on syntactic grounds to regard כּל־רבּים עמּים as still dependent upon חרפּת (Ewald) or, as Hupfeld is fond of calling it, as a "post-liminiar" genitive. Can it be that the כל is perhaps a mutilation of כּלמּת, after Ezekiel 36:15, as Bttcher suggests? We do not need this conjecture. For (1) to carry any one in one's bosom, if he is an enemy, may signify: to be obliged to cherish him with the vexation proceeding from him (Jeremiah 15:15), without being able to get rid of him; (2) there is no doubt that רבּים can, after the manner of numerals, be placed before the substantive to which it belongs, Ezekiel 32:10, Proverbs 31:29; 1 Chronicles 28:5; Nehemiah 9:28; cf. the other position, e.g., Jeremiah 16:16; (3) consequently כּל־רבּים עמּים may signify the "totality of many peoples" just as well as כּל גּוים רבּים in Ezekiel 31:6. The poet complains as a member of the nation, as a citizen of the empire, that he is obliged to foster many nations in his bosom, inasmuch as the land of Israel was overwhelmed by the Egyptians and their allies, the Libyans, Troglodytes, and Ethiopians. The אשׁר which follows in Psalm 89:52 cannot now be referred back over Psalm 89:51 to חרפּת (quâ calumniâ), and yet the relative sense, not the confirmatory (because, quoniam), is at issue. We therefore refer it to עמים, and take אויביך as an apposition, as in Psalm 139:20 : who reproach Thee, (as) Thine enemies, Jahve, who reproach the footsteps (עקּבות as in Psalm 77:20 with Dag. dirimens, which gives it an emotional turn) of Thine anointed, i.e., they follow him everywhere, wheresoever he may go, and whatsoever he may do. With these significant words, עקּבות משׁיחך, the Third Book of the Psalms dies away.

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