Psalm 90:5
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
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(5, 6) The following is suggested as the most satisfactory rendering of these verses: Time (literally, a year; but the root-idea is the repetition or change of the seasons) carries them away with its flood; they are in the morning like grass sprouting; in the morning it flourishes and sprouts, in the evening it is cut down and withered.

This is obtained by taking the verb as third feminine instead of second masculine, and slightly changing the vowels of the noun rendered in Authorised Version sleep. The confusion of the metaphor is thus avoided, and immediately on the mention of the stream of time is suggested the image of the vegetation springing into life at the first touch of rain, and dying in a day—an image so natural to an Oriental. The verb, carries away with its floods is found only here and in Psalm 77:17 (“the clouds poured out water”), but the cognate noun is frequent for a heavy rainfall (Isaiah 4:6, &c.), such as in the East in a few moments causes a flood. This interpretation is partly supported by the LXX. and Vulg.: “Their years shall be nothingness;” and many commentators have felt that the image of the “stream of time” was required here. For the rendering cut down, comp. Job 24:24. Some prefer “fades.” The general force of the figure is the same whether we think of the generations dropping away like withered grass or cut down and dried like hay.

Psalm 90:5-6. Thou carriest them away — Namely, mankind, of whom he spake Psalm 90:3. As with a flood — Unexpectedly, violently, and irresistibly. They are as a sleep — Short and vain as sleep is, and not minded till it be past. Or, like a dream, when a man sleepeth, wherein there may be some real pleasure, but never any satisfaction; or some real trouble, but never considerable, and seldom pernicious. Even such an idle and insignificant thing is human life, considered in itself, and without respect to a future state. They are like grass which groweth up — Which sprouteth out of the earth, and becometh more apparent, green, and flourishing. In the evening it is cut down, and withereth — Here the whole space of man’s life is compared to one day, and his prosperity to a part of that day, and ended in the close of it. Thus, in these verses, “the shortness of life, and the suddenness of our departure hence, are illustrated by three similitudes: 1st, That of a flood or torrent pouring unexpectedly and impetuously from the mountains, and sweeping all before it in an instant. 2d, That of sleep, from which when a man awakes, he thinks the time passed in it to have been nothing. 3d, That of the grass grown up in the morning, and cut down and withered in the evening. In the morning of youth, fair and beautiful, man groweth up and flourisheth; in the evening of age (and how often before that evening!) he is cut down by the stroke of death; all his juices, to the circulation of which he stood indebted for life, health, and strength, are dried up; he withereth, and turneth again to his earth.” — Horne.

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 carriest them away as with a flood - The original here is a single verb with the suffix - זרמתם zerametâm. The verb - זרם zâram - means, to flow, to pour; then, to pour upon, to overwhelm, to wash away. The idea is, that they were swept off as if a torrent bore them from the earth, carrying them away without regard to order, rank, age, or condition. So death makes no discrimination. Every day that passes, multitudes of every age, sex, condition, rank, are swept away and consigned to the grave - as they would be if a raging flood should sweep over a land.

They are as a sleep - The original here is, "a sleep they are." The whole sentence is exceedingly graphic and abrupt: "Thou sweepest them away; a sleep they are - in the morning - like grass - it passes away." The idea is that human life resembles a sleep, because it seems to pass so swiftly; to accomplish so little; to be so filled with dreams and visions, none of which remain or become permanent.

In the morning they are like grass which groweth up - A better translation of this would be to attach the words "in the morning to the previous member of the sentence, "They are like sleep in the morning;" that is, They are as sleep appears to us in the morning, when we wake from it - rapid, unreal, full of empty dreams. The other part of the sentence then would be, "Like grass, it passeth away." The word rendered "groweth up," is in the margin translated "is changed." The Hebrew word - חלף châlaph - means to pass, to pass along, to pass by; to pass on, to come on; also, to revive or flourish as a plant; and then, to change. It may be rendered here, "pass away;" and the idea then would be that they are like grass in the fields, or like flowers, which soon "change" by passing away. There is nothing more permanent in man than there is in the grass or in the flowers of the field.

5, 6. Life is like grass, which, though changing under the influence of the night's dew, and flourishing in the morning, is soon cut down and withereth (Ps 103:15; 1Pe 1:24). Them, i.e. mankind, of whom he spake, Psalm 90:8.

As with a flood; unexpectedly, violently and irresistibly, universally, without exception or distinction.

As a sleep; short and vain, as sleep is, and not minded till it be past. Or like a dream, when a man sleepeth, wherein there may be some real pleasure, but never any satisfaction; or some real trouble, but very inconsiderable, and seldom or never pernicious. Even such an idle and insignificant thing is human life considered in itself, without respect to a future state, in which there is but a mere shadow or dream of felicity, only the calamities attending upon it are more real and weighty.

Which groweth up, Heb. which is changed, either, first, for the worse, which passeth away, as some render the word; which having generally affirmed here, he may seem more particularly to explain in the next verse: or rather, secondly, for the better, as this word is sometimes used, as Job 14:7 Isaiah 40:31, which sprouteth out of the earth, and groweth more apparent, and green, and flourishing. And this interpretation is confirmed from the next verse, where this same word is used in this sense; where also

the morning is again mentioned, and that as the time, not of its decay, but of its flourishing.

Thou carriest them away as with a flood,.... As the whole world of the ungodly were with the deluge, to which perhaps the allusion is; the phrase is expressive of death; so the Targum,

"if they are not converted, thou wilt bring death upon them;''

the swiftness of time is aptly signified by the flowing gliding stream of a flood, by the rolling billows and waves of it; so one hour, one day, one month, one year, roll on after another: moreover, the suddenness of death may be here intended, which comes in an hour unlooked for, and unaware of, as a flood comes suddenly, occasioned by hasty showers of rain; as also the irresistible force and power of it, which none can withstand; of which the rapidity of a flood is a lively emblem, and which carries all before it, and sweeps away everything that stands in its course; as death, by an epidemic and infectious disease, or in a battle, carries off thousands and ten thousands in a very little time; nor does it spare any, as a flood does not, of any age or sex, of any rank or condition of life; and, like a flood, makes sad destruction and devastation where it comes, and especially where it takes off great numbers; it not only turns beauty to ashes, and strength into weakness and corruption, but depopulates towns, and cities, and kingdoms; and as the flowing flood and gliding stream can never be fetched back again, so neither can life when past, not one moment of time when gone; see 2 Samuel 14:14, besides this phrase may denote the turbulent and tempestuous manner in which, sometimes, wicked men go out of the world, a storm being within and without, as in Job 27:20, "they are as a sleep"; or dream, which soon passeth away; in a sound sleep, time is insensibly gone; and a dream, before it can be well known what it is, is over and lost in oblivion; and so short is human life, Job 20:8 there may be, sometimes, a seeming pleasure enjoyed, as in dreams, but no satisfaction; as a man in sleep may dream that he is eating and drinking, and please himself with it; but, when he awakes, he is hungry and empty, and unsatisfied; and so is man with everything in this life, Isaiah 29:8, and all things in life are a mere dream, as the honours, riches, and pleasures of it; a man rather dreams of honour, substance, and pleasure, than really enjoys them. Wicked men, while they live, are "as those that sleep"; as the Targum renders it; they have no spiritual senses, cannot see, hear, smell, taste, nor feel; they are without strength to everything that is spiritually good; inactive, and do none; are subject to illusions and mistakes; are in imminent danger, and unconcerned about it; and do not care to be jogged or awaked, and sleep on till they sleep the sleep of death, unless awaked by powerful and efficacious grace; and men when dead are asleep, not in their souls, but in their bodies; death is often in Scripture signified by a sleep, under which men continue until the resurrection, which is an awaking out of it:

in the morning they are like grass, which groweth up or "passeth away", or "changeth" (d); or is changed; some understand this of the morning of the resurrection, when there will be a change for the better, a renovation, as Kimchi interprets the word; and which, from the use of it in the Arabic language, as Schultens observes (e), signifies to be green and flourishing, as grass in the morning is; and so intends a recovery of rigour and strength, as a man after sleep, and as the saints will have when raised from the dead. The Targum refers it to the world to come,

"and in the world to come, as grass is cut down, they shall be changed or renewed;''

but it is rather to be understood of the flourishing of men in the morning of youth, as the next verse shows, where it is repeated, and where the change of grass is beautifully illustrated and explained.

(d) "quae mutatur", Pagninus; "mutabitur", Montanus; "immutatur", Tigurine version; "transiens", Junius & Tremellius; "quae transit", Musculus, Gejerus, Michaelis. (e) Animadv. in Job, p. 34.

Thou {f} carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.

(f) You take them away suddenly as with a flood.

5. Thou carriest them away as with a flood] A single word in the Heb. suffices to draw the picture. Man is compared to a building swept away by a sudden burst of rain such as is common in the East. Cp. Isaiah 28:2; Isaiah 30:30; Matthew 7:25; Matthew 7:27.

they are as a sleep] As those who are asleep. Or, they fall asleep, in the sleep of death. Cp. Psalm 76:6; Jeremiah 51:39; Jeremiah 51:57; Nahum 3:18.

in the morning &c.] Another figure for the transitoriness of human life, developed in Psalm 90:6. Cp. Psalm 103:15-16; Job 14:2; Isaiah 40:6 ff. Its significance depends on the peculiar character of some of the grasses in Palestine. “The grasses of the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea basin are very peculiar, seldom becoming turf-like, or compact in growth, shooting up in early spring with the greatest luxuriance, and then as rapidly seeding and dying down, scorched and burnt up at once, and leaving for the rest of the year no other trace of their existence than the straggling stems from which the seeds and their sheath have long been shaken.” Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 453.

The P.B.V. follows the LXX, Vulg., and Jer. in its rendering, and fade away suddenly like the grass. The verb may mean to pass away as well as to grow or shoot up, but it must clearly have the same meaning in both verses, and Psalm 90:6 appears to be decisive for the latter meaning. Some commentators indeed render passes away in both verses, but the sense in the morning it flourishes and passes away is unsatisfactory. The double rendering dried up and withered in P.B.V. comes down through the Vulg. from the LXX.

Verse 5 - Thou carriest them away as with a flood. This verse is to be connected with ver. 3, "Thou sweepest mankind away;" i.e. removest them from the earth, when it pleases thee. They are as a sleep. Fantastic, vague, forgotten as soon as it is over. In the morning they are like grass which groweth up (comp. Psalm 37:2; Psalm 72:16; Psalm 92:7; Psalm 103:15; Isaiah 40:7). Psalm 90:5Psalm 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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