Psalm 90:9
For all our days are passed away in your wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.
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(9) Are passed away.—Better, are declining.

A tale.—Rather, a murmur. (See Note, Psalm 1:2.) Probably, from the parallelism with wrath, a moan of sadness. So in Ezekiel 2:10, “a sound of woe.” Since the cognate verb often means “meditate,” some render here thought. Theognis says,

“Gallant youth speeds by like a thought.”

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?For all our days are passed away in thy wrath - Margin, "turned." The Hebrew word - פנה pânâh - means to "turn;" then, to turn to or "from" anyone; and hence, to turn away as if to flee or depart. Here it means that our days seem to turn from us; to give the back to us; to be unwilling to remain with us; to leave us. This seems to be the fruit or result of the anger of God, as if he were unwilling that our days should attend us any longer. Or, it is as if he took away our days, or caused them to turn away, because he was angry and was unwilling that we should any longer enjoy them. The cutting off of life in any manner is a proof of the divine displeasure; and in every instance death should be regarded as a new illustration of the fact that the race is guilty.

We spend our years as a tale that is told - Margin, "meditation." The Hebrew word - הגה hegeh - means properly

(a) a muttering, or growling, as of thunder;

(b) a sighing or moaning;

(c) a meditation, thought.

It means here, evidently, thought; that is, life passes away as rapidly as thought. It has no permanency. It makes no impression. Thought is no sooner come than it is gone. So rapid, so fleeting, so unsubstantial is life. The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate in some unaccountable way render this "as a spider." The translation in our common version, "as a tale that is told," is equally unauthorized, as there is nothing corresponding to this in the Hebrew. The image in the original is very striking and beautiful. Life passes with the rapidity of thought!

9. are passed—literally, "turn," as to depart (Jer 6:4).

spend—literally, "consume."

as a tale—literally, "a thought," or, "a sigh" (Eze 2:10).

Are passed away; or, turn away themselves or their face from us. They do not continue with us, but quickly turn their backs upon us, and leave us.

As a tale that is told; which may a little affect us for the present, but is quickly ended and gone out of mind, Or, as a word, as Job 37:2, which in an instant is gone, and that irrevocably. Or, as a thought, or a sigh, or a breath; all which come to one sense. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath,.... The life of man is rather measured by days than by months or years; and these are but few, which pass away or "decline" (g) as the day does towards the evening; see Jeremiah 6:4 or "turn away their face", as the word (h) may be rendered: they turn their backs upon us, and not the face to us; so that it is a hard thing to get time by the forelock; and these, which is worst of all, pass away in the "wrath" of God. This has a particular reference to the people of Israel in the wilderness, when God had swore in his wrath they should not enter into the land of Canaan, but wander about all their days in the wilderness, and be consumed there; so that their days manifestly passed away under visible marks of the divine displeasure; and this is true of all wicked men, who are by nature children of wrath, and go through the world, and out of it, as such: and even it may be said of man in general; the ailments, diseases, and calamities, that attend the state of infancy and youth; the losses, crosses, and disappointments, vexations and afflictions, which wait upon man in riper years; and the evils and infirmities of old age, do abundantly confirm this truth: none but God's people can, in any sense, be excepted from it, on whom no wrath comes, being loved with an everlasting love; and yet these, in their own apprehensions, have frequently the wrath of God upon them, and pass many days under a dreadful sense of it:

we spend our years as a tale that is told; or as a "meditation" (y) a thought of the heart, which quickly passes away; or as a "word" (z), as others, which is soon pronounced and gone; or as an assemblage of words, a tale or story told, a short and pleasant one; for long tales are not listened to; and the pleasanter they are, the shorter the time seems to be in which they are told: the design of the metaphor is to set forth the brevity, and also the vanity, of human life; for in tales there are often many trifling and vain things, as well as untruths told; men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree a lie, in every state; and, in their best state, they are altogether vanity: a tale is a mere amusement; affects for a while, if attended to, and then is lost in oblivion; and such is human life: in a tale there is oftentimes a mixture, something pleasant, and something tragic; such changes are there in life, which is filled up with different scenes of prosperity and adversity: and perhaps this phrase may point at the idle and unprofitable way and manner in which the years of life are spent, like that of consuming time by telling idle stories; some of them spent in youthful lusts and pleasures; others in an immoderate pursuit of the world, and the things of it; very few in a religious way, and these with great imperfection, and to very little purpose and profit; and particularly point to the children of Israel in the wilderness, who how they spent their time for thirty eight years there, we have no tale nor story of it. The Targum is,

"we have consumed the days of our life as the breath or vapour of the mouth in winter,''

which is very visible, and soon passes away; see James 4:14.

(g) "declinaverunt", Pagninus, Montanus; "declinant", Munster, Muis. (h) "Deflectunt faciem", Gejerus, so Ainsworth. (y) "sicut cogitationem", Gejerus, Michaelis; so Ainsworth. (z) "Sicut sermonem", Pagninus, Montanus; "instar locutionis", Musculus, Vatablus; "dicto citius", Tigurine version.

For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we {h} spend our years as a tale that is told.

(h) Our days are not only short but miserable as our sins daily provoke your wrath.

9. are passed away] Lit. turn or decline towards evening (Jeremiah 6:4). We are “a generation of thy wrath” (Jeremiah 7:29). Our life is drawing to a close under a cloud; there is no sign of ‘light at evening-tide.’

we spend &c.] Lit. we consume our years as a sigh: they are past as quickly as a sigh, itself the expression of sorrow and weariness. The meaning of the word is however uncertain. Some explain, as a thought, comparing Theognis, 979, “Swift as a thought gay youth is past and gone”: the Targ. gives as a breath: A.V. follows Jerome, “consumpsimus annos nostros quasi sermonem loquens.”Verse 9. - For all our days are passed away in thy wrath; or, "under thy wrath" - "whilst thou art still angry with us" (comp. Deuteronomy 32:15-25). We spend our years - rather, bring our years to an end (Hengstenberg, Kay, Revised Version) as a tale that is told; rather, as a reverie, or "as a murmur." 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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