Verse 1. - Lord, thou hast been our Dwelling place in all generations; or, "our habitation" (see Psalm 91:9); comp. Psalm 32:7, "Thou art my Hiding place." For well nigh forty years Moses had had no fixed material dwelling place.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
Verse 2. - Before the mountains were brought forth (comp. Proverbs 8:25). The "mountains" are mentioned as perhaps the grandest, and certainly among the oldest, of all the works of God. Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world; literally, or thou gavest birth to the earth and the world (comp. Deuteronomy 32:18). Even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God (comp. Psalm 93:2; Proverbs 8:23; Micah 5:2; Habakkuk 1:12).
Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
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).
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
Verse 4. - For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday. Time has no relation to God; it does not exist for him. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8) Therefore we must not judge his methods of working by our own. When it is past; rather, as it passes. And as a watch in the night. To the sleeper a night watch seems gone in a moment.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
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).
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
Verse 6. - In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withered (comp. Psalm 102:4, 11 103:15; Isaiah 40:7; James 1:10, 11).
For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.
Verse 7. - For we are consumed by thine anger. From the general reflections, and the general consideration of human weakness, which have hitherto occupied him, the psalmist proceeds to speak particularly of the weakness and sin of himself and his own people, which have brought upon them a painful visitation. God's anger is hot upon them, and has "consumed" them - not utterly, but so that they are greatly "troubled" and cast down. By thy wrath are we troubled. The expressions used suit the time of the later wanderings in the wilderness, when the generation that had especially sinned was being gradually "consumed," that it might not eater the Holy land.
Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
Verse 8. - Thou hast set our iniquities before thee. Instead of hiding his face from their iniquities, turning away from them and overlooking them, God has placed them steadily "before him," in the full searching and scorching light of his own purity and holiness. And not only has he done this with the sins which they know of, and whereof their consciences are afraid; but he has set their secret sins also in the light of his countenance. (On man's "secret sins," comp. Psalm 19:12, and the comment ad loc.)
For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.
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 days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
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.
Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.
Verse 11 - Who knoweth the power of thins anger? Who can duly estimate the intensity of God's anger against such as have displeased him? Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath; rather, or who can estimate thy fury as the fear of thee (i.e. the proper fear) requires? The verse is exegetical of ver. 9, and is intended to impress on man the terribleness of God's anger.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Verses 12-17. - From complaint the psalmist, in conclusion, turns to prayer - prayer for his people rather than for himself. His petitions are,
(1) that God will enable his people to take to heart the lessons which the brevity of life should teach (ver. 12);
(2) that he will cease from his anger, and relent concerning them (ver. 13);
(3) that he will once more shower his mercies upon them, and cause their affliction to be swallowed up in gladness (vers. 14, 15);
(4) that he will show his glorious doings to them and to their children (ver. 16);
(5) that he will let his beauty rest upon them (ver. 17); and
(6) that he will bless their doings, and establish them (ver. 17). Verse 12. - So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. "Teach us," that is, "so to reflect on the brevity of life, that we may get to ourselves a heart of wisdom," or a heart that is wise and understanding.
Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.
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.
O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Verse 14. - Oh satisfy us early with thy mercy; literally, satisfy us in the morning with thy mercy; i.e. "after a night of trouble, give us a bright morning of peace and rest." That we may rejoice and be glad all our days; rather, and we will rejoice and be glad, etc.
Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.
Verse 15. - Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us. Proportion our time of joy to our time of sorrow: as the one has lasted many long years, so let the other. And the years wherein we have seen evil; or, "suffered adversity."
Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.
Verse 16. - Let thy work appear ante thy servants, end thy glory unto their children. The "work" and the "glory" are the same thing - some vast exertion of the Divine power and majesty, which will result in great good to his people. If we accept the Mosaic authorship of the psalm, the establishment of Israel in the laud of Canaan may reasonably be taken as the "work" spoken of.
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.
Verse 17. - And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us (comp. Psalm 45:24, "Thou art fairer than the children of men;" Psalm 27:4, "To behold the beauty of the Lord;" Isaiah 33:17, "Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty"). The "beauty of God" is upon us when we see and realize the loveliness of his character. And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it. The repetition adds nothing, except it be emphasis. God is asked, finally, to "establish the work" in which his servants are engaged - to bless it; that is, to advance it and prosper it. The nature of the "work" is not mentioned.