The Prayer of Moses
Psalm 90:1-17
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

The propriety of the title is confirmed by the psalm's unique simplicity and grandeur; its appropriateness to his times and circumstances at the close of the error in the wilderness; its resemblance to the law in urging the connection between sin and death; its similarity of diction to the poetical portions of the Pentateuch (Exodus 15; Deuteronomy 32:1; Deuteronomy 33), without the slightest trace of imitation or quotation; its marked unlikeness to the psalms of David, and still more to those of later date; and finally the proved impossibility of plausibly assigning it to any other age or author.

I. THE GREAT CONTRAST (vers. 1-6). The poet says what God has been, but he implies what He still was, and would continue to be. His Divine being reaches from an unlimited past to an unlimited future. Far otherwise is it with man's days. He has no independent existence. The Being who made him turns him back to the dust from which he came (Genesis 3:19), and when He say, Return, there is none to refuse obedience. He whose existence is timeless endures, but men soon perish. He swoops them away as with a driving storm which carries everything before it. Their life consequently is as unsubstantial as a dream.

II. DEATH IS THE WAGES OF SIN (vers. 7-12). The psalmist is a stranger to the fond notion that man is the victim of circumstances; that he deserves compassion rather than penalty. His brief life and swift death may seem mysterious, but they are not an accident. Like the flower he does not simply fade away, but is cut down. Various instrumental agencies may be employed to terminate man's existence, but the real cause is God's wrath against sin. How must iniquity take on a dreadful hue when contrasted with the unsullied purity of heaven, the resplendent glory of the Holy One of Israel? This dark shadow extends over the whole of life, and not only its close. "All our days" bear the same stamp, and even when they stretch out into years, still they fly away "as a thought," a comparison used by Homer and Theognis, yet without the underlying thought of Moses that the flight is retributive (ver.10). The best comment on this sad confession is the statement of Goethe made near the close of his long life. "Men have always regarded me as one especially favoured by fortune Yet after all it has been nothing but pains and toil." But besides this there is no permanence. An end does come, must come, even to the longest term of years. As the man of God looks over the record of the forty years' error, he cries out, "who knoweth," who regards and feels "the force of Thine anger"? Who has such a conception of it as befits a becoming reverence for God? The implication is that there is none. Hence the devout entreaty, "So teach us," etc. Such is the power of sin, the seductive influence of a worldly mind, that we shall not know the link between God's wrath and our own mortality unless we get instruction from above.

III. PRAYER FOR THE RETURN OF GOD'S FAVOUR (vers. 13-17). Here Moses returns to the starting point of the psalm. Whither should the contemplation of mortality as related to sin, and of Divine wrath against .sin, cause us to turn but to God, our eternal home? The loss of His favour is, as usual, represented as His absence, and hence the entreaty for His return. The fervour of this request is well set forth by the abbreviated question, "How long?" i.e. How long wilt Thou retain Thine anger? Calvins letters show that this "Domine quousque" was his favourite ejaculation in his times of suffering and anxiety. The literal version of the other member of the couplet is, "Let it repent thee concerning," i.e. so change Thy dealing with them as if Thou didst repent of afflicting them — a bold form of speech used by Moses elsewhere (Exodus 32:12; Deuteronomy 32:36). The next verse asks to be sated, abundantly supplied, with the lovingkindness of Jehovah in the morning, i.e. early, speedily; and the object of this prayer is stated to be that the offerers may have reason to sing for joy and be glad during the whole remainder of their lives. But if this be true of the Old Testament, that an early experience of grace gladdens all one's subsequent course, much more must it be of the New Testament with its fuller light, better covenant and larger promises. The next couplet is an affecting reminder of past trials, which are here made to be the measure of future blessings. The desire is that former sorrows may be compensated by proportionate enjoyments in time to come. The weary sojourn in the desert, where each halting-place was a graveyard and their march was marked by the tombs they left behind them, they desire to forget in the enjoyment of a permanent home in a land flowing with milk and honey. The same request is renewed in asking for the manifestation of God's work, that is, His gracious care for His chosen, the course of His providential dealings on their behalf. A beautiful and suggestive variation of this wish is given in the next clause where the term "work" is exchanged for "majesty," intimating (Romans 9:23) that the glory of God shines conspicuously in His grace. This display of the sum of the Divine perfections is asked on behalf of the children of generations yet unborn, God being the God not only of His people, but of their seed and their seed's seed (Isaiah 59:2). The closing verse of the psalm comprehends both the Divine and the human side of the work given to God's people. First, the psalmist prays for the beauty of Jehovah, that is, all that which renders Him an object of affection, His wondrous graciousness, to be revealed to them in the way of experience. But this, so far from superseding rather implies their own activity. Hence the next petition mentions "the work of our hands," a favourite Mosaic phrase for all that we do or undertake, which God is requested to establish, i.e. to confirm and bring to a favourable issue. The repetition of the words is not merely a rhetorical beauty, but an expression of the importance, the necessity of such Divine aid.

(T. W. Chambers, D.D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: {A Prayer of Moses the man of God.} Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

WEB: Lord, you have been our dwelling place for all generations.

The Lord Our Dwelling Place
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