The Gate to God's Acre
Psalm 90:1-17
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.…

It is the oldest of stories, sung in this oldest of psalms; of human weakness, turning in dismay from the change and decay about it, to find refuge in the eternity of God. We are not suffered to waste time in the attempt to comprehend the abstract truth of God's eternity. We are lifted for the moment, in order that we may descend; suffered to grasp a few of the treasures of the Divine glory, that we may carry them back to glorify our earthly life.

1. This splendid thought of the Divine eternity is made to touch the shifting and inconstant character of our earthly state, by the single word "dwelling-place." I am a wanderer on earth, there is an eternal home for me; I am sick of confusion and change, there is eternal abiding in Him who is "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever," and only a change "into the same image from glory to glory."

2. But a correct view of the eternity of God conveys warning as well as comfort. The more it is studied, the stronger is the contrast into which it throws the brevity and uncertainty of human life.

(1) The eternal power of God convicts us of helplessness. Notice the sharp contrast. "From everlasting to everlasting, O God," Thy life is self-sustained — in Thine own power: man's life, that gift in which he so exults and on which he presumes to play "such fantastic tricks before high heaven," — that which flowers out in his pride and high endeavour, in his ambitions, plans, and grand enterprises, is a thing so little in his power, that Thou turnest him even unto the finest dust with a word; and, with another word, — "Return, ye children of men" — callest others into being to fill his place.

(2) The eternal being of God is used to convict us of delusion. We measure life by false standards. The psalm brings us back to the true rule of measurement (vers. 4, 12).

3. These suggestions are enforced by the figures which follow. Each of them sets forth a truth of its own.

(1) There is, first, the fact that man passes swiftly from life. "Thou carriest them away as with a flood." "Thou carriest men away from life, as a mountain torrent, rising in an hour, sweeps away the frail but that man has built."(2) Take the next figure: and to the same thought of the swift passage of life, we have added that of its unsubstantial, unreal character, and of man's unconsciousness of its passage. "They are as a sleep in the morning."(3) Again, look at the third image: the grass which flourisheth in the morning and is cut down at evening. Here still is the old key-note — the quick passing of the life; but with a new thought, namely, how the beauty and strength and aspiration of life are disregarded in the swift flight of time. It is cut down. Why this strong expression, as if it were not left to wither of itself, but were destroyed by violence?

4. The question marks the transition to the next portion of the psalm, embraced in the next four verses. This matter of brief life and swift death is a mystery, is it also an accident? Then, as now, men were prone to say, "Man is to be pitied: man is the victim of circumstances: man is not guilty, but unfortunate: man is not depraved, but fettered: man deserves not punishment, but compassion: sin is no ground for wrath, but for tolerance." True it is that the Bible is an evangel of love, and pardon, and compassion; true that "like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him"; but also true that the Bible, from beginning to end, blazes like Sinai with God's hatred of sin, resounds with warnings of man's danger from sin, and sets forth as in letters of fire that man is responsible for sin, and liable to its penalties; true that history, and prophecy, and psalm, and gospel, and epistle are grouped round one definite purpose, to save him from the power, dominion, and consequences of sin. In view of these terrible facts, and of men's persistent blindness to the power of God's anger then, as now, is it strange that Moses prayed, is there not good cause for us to pray, "Teach us to number our days"? Whither shall a sinful, short-lived man flee, but to a holy and eternal God? Thither turns the prayer of these last five verses, and turns with hope and confidence. Man is the subject of God's wrath, but there is mercy with Him to satisfy him who flees from the wrath to come. Man is a pilgrim and a stranger, with no continuing city, but there is gladness and rejoicing in God for all his brief days. Man's beauty consumes as the moth, but "the beauty of the Lord our God" shall be upon him, and that beauty is immortal, untouched by time and change. Man's work is fragmentary, his plans often disconcerted, his grandest enterprises nipped in the bud by death, but God's touch upon human work imparts to it the fixedness of eternity; and if He establish the work of our hands, it shall abide though the world pass away and the lust thereof. He will make good the sufferings of sin by the joys of Holiness.

(M. R. Vincent, 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 Abiding-Place
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