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Psalm 90

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
God's Eternity and Man's Transitoriness
MT Intro
A Prayer of Moses the man of God
The Eternity of God, and Man's Frailty Prayer for Deliverance From National Adversity Of God and Human Beings On Human Frailty
90:1-2 90:1-2 90:1-2 90:1-2 90:1
        90:2
90:3-6 90:3-6 90:3-6 90:3-6 90:3-4
        90:5-6
90:7-12 90:7-12 90:7-10 90:7-8 90:7-8
      90:9-10 90:9-10
    90:11-12 90:11-12 90:11
        90:12-13
90:13-17 90:13-17 90:13-17 90:13-17  
        90:14-15
        90:16-17

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This Psalm proclaims YHWH's eternality (i.e., Ps. 90:1-2, 4) and mankind's transitoriness (i.e., Ps. 90:3, 5-6, 9-10).

B. Israel's sins (i.e., Ps. 90:8) caused YHWH to bring judgment to His people (i.e., Ps. 90:7,9,11). They pray for His mercy to return (i.e., Ps. 90:12, 13-17).

C. This Psalm has several words used in doubles.

1. turn back, return - BDB 996, KB 1427, Hiphil imperfect and then Qal imperative, Ps. 90:3

2. be glad. . .make us glad - BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal cohortative and then Piel imperative

3. seen. . .appear - BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal perfect, then Niphal imperfect used in a jussive sense

4. confirm. . .confirm - BDB 465, KB 464, both Polel imperatives

D. Surprisingly the MT introductory note has Moses as the author. These notes do not appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls but they do appear in the Septuagint. They are ancient Jewish traditions but not originally part of the inspired text. Possible reasons this Psalm is identified with Moses are

1. obvious allusion to Gen. 3:19 (i.e., different words for dust but same concept)

2. possible allusion between

a. Ps. 90:2, "birthing" and Deut. 32:6,18

b. Ps. 90:2, the eternality of God and Deut. 32:40

c. Ps. 90:13b, pity and Deut. 32:36

3. In Book IV of Psalms, Moses' name appears several times (cf. Ps. 99:6; 103:7; 105:26; 106:16,23,32) and only once in the first three Books (i.e., Ps. 77:20).

In the whole of the fourth division of the Psalter (Psalm 90-106) only three Psalms have the traditional author given.

a. Psalm 90, Moses

b-c. the Psalms of 103 and 104 are attributed to David

The LXX attributes all but Psalm 90 to David.

E. This Psalm has several words (and phrases) denoting time.

1. in all generations, Ps. 90:1

2. from everlasting to everlasting, Ps. 90:2

3. a thousand years, Ps. 90:4

4. yesterday, Ps. 90:4

5. a watch in the night, Ps. 90:4

6. in the morning, Ps. 90:5,6,14

7. towards evening, Ps. 90:6

8. all our days, Ps. 90:9,14

9. our years like a sigh, Ps. 90:9

10. the days of our lives, Ps. 90:10

11. seventy years, Ps. 90:10

12. eighty years, Ps. 90:10

13. number our days, Ps. 90:12

14. how long will it be, Ps. 90:13

15. according to the days, Ps. 90:15

16. years we have seen evil, Ps. 90:15

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 90:1-2
 1Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
 2Before the mountains were born
 Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
 Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

90:1-2 This strophe introduces three theological truths.

1. Israel is and was YHWH's special people (i.e., since the call of Abraham in Gen. 12:1-3).

2. YHWH is the eternal God, no beginning, no end (cf. Ps. 9:7; 29:10; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 44:6; 48:12; Jude v. 25; Rev. 1:8,17; 21:6; 22:13; see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM).

3. YHWH is the creator of the physical world for His own purposes (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan).

 

90:1 "Lord" The NASB 1970 edition had "Lord" (i.e., YHWH) but the MT has Adon (cf. Ps. 90:17). The NASB 1995 edition corrects this. The NKJV, TEV, and REB also have Lord (YHWH), which is found in Ps. 90:13.

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV"dwelling place"
TEV"home"
NJB, JPSOA,
REB, LXX"refuge"

The MT has "dwelling places" (מעון, BDB 732 I, cf. Ps. 71:3). The NASB margin mentions "place of refuge" (מעוז, BDB 731, cf. Ps. 27:1; 37:40) as an ancient option. Both concepts are mentioned together in Ps. 91:9 in parallel.

90:2 The first two poetic lines personify physical creation in terms of human birth metaphors.

1. born, cf. Job 15:7; Pro. 8:25

2. give birth, literally "writhe in the pain of child birth," BDB 297, Polel #2; it is used of YHWH birthing Israel in Deut. 32:6,18

 

▣ "earth. . .world" These are parallel and have no intended distinction (cf. Ps. 19:4; 24:1; 33:8; 77:18). I do not think the second word stands for the universe. The Bible is about this planet. For the first word, see Special Topic: Land, Country, Earth.

▣ "from everlasting to everlasting" This is one of several idiomatic phrases that express the eternality of YHWH. His name, YHWH, means "the ever-living, only-living One, cf. Exod. 3:14).

For "everlasting" (BDB 761) see the Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

I am often asked where God came from. The Bible does not address this question but begins with God's existence and activity in Gen. 1:1. Our curiosity must wait! Be careful of speculation in the absence of revelation!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 90:3-6
 3You turn man back into dust
 And say, "Return, O children of men."
 4For a thousand years in Your sight
 Are like yesterday when it passes by,
 Or as a watch in the night.
 5You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep;
 In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew.
 6In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew;
 Toward evening it fades and withers away.

90:3-6 As the first strophe emphasizes YHWH's eternality, this strophe asserts mankind's transitoriness and frailty. This is highlighted in the third strophe (Ps. 90:7-12) by the reality of YHWH's judgment on Israel. Even the special people of God reap the consequences of sin!

90:3 This verse makes a reality statement (i.e., humans die, cf. Gen. 2:7; 3:14,16) and parallels it with the same word (BDB 996, KB 1427) in an imperative statement. Human death was not the will of God or the natural cycle of His planet but the direct result of human sin! See Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., pp. 1176-1177.

This current world was not the original intent of YHWH but the result of Genesis 3.

▣ "O children of men" Because of the obvious allusion to Genesis, this could be "children of Adam" (NJB, cf. Ps. 8:4).

90:4 This is idiomatic language for YHWH's eternity (cf. 2 Pet. 3:8). This shows that time indicators can function as figurative idioms (i.e., "day" of Genesis 1, see Special Topic: Day (yom)). Time is not a limiting factor to Deity as it is to humanity!

For "thousand" see Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THOUSAND (eleph)

▣ "watch in the night" In the OT the night was divided into three watches (i.e., military way of dividing the length of time soldiers stood guard). By the NT the Jews of Palestine had adopted the Roman division of four night watches.

1. OT - Exod. 14:24; Jdgs. 7:19; 1 Sam. 11:11; Lam. 2:19

2. NT - Matt. 14:35; Mark 13:35

 

90:5 "like a flood" Raging water was often used metaphorically of human troubles. However, here the word may be the single usage of a word meaning, "put an end to life" (KB 281 I; NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 1150), following an Arabic root and not related to the Hebrew root, "pour out" (BDB 281, KB 281 II).

▣ "asleep" Sleep (BDB 446) is an OT idiom for death. The first occurrences relate to leaders being gathered to their families (i.e., Deut. 31:16). It came to be an idiom for all who die (i.e., Ps. 13:3; Dan. 12:2; Isa. 26:19). This idiom does not imply an unconscious state between death and resurrection.

▣ "Like grass" This is a recurrent metaphor for mankind (cf. Job 14:2; Ps. 102:11; 103:15; Isa. 40:6; 1 Pet. 1:24,25). As seasonal plants appear in spring and disappear in winter, so too, mankind's brief life span!

In some texts it refers to the destruction of the wicked (cf. Job 18:16; Ps. 37:2). Seasonal grass will reappear (i.e., there is hope for faithful followers), but the wicked are gone forever.

It is contextually possible that this Psalm is referring to premature death (i.e., esp. Ps. 90:10d).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 90:7-12
 7For we have been consumed by Your anger
 And by Your wrath we have been dismayed.
 8You have placed our iniquities before You,
 Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.
 9For all our days have declined in Your fury;
 We have finished our years like a sigh.
 10As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
 Or if due to strength, eighty years,
 Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
 For soon it is gone and we fly away.
 11Who understands the power of Your anger
 And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?
 12So teach us to number our days,
 That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

90:7-12 This strophe clearly admits that YHWH's judgment on His people is the direct result of their sin. However, His people trust and hope in the basic character of God—mercy! To me, Ps. 103:8-14 is a sure hope in the character of God (cf. Exod. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 145:8).

90:7 "anger" Notice the variety of words used to describe YHWH's reaction to covenant disobedience.

1. anger, Ps. 90:7a,11 - BDB 60 I

2. wrath, Ps. 90:7b - BDB 404

3. fury, Ps. 90:9,11 - BDB 720

Remember, the Bible uses human vocabulary to describe God. It is always metaphorical and limited. See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN (ANTHROPOMORPHISM). Psalm 103 helps me balance His anger and love! Jesus is the ultimate expression of His character and promises!

NASB, NJB"dismayed"
NKJV, TEV"terrified"
NRSV"overwhelmed"
JPSOA"terror-struck"

This verb (BDB 96, KB 111, Niphal perfect) denotes the fear of death and judgment (cf. Ps. 30:7; 104:29; NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 610-611). Sin has temporal and eschatological consequences!

90:8 "the light of Your presence" Light is a biblical symbol of goodness, revelation, health. God is light (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16; James 1:17; 1 John 1:5). His personal presence is expressed by the idiom of the light of His countenance (cf. Ps. 4:6; 31:16; 44:3; 67:1; 80:3,7,19; 89:15; 104:2; 119:135).

90:11 "according to the fear that is due You" The word "fear" (BDB 432) can be misunderstood. It denotes respect, reverence, piety (see Special Topic: Fear). The frail and transitory acknowledge the eternal, Holy One! Notice how Proverbs uses this concept (cf. Pro. 10:27; 14:26-27; 15:16; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17).

90:12 Once we realize our frailty and His permanence, then and only then, can we live a life of joy, peace, and trust. Our hope is completely in Him. Our service to Him brings meaning to life!

1. teach us - BDB 393, KB 390, Hiphil imperative

2. that we may present - BDB 97, KB 112, Hiphil imperfect used in a cohortative sense

 

▣ "heart" See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEART.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 90:13-17
 13Do return, O Lord; how long will it be?
 And be sorry for Your servants.
 14O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness,
 That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
 15Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,
 And the years we have seen evil.
 16Let Your work appear to Your servants
 And Your majesty to their children.
 17Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
 And confirm for us the work of our hands;
 Yes, confirm the work of our hands.

90:13-17 This final strophe is full of repentant prayer requests based on YHWH's character.

1. return, Ps. 90:13 - BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 90:3 - we return to dust, He returns to mercy!

2. be sorry for, Ps. 90:13 - BDB 636, KB 688, Niphal imperative

3. satisfy us, Ps. 90:14 - BDB 959, KB 1302, Piel imperative

a. that we may sing for joy - BDB 943, KB 1247, Piel cohortative

b. be glad - BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal cohortative

4. make us glad, Ps. 90:15 - BDB 90, KB 1333, Piel imperative

5. let Your work appear to Your servants, Ps. 90:16 - BDB 906, KB 1157, Niphal imperfect used in a jussive sense

6. Your majesty to Your children, Ps. 90:16 - assumes the same verb as #5

7. let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, Ps. 90:17 - BDB 224, KB 243, Qal jussive

8. confirm for us the work of our hands, Ps. 90:17 - BDB 465, KB 464, Polel imperative

9. #8 is repeated

Notice how many verbs in this strophe begin with ש

1. return, Ps. 90:13 - BDB 996

2. satisfy, Ps. 90:14 - BDB 959

3. sing for joy, Ps. 90:14 - BDB 943

4. be glad, Ps. 90:14 - BDB 970

5. make us glad, Ps. 90:15 - BDB 970

6. we have seen, Ps. 90:15 - BDB 906

7. be manifest, Ps. 90:16 - BDB 906

 

90:13 "how long will it be?" This is a recurrent question (cf. Ps. 6:8; 13:1; 74:10). Believers experiencing the pains and problems of this life cry out to God!

Be sure that revelation, not circumstances, define your worldview and trust in God. Circumstances come and go but God remains!

90:14 "lovingkindness" See Special Topic: Lovingkindness (hesed).

90:15 This verse is a prayer request that the years of future blessing will match the years of past afflictions.

Notice the psalmist recognizes that Israel's problems are God-sent because of her sins (i.e., Ps. 31:10; 39:11)!

90:16-17 Notice that Ps. 90:16 focuses on YHWH's works and Ps. 90:17 on the faithful followers' works. YHWH's deliverance allows His people to prosper from generation to generation. Sin destroys everything!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why do the ancient Jewish traditions assert Mosaic authorship of this Psalm?

2. List the ways the Psalm is alluding to Genesis 3.

3. In one sentence state the central truth of this Psalm.

4. Is Ps. 90:10 speaking of death at the end of a long life or premature death?

5. List the prayer requests of Ps. 90:13-17.