Be Exultant (Psalms 90-150)
This is the oldest psalm in The Psalms and it was written by Moses, the man of God (Josh. 14:6; Ezra 3:2). It deals with themes that began with the fall of our first parents and will continue to be important and puzzling until the return of our Savior: eternal God and frail humans, a holy God and sinful man, life and death, and the meaning of life in a confused and difficult world. It's possible that Moses wrote this psalm after Israel's failure of faith at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 13-14), when the nation was condemned to journey in the wilderness for forty years until the older generation had died. That tragedy was followed by the death of Moses' sister Miriam (Num. 20:1) and his brother Aaron (Num. 20:22-29), and between those two deaths, Moses disobeyed the Lord and struck the rock (Num. 20:2-13). How did Moses manage to become a "man of God" after forty years in pagan Egypt that ended in failure, forty years in Midian as a humble shepherd, and forty more leading a funeral march through the wilderness? Life was not easy for Moses, but he triumphed, and in this psalm he shared his insights so that we, too, might have strength for the journey and end well.
"For we are aliens and pilgrims before you, as were our fathers" said King David (1 Chron. 29:12, nkjv). For all mortals, life is a pilgrimage from birth to death, and for believers, it is a journey from earth to heaven, but the road is not an easy one. Jacob called the 130 years of his pilgrimage "few and evil" (Gen. 47:9), and he was a pilgrim to the very end, for he died leaning on the top of his staff (Heb. 11:21). For eighty years, Moses had lived a somewhat settled life, first in Egypt and then in Midian, but after that he spent forty years in the wilderness, leading a nation of complaining former slaves who didn't always want or appreciate his leadership. Numbers 33 names forty-two different places Israel camped during their journey, but no matter where Moses lived, God was always his home. He "lived in the Lord." He knew how to "abide in the Lord" and find strength, comfort, encouragement, and help for each day's demands. Moses pitched a special tent outside the camp where he went to meet the Lord (Ex. 33:7-11). This is the Old Testament equivalent of the New Testament admonition, "Abide in me" (see John 15:1-11). We must all make the Lord "our dwelling" (91:9).
Moses addressed God as "Elohim," the God of power and the God of creation. He described God "giving birth" to the mountains (v. 2; Job 15:7; 38:8, 28-29) and forming the world. To people in the ancient world, mountains symbolized that which was lasting and dependable, and to the Jews, mountains spoke of the everlasting God of Israel (93:1-2). There were six generations from Abraham to Moses—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kohath, Amram, and Moses—and the same God had guided and blessed them! Those of us who have godly ancestors certainly have a rich heritage and ought to be thankful. In the midst of a changing world, living as we do in a "frail tent" (2 Cor. 5:1-4), it is good to hear Moses say, "The eternal God is your refuge and dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:27, amp).
Moses was "educated in all the learning of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22, nasb), but the lessons he learned walking with God were far more important. In the school of life (v. 12), we need to learn two important lessons: life is brief and passes swiftly (vv. 4-6), so make the most of it; and life is difficult and at times seems futile (vv. 7-11), but this is the only way to mature. Were there no sin in the world, there would be no suffering and death; but people made of dust defy the God of the universe and try to repeal the inexorable law of sin and death, "For dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19, nkjv). While we all thank God for modern science and the ministry of skilled medical personnel, we cannot successfully deny the reality of death or delay it when our time comes. The school of life is preparation for an eternity with God, and without Him, we cannot learn our lessons, pass our tests, and make progress from kindergarten to graduate school!
The older we get, the better we understand that life is brief and moves past very swiftly. God dwells in eternity (Isa. 57:15) and is not limited by time. He can cram many years of experience and work into one person's lifetime or make the centuries flash past like the days of the week (2 Peter 3:8). Compared with eternity, even a long life is like yesterday when it is past or like the changing of the guards while we are sleeping (a "watch" was four hours). Only God is eternal, and we humans are like objects suddenly swept away by a flash flood (Matt. 7:24-27) or grass that comes and goes. In the east, the grass often grows on very thin soil and has no deep roots (Matt. 13:20-21). A field will be lush and green in the morning but become withered before nightfall because of the hot sun. (See 37:1-2; 92:7; 103:15; Isa. 40:6-7; and 1 Peter 1:24.) God is the one whose command "turns us back" (v. 3; see 104:29; 146:4; Job 34:15; Ecc. 3:20), and we need to fear and honor Him and use our lives for His glory. In the school of life, those students learn the most who realize that the dismissal bell rings when they least expect it!
In verses 7-11, Moses reflected on Israel's sad experience at Kedesh Barnea (Num. 13-14), when the nation refused to obey God and enter the Promised Land. This foolish decision led to four decades of trials and testings in the wilderness while the older generation died off, except for Joshua and Caleb. God is "slow to anger" (Ex. 34:6), but the repeated complaints and rebellions of His people tested even His longsuffering. (See Ex. 32:10; Num. 11:11, 33; 12:9; 25:3; 32:10, 13; Deut. 4:24-25; 6:15; 9:7, 18-19.) God saw what Israel did and God knew what Israel intended to do! No secrets are hidden from Him. The twenty-year-olds would be close to sixty when the nation returned to Kadesh Barnea, and Moses saw eighty years as the limit for humans. He died at 120 and Joshua at 110, but King David was only 70 when he died. Sin takes its toll on the human race, and we no longer see lifespans recorded like those in Genesis 5. We don't like to think about the wrath of God, but every obituary in the newspaper is a reminder that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). We finish our years "like a sigh" (v. 9, nasb) and marvel that it all went by so fast! So, now is the time to ask God for wisdom to become better students and stewards of our time and opportunities (v. 12; Deut. 32:29). We number our years, not our days, but all of us have to live a day at a time, and we do not know how many days we have left. A successful life is composed of successful days that honor the Lord.
Yes, life is a difficult school, and God disciplines us if we fail to learn our lessons and submit to His will, but there is more to the story. In spite of the "black border" around this psalm, the emphasis is on life and not death. The past and present experiences of life prepare us for the future, and all of life prepares us for eternity. When you contrast verses 13-17 with verses. 7-12, you can see the difference. This closing prayer emphasizes God's compassion and unfailing love, His desire to give us joy and satisfaction, even in the midst of life's troubles, and His ability to make life count for eternity. When Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord, the future is your friend.
"Return" (v. 13) carries the idea of "turn again—turn from your anger and show us the light of your countenance" (Ex. 32:12; Num. 6:23-26; Deut. 32:36). "How long?" is a question frequently asked; see 6:3. In verse 14, Moses may have been referring to the manna that fell each morning, six days a week, and met the physical needs of the people (Ex. 16:1-21). It was a picture of Jesus Christ, the bread of life. The manna sustained life for the Jewish people for nearly forty years, but Jesus gives life to the whole world for all eternity! When we begin the day with the Lord and feed on His Word (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4), then we walk with Him throughout the day and enjoy His blessing. The nourishment of the Word enables us to be faithful pilgrims and successful learners.
There are compensations in life that we may not appreciate until we enter eternity. Moses prayed that God would give him and his people as much joy in the future as the sorrow they had experienced in the past. Paul may have had this in mind when he wrote Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 1:5 and 4:16-18—except that God promises His children far more blessing than the burdens they carried! The glory to come far exceeds the suffering that we bear today. Moses lost his temper and could not enter Canaan (Num. 20:2-13), but he did get to the Promised Land with Jesus and share God's glory with Elijah and three of the disciples (Matt. 17:1-8).
Whatever the Lord doesn't compensate for here on earth will be compensated in heaven (1 Peter 5:10), and this includes our works for Him. At times, Moses must have felt that his work was futile, temporary, and not worth doing. Many times the people broke his heart and grieved his spirit. He sacrificed to serve them and they rarely appreciated him. But no work done for the Lord will ever go unrewarded, and those who do the will of God abide forever (1 John 2:17). Even a cup of cold water given in Jesus' name will receive its reward (Matt. 10:42; 25:31-46). The favor of the Lord does not desert us in our old age, in times of affliction, or when we come to die, and the blessings of our work and witness will go on. In verse 13, Moses addressed God as Jehovah, the God of the covenant who will never break His promises, and that is the God we love, worship, and serve.
Life is brief, so Moses prayed, "Teach us." Life is difficult, and he prayed, "Satisfy us." His work at times seemed futile, so he prayed, "Establish the work of our hands." God answered those prayers for Moses, and He will answer them for us. The future is your friend when Jesus is your Savior and Lord.
Psalm 90 focuses on dealing with the difficulties of life, but the emphasis in this psalm is on the dangers of life. The anonymous author (though some think Moses wrote it) warns about hidden traps, deadly plagues, terrors at night and arrows by day, stumbling over rocks, and facing lions and snakes! However, in view of terrorist attacks, snipers, reckless drivers, exotic new diseases, and Saturday night handgun specials, the contemporary scene may be as dangerous as the one described in the psalm. The saints who abide in Christ (vv. 1, 9) cannot avoid confronting unknown perils, but they can escape the evil consequences. Moses, David, and Paul, and a host of other servants of God, faced great danger in accomplishing God's will, and the Lord saw them through. However, Hebrews 11:36 cautions us that "others" were tortured and martyred, yet their faith was just as real. But generally speaking, walking with the Lord does help us to detect and avoid a great deal of trouble, and it is better to suffer in the will of God than to invite trouble by disobeying God's will (1 Peter 2:18-25). The psalmist described the elements involved in living the life of confidence and victory.
The most important part of a believer's life is the part that only God sees, the "hidden life" of communion and worship that is symbolized by the Holy of Holies in the Jewish sanctuary (Ex. 25:18-22; Heb. 10:19-25). God is our refuge and strength (46:1). He hides us that He might help us and then send us back to serve Him in the struggles of life. (See 27:5; 31:19-20; 32:7; 73:27-28; 94:22; 142:5; Deut. 32:37.) The author of the psalm had two "addresses": his tent (v. 10) and his Lord (vv. 1, 9). The safest place in the world is a shadow, if it is the shadow of the Almighty. Through Jesus Christ we find safety and satisfaction under the wings of the cherubim in the Holy of Holies (36:7-8; 57:1; 61:4; 63:2, 6-7). Jesus pictured salvation by describing chicks hiding under the wings of the mother hen (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34), and the psalmist pictured communion as believers resting under the wings of the cherubim in the tabernacle.
The names of God used in these verses encourage us to trust Him. He is the Most High (Elyon; vv. 1, 9), a name found first in Genesis 14:18-20. He is higher than the kings of the earth and the false gods of the nations. He is also the Almighty (Shaddai), the all-sufficient God who is adequate for every situation. (See Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11.) He is Lord (vv. 2, 9, 14), Jehovah, the covenant-making God who is faithful to His promises. He is God (Elohim, v. 2), the powerful God whose greatness and glory surpass anything we can imagine. This is the God who invites us to fellowship with Him in the Holy of Holies! This hidden life of worship and communion makes possible the public life of obedience and service. This God shelters us beneath the wings of the cherubim, but He also gives us the spiritual armor we need (v. 4; Eph. 6:10-18). His truth and faithfulness protect us as we claim His promises and obey Him. The shield is the large shield that covers the whole person. (See Gen. 15:1; Deut. 33:29; 2 Sam. 22:3.) Some translations give "bulwark" or "rampart" instead of "buckler." The Hebrew word means "to go around" and would describe a mound of earth around a fortress. But the message is clear: those who abide in the Lord are safe when they are doing His will. God's servants are immortal until their work is done (Rom. 8:28-39).
When we practice "the hidden life," we are not alone for God is with us and compensates for our inadequacies. This paragraph emphasizes that we need not be afraid because the Lord and His angels watch over us. In the ancient Near East, travel was dangerous, unless you were protected by armed guards. (It is not much different in some large cities today.) "Terror by night" could mean simply "the fear of the dark" and of what can happen in the darkness. Contaminated water and food, plus an absence of sound health measures, made it easy to contract diseases by day or by night, although "the destruction that lays waste at noon" (v. 6, nasb) could refer to the effects of the burning rays of the sun.
Verses 7 and 8 read like the description of a battle and may have a direct relationship to the covenant promises God made with Israel (Lev. 26:8; Deut. 32:30). With their own eyes, Israel saw the grief of the Egyptians over their firstborn who died on Passover night (Ex. 12:29-30), and they also saw the Egyptian army dead on the shore of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:26-31), yet no harm came to the people of Israel. God's angel went before them to prepare the way and to lead the way (Ex. 23:20). Satan quoted part of verses 11-12 when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:6), and the Lord responded with Deuteronomy 6:16. If the Father had commanded Jesus to jump from the temple pinnacle, then the angels would have cared for Jesus, but to jump without the Father's command would have been presumption, not faith, and that would be tempting the Father. In Scripture, the lion and serpent (cobra) are images of Satan (1 Peter 5:8; Gen. 3; 2 Cor. 11:3; Rev. 12:9; 20:2; and see Luke 10:19 and Rom. 16:20). In the ancient Near East, both were dangerous enemies, especially for travelers walking along the narrow paths.
The Lord spoke and announced what He would do for those of His people who truly loved Him and acknowledged Him with obedient lives. The word translated "love" is not the usual word but one that means "to cling to, to cleave, to be passionate." It is used in Deuteronomy 7:7 and 10:15 for the love Jehovah has for His people Israel. (See John 14:21-24.) Among His blessings will be deliverance and protection ("set him on high"), answered prayer, companionship in times of trouble, honor, satisfaction, and a long life (see 21:4; Ex. 20:12; Deut. 30:20). The salvation mentioned at the end of the psalm may mean help and deliverance during life, as in 50:23, or the joy of beholding the glory of God after a long and satisfied life. To the Jewish people, living a long life and seeing one's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, was the ultimate of blessing in this life. Like Abraham, they wanted to die in a good old age and "full of years" (Gen. 25:8), which means "a fulfilled life." It's one thing for doctors to add years to our life, but God adds life to our years and makes that life worthwhile.