Psalm 90

Tough Times

When has life gotten you down? How do you pull yourself out of your funk?

We all have moments, even seasons, of dejection. We seem to be on the losing end. Life just doesn't seem fair. Our ambitions and life's work comes to naught. While these depressing thoughts might not have a basis in reality, their perception seems real enough.

The author of Psalm 90 experienced such a funk. He appealed to God for help, but didn't seem to have hope. Yet, in the end, his faith overrode his depression.

A Prayer by Moses, the man of God.

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place for all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
before you had formed the earth and the world,
even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
3 You turn man to destruction, saying,
"Return, you children of men."
4 For a thousand years in your sight are just like yesterday when it is past,
like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as they sleep.
In the morning they sprout like new grass.
6 In the morning it sprouts and springs up.
By evening, it is withered and dry.

World English Bible

The psalm began with a recognition of God's omnipotence and eternal nature (90:1-2). Then, the author compared God's overwhelming power and presence with the transient nature of the human condition. The psalmist implied that death was a part of the divine plan; certainly, the limited span of human life was a part of divine providence. The author used a pastoral analogy to make his point (90:3-6).

7 For we are consumed in your anger.
We are troubled in your wrath.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days have passed away in your wrath.
We bring our years to an end as a sigh.
10 The days of our years are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty years;
yet their pride is but labor and sorrow,
for it passes quickly, and we fly away.
11 Who knows the power of your anger,
your wrath according to the fear that is due to you?

In 90:7-11, the psalmist shifted the theme from God's plan that limited life to divine judgment on the quality of life. Here, many biblical scholars speculate this psalm was written shortly after the Babylonian exile. Life was a burden caused by God's anger. This condemnation was the result of deliberate sin and accidental transgressions of the Law (i.e., "hidden sins" in 90:8 NAB). With age comes weakness; this is a curse even to one who is considered blessed (a seventy to eighty year life span was seen as a blessing in a culture that thought forty-five year olds lived a full life; 90:9). Even if the person tried to live as a faithful follower, the end was the same as the evil doer. The anger of the Lord seemed to be the only answer to this bleak picture.

12 So teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13 Relent, YHWH!
How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your loving kindness,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work appear to your servants;
your glory to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us;
establish the work of our hands for us;
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Hope overtook despair in the end. With faithfulness and prayer, God could change his mind; better days were ahead. The author implored the Lord to teach the faithful about the nature of human life ("to count days aright" from 90:12 NAB) so they could gain wisdom. He begged the Lord to relent so that the experience of a limited life could be joy-filled and productive; this experience could balance times of trouble (90:12-15). Most important, the psalmist asked God to be active in the life of the community, to show his mighty deeds to the present and future generations just as he had in the past. This would give life purpose again, for his favor would be on the people and their activity (90:16-17).

Probably the most interesting image in the psalm was the dawn. Compare 90:5b to 90:14. The process of night becoming day can be experienced in the bleakest terms or as a turning point that gave hope. The key is the activity of God. God can turn an experience of futility into one of hope. With God, the dawn doesn't just bring another day on the tread mill of life; he brings a new day and a new chance at living.

Life has its ups and downs. There are patches of tough going and seas of smooth sailing. There are times we ask "Why God?" only to realize that, with faith, he will give us an answer. Dejection is temporary. Hope is eternal.

Reflect on your tough times and your times of blessing. How has God used both to bless you? How has he helped you use those experiences for the good of others?