Psalm 90 (NRSV)
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.” 4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
7 For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. 8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. 10 The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. 12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
13 Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. 16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands!
In seasons of hardship, the eternal God is our hope and the source of renewal for an abundant future.
Understanding the Word
Psalm 90 is a prayer for renewal linked with Moses, the man of God. This is an important reference. Psalm 89 ended in passionate lament for deliverance, and now Psalm 90 points the way forward by focusing on the foundation for faith and hope. The rule of David and his successors had failed due to sin and disobedience. The doorway to the future is a return to the roots of faith.
Psalm 90 unfolds in three parts: verses 1–6, 7–12, and 13–17. The first section focuses on the contrast between God as the eternal Lord over creation and the finiteness of human life. Verses 1–2 ground the psalm in the relationship and security that God’s people find in the Lord. This is a prayer of deep faith that recognizes that God is our God. This God is the powerful Creator of all that is.
In contrast, humanity is mortal. Our lives are short. God’s perspective is eternal and timeless. Human days come and go. All of us recognize this by reflecting on how fast our days go by. The psalmist invites us to think about how a short human life compares with eternity. This is humbling.
Yet this psalm is not merely about the shortness of life. God’s people have a deeper problem (vv. 7–12). They have experienced life under the wrath of God. The reference to days lived under wrath is a reminder of the Babylonian exile as well as the suffering of God’s people under foreign rule in the years that followed their return. As we pray this psalm, we live in the hope of Jesus the Messiah, but we recognize the challenge of living faithfully in our day. These verses are pessimistic about life but they help us to frame our prayers during troubling times—be it international tensions, persecution of believers, or individual seasons of trial. Verses 11–12 add perspective. Verse 11 reminds us of the power and duration of God’s anger. The purpose is not to portray God as one who is raging and eternally angry, but rather to ponder how the long days of trouble will continue. Verse 12 petitions God for an answer so that those who pray can gain wisdom and insight for living through the winters of life.
The psalmist now shows us the way forward (vv. 13–17). What is the basis for optimism and hope for the future? It is the Lord. The psalmist believes in an abundant future that will make the days of sorrow a distant past. Observe the words used to describe God’s saving actions: pity/compassion (v. 13), steadfast love (v. 14), glorious power (v. 16), and favor (v. 17). When God brings renewal, his people will experience joy (v. 14), gladness (vv. 14–15), and prosperity (v. 17). As followers of Jesus who seek to share God’s good news with the world, we likewise anticipate a glorious future. This new day began when Jesus announced God’s kingdom (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14–15) and we look forward to its full manifestation in a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21). This psalm reminds us of this hope. It provides a prayer for when we find ourselves in days of darkness.
- Reflect on times when you felt despair in your faith. How did you find your way back?
- How does Psalm 90 challenge us to pray in times of unceasing hardship?
Are you interested in studying and living with the Psalms in a deeper way? In Part 3 of his OneBook Daily-Weekly journey through the Psalms, Dr. Brian Russell introduces readers to Books Four and Five of the Psalms (Psalms 90-150). Psalms 90-150 serve to rebuild faith and hope by reorienting God’s people with the themes of God’s kingship, steadfast love, and guidance through history. These psalms teach God’s people to worship, to live faithfully, and to prepare for His good future wherein all creation will join God’s people in praising the Lord for who He is and what He has done. By studying the Psalms, participants will be equipped and inspired to live out a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world as His witnesses. Get the study in our store here.