Perhaps only Isaiah 40 can compare with this psalm in presenting God's grandeur and eternity in contrast to our frailty and mortality. Moses' point, however, is that God's eternity is the answer to our problem with time.
One might think that we hardly need to be reminded of this. But when the misconception that we are already immortal ("You shall not surely die") is combined with our innate and powerful proclivity toward abusing time, it is urgently necessary that God emphasize this on occasion.
God often underscores the brevity of our lives. Job laments: "Now my days are swifter than a runner; they flee away, they see no good. They pass by like swift ships, like an eagle swooping on its prey" (Job 9:25-26). In Psalm 39:4-5, David prays:
LORD, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, you have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah.
And finally Asaph writes, "For He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes away and does not come again" (Psalm 78:39).
The rapid passage of time is something we need to be serious about. We cannot live as though there is no day of reckoning because judgment is now upon the household of God (I Peter 4:17).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Simplify Your Life!
Psalm 90 gives us probably the best biblical perspective of time. This psalm, the only one attributed to Moses, compares how man and God view time and life. His conclusion, of course, is that man and God look at time from entirely different perspectives. It is this difference in point of view that makes a huge difference in how we conduct our lives.
Moses begins by asserting that God is everlasting and almighty (verses 1-2). He can destroy men's lives, and a thousand years later, He resurrects them to life with a word (verses 3-4)! Thousands of years can pass, and God can still bring people back from the dead! Man has no power over death, but God can, has, and will overcome time and death by the power of the resurrection. To God, these thousands of years pass swiftly "like yesterday . . . like a watch in the night."
This is far different from man's point of view. "The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away" (verse 10). Ethan, the psalmist of Psalm 89:47-48, echoes this in his plea to God:
Remember how short my time is; for what futility have You created all the children of men? What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave? Selah.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Time and Life
Psalm 90 is a classic example of a biblical psalm. Immediately, it is obvious that it is essentially a prayer, for the first word, "LORD," addresses God directly. The first two verses praise God for always being Israel's refuge and dwelling, as well as for being the ever-living Creator God. The next several verses extol His sovereignty over mankind and compare Him to weak, sinful, and short-lived men. This section concludes in verse 12 with a principle in the form of a plea to God to "teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
The final section, verses 13-17, begins with "Return, O LORD! How long? And have compassion on Your servants." Again, this is a timeless appeal from a godly man for God to dwell again with His people, asking Him to remember that human life is short compared to God's everlasting life (see verses 4, 10), and if He removes Himself too long, it will be too late. It is very similar to David's personal request in Psalm 51: "Do not cast me away from Your presence. . . . Restore to me the joy of Your salvation" (verses 11-12).
Moses' appeal in Psalm 90:13 also has prophetic implications, especially when coupled with verse 12. Here we are, we believe, at the end of the age, awaiting Christ's return, but we really have no idea "how long" we have left. Thus, his advice to learn to use our brief lifetimes wisely has its most fitting application in us. To no other people in history has it been more vital to keep their priorities straight and their eyes on the goal. As the days count down toward Christ's return, our opportunities to strengthen our relationship with God diminish steadily.
The last four verses continue Moses' requests to God: for mercy, joy, fulfillment of His work, glory, the beauty of the LORD God (possibly a reference to holiness; see I Chronicles 16:29; II Chronicles 20:21; Psalm 29:2; 96:9), and stability. All of these are things we also need, especially as the times worsen and the temptations to forsake our calling increase. Moses' prayer, written more than 3,400 years ago, is still current and fresh for our frequent use today.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Moses, Psalmist (Part 1)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Psalms 90:2: