Book IV—Psalms 90–106[a]
Prayer To Use Time Wisely
1 A prayer of Moses, the man of God.[c]
Lord, you have been our refuge
from generation to generation.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth
or the earth and the world came into existence,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn men back to dust,
saying, “Return,[d] you children of men.”
4 For to you a thousand years
are like a yesterday that has passed
or one of the watches of the night.[e]
5 You snatch them away like a dream;
they are like the grass of the field,[f]
6 which at dawn flourishes and is green
but by nightfall is withered and dry.
7 [g]We have been brought low by your anger
and overwhelmed with terror by your wrath.
8 You have not forgotten our iniquities;
our secret sins are clearly visible in your sight.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
our years are consumed like a sigh.
10 The span of our life numbers seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we have enough strength.
Most of them are marked by toil and emptiness;[h]
they pass swiftly, and then we fly away.
11 [i]Who understands the might of your anger
and rightly fears the power of your wrath?
12 Teach us to comprehend how few our days are
so that our hearts may be filled with wisdom.
13 Return,[j] O Lord. How long must we wait?
Show compassion to your servants.
14 Fill us with your kindness in the morning[k]
so that we may exult and be glad all our days.
15 Grant us joy for as many days as you have afflicted us
and for as many years as we have known misfortune.
16 Manifest your works to your servants
and your glory to their children.
17 May the favor[l] of the Lord, our God, rest upon us.
And may the work of our hands prosper—
indeed, may the work of our hands prosper.
- Psalm 90:1 Joined to a series of very diverse psalms, many of which lack superscription or indication of origin, is a well-defined group: the psalms of the kingdom of God (Pss 93; 96–99). In this part of the Psalter, praise comes to the fore. The psalmists acclaim the Creator who brought the world into being as well as the Lord who intervenes in history. They await the God who comes to make all things new.
- Psalm 90:1 The psalmist (who is well versed in the Scriptures) herein depicts the dismal human condition as contrasted with the majesty and eternity of God. The Lord alone remains. Man passes away, a derisory creature undermined by sin; even if his life is lengthy, it remains precarious. The ancient account of the fall and the malediction of Adam (see Gen 3:19) illustrates the origin of our human condition: the ancients accept it with some distress and resignation (see the Book of Ecclesiastes). Man’s days are numbered, and it is wisdom to reflect on this fact.
However, such lucidity does not exclude the joy that comes when God’s presence illumines the days that he accords to each one and the times that he prepares for his people. This meditation of wisdom becomes a prayer of conversion.
Praying with the expressive formulas of the psalmist will teach us to contemplate the eternity of God and aid us to be detached from the present life, sin, and death, which can prevent us from entering into eternal life.
- Psalm 90:1 Man of God: a phrase usually applied to prophets (see 1 Sam 2:27), including Moses (see Deut 33:1; Jos 14:6).
- Psalm 90:3 Return: by a word of the Lord, human beings return to the dust from which they were made (see Gen 2:7; 3:19).
- Psalm 90:4 A thousand years are for God like one day or, even less, like a fraction of one night—like one of the three watches into which the night was divided (see Jdg 7:19). This verse is cited in 2 Pet 3:8.
- Psalm 90:5 The life of people is like that of the new grass that appears at dawn and disappears by nightfall under the burning rays of the sun (see Pss 103:16f; 129:6; Job 14:1f; Isa 40:6f). They have no longevity.
- Psalm 90:7 Short though it is, human life is filled with trouble because of sin and God’s righteous wrath.
- Psalm 90:10 Most of them are marked by toil and emptiness: an alternative translation is: “Yet their span is but emptiness and sorrow” (see Gen 6:3; Job 20:8; Prov 10:27; Eccl 12:1ff; Sir 18:8f).
- Psalm 90:11 The psalmist prays that God may teach his people to appreciate the number of years given them and to use them in doing God’s will. He asks that they may acquire a correct view of life so as not to challenge God’s wrath but rather work out their salvation throughout their life. All this is given us in wisdom, which discerns the true values and gives the righteous a realistic attitude in accord with the divine will and adapted to circumstances (see Deut 4:6; 32:29). Hearts: see note on Ps 4:8.
- Psalm 90:13 The psalmist now extends to Israel the meditation and prayer that concerned all humanity. Return: i.e., “relent.” How long . . . ?: see note on Ps 6:4.
- Psalm 90:14 The psalmist prays that in the morning (the typical time for deliverance and salvation: see note on Ps 49:15) God’s love will put an end to the long night of their trial. The fulfillment of this prayer is found in the resurrection (see Rom 5:2-5; 8:18; 2 Cor 4:16-18). Kindness: see note on Ps 6:5.
- Psalm 90:17 Favor: another translation is “beauty,” which constitutes the Lord’s “goodness” (see Ps 27:4 and note). Thus, the psalmist asks for God’s loving help to his people, so that their work may be effective and enduring, even though the workers are apt to disappear quickly. Indeed, may the work of our hands prosper: this second occurrence of these words may be an accidental repetition.