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Psalm 90

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I am the oldest of three brothers. My brother Jeremy was born when I was four, and my brother Jared when I was almost ten. I loved them both even when I was a child, but because Jeremy and I were closer in age, he annoyed me more than Jared (because he was tiny and adorable and I wanted to protect him).
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I actually started listening, and I tried to play the game for a while, if for no other reason than to please my parents. But at the same time as I was trying to do what a “good Christian” did and act like “good Christians” acted, I was discovering the world around me.
I had my church friends, and I had my high school friends, most of whom were unbelievers. And quickly I discovered that my high school friends had a lot more fun than my church friends. They lived in nice homes (my dad’s pastor salary wasn’t much, so our homes were always small and run-down), they drove nice cars (I didn’t own a new car until I was nearly thirty), and they just seemed a lot freer.
They didn’t have to worry about keeping rules or what would happen if you said a swear word just before you got into a car accident, and didn’t have time to ask God for forgiveness. (In response to that question, one of my Sunday School teachers answered simply, “We can’t be sure.”)
In short, on the one hand I saw my church community, filled with people who were obsessed with a certain standard of living, and seemed to be living in constant fear of not being able to keep up to that standard; and on the other hand I saw the rest of the world, filled with people who seemed to enjoy their lives far more than we did.
I was, in a word, disillusioned with the idea that this life could actually be good.
That disillusionment is at the heart of today’s text.
I distinctly remember a period in my life when I realized that I was stronger than Jeremy, and that I could do things to him, and he couldn’t stop me. We had an apricot tree in our backyard and they were always falling to the ground and rotting there. So I once tied him to our swingset and threw rotten apricots at him. Another time I set myself the challenge of seeing how many times I could make him cry in a single day. It wasn’t constant—I did love my brother—but I loved feeling like I was bigger than I really was.
Ever since the beginning of our church, we’ve spent the summer in the book of Psalms. The book of Psalms is the songbook for the people of Israel—a collection of poems, written in Hebrew, and meant to be sung by the people in the context of corporate worship. It’s comprised of five different sub-books.
Even if not everyone is as mean as I was, we all know what this is like—this desire to feel strong, and big, and capable; the desire to be limitless.
Over the last few years, we’ve been doing a selection of psalms from each of the different books of the psalter; and this year, we’ve arrived at Book 4, which cover psalms 73 to
This is why smartphones are so successful. We want to be omniscient, so we make machines that put all the world’s information at our fingertips. We want to be omnipresent, so we make machines that mimic omnipresence—I can not only hear my brother’s voice, but see his face in real time, across an ocean, at the touch of a button.
This is why the idea of cryotechnologies—which could supposedly freeze the brain of a sick man and, after some further technological advancements, transplant it into a healthy body—is appealing to many people (and why shows like Altered Carbon are so enthralling to many.)
From the beginning of our existence, human beings want to be bigger than they are.
But does not allow us the luxury of this delusion.
Every year we spend the months of July and August in the book of Psalms.
Our goal in this series is always the same: to see how even those psalms which were written long before the coming of Christ actually show
The book of Psalms is a songbook, used by the people of Israel for millenia, and it is structured into five separate books. For the last few years we’ve been going through a selection from different books of the psalter; this year, we’ve arrived at Book Four, which covers to .
So for our first summer psalm, we’ll begin at . It’s a sobering psalm, written by Moses, a man of God (as his mini-bio above the first verse says). And the fact that he is a “man of God” should help us trust what he says a little more. God doesn’t content himself with telling us what we want to hear; he loves us enough to tell us the truth. And in his hands, that truth is always our good, no matter how unsettling it seems at first.

The Eternity of God (v. 1-6)

Last week, Loanne sent me a time-lapse animation of the way scientists predict our universe will continue to evolve until its end, given what they know about gravity and the lifespans of stars and a bunch of other things I don’t understand.
Truly God is good to Israel,
So already our minds are in the right place. This is not a psalm written out of depression or disillusionment. It is a psalm written by a man who intimately knows the mind of God.
And that’s important because what he’s going to say runs so counter to natural human thinking (especially in our modern era). Our first impulse upon reading this psalm is to find it abhorrent—for here we are confronted with truths about ourselves we’d rather not accept.
But Moses,
It’s the kind of thing I usually love; but as I continued to watch what will (theoretically) happen to the universe over the next million, billion, trillion years, I became more and more unsettled. All life on earth ended pretty quickly, within the first three or four minutes of the thirty-minute video. And everything that happened after that, happened in the lifeless expanse of space, devoid of all possibility of life.
It was the most effective horror movie I’ve seen in a long time.
This is how Moses sets up his psalm, only in reverse.
to those who are pure in heart.
I’m going to put a video on the screen behind me.
Key to the psalm
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
in all generations.
my steps had nearly slipped.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
For I was envious of the arrogant
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away [the years] as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
So in verse 1, Moses begins with an affirmation—a necessary affirmation, given where he’s going. He says that the Lord is the dwelling place of his people—not a refuge, which is temporary, but the dwelling place: the place where his people live.
Brutal honesty
And the reason why he can be a dwelling place for his people is because he is eternal.
Thinking about eternity boggles the mind, especially when you think of it in reverse. Not just the fact that God will always be, but that he always has been—with no beginning, and no end.
And it is precisely for that reason that God can be a dwelling place for his people. He is big enough to contain all that time could possibly produce, because he created all of it.
This is a comforting thought when seen in that light…but that’s not the only way to see it. And that’s not the only way we should see it.
Last week, Loanne sent me a link to a time-lapse animation of the way scientists predict our universe will end (playing on the screen behind me). It showed the continual evolution of our known galaxy, and then the known universe, until what they predict will be its end.
It’s the kind of thing I usually love; but as I continued to watch what will (theoretically) happen to the universe over the next million, billion, trillion years, I became more and more unsettled. All life on earth ended pretty quickly, within the first three or four minutes of the thirty-minute video. And everything that happened after that, happened in the lifeless expanse of space, devoid of all possibility of life.
And it was long.
Just when you thought it was going to stop, it kept going. It started at the present, jumping forward one year every second, and then doubled its speed every five seconds; by the end of the first minute, it was at 25,000 years into the future. At three minutes, it was at the destruction of the earth by the death of our sun, 7 billion years into the future.
The video was thirty minutes long.
It showed the end of stars and galaxies, the creation and collision of black holes, and many more things I couldn’t begin to articulate.
It’s the kind of thing I usually love; but as I continued to watch what will (theoretically) happen to the universe over the next twenty gazillion years, I became more and more unsettled. Everything up to the end of life on earth was fine; but seeing twenty-seven more minutes of cosmic events still unfolding, with no life around to witness it, was suffocating.
All life on earth ended pretty quickly, within the first three or four minutes of the thirty-minute video. And everything that happened after that, happened in the lifeless expanse of space, devoid of all possibility of life.
It was the most effective horror movie I’ve seen in a while.
And it wasn’t even talking about eternity—just a really, really long time.
It was the most effective horror movie I’ve seen in a long time.
This is how Moses sets up his psalm, only in reverse. He sets up God’s eternality, and then turns and points the lens on us.
And it is precisely for that reason that God can be a dwelling place for his people. He is big enough to contain all that time could possibly offer, because he created all of it.
He compares human beings to God by speaking about time—the eternal God, compared to whom human beings are laughably temporary. It is the perfect illustration of the existential distance between us and God.
So Moses is going to mix images here to get his point across. God’s eternity isn’t the only marker of his distance from us.
This is how Moses sets up his psalm, only in reverse. Thinking about eternity boggles the mind, especially when you think of it in reverse. Not just the fact that God will always be, but that he always has been—with no beginning, and no end.
It is for this reason
And it is precisely for that reason that God can be a dwelling place for his people. He is big enough to contain all that time could possibly offer, because he created all of it.
This comparison of God to humanity, the eternal and the temporal, is the perfect illustration of the fundamental distance that exists between us and God. And while it is reassuring when you begin the way Moses begins, it is downright frightening when you
The human mind cannot imagine anything outside of time, and we cannot conceive of
It is for this reason
But Moses says that God is a dwelling place for his people for precisely that reason.
You return man to dust
For they have no pangs until death;
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
their bodies are fat and sleek.
For a thousand years in your sight
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
The video Loanne sent me—terrifying.
violence covers them as a garment.
Kidner: It puts our world into its context, which is God, and our time-span into its huge setting of eternity.
You sweep them away [the years] as with a flood; they are like a dream,
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
their hearts overflow with follies.
in the evening it fades and withers.
They scoff and speak with malice;

The Temporality of Man (v. 7-10)

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
loftily they threaten oppression.
by your wrath we are dismayed.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
Now he’s going to come back to this question of wrath for a minute, but just for a moment, consider why Moses brings in this question of sin and the wrath of God, when he’s talking about time. What does God’s wrath against sin have to do with how horribly fleeting our lives are?
No resources with which to defend ourselves...
You have set our iniquities before you,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
Well, if we remember the story of creation, death entered the world because of sin. In , after man rebelled against God because he wanted to take God’s place, God pronounced judgment on humanity. The last thing God says in his judgment against the man and the woman (in ) is this:
19  By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
10  Therefore his people turn back to them,
But that’s because we are created beings. When man sinned against God—when man wanted to take God’s place and so disobeyed his command—God took the temporary state of man and increased that temporality.
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
It is because of our sin, and God’s wrath against that sin, that man’s life has an expiration date.
So in Moses’s mind, the shortness of our life is inextricably linked to our sin.
He says (v. 9):
No excuse for our defense—he sees EVERYTHING. (Even those sins we hide from ourselves.)
and find no fault in them.
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
11  And they say, “How can God know?
10  The years of our life are seventy,
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Why he is envious of the wicked
12  Behold, these are the wicked;
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13  All in vain have I kept my heart clean
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Kidner: “The decline and fall of the previous verse are painfully predictable and scarcely worth postponing.”
(Puts technologies like cryofreezing your brain to be replaced into a modified human body in its perspective. Not that it’s wrong, but that even if you managed it…so what? Compared to God, we are still as fleeting as a puff of air.)
11  Who considers the power of your anger,
and washed my hands in innocence.
14  For all the day long I have been stricken
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
No excuse for our defense—he sees EVERYTHING. (Even those sins we hide from ourselves.) cf. v. 8
12  So teach us to number our days
and rebuked every morning.
Disillusionment
15  If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Kidner: “In spite of all these signs of God’s displeasure, the message never registers until God brings it home to us.”
Man almost never realizes the gargantuan stakes of his life, because he lives for today—he prides himself on living for the moment.
The facts: our deaths are close, and are the result of God’s wrath against our sin.
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
13  Return, O Lord! How long?
Disillusionment
16  But when I thought how to understand this,
Have pity on your servants!
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
14  Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
17  until I went into the sanctuary of God;
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
then I discerned their end.
What changed his mind
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
18  Truly you set them in slippery places;
Prayer for a reversal of what has gone before.
16  Let your work be shown to your servants,
you make them fall to ruin.
and your glorious power to their children.
19  How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
17  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
20  Like a dream when one awakes,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
Clear sight of God gives true sight of holiness and judgment
“The crowning contrast is between what was seen as perishable in v. 3-12 and the abiding glory of what God does.” Finally, we have the possibility of not laboring in vain, but working for something which will have a lasting impact (on our children, and our children’s children).
21  When my soul was embittered,
Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
“Not only God’s work…will endure, but, with his blessing, the work of our hands as well. It has been well worth facing the unwelcome facts of time, wrath and death, to have been moved to such a prayer and such assurance.”
when I was pricked in heart,
22  I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
23  Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24  You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Confession and its assurance
25  Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26  My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
All-consuming desire (which he knows, now that he sees rightly)
27  For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28  But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Judgment and assurance, for his glory
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