Introduction: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the biggest maze in the world is at the Dole Pineapple Plantation on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Stretching over three acres and crafted from 14,000 colorful Hawaiian plants, you can wander around for miles trying to find your way out. Seen from ground level, this maze is confusing; but seen from above, the maze is amazing. It makes perfect sense, displays elegant symmetry, and in the very middle of it there is a huge image of — what else? — a pineapple. That’s the point of Psalm 90: A maze seen from above is amazing. When we feel lost in life, it helps to remember that seen from above our maze is amazing. God has planned and designed our pathways, incorporating into them those events that may presently confuse us. But at the very center of it all is the image of His Son. Perspective is everything. When we see our problems from God’s elevation, they seem smaller and make more sense. If we look at them simply at ground level they are insurmountable. But when we look at them from a higher plane we get a better view. Psalm 90 gives us such a perspective.
Background: According to the superscription, Moses wrote Psalm 90, probably while the Israelites wandered around in the desert. We know Moses did write hymns. Exodus 15 is the first recorded hymn in the Bible, composed by Moses after Israel had passed through the Red Sea. Deuteronomy 32 is a song of Moses, and Deuteronomy 33 is his song of blessing. If Moses did write Psalm 90, it would make it the oldest and earliest of the 150 chapters (divisions) in Psalms. Notice how Moses is described here as a “man of God.” It’s possible for you or me to be called a man or a woman of God. That is a biblical term, and it’s available for is as committed believers. Psalm 90 has three divisions.
1. God is Ageless (v. 1-2) – Notice all the “time” terms in Psalm 90. This is all about the agelessness of God from the perspective of time.
- v. 2: God is from everlasting to everlasting
- v. 4: Years… yesterday… night…
- v. 5: Morning
- v. 6: Morning… evening…
- v. 8: Days… years…
- v. 10: Years…
- v. 12: Days
- v. 14: Morning… days
- v. 15: Days… years…
Our Lord is like an over-spanning arch with no beginning or end. Beneath that arch are the days of our lives, a thin little slice of reality called time. We talk about morning and evening, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, days and years. But God dwells in eternity. He is ageless, but we are transient.
2. God is Angry (v. 3-11) – The reason we are transient is that God is not only ageless, He is angry. The words “wrath” and “anger” occur five times in this paragraph. When we say that God is angry, we don’t mean that He’s having a temper tantrum. We’re talking about forensic wrath. The word “forensic” is related to the word “forum.” It has to do with a public court of law. The wrath of God is judicial. It is His objective response to objective evil. The holiness of God repels sinfulness the way light repels darkness. Try this experiment: Go into a totally dark room and turn on the lights. The light repels the darkness. It pushes it out of the way. You can say that the light is angry with the darkness since it’s incompatible with it, cannot stand it, cannot tolerate it. Darkness cannot dwell in the presence of light. The light overpowers it. God is ageless and He is holy. Since we are sinful, we are repelled from His presence as darkness is repelled from light. That explains why death entered the picture and why we live three-score-and-ten years though God is eternal in the heavens.
3. God is Approachable (v. 12-17) – In light of God’s agelessness and anger, there are some prayer requests we should make to God, who, in His grace, invites us to approach Him. The last paragraph speaks of God’s grace. The Gospel is here in latent form. We are invited to approach the Ancient of Days with our needs. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can approach the throne of grace and offer prayers that He will hear and answer. Moses suggests six requests we can offer to God, one each in verses 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. Every verse is a separate prayer.
- V. 12: Teach us to number our days. I recently read the biography of a man named Herbert Taylor who was a very successful businessman in Chicago. After serving in the military during World War I, he took a job as a representative of the Sinclair Oil Company, then became vice president of Jewel Tea, and ended up being CEO of a huge company called Club Aluminum that made waterless cookware. His money and expertise were behind many Christian organizations including Youth for Christ, InterVarsity, and the Urbana Student Missionary Conference. In his memoirs he revealed on the secrets of his success. As a young man, he went on to Northwestern University in Chicago and managed himself with discipline and maturity. “I carried a notebook and scheduled every hour of every day for a week in advance,” he said. “The schedule allowed an average of about six hour sleep a night, but I stuck to it.”[i] Throughout his life, Taylor carefully planned his days and weeks. He kept a schedule. He knew how to relax and how to rest when appropriate, but he never wasted time. Here’s what he said in his book: “To get the most from a twenty-four hour day… it is necessary to regulate habits. A good way to do so is to make up a complete time budget for the day… the next step is to translate the budget into a weekly time budget—as many college and high school students do. A good budget is made up of the proper time allotments for sleep, recreation, study, and—most important of all—quiet moments alone with the Bible.” He went on to say, “If I were to give a gift to everyone reading these words, I could choose from a number of things. I could offer you a good job. I could offer you money. I could offer you an important position, which would give you prestige. I could lead you into all sorts of opportunities and help you meet all sorts of influential people. But these are not the gifts I would offer. These are temporary and passing… No, the gift I would offer if I were able would be time…. I would give you a gift of time, and I would say: ‘Here is your time. Spend it and lost it. Or invest it and you’ll live off the dividends forever.’ Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your lot in life, poor or rich, regardless of race, color, creed or ethnic background—time is in your hands to use as you will. What you will be depends on how you use it.” Then Taylor quoted from the Phillips translation of Ephesians 5: “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as (people) who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.”[ii]
- V. 13: Return, O Lord. This verse gives us a clue as to the background of the Psalm. Evidentially the Israelites had done something that had driven away a sense of the Lord’s presence among them. Perhaps this is when they listened to the ten discouraging spies and refused to enter the promised land. Moses was asking the Lord to come back, to restore them, to send them revival.
- V. 14: Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. There are two applications for this. We have to literally get the morning started off right. The way we begin our morning routine sets the tone for the day. But there is a lifespan application for this as well. When we can be satisfied in the morning of life with God’s love, it enables us to rejoice all our days. My daughter just gave birth to a little boy, and I told her the other day to make sure she reads a verse from the Bible and prays with that child even in the crib. Even in infancy, children can soak up the atmospherics of the faith.
- V. 15: Make us glad…. Moses again refers to the incident that had precipitated this Psalm. We’ve had some sad days, Lord, but may there be gladness and joy ahead of us. That’s a biblical prayer to pray as we emerge out of any kind of trauma or grief. If you feel discouraged or defeated or depressed, here is a biblical prayer for you: Lord, make me glad!
- V. 16: Let your work be shown to Your servants and your glorious power to their children. Let my children and grandchild (and me) see and experience Your great work and Your great power.
- V 17: Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands… This is a prayer I offer virtually every day. I have this verse in my prayer notebook. Lord, establish the work of my hands… of our hands. If we’re simply doing the Lord’s work in our own strength, it’ll have no lasting or enduring value. But when God establishes a work, it continues to bear fruit until Christ comes again. It may not appear to be large or important, but if God establishes it, it’ll produce results we’ll never know about.
Conclusion: This week I was staying with friends at their home in the Rockies at an elevation of 9300 feet. They asked me if I was breathing all right during walks and if I was sleeping all right and if I awoke with headaches (I didn’t). The lady of the house told me that she couldn’t bake anything at that elevation. She has high altitude cookbooks, but their altitude is so high that even the high altitude recipes don’t work. Her husband took me in his ATV up into the highest accessible regions of the Rockies, over 13,000 feet above sea level. As I looked at all that beauty, I thought of Psalm 90: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” We need some high altitude living. We need a higher perspective. It makes sense of life.
I want to live above the world
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
Though some may dwell where these abound,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
[i] Paul H. Heidebrecht, God’s Man in the Marketplace: The Story of Herbert J. Taylor (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990), 25.
[ii] Herbert J. Taylor, The Herbert J. Taylor Story (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1968), 97-98.