A Reflection on Psalm 90: a prayer of Moses, the Man of God
It's not too late to begin Praying The Psalms!
We’re only a few days into Praying the Psalms, so it’s not too late to join us! Each week, we’re slowly reading through one Psalm as a church. This relaxed pace will let you open your Bible, mark it up, and savor each word to the fullest.
I can still hear the pine needles crunching beneath our feet. We were hiking.
A week and a half into a drive from Seattle to LA, Ryan and I thought we should read, even try to memorize, a Psalm together. Early in our marriage, talking about the Bible was something we awkwardly fumbled our way through. Even now, after nine years together, nothing feels as vulnerable as praying together or allowing the other into space usually reserved for God.
We chose Psalm 90. Big mistake.
We were only several steps into the Psalm when both of us realized this one was going to be a downer. But neither of us are quitters, so we kept going.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
These words ground me in the permanence of God. Our Creator existed long before I was formed, and he will remain long after I die.
You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men. For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death, they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.
Moses wrote this. Moses! A man raised royal, who went toe-to-toe with Pharaoh and insisted he let God’s people go! Moses, who led the exodus of hundreds of thousands of slaves from Egypt and ushered them through parted waters on dry ground. Even he had no illusion of his omnipotence. In the end, he too would return to dust.
He goes on,
…You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence…
This Psalm has returned to me in recent days, as we’ve watched giants fall. Monuments of men have been toppled for the sin of enslaving others. These were people whose accomplishments we enshrined in bronze, after whom we named schools and streets and cities. I’m still wrestling with whether this is the way to rewrite history to ensure a more just future, but it’s made me wonder: what if my sin made headline news? Would I be canceled too?
Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
(I told you this one’s a downer.)
I’m uncomfortable thinking about the wrath of God. I prefer an image of Jesus flocked by sinners and sheep in which he pats each one on the head with a gentle smile of assurance that we are loved just the way we are. But that’s not the picture painted by Scripture.
Love anything and you’ll be angry.
In “The Healing of Anger,” Tim Keller says, “Anger in its pure form is love in motion towards a threat to someone or something you care about deeply.” I see this play out in my three-year-old almost daily. When her little brother topples a toy she had carefully placed in one of her little worlds, she is angry — there is no wrath like that of a toddler.
When something we love is threatened or hurt, we are mad and demand it be made right! And if my toddler is mad about her toy, can you imagine how God feels when we dehumanize, slander, or forget other people he has handmade in his image?
The Psalm shifts at verse 12:
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days…
…May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.
(The Hebrew word for “favor” also translates “beauty.” Let the beauty of the Lord our God rest upon us.)
Here’s how we might pray these final verses:
Lord, let me be wise.
Show mercy to me.
Let your love fill my deepest desires, so I no longer chase after things that will vanish.
Let my life matter beyond this moment.
The thing about memorizing Scripture, or at least meditating on it, is that it stays with you.
Ryan and I read this Psalm nine years ago and still, a line or two will return to mind in a right moment. That’s our hope for you as we sit in one Psalm a week for the next six weeks. By going slower and deeper, may these words stir you toward Jesus in a new and honest way.