A psalm of deep solemnity and pathos, beginning with a past eternity, and moving on to an eternal future, while it gathers into its bosom men with their sins and brief fading lives,and supplicates for them God’s forgiveness and tender mercy.
Psalm 90 appears to be the oldest of the Psalms, and stands between two books of the Psalms as a composition “unique in its grandeur, and alone in its sublime antiquity.”
‘So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.’ Thomas Fuller tells in his own quaint way, that Bishop Rudd was requested to preach before Queen Elizabeth by the Archbishop of Canterbury, because he was a special favorite with the Queen, and was, indeed, designed as the Archbishop’s successor when he died. The Archbishop said, at the same time, ‘The truth is, the Queen now is grown weary of the vanities of wit and eloquence, wherewith her youth was formerly affected; and plain sermons which come home to her heart please her best.’ Encouraged by this guidance, honest Bishop Rudd chose for his text Ps. 90 ver. 12, and touched on the infirmities of age, with a personal application to the Queen. But Her Majesty, to whom hearing about death was most ungrateful, was highly displeased, and Bishop Rudd lost both the reversion of the archbishopric and Her Majesty’s favor. ‘But he justly retained,’ says Fuller, ‘the repute of a reverend and godly prelate, and carried the same to the grave.’
Dr. Stoughton, describing the funeral of John Hampden, says: His remains were conveyed to the churchyard of Great Hampden, close beside the old family mansion, where the patriot had spent so much of his life in the studies and sports of a country gentleman. Through lanes under the beech-covered chalk hills of the Chilterns, a detachment of his favorite troops, bareheaded, carried him to his last resting-place, “their arms reversed, their drums and ensigns muffled, –mournfully chanting as they slowly marched along the dirge from the Book of Psalms: Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. Thou turnest man to destruction. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.’ When the funeral was over, the soldiers, retiring from the village church to their quarters, made the green woods and the white hills, that summer day, resound to the beautiful prayer, so appropriate to their circumstances, Psalms 43: 1, “Judge me, 0 God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: Oh deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man. For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? Oh send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me.’
John Hampden met his death in June 1643, in the beginning of the great English civil war. (Remember Jenny Geddes who helped precipitated this civil war in 1637 in Scotland when she threw her stool at the preacher for reading from a prayer-book?) He died in prayer, with the words,
‘Oh Lord God of hosts! Great is thy mercy; just and holy are thy dealings unto us sinful men. O Lord, save my bleeding country. Have these realms in thy special keeping. Lord Jesus, receive my soul! O Lord, save my country; 0h Lord, be merciful to…’ –His speech failed, and falling backwards he expired.
Perhaps this psalm was never read amid circumstances that brought it nearer to the history where it was composed, in the desert and under the shadow of Sinai, than in one striking instance. In the year 1865 a dreadful accident occurred in Switzerland, upon the Matterhorn, a mountain which till then had defied all attempts to ascend it. Its summit was gained, but in coming down, three of the party, Lord E. Douglas, Mr. Hadow, Rev. Charles Hudson, along with Michael Croz, a guide, lost their footing on the ice, and were swept over a tremendous precipice 4000 feet high. The body of Lord F. Douglas was never recovered; the other three were found, lifeless and almost formless, on the glacier at the base. The Rev. J. M’Cormick, Mr. Hudson’s intimate friend, describes the purity and spirituality of his character, and the feeling of reverence and prayerfulness with which he contemplated the works of God in these awful solitudes. ‘Whether,’ he says, ‘the enterprise which ended in his death be looked on as wise or foolish, I am persuaded that his soul was filled with joy and gratitude as he stood where no human being had ever stood before, and gazed from a new point of view on the great Creator’s works.’ His Prayer-Book was found on his body, and it was suggested that there should be a short funeral service. ‘Poor Hudson’s Prayer-Book was produced for this purpose. I read out of it Ps. 90, so singularly appropriate to time and place, and repeated some prayers and a portion of the Burial Service. Imagine us standing with our bronze-faced guides, leaning on their axes or alpenstocks, around that singular grave, in the center of a snow-field, perhaps never before trodden by man, with that awful mountain frowning above us, under a cloudless sky,” in the very sight, as it were, of the Almighty,” and try to catch the sound of the words: “Lord, thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and world were made, thou art God from everlasting, and world without end.
Thou turnest man to destruction; again thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men.”
Admiral G.E. Belknap, of the U.S. Navy, who led to the capture of many of the Barrier forts in China in 1856, and who was engaged in many Civil War battles, wrote –
Among the many noteworthy and suggestive chapters in the Bible, no omitting the magnificent epic of Job, Psalm 90 is a great favorite with me. Its majestic phrasing and solid statements often sounds in my ears. It seems to declare and impress upon us the height and majesty, the omnipotence, the unchanging purposes and eternal grace of Almighty God more comprehensively and profoundly than any other chapter in Holy Writ. It also sets forth the solemn fact of man’s brief life and evanescent work in a way that even a fool in his sublimest folly can understand and take home to himself the ever-living truth that from the earth he sprang and to the earth he must soon return, while God reigns from everlasting to everlasting and his testimonies are ever very sure.
There is a twofold Rabbinical tradition respecting the last two verses of this Prayer-Psalm of Moses the Man of God, namely, that they were the original prayer recited by Moses as a blessing on the work of making the Tabernacle and its ornaments, and that subsequently he employed the verses in the usual benediction for any newly undertaken task, whenever God’ glorious Majesty was to be consulted for an answer by the Urim and the Thummim.
Martin Luther reckoned that in the word beauty employed here that “there is something like the deluge of grace.” May such a deluge be ours as we seek to live under the influence of this mighty Prayer of Moses!
1599 Geneva Bible
A prayer of Moses, the man of God.
1 Lord, thou hast been our habitation from generation to generation.
2 Before the mountains were made, and before thou hadst formed the earth, and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting thou art our God.
3 Thou turnest man to destruction: again thou sayest, Return ye sons of Adam.
4 For a thousand years in thy sight are as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
5 Thou hast overflowed them, they are as a sleep, in the morning he groweth like the grass:
6 In the morning it flourisheth and groweth, but in the evening it is cut down and withereth.
7 For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.
8 Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, and our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
9 For all our days are past in thine anger: we have spent our years as a thought.
10 The time of our life is threescore years and ten, and if they be of strength, fourscore years: yet their strength is but labor and sorrow: for it is cut off quickly, and we flee away.
11 Who knoweth the power of thy wrath? for according to thy fear is thine anger.
12 Teach us so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
13 Return (O Lord, how long?) and be pacified toward thy servants.
14 Fill us with thy mercy in the morning: so shall we rejoice and be glad all our days?
15 Comfort us according to the days that thou hast afflicted us, and according to the years that we have seen evil.
16 Let thy work be seen toward thy servants, and thy glory upon their children.
17 And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and direct thou the work of our hands upon us, even direct the work of our hands.
Taken adapted from, Psalms: A Devotional Commentary, written by Herbert Lockyer, Sr.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography,” written by John Ker,