Asking God to repent: Psalm 90

The 4th book of Psalms

In 2019, after having read through the bible twice in 30 months I decided that 2020 was to have its focus in worship. Then in March that year churches were closed. I have learned mote about worship in this last year than I have in many years when churches were open.

Piano keys upon which is laid sheet music in the key of E flat, printed on pink paper.
Photo by Pixabay on

The 4th book of Psalms, those 17 religious songs between psalms 90 and 106, have a theme, God is above us.
The layout is like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

Book 4 answers the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
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 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.
For we are brought to an end by your anger;
    by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90 ESV UK

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God, goes the title, this is the only song in the Psalter attributed to Moses. It is a song of praise only done in the style of wisdom literature and is philosophical in nature reflecting the words of Ecclesiastes 2:17, All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

This set of songs is thought to have been compiled around the time of the building of the second temple in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah and reflects the time in exile as well as the restoration of the kingdom. The compilation is therefore later by 200 to 300 years than the first three books, yet this psalm, attributed to Moses, predates David by about the same amount. Moses would have had a similar outlook to the returning exiles: Born in exile and spending years leading the people through a desert not seeing the land God had promised. If the attribution is correct, this psalm fits in with the other psalms in this section.

The first two verses are important as these are the contest of the psalm: God is our protector and our creator. If we don’t take that into account the main body of this song of joy can sound depressing. Verses 3 to 12 focus what human beings are like compared to God. Our lifespan is negligible compared to the eternity of God that all our work counts for nothing and our actions fall so far below the standards of God, that God would be justified in wiping us out. We really need to hold in mind that God is our protector and our sustainer when we contemplate these words, would the one who protects us really want to wipe us out?

Ask the same question when reading of Moses arguing with God in the Exodus when God threatened to wipe out the Israelites for their disobedience. Moses could take the high ground when arguing with God because he knew God. He knew that wiping out the people was not in God’s nature and that forgiveness was God’s nature. He was asking God to be himself. The people. who despite being the people of God did not know God intimately, believed that God was vindictive, God’s threat was saying, “This is what a vindictive God would do.” Moses confronted God and said. “You’re not like this.” The result is that God repented of the evil that he would do. God repented!

God is not vindictive, neither is God absent. Moses knew this in the desert and God repented, turned from what he said he would do, which is what repentance means in the bible. Now we come to the pivot verse in this song, verse 13 says, “Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!” The Hebrew word translated here return and elsewhere translated turn is the same word used by the prophets when asking the people to repent. When we sing or pray this psalm we are asking God to repent. WE do this in the sure knowledge that God will repent, because it is in God’s nature to repent.

The end of the psalm is a number of peas to God. Satisfy us, make us glad. God let your work be shown, your power be seen and your favour be upon us and our work will have significance and our lives will gave meaning.

We find our significance as humans in God when we allow God to be who God is.

<Psalm 89 | Psalm 90 | Psalm 91>

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