A Sermon on The 90th Psalm
Life is fleeting. The average life span of an American is 78.2 years (75.6 for men, 80.8 for women). That seems like a long time until we consider that the last veteran of World War One (1914-1918) died last year. World War 2 ended sixty-seven years ago. My high school class is holding its fortieth reunion this summer. 9-1-1 occurred more than a decade ago. When viewed in that light, an average life span of 80 years is not all that long. Yet, time keeps marching on. As each and every day goes by we struggle with our sins, we face suffering and calamity, we wonder what tomorrow holds (given the mysterious providence of God), and we worry about facing the wrath of God when we die. In Psalm 90, Moses speaks to this struggle of daily life as he exhorts us to number our days and to live this life in light of eternity.
Throughout our study of the Psalter we have covered select Psalms associated with various authors (David, the sons of Korah, etc.) and Psalms with different content and purposes (royal Psalms, wisdom Psalms, Psalms used in worship in the Jerusalem temple, and so on). As we have done throughout our series, we will look first at the historical background to the composition of Psalm 90, then we will work our way though the text of the Psalm, before we look at the application of this Psalm to the Christian life. We’ve also sung each of the Psalms we have covered during this series–something the Reformed and Presbyterian churches are well-known for doing, since Reformed Christians consider the Psalter to be the primary hymn book of Christ’s church.
We will now take up Psalm 90, the only Psalm written by Moses, which likely makes Psalm 90 the oldest Psalm in the Psalter. As for the historical background to this Psalm, recall that Moses lived about 1500 BC, and David about 1000 BC., so the origin of this Psalm goes back to that time described in the closing chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy when the people of Israel arrived on the plains of Moab, just across the Jordan River from the promised land of Canaan before they crossed the Jordan and conquered Jericho. This puts the composition of Psalm 90 about 500 years before the temple was built in Jerusalem, and well before Israel’s kingdom extended all the way from Damascus to Egypt (under David and Solomon). This is why Psalm 90 has such a different feel than the other Psalms.
Psalm 90 is the first Psalm in Book Four of the Psalter (i.e., Psalms 90-106). Most of the Psalms in Book Four are anonymous (the so-called “orphan Psalms”), except Psalm 90 which was written by Moses, and several Psalms which are attributed to David. The Psalms in Book Four tend to deal with difficult questions about human frailty and the meaning of life, the nature of justice and God’s faithfulness, and the difficult question of why it is that God does not immediately punish the wicked. These difficult questions about life in a fallen world were raised in Psalm 89 (which closes out Book Three of the Psalter, and which is a Psalm of lament because of Israel’s sin). These questions are addressed, in part, throughout the various Psalms found in Book Four.
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