Posts Tagged 'Psalm 90'

God and Iniquity, Part 2

Last time, we defined “iniquity” as the worst of all sins. It’s a deliberate twisting and bending of God’s law and God’s will to suit you. It’s scheming to commit a sin. And the first thing we learned is that God has a habit of revealing your iniquity. In other words, you can’t hide any sin, least of all your iniquity, from God.

Here’s another shocking bit of information regarding your iniquity:

You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. (Psalm 90:8 | TNIV)

Think about that the next time you’re fiddling around with something or some behavior you know goes against the Lord’s will. Can you imagine how offensive it must be; having your iniquities sitting there, in front of God, not going away?

Background of the psalm

Psalm 90 is an honest psalm – a look at how temporary and transient man’s life is. It’s a hard look at living life under the wrath of God.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness…. (Romans 1:18 | TNIV)

All human beings are living under the wrath of God, which is to say that we are living on a sinful and sin-cursed planet, and we witness God’s displeasure with man’s sinful ways every minute of every day. Sickness, disease, war, hunger, poverty, death, are all the inevitable results of a world stuck on the wrong side of the Almighty. Psalm 90 was written from that perspective.

Most versions of the Bible add this subscription, which is not part of the inspired text:

A prayer of Moses, the man of God

Since these little titles in some of the psalms aren’t part of the original texts, they’re interesting to consider but may or may not be accurate. Psalm 90 may or may not have been written wholly or in part by “Moses the man of God,” but it’s similarity to Deuteronomy 33, which Moses did write, is obvious. Bible scholars who come down on the side of Moses’ authorship point to the overall antiquity of this psalm. It’s old. It’s an ancient piece of literature.

Regardless of who wrote it, Psalm 90 is a magnificent psalm. English philosopher and writer, Isaac Taylor, thought so highly of this psalm that he wrote:

It is perhaps the most sublime of human compositions, the deepest in feeling, the loftiest in theological conception, the most magnificent in its imagery.

The sovereignty of God, verses 1 – 6

The psalm begins in a way that, if you believe Moses wrote it, makes sense for a man who didn’t really have a place to live for half of his life.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. (Psalm 90:1 | TNIV)

Moses and Israel, after leaving the land of Egypt, wandered around the desert for 40 years. In all that time, as nomads, they kept moving – trudging across the trackless desert in search of a promise given generations ago. This psalm begins and ends with a declaration that God is “the Lord.” The Hebrew is Adonai, the Creator and Ruler of all there is. God had made the universe, and in Him God’s people find protection. He is constant. God can be depended upon to be “dwelling place” for all generations.

Not only is God the Creator and a dependable Source of protection, His love is eternal – without beginning and without end.

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2 | TNIV)

God the loving Father has made the planet man lives on. Just think about the care with which God made the perfect home for His masterpiece of creation; a person created in His very own image. When you stop and consider yourself and the world around you, you’ll come to the same conclusion the psalmist did: From all eternity, there is God. Wherever you look to the past, He is there, working in the history of man. He’s all around you today; He’s the “dwelling place” where you can find protection. And God is in the future. These first two verses give us powerful images of our God as the Creator, the Sustainer of our lives, the ultimate “Safe Place” for Christians, and the One who is dependable because He has been so from eternity past.

And then there’s this:

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:3 – 6 | TNIV)

Compared to the greatness of God, man is little more than dust. As great a creation man is, even as he bears the image of his Creator, he is weak and subject to the Eternal God. Man doesn’t like the implication of this group of verses, but the fact is, it is God and God alone who has power over His creation, not man. The thought that man thinks he can alter what God has created is beyond arrogance! If you’ve visited the many “ghost towns” that litter the coal fields, you’ll see what I mean. Nature reclaims the monuments of man. Man is transient and so are his works, as great as he thinks they may be.

In comparison to the eternity of God, man is like a blade of grass. It’s there one moment, gone the next. Even the famous Methuselah, a man who managed to live an astounding 969 years, just 31 shy of a thousand, is viewed by God as transient. Time means nothing to God, and yet time means everything to man. We never have enough of it, we run out of it, and it slips by faster and faster the older you get. Yet one more indication of how temporary man really is. Willem VanGemeren, who has written numerous books about the Old Testament, including a superb commentary on the psalms, made a powerful observation on this fact:

Each human being is a drop in the giant stream of time.

Dealing with God’s wrath

We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:7 – 10 | TNIV)

Here is it – living under God’s wrath. This sounds like a piece of poetry, yet it perfectly describes the life of all people living under and dealing with God’s wrath. All people, even Christians, are in the same predicament, though believers have a hope that non-believers don’t. We are all having to deal with God’s wrath even as we go about our daily lives. Doctor’s appointments, aches and pains, the funeral of a loved one, natural disasters, all these things and more are evidence that we are constantly facing the wrath of God.

Just look at how insightful the psalmist was. He knows that even our anxieties are evidence of God’s judgment! He uses the phrase, “terrified by your indignation,” but the context shows us that we are “terrified” of life and death and everything in between.

That gets us to verse 8, which is terrifying in its implications. Our “iniquities” and our “secret sins” are always in God’s view. No wonder man is terrified. He should be. God’s wrath is always His moral response to our disobedience. God’s isn’t normally in a bad mood. He’s not a grouchy, angry, miserable deity. God is love, but when man disobeys His law, then God has a moral right to impose His wrath. He made the rules, after all. Man may think he’s in charge, but Psalm 90 declares another truth. God is in charge. Many years later, the apostle Paul wrote about this:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18 – 23 | TNIV)

Paul wrote than man is without excuse, and knowing that our “iniquities” and “secret sins” are not only known by God but He has to keep looking at them, man is rightly terrified about dying and what is waiting for him. God sees man’s “iniquities,” his despicable acts of bad behavior, hidden from public view. And man’s “secret sins,” the things man thinks he’s “gotten away with,” are no secret to God. God is rightfully angry with His creation as man acts in ways completely contrary to how he KNOWS he should be acting.

And verse 10 is almost too painful to read. It states the obvious, but it’s still hard to read. Everybody knows that 70 or 80 years are all most of us will get. Maybe a few more or less. Maybe a few more if we eat food that even rabbits don’t like, avoid all the good food and all those wonderful glutens that make life worth while, and take up jogging, but in the end, that old Grim Reaper will get us. The psalmist wrote that in the end, after all our years, we will go out in a moan. That’s about it, isn’t it? We moan because we know, deep down in our heart of hearts, it’s because of sin that we come to an end.

How we should respond

Well, we can’t stay in this depressed state! So thank the Lord the psalmist kept on scribbling:

If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:11, 12 | TNIV)

Praying for wisdom is the proper response when you know you are living under God’s wrath, when you’re trying to deal with His anger, and when you know your life isn’t your own; that you aren’t guaranteed the next moment. You need wisdom. You need to know how to live the best life you can given the limited number of days you have been granted. It’s not an accident that “fear of God” is linked to “wisdom” here. They’re frequently linked together throughout the Psalms and the Proverbs.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10 | TNIV)

There’s nothing wrong with a healthy fear of God and of His anger toward your sin. You can be a born again, blood-bought child of God, and though your sins have been and will be forgiven, God still sees your bad behavior that causes Him to be angry. You’re a fool if you have no fear of that. So pray for wisdom, so that you will know how to live in such a way as to be pleasing to God.

Prayer for God’s mercy

In light of God’s Sovereignty and of His complete right over this world and over you, mercy is what you need from the Lord. He should be angry, but experiencing His mercy would be better.

Relent, 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. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. (Psalm 90:13 – 16 | TNIV)

This short but powerful prayer has three simple components. First, the psalmist would love to experience God’s favor once again. In the strictest context, the people of Israel were suffering self-inflicted wounds, but they were still God’s servants. How many of you are having to deal with your own self-inflicted wounds caused by your iniquities and secret sins? But if you are child of God, you remain so. God never abandons His child, even as that child is tending to his self-inflicted wounds. Mercy is what is needed.

Second, the psalmist wants to experience joy again. Having to live in a sinful world while maintaining your integrity is hard enough, but when you stumble from time to time and have to scramble to regain your uprightness is enough to rob you of your joy. Nobody wants to be miserable, yet once you are in that run it’s hard to jump out of it. Real joy and gladness comes from the love of God.

Lastly, the psalmist longs for a continual flow of God’s blessings. Wouldn’t you ask for that, too? Isn’t it better to constantly experience God’s love through His blessings than to experience it once in a blue moon? The psalmist’s request is well founded and it’s a request you should be making, too. Realizing that it is from God that all good things flow, why not ask Him to keep the spigot of blessings open?

In the end, though, what God’s people really need is God’s favor – His blessing on their work.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17 | TNIV)

Yes, as the Teacher observed, life is vanity, but we’re all stuck here for our 70 or 80 years. We’re temporary, transient beings whose destiny in hands of another. We need to acknowledge that, as the psalmist did. We need to see that we need God’s favor; we need His blessings because, after all, they make life bearable. No, in fact, they make life wonderful. You and I as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ have the advantage of those who aren’t. God will establish the work of our hands; He will bless us and our work and He will make our lives amount to something.

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