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Psalm 90 – Turn, O Lord!

Summary

Remembering their frailty, their relatively short time on earth, people pray for God's compassion and that their lives and their work matter.

Analysis

Book IV opens with this rehearsal of human frailty, but then moves on in the psalms that follow to praise God's good and enduring rule.

Psalm 90's masterful poetry recalls that humans are mortal and short-lived. "The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong…they are soon gone, and we fly away" (v. 10). So, what are they to do? Since God is the lord of life and death, who says, "Turn back, you mortals"--that is, turn back to dust (v. 3)--people have no recourse but to ask God also to turn (v. 13, the same Hebrew word) and have compassion. The psalmist recognizes there is nothing to be done about the brevity of human life, but he or she prays for some experience of fairness (v. 15) and that what people do might matter, for them and presumably for God (vv. 16-17). Not much to ask, fairness and meaning, but that would be a great and compassionate gift. True, we "fly away" all too quickly, but in praying this psalm we ask that we make a difference while we are here, confident that God will hear and answer.

BOOK IV

(Psalms 90-106)

Psalm 90

God’s Eternity and Human Frailty

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling-place*
   in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
   or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
   from everlasting to everlasting you are God.


3 You turn us* back to dust,
   and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
4 For a thousand years in your sight
   are like yesterday when it is past,
   or like a watch in the night.


5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
   like grass that is renewed in the morning;
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
   in the evening it fades and withers.


7 For we are consumed by your anger;
   by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
   our secret sins in the light of your countenance.


9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
   our years come to an end* like a sigh.
10 The days of our life are seventy years,
   or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span* is only toil and trouble;
   they are soon gone, and we fly away.


11 Who considers the power of your anger?
   Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you.
12 So teach us to count our days
   that we may gain a wise heart.


13 Turn, O Lord! How long?
   Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
   so 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 manifest to your servants,
   and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
   and prosper for us the work of our hands—
   O prosper the work of our hands!

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10 February 2011

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