Have you ever pondered your significance in light of the world? How about the in light of space? or of the whole universe?
Have you ever pondered your significance in light of time that passes, year after year, decade after decade, century after century?
Have you ever pondered the significance of what you do in light of all the events in History?
Furthermore, have you ever pondered yourself in light of God? Have you ever pondered your lifespan in light of God’s existence? And have you ever pondered your ways in light of God’s ways?
That is exactly what is all about.
is attributed to Moses - the only Psalm in the Psalter by him. Now, when we think of Moses in scripture, we don’t instantly think of a songwriter or a poet, but here in that is exactly what we find. Here we have recorded one of three songs, or poems, that moses wrote down.
One, found in , was written and sang when God delivered the People from the Egyptians in the Red Sea.
Another, found in , was recited by Moses to the people when he went up to Mount Nebo to die.
While the first is a song of pure praise and celebration, the second is a reminder of Israel’s rebellion against God, and His righteous judgment on sin.
, also, has a sonmber tone to it. If it is really written by Moses, which it is clearly stated to be, then it seems most likely that it is related to the events that were happening at the end of His life, probably related to .
In numbers 20, we find the death of Miriam, the Sin of Moses striking the rock in the wilderness, and the death of Aaron, Moses’ brother.
These sad events - death, sin, frailty of life - are reflected in the Psalm strongly. However, even though the overall tone of the Psalm is somber, the words do not have a defeated or a bitter tone.
James M. Boice puts it this way - “Here there is no bitter tone, only the recognition that man is frail and sinful and that he needs the eternal God as his only possible hope and home.”
That is the striking reality that gives to us - we are finite, frail, and sinful - we do not have the power of life and existence within us, and we do not live righteously by nature. We need the Eternal God! We need His wisdom, we need his mercy, we need is life-sustaining power now and for eternity.
This Psalm was the inspiration for a famous Hymn by Isaac Watts, one that you’ve probably heard.
“Our God, our Help in ages past,
Our Hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal Home.”
Macarthur puts it this way. “The thrust of this magnificent prayer is to ask God to have mercy on frail human beings living in a sin-cursed universe.”
As we go through this Psalm together, I hope we see this:
Moses begins the Psalm with a reflection on God’s interaction with His people in times past.
Vs. 1 - Moses was aware, like we all are, that life is uncertain at best. There is no surety or permanence to be found, but God is an eternal “dwelling place” for the one who is trusting in Him. We are short-lived and not very powerful, but God is eternal and is the foundation for all things.
Our dwelling place here is less than desireable, but we look forward to a better one! Consider the faith of Abraham.
By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
Our city here is temporary and weak, but God is our dwelling place in all generations - and He is anything but temporary.
Not only do we see that God is eternal in the sense that He will always be, but what is more striking is the fact that He has always been!
The poetic language here is strong.
“Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world.”
Although it is not typically the way creation is described, here the picture is of God giving birth to the mountains - of bringing forth the earth and the world in a creative sense. Of course, this is reminiscent of
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
But, far beyond the fact that God is the creater, this verse stresses that God preceeds creation. He is before all things, he preexists all existence, he is not the result of anything, but rather everything is the result of Him!
He did not become God, but rather He has been God “from everlasting to everlasting.”
This, in theology, is called the “Aseity” of God, or His self-existence.
You see, nothing can make itself, nothing can simply appear by its own doing, nothing can self-create. That would defy all logic and contradict itself on the most basic level.
But God did not create Himself, He did not “appear” by the will of one, and He is not self-creative, but rather He is self-existent. The very properties of existence itself lie in God alone.
To put it in laymens’ terms, that is mind-blowing!
Let me quote R.C. Sproul here.
For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
“Every effect must have a cause. That is true by definition. But God is not an effect. He has no beginning and therefore no antecedent cause. He is eternal. He always was or is. He has, within Himself, the power of being. He requires no assistance from outside sources to continue to exist. This is what is meant by the idea of self-existent. Granted, it is a lofty and awesome concept. We know of nothing else quite like it. Everything we perceive in our frame of reference is dependent and creaturely. We can’t fully comprehend anything as self-existent.
But just because it is impossible (by definition) that a creature be self-existent does not mean it is impossible for the Creator to be self-existent. God, like us, cannot be self-created. But God, unlike us, can be self-existent. Indeed, this is the very essence of the difference between the Creator and creation. This is what makes Him the Supreme Being and the source of all other beings.”
To put it more simply, God has always been, and God will always be!
This is the background of everything, He is the great uncaused-cause. Nothing exists without Him, and nothing will last without Him. He is the everlasting God.
Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 938). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
That is a glorious truth and worthy of much meditation! But Moses turns our attention to the frailty of man.
As a complete, polar opposite to God’s eternality, we see Mans’ frailty and temporary nature.
This next section laments the pain and trouble of man’s existence in this sin-cursed world.
Moses first uses a picturesque comparison when he reminds us that God, in his righteous wrath against sin, returns man to the dust. This is no doubt a reflection on
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The point here is not that time passes quickly for God, but that the time of man’s life passes quickly in light of God’s existence.
Even if a man could live 1000 years, as Methuselah almost did, it is still only life a day that has passed, or like a watch in the night - just a few years.
Later in the Psalm, we are reminded that 70 or 80 years is about all we have - nowhere near 1000 years, and we compare this to the eternality of God - this gives us great perspective.
Lest we begin to think we are invincible, undefeatable, or particularly hardy, we are reminded here that we do not stand in the way of God’s power.
The imagery of a flood brings to mind, firstly, the actual flood of judgment in Noah’s day. The entirety of human and animal existence, save a few of each kind, was wiped out in a display of God’s righteous anger.
None of us witnessed the global flood, but we have all witnessed the effects of flood waters. Whole buildings swept off their foundations as if they were not even there. Masses of land removed into the water. Things that seemed sure and stable, taken in an instant. This is the picture we are to be left with.
Our life, pitted against God’s power, is like a dream - it appears as one thing, and appears to have substance and reality, but in an instant it is gone and forgotten.
Likewise, we look at the grass. How a plant can pop up in a short time, looking quite healthy and strong - but just as quickly it is taken away.
These are sober reminders to examine our lives in light of God’s existence. Reminders to examine our ways in light of God’s ways. This is not meant to paint God as a destructive and wildly angry being, but rather to call our attention to the reality of God’s power, especially in light of His holiness.
Why are we brought to an and in God’s anger? Is it because He simply delights in this wrath?
Ah, but no. It is for our sin.
AS mankind, we may be able to hide our secrets from others. We may be able to carry out an apparently righteous lifr on the outside, with others never seeing our true colors.
But to God, nothing is Hidden. He sees all our ways, and our attempts to hide, like Adam and Eve in their nakedness, are futile.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
God gets to the core of our existence - try as we might, let us not think we can hide from Him or outsmart Him!
Moses ties, here, the existence of death to its roots - seeing death as a punishment for sin.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
We die because Adam sinned, and in Adam’s race, we all sin.
James Boice gives us a good reminder here.
“Are you aware that sin always leads to death? To the death of dreams, hopes, plans, relationships, health, and even to that ultimate spiritual death that is a separation from God forever? If you are aware of this, you will not treat sin lightly as many do.” - James M. Boice
Let us pause to think for a moment - are you, loved one, aware that sin always leads to death?
And this will cause us, like David, to pray as such:
Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
When we are young, we feel as if life will never end. As a child, we see a teenager and feel that there is an incomprehensible gap between us.
As a teenager, we see a person in their twenties or thirties and feel as if we have all the time in the world to “grow up.”
As a person in their twenties and thirties, we feel as if we have a great stretch of time to work and prepare for retirement.
And as a person nears the end of their career,they certainly feel the effects of time, and realize it is passing quickly, but they still feel as if they have some significant time before they pass on.
But yet, I have yet to meet a person on their death bed who feels as if life was particularly long.
Moses says “we bring our years to an end like a sigh.” You may have it translated as “a tale that is told.”
This is not meant to be understood like a long, detailed, drawn out story, but more of a muttering - a quick breath - a passing comment - a sigh.
All the time we think we have, maybe 70-80 years, seems so long at the beginning, but every person who has reached the end realizes that their time was fleeting faster than they ever imagined.
Our days are numbered.
What must we do?
Our days are numbered
Our days are numbered, so we must learn to number our days. Evaluate the use of time in light of the brevity of life.
And not just numbered so we can have the most enjoyment, but numbered so we may apply them to wisdom!
True wisdom, which is not self-seeking, does not view man as the ultimate end, and does not seek autonomy. But rather true wisdom as Solomon put it:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
We need true wisdom, but we must first have God’s mercy.
We have seen enough! We are weak, frail, sinful, temporary, finite beings. We are not capable of sustaining ourselves, and pitted against God’s righteous wrath we are without Hope. We wast our days on vain pursuits, not knowing that life is so short, and time is so precious. We think the next big thing will satisfy. The next promotion, the next big purchase, that appointment that you just know is going to solve your problems, that new house, that new child, that new degree, that new clothing size, that new partner - yet, our days are passed and they are like a sigh.
We need more than the next thing, we need God’s mercy!
Moses here cries out to the only one who can have any effect on the somber deadness of life - He calls upon the merciful God. What does He cry out for?
Moses cries out for satisfaction - true satisfaction. A satisfaction that will lead to rejoicing and gladness all of our days. Where does that stem from?
You may have it as Mercy, Faithfulness, Love, Steadfast Love - its a multifaceted word, and its hard to compare to any one word in our language.
What it is boiled down to, however, is God’s Covenant Faithfulness. The fact that God keeps His promise, even when we don’t. God never fails, even when we do. God never backs out and has second thoughts, even when we are riddled with doubt.
It is His faithfulness that supplies us with satisfcation - with rejoicing - with gladness all of our days.
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
God chastens His children. God allows us to go through hardships and trials that are for our sanctification and growth in Grace. But the end is gladness.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Our frail, sinful life is often riddled with trials and hardship. But when compared with, and submitted to, the merciful steadfast love of God, it is but a momentary affliction in light of eternity.
Our days are numbered, we must number them and apply them to Wisdom.
Our faculties are weak - we must live in the mercy of God.
And may we pray as Moses did in Vs. 17
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
Sometimes, we exist in the midst of a wilderness. Sometimes, we live in a state of bewilderment and confusion. In these times, we feel as if nothing we can do is worthwhile - nothing we can do is of any effect.
It is also in these times when we must realize that God’s Mercy is our satisfaction, and we must pray for Him to use our momentary affliction - to establish the work of our Hands - to do something that Only He, the Eternal, Merciful God can do.